This post is as much a rant about the current decay of our heritage as it is a clarion call for sustainable tourism that could stem this rot. Don’t be perturbed if you do not read much about Narendra Bhawan at the outset. It is with a deliberate intent that I establish the bleakness of the scenario before I talk about how it could catapult to outstanding. Go on, read Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli.

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
Just look at the craftsmanship!

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli

It was not very long ago that Bikaner became a part of the Indian Historic Cities Network (IHCN). The key factor that got it inducted was its havelis – the courtyard houses with intricately embellished façade. These had mostly been built in red sandstone and lay clustered around the meandering narrow streets of its historic city centre.

Even Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli - has such elaborate facade
A detail of the façade of Nathumal Rampuria Haveli

Their façade reflected varying influences ranging from Mughal and Rajput to British Colonial. The architecture adopted was just right for the harsh dry climate. The perforated screens (Jaalis), overhangs (Chhajjas), and balconies (Jharokhas) helped keep the heat and dust out while providing the much-needed respite for its residents.

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
Adorning an ungainly alley!

Bikaner – Current Avatar and its Origin

All this came about during the fifteenth century. Its traders and merchants flourished as Bikaner found itself on a bustling trade route. These wealthy folks built their mansions on the lands provided for a pittance by the visionary ruler of the province who rightly felt having these merchants here would boost the economy of the state.

While Rampuria haveli isn't, Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is An Ideal Haveli
A view of Rampuria Haveli

Over the centuries, while their façade continued to evoke awe, these erstwhile grand homes or havelis started losing their sheen as they got subdivided amongst the heirs, leading to overcrowding and decay. Modern structures began replacing this glorious heritage as these havelis were being torn apart a bit at a time. The value of their artistic and architectural pieces was a lot higher than the worth of those houses, you see!

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli - also displays such elaborate work on its facade
Another detail from the façade of Nathumal Rampuria Haveli

Incidentally, wherever such havelis exist, it is the same story. And the reason for that is general apathy of the owners and powers-that-be to do something, anything, about the prevailing state-of-affairs.

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
The corner required even more imagination!

My Take on Havelis

While we can’t dispute the heritage value of such structures, their current pathetic state owing to lack of maintenance, basic infrastructure like sewage and garbage disposal, and the overcrowding of the residences and the areas are a definite turn-off. I do visit those areas to click photographs, but I tend to exit the general ambience of despondence as fast as possible.

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
Another haveli from the cluster of Rampuria Havelis

Bikaner was no different. I visited the city centre and shot the stunning façade of these havelis. There is a bunch of havelis that are referred to as Rampuria Havelis. Seeing their intricate sandstone façade left me dumbstruck. The by-lanes were replete with more of such gems. The craftsmanship is exemplary.  Check out the images in this post and you’d agree.

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
A gem shining through the klutzy clutter

I even ventured into one and explored it thoroughly. The advanced state of disrepair appalled me. The interiors were dark and dingy. The paint was all but peeling off. The stairways were dangerously narrow. The corridors were cramped. The traditional Rajasthani paintings on the walls were discoloured. The conditions within were anything but liveable.

Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
The elaborate façade of Rampuria Haveli
A staircase in Bikaji ki Tekri. Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli doesn't have such dangerous stairways
Staircase inside Bikaji ki Tekri
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
The narrow passageway in an old haveli

Narendra Bhawan – A breath of fresh air

Adversely affected as I was about havelis, I figured a little care could truly go a long way. Narendra Bhawan, a luxury hotel, is a living, breathing example of this. While you may call it a palace, it undeniably looks like a large haveli – complete with façade embellishments and a prominent central courtyard.

Facade of Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli

From the moment I set my eyes on it, its unmistakably royal aura engulfed me. As I entered the property, it gave me a satisfying sense of space and luxury. Choicest artefacts and comfortable seating characterised the lobby. Ethnic displays tastefully decorated the walls.

Elaborate jaali covering a corridor from harsh sun at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
Elaborate jaali covering a corridor from harsh sun at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner

As I was ushered towards my room, I couldn’t help noticing how wide its corridors were. Well placed, clean, and well maintained Jaalis were visible all across. A fine, almost invisible net to keep the pigeons (also called the rats of the skies) out covered the courtyard.

Heritage feel with ultra-luxe interiors

As far as being in boutique heritage hotels is concerned, you may say I have been there done that many times over. So, before entering my room, I had some apprehensions – the scary vision of garishly painted, overly done-up, wannabe-ethnic, non-utilitarian living quarters. And deep within, I was dreading being in such environs for 3 nights.

A room in Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
My room at Narendra Bhawan

With a thumping heart, I waited for the liveried staffer to open the room and apprehensively followed him in. To my delight, the room was just the way it would be in any luxury hotel across the globe. Besides being spacious, it oozed personalised hospitality – my own framed-portraits were all around – on the bedside table, the wall shelf and even on the Davenport desk.

Suffice it to say – the place was heartwarmingly welcoming!

My portrait in my room in Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
My room had my own photographs!

Upon checking, they told me they had 80 rooms. Each better fitted than the other. Their dining space received ample natural light while guarding it against the harsh sun. And their keen attention to detail was evident everywhere.

As a flourishing business, Narendra Bhawan does more than its share vis-a-vis sustainable tourism. They provide employment to the locals, encourage crafts that are on the verge of extinction for lack of patronage, help local businesses by conducting heritage walks woven around the business areas of the old town. In short, they are being a perfect catalyst in giving this time-warped town a leg up!

If you like what you see here about Narendra Bhawan, check out more details at their Official Site.

The imposing facade of Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner at the blue hour

So, what’s the point?

Well, I understand it takes a lot to maintain a property like Narendra Bhawan – money, involvement, know-how, and more. At the same time, I feel if the owners of the old havelis of Bikaner try doing their bit in the upkeep of those precious heritage gems, their pull will become manifold. Not only will it attract more travellers, but will ensure they go back raving about their experience. Positive word-of-mouth surely works wonder for a destination!

A view from the jaali in Narendra Bhawan Bikaner – An Ideal Haveli
A view of Narendra Bhawan’s imposing structure through the jaali

Now that the Bikaner airport is operational, happy travellers could increase the traffic to this town exponentially. And that would hugely bolster the local economy. Additionally, getting into the IHCN-fold augurs well for this once-forgotten destination. Now each stakeholder just needs to do his bit to take Bikaner places!

Mandatory Disclaimer: Though Narendra Bhawan hosted me during my Bikaner visit, the views expressed here are completely my own and are unbiased. And, these views faithfully reflect my own personal experience of the property and the city.

If you’d like a spot of reading about the royal Rajasthan, you may head over to ‘A Walk Down History – Kumbhalgarh’.

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