I belong to a family of intrepid travellers and we take off on vacations very frequently. 2023 also had with a promising start in this regard, as we visited Bikaner in Rajasthan for the first time. The primary reason for our visit to this city was my son’s request to see the unusual temple where rats are worshipped (read about the experience here). While in Bikaner, we decided to stay at the Instagram influencer favoured hotel, Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, of which I’ll share an honest review here today.
NARENDRA BHAWAN BIKANER:
Before I share my review of Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, here’s what you need to know about the history of this heritage boutique hotel (read about why it’s a hot favourite to celebrate Holi here). Originally the home of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner, His Highness Narendra Singhji, this boutique hotel is influenced by his Rajasthani heritage as well as European influences from the early 20th century.
In a significant departure from the palace-style construction of his family home at Laxmi Nivas Palace, the Narendra Bhawan Haveli bears the stamp of its owner’s royal birth and his upbringing as a global citizen who embraced the idea of a modern India. This unique legacy is captured beautifully in Narendra Bhawan Bikaner’s design, layout and interiors. A number of curios, artefacts and objects collected from travels around the globe help to recreate this time from the past and the life of HH Narendra Singhji.
This boutique hotel has over 80 rooms and since it opened a few years ago, has become a favourite with celebrities and influencers because of its unique charms. People who visit Bikaner for tourism or pilgrimage choose to make this hotel their base. And many others visit it simply to enjoy a staycation at the hotel.
BOOKINGS AND HOW TO GET THERE:
If you are reading this review of Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, you must be keen to know the best way to reach this city.
We took a flight from Delhi but this flight is the only one that comes in to Bikaner airport. So, if the passengers on any given day are too few, it is prone to cancellation. Trains are a more reliable form of transportation as there are many options available. One can also drive to Bikaner but it’s a long drive from Delhi.
TYPES OF ROOMS:
Rooms are divided as per size and décor. The smallest rooms are the Residence Rooms. Next in line are the Prince Rooms and India Rooms, which are the same in size but vary in décor, and the latter offers bathtubs in the bathrooms. The Regimental Rooms come next and have a large sitting area as well as bathtubs, and finally the opulent Republic Rooms are the biggest of all.
We stayed in a Prince Room which had distinctively European décor. It was clean, comfortable and beautifully designed. The room was also quite spacious so our family of three never felt cramped.
THINGS TO DO IN NARENDRA BHAWAN BIKANER:
Sights and Sounds:
Bikaner as a city offers many things that will interest travellers. One can book a cab and travel across the city in the day, and return to the hotel at night to relax and unwind. The Karni Mata temple or the rat temple in the town of Deshnoke outside Bikaner is perhaps the biggest attraction in this area. It is a must-visit purely for its uniqueness, however, I was also particularly impressed by the story of the feminist deity worshipped here. Other interesting temples include the Laxminath Temple and Bhandasar Jain temples. There are also palaces galore to visit in and around the area, such as the Laxmi Nivas Palace and Lallgarh Palace, among others. These make for good lunching spots when you are out and about. The Junagarh Fort is a beautiful building that requires a full morning’s attention with a good guide if possible.
Other interesting excursions include visits to the National Research Centre for Camels where you can interact with these gentle giants and even take rides on them; a dedicated raptor conservatory to encourage growth in the declining population of vultures; and the international camel festival.
You can visit the town of Bikaner to shop for achaars, traditional sweets and spices. The local favourite restaurant to eat at is Chotu Motu Joshi, which we felt was strictly average.
There are two dining spaces at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, though both offer the same menu, which is a mix of Rajasthani and North Indian staples and continental fare.
Gaushala offers a gorgeous outdoor seating with European tunes serenading diners. It has a lovely romantic ambiance.
The indoor restaurant, which is also where breakfast is served, is called Pearls and Chiffon.
Mad Hatter is their in-house bakery.
On special request, one can ask for curated dining experiences that include a lunch where seven courses are accompanied by seven passages from renowned literary works; a moonlit poolside dinner on the rooftop; a sit-down museum dinner where the culinary secrets of Bikaneri cuisine are shared; and a special Marwari thali. We tried none of these experiences during our stay.
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner organises unique recreational experiences called sundowners. One can pay a pretty penny to recreate HH Narendra Singhji’s favourite one near Darbari Lake, situated 45 minutes away, to catch the picturesque sunset. Here you will be treated as royalty under white canopies and with local musicians lending a romantic atmosphere, as you are served food and drinks made by Narendra Bhawan’s seasoned chef and served by the hospitality team under the starlit sky.
Sports and Relaxation:
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner has a pool located on the rooftop of the hotel, which offers views of the bustling city below. There is also a fully-equipped spa and gymnasium should one like to use these facilities.
Weddings & Events:
With its well-appointed rooms and unique spaces to host multiple events, Narendra Bhawan Bikaner has become a popular spot for hosting events or group parties. One can also tie up with the nearby Laxmi Nivas Palace Hotel, which boasts bigger and fancier grounds, to host larger wedding events, while the smaller ones can happen at Narendra Bhawan itself.
REVIEW OF NARENDRA BHAWAN BIKANER:
Now let’s get to the important part: the review of Narendra Bhawan Bikaner. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the design and décor of this hotel, and truly that is its best part. In stark contrast to most heritage properties, Narendra Bhawan has a modern appeal, with tasteful decor and interiors designed by Ayush Kasliwal of Jaipur-based firm AKFD Design. Hence, there were tons of Instagrammable spots to choose from.
However, there were also a few unexpected hiccups involving bungled food orders and untrained staff. When we ordered a plain cheese sandwich for my son, we were shocked to discover that it also contained jam. When I asked the server how this ridiculous combination of cheese and jam could have possibly been put together, he responded quite confidently that he eats it at home! Hahaha! Not to be judgmental about the choice of local snacks, but the fact is we had ordered a plain cheese sandwich, and therefore we should have been served a plain cheese sandwich.
Later the duty manager apologised profusely for this mishap, proclaiming that the server was a new staff member and was untrained. Other members of staff also seemed untrained, however, as was evident from the actions of the girl at the front desk who kept us waiting for over 20 minutes before handing us the key to our room at check-in, and when we finally had the key and were heading to our room, she came to serve us welcome drinks! Why not in those 20 minutes?
The food we ate at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner was mostly good, with some dishes being better than others. The breakfasts were the highlight as they served a number of unusual Bikaneri dishes for us to try. We hired the hotel cab to take us around Bikaner and our driver Pushpendra Singh was fantastic. He was in touch with the local culture, had the answers to all our questions and took great care of us on all three days, even suggesting additions to our itinerary which we really valued.
Overall, our stay at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner was certainly memorable, and if we ever return to Bikaner, we would probably choose to stay here again. However, in the interest of complete honesty, I believe there is scope for improvement with this property, which Instagram filters and free trips given to influencers will never highlight. I recently read an editorial by Divia Thani, the editor of Conde Nast Traveller magazine, who declared that what sets good hospitality apart from great hospitality is the attention to finer details, where expectations are fulfilled before even being expressed. It is evident therefore that Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, though good, hasn’t yet reached the mantle of greatness.
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