Narendra Bhawan

Samta Nagar, Jaisalmer & Bikaner, India Book from Book from £89 per night

A lavishly re-imagined design residence in historic Bikaner, with art deco rooms and refined service to match
Picture, if you can, how a playboy prince in a far-flung corner of Rajasthan would decorate the interiors of his palace. Struggling? Thankfully, designer Ayush Kasiwal and host Karan Singh have done it for you. Their vividly re-imagined abode of the late Maharaja Narendra Singh – polymath, card player, dog lover extraordinaire – brings his enigmatic character back to life. You'll find an eclectic mix of ‘Indian déco’ and curios collected from his world travels, whilst elaborate gilded mirrors and old family portraits adorn the intensely chromatic walls. The centrepiece is a royal red baby grand piano, with Edith Piaf’s memorable maxim “Non, je ne regrette rien” inscribed in gold lettering. Familiar jazz tunes fill the foyer, setting the tone for what’s to come.

Despite the grand exterior, the atmosphere is surprisingly homely, thanks in no small measure to your convivial host, Karan. 82 bedrooms embody the spirit of the erstwhile Maharaja – Rajput furnishings, terrazzo floors, luxe velvet armchairs – and are simultaneously opulent and comforting. Dining is an experience in itself, with elaborate Indian and Western dishes served at the hotel's restaurant Pearls & Chiffon (the sartorial choice of every Indian maharani). A short drive from town, the hotel organises expertly led tours of Bikaner's famed havelis (mansions), as well as private museum visits, camel or jeep safaris, and candlelit sundowner picnics by a lakeside oasis.

Highs

  • Remarkable value for the opulent experience
  • Packed to the rafters with objets d’art, it's reminiscent of an enormous antiques warehouse
  • We loved the rooftop pool with its Portuguese tiles and shaded sun loungers
  • Honesty bars, sweet bowls, and proper tea- and coffee-making facilities keep it homely; beds are phenomenally comfortable
  • Bikaner, Rajasthan's 'Red City', is a less touristy alternative to Jaisalmer, but with the same desert outpost feel

Lows

  • As with all luxury hotels, there's a hefty 28% tax - but it's still great value
  • There's little to do around the hotel itself, but they will arrange a car for you at the drop of a hat
  • The hotel is in a residential area and looks out over the town
  • The hotel occasionally hosts weddings, which can be noisy affairs; ask when booking if they have any planned

Best time to go

November to February are the best months to visit Bikaner, when it's hot (but not scorching) during the day and cool in the evenings; if you’re in town in January be sure to visit the annual Bikaner Camel Festival. October and March are quieter months but can reach close to 40C in the heat of the day. From April onwards, temperatures exceed 40C with a brief respite during August’s monsoon.

Our top tips

Dip your nose into one of the many books (there are over 1000). They are what the designers imagined Maharaja Narendra Singh would have kept in his own private library. Also take the time to get to know the host himself, Karan, who seems to embody the erstwhile Maharaja. He’ll be glad to join for a Martini or 2 (who’s counting?).

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
City Style
Foodie
  • Boutique hotel
  • 82
  • Restaurant & bar open daily
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

More intimate than its 82 rooms suggest, Narendra Bhawan is built to feel like a home. Each room is unique in its features and fittings, but all have thoughtful touches like Roberts radios (plus iPods with playlists), a small library of Penguin Classics, baskets filled with blankets and cut glass decanters filled with spirits.

The stately Prince Rooms are fit for royalty, with plush fabrics, a deep palette and English prints reflecting a leaning towards a Western lifestyle. Utterly striking are the Regimental Rooms, with military memorabilia and a tongue-in-cheek ceremonial feel. For the best in modern Indian design, the India Rooms, decorated in indigo and traditional-yet-contemporary textiles, are a homage to local arts and craftsmanship. Inspired by the movers and shakers that shaped the Republic of India, top-of-the-range Republic Suites are decidedly architectural, with lots of clean lines and steely greys. At the other end of the scale, Residence Rooms are where the Maharaja’s confidants would have stayed; functional and decorated in plush velvets, they’re small but perfectly formed.

Bathrooms are sleek with every last detail taken care of: beaded pearl covers decorate otherwise pedestrian loo rolls and kitsch Mysore sandalwood soaps add a touch of retro.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • TV
  • WiFi

Eating

The hotel's restaurant, Pearls & Chiffon (or 'P&C' by day two), is a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Breakfasting surrounded by pastel blues and velvet pinks feels as though you are in the kitchen of a Stepford Wife. A tier of cupcakes and freshly baked pastries will be placed on your table whether you like it or not (you will!); there are eggs cooked any way, or Rajasthani dishes such as sabudana cheela (tapioca pancakes) with chaas (yoghurt drink) for the adventurous.

For dinner, we sampled the Bikaner thali: a delicious mélange of aloe vera curries and rotis made from local millet, laced with ghee from the Himalayas. If you fancy a change from curries, there might be pumpkin or cauliflower soups, grilled chicken salad with sundried tomatoes, or even pizzas.

The Literary Lunch is something to write home about: 7 courses of Epicurean epics including a glorious clam chowder with accompanying Parmesan sea biscuits (à la Moby Dick) and a white chocolate pudding with candied rose petals and lime jelly, inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses. They also host a Blindfolded Dinner to titillate the senses.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Children's meals
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Take a private tour of Bikaner’s old town on foot or by horse-drawn carriage: narrow lanes lined with ochre-red havelis (mansions) evoke its historic importance as a trade hub
  • Don't miss stunning Junagarh Fort, with its decorative stately halls, carved jarokhas (balconies) and jali screens; and the lesser-known Bikaji ki Tekri or ‘poor king’s fort’ – all ending with lunch at a grand former merchant’s residence
  • Enjoy a sumptuous sundowner and candlelit picnic at a lakeside oasis outside town, serenaded by flute music
  • Relax in the Princess Room at Narendra Bhawan’s boudoir of a spa; they even do tea-tasting
  • Explore the ramparts of Laxmi Niwas Palace on a private museum tour – and it wouldn’t be Narendra Bhawan if it weren’t followed by an elaborate lunch served on silver platters
  • Book a camel or jeep safari into the desert, or to Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary (though don't expect more than fleeting sightings of blackbuck , gazelle, antelope and bird life)

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Yoga

Kids

Though children are welcome, Narendra Bhawan has a decidedly grown-up feel. Plus there’s not much in the way of entertainment for little ones.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

There aren't any interconnecting rooms, but guests can request a room with a shared balcony. All rooms have space for travel cots and extra beds; Prince Rooms and Republic Rooms have spacious living areas.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots, high chairs

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Families Should Know:

The rooftop pool is unfenced

Distances:

  • Airport: 16.5km
  • Pharmacy: 1km
  • Hospital: 1km
Kid Friendly:

Location

Narendra Bhawan hotel is in a residential area of Bikaner, a city in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. There isn’t much within walking distance of the property itself. However, Bikaner's sights are just a short drive away and the hotel staff will be happy to arrange a car for you.

By Air:
The nearest airport is Bikaner (16.5km), an easy 30-minute drive, which has connections to Jaipur and Delhi. The airports at Jodhpur (255km/5 hours) and Jaipur (348km/6 hours) are also an option. The hotel offers airport transfers.

By Train:
There are regular trains run to Bikaner Junction (4.3km/15 minutes) from Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Allahabad and Calcutta.

Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.

Airports:

  • Bikaner (Nal) Airport 16.5 km BKB
  • Jodhpur Airport 255.0 km JDH

Other:

  • Beach 955.0 km
  • Shops 1.0 km
  • Restaurant 1.0 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
10/10
Food
10/10
Service
10/10
Value
10/10
Overall

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