The maharajas of Patiala, it seems, were rathe fond of constructing opulent buildings. Patiala, therefore, has a lot of palaces. The oldest of these is the Qila Mubarak, a stunning 18th-century fort-palace that forms the core of the old city. Then there are the Moti Bagh palaces, Old and New, built respectively by Narender Singh (reigned 1845-62) and Yadavindra Singh, who ascended the throne in 1938 and joined the newly independent India in 1948. The Baradari Palace, latest addition to the Neemrana group’s chain of heritage hotels, is perhaps the least flamboyant of Patiala’s regal residences. A colonnaded colonial building constructed in 1876 as a new home for the then-ruler Rajinder Singh, it’s centred round a Mughal-style baradari — a pavilion with 12 arches which gives its name to the surrounding garden and to the neighbourhood.
We’ve been told there’ll be no trouble getting there if we just ask for Rajinder Kothi — it’s world-famous in Patiala. But we run through three rickshaw-walas and a couple of auto guys before we find someone who knows what we’re talking about. And then, too, it’s the mention of the adjacent Baradari Garden (once royal repository of rare trees, now haunt of walkers, microphone-aided yoga classes and sellers of wheatgerm juice) that gets us to the hotel. After a tasty dinner of aloo-gobhi, paneer and chicken curry in the awe-inspiring darbar hall, I abandon late-night exploration plans in favour of the awe-inspiring comforts of my suite: No. 15, otherwise known as Maharaja Bhupinder Singh suite.
The next day, talking to H.S. Gill, the mild-mannered engineer who has worked on the building’s restoration, I realise why no one recognises the name Rajinder Kothi in present-day Patiala. The royals moved out soon after Independence, after which the palace has been the Shahi Mehmandari (the state guesthouse), Punjabi University, and from 1972 to 2006, the Punjab State Archives.
Years of serving as a government office must have taken its toll, so, it seems incredible, when Mr Gill tells me that the Baradari’s wooden staircases, with their graceful banisters, and the prettily-carved wooden terrace railings, are all original. “It took a long time to scrape off all the layers of paint,” he smiles. Certainly not original, though, are the over-bright prints of Punjabi village scenes and maharajas found throughout the hotel. There’s also a slight problem with the restoration of the darbar hall, which now serves as the dining room. Most of the ceiling’s central portion, which had been eaten away, has been painted over in stark white. Which is fine, except that the painter’s brushstrokes seem to have ranged indiscriminately across portions of the bejewelled red and blue borders. But this slapdash artwork is somewhat compensated for by the period furniture and the carefully chosen fabrics — from bedside rugs to table linen — characteristic of Neemrana properties. The rooms are luxurious without being cluttered, their relative emptiness allowing the eye to absorb details like the wood louvred ceilings and the arched doors with their old brass latches.
Wandering around the building, I discover that its original front entrance is now the back. A gloriously sunlit pillared patio, laid out as an informal dining area, looks out over the Baradari Garden, which itself has long been parcelled off for the benefit of the Patiala public. Having duly admired several gorgeously plumed pheasants in the garden’s aviary portion, I wander about the town’s grander palaces all afternoon. In the darbar hall of the Qila Mubarak, under an enormous gilt-edged mirror, I come upon a decrepit marble-topped table almost exactly like the one on which my toast was laid out that morning.
Back at the Baradari, I’m told that the room I’m staying in is in the section that formed Maharaja Rajinder’s private quarters. As I lounge on one of the lovely terraces on a thoughtfully provided Bombay Fornicator, dawdling over my second cup of tea, I’m pretty sure I’m channelling something of his spirit.
Location Near Baradari Garden, Patiala, Punjab
Accommodation 6 rooms, 11 suites
Tariff Rs 3,000 (rooms), Rs 5,000 (suites)
Contact 011-46661666, www.neemranahotels.com