This tale is of an Indian time warp. Once, when the British ruled India but were also considered outcasts, the homes of a certain social status would not admit them in to sully their purity. And yet, to have a visit from a white sahib was considered an honour. They were the scheduled castes of yesterday with their own ‘reserved’ status.
Into this predicament of double standards, layered over with nuances of rules and exceptions made over time, the Rajah of Sahaspur Bilari in the United Provinces, found a perfect solution. His guest house for the untouchable goras was built at a distance, within the security of the Civil Lines of Moradabad. The British too preferred it that way, as the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857 though behind them, had not yet erased its blood streams from their memory. Between 1909 and 1913, during which time the glamorous Delhi Durbar was also enacted, this structure arose in Moradabad to host Lord Meston and his elegant wife Lady Meston and thus it got christened ‘Meston Niwas’ but the World War saw it requisitioned for senior Italian POWs kept under house arrest.
In 1934, this doll house structure finally became the residence of the dowager queen, Rani Pritam Kunwar, whose 21-year-old husband died in a car crash, whilst driving to a wedding. Rani Pritam Kunwar was an educated lady who patronised the Girl Guides and set up a trust to help marry poor girls. The Rani was also the President of the UP Zamindars’ Association. In 1950, Meston Niwas was given as part of the dowry to her beautiful daughter, Princess Diamond who married the handsome King’s Commissioned Officer, from Sandhurst Military College, in Surrey, UK and who was GOC UP area Lucknow at that time.
It was here that the parents of the current generation of owners lived and this is where they spent most of their childhood apart from the time that they spent away at boarding schools and vacations in Europe and occasional visits to their summer homes in Nainital.
When I visited this all-white home in the 1990s, Princess Diamond was considering a more public use for it through Neemrana. We had tea in a verandah. She regaled us with tales of her husband, Major General D. Misri Chand. A new wing seemed to have been added to it and we were shown around the ground floor by Princess Reena Kumari. The gardens seemed vast but were unkempt as it wasn’t really inhabited full time.
But well-founded and groomed buildings can have more than the proverbial nine lives of a cat. The tide of the 21st century was to turn kindly upon it. The two royals—Chandra Vijay Singh of Sahaspur Bilari—Princess Diamond’s son, and her daughter-in-law, Sushma Kumari of Jaisalmer, put their act together and found their solution in their own past. They connected with designer Adil Ahmad of Lucknow, whose grandfather had been the Superintendent of Police for Moradabad. The families had been friends, and along with the neighbouring Nawabs of Rampur, were renowned for their gourmet feasts. The delicacies and decadence of this region are both legend. Like the French, they first hunted, then cooked over slow fires and held their dining tables sacred as holy jade pendant encrusted in gold. Feasts were conducted over the sharing of recipes while tailors would occasionally stretch their clothes into the next season.
Today, one can stay in six suites of the same guest house which seems freshly whipped out of cream again. The colonial arches turn from Indo-Saracenic to Badrun Mughal patterns or to more elaborate Marrakesh motifs. After a gruelling day in the ‘casbah’ streets made into cliched hallmarks of the East by the Orientalist painters, buyers can only check into this haven with delight. My favourite is the blue salon where white peacocks feather down the white chandelier funnels like autumn leaves. The balconies above hang like a band of lace supported on the jack arches the British had brought with their railways. I can imagine each guest who enters, exclaiming in wonder.
The suites are equally excessive and ornate. Adil knows no whisper and won’t be surprised if the average rate of photographs clicked here by guests is far above the hotel average.
But if you walk the corridors and galleries of this heritage property and talk to the pictures on the walls, your eyes will have a lot to listen to.
Location: Civil Lines, Moradabad, UP. Approx. 180km/3hrs from Delhi airport
Accommodation: Six suites
Tariff: From ₹ 7,000
Contact: +91-591-2416588; nivah.in