Kota might be the new favourite for travellers coming to Rajasthan in the post-COVID world. The reasons are quite a few. For one, it’s well-connected by four-lane highways to both Jaipur and Udaipur. Second, unlike their counterparts in the state, its palaces and museums have never been packed with tourists. Third, it promises exceptional wildlife and nature experiences for the discerning traveller. And, most importantly, the city is sandwiched between Bundi and Jhalawar, both home to magnificent heritage sites and spectacularly lush in the monsoon. At the moment, travellers are seeking domestic experiences in less crowded destinations. Situated on the banks of the Chambal, Kota can certainly be a compelling choice for those in search of solitary, and safer, experiences.
Despite the fact that the city is primarily an industrial and educational town, it has its fair share of heritage properties. These include the Umed Bhawan Palace, Brijraj Bhawan Palace Hotel and Sukhdham Kothi. While Umed Bhawan Palace is yet to open its doors to guests as sanitisation is under progress, the other two are gearing up to welcome guests. In a bid to restart the economy, the central government has allowed hotels to reopen from June 8. And both the heritage properties are making every effort to ensure a safe stay for their clients.
This is the off-season for tourism, hence Sukhdham Kothi has been getting corporate clients. Plus the coaching students who throng the city aren’t coming for admissions with their parents anytime soon. The 15-room hotel is hosting four guests at present. Speaking about the challenges ahead, its owner Colonel Keshvendra Singh told Outlook Traveller that their biggest concerns are how to become fully operational, and finding a mechanism to ensure that protocols continue to be in place. “We want our staff to first get accustomed to post-COVID work protocols and get in the groove with practice. We’ve been training them for a while now,” said Singh. He added that it would take them about a week to get the hotel running to the standards that were maintained during pre-COVID days.
Speaking about social distancing measures, the former army officer told us that most of the guests are repeat clients and they already know the way to their rooms. This has really made it easier for both the guests and hosts. The hotel has also put signboards requesting guests to avoid touching the reception desk. A sanitiser dispenser stands nearby.
Discussing the hotel’s strategy, Singh said as they were expecting low occupancy initially, they had earmarked just a few rooms for reopening. “We are making sure that only two alternate rooms on one lobby are occupied at a time, so that there’s adequate space for everyone,” he said.
When asked about the standard operative procedures the hotel is following, he showed us service trays that had been kept on tables outside the rooms. “When our room service guy comes to drop food, he calls the guests verbally (instead of touching the door bell or knocking), and then leaves. The guests then come and pick up their food from the table and take it inside. When done, they leave the plates outside and the staff takes them for cleaning after a long interval of time.”
The hotel is also encouraging guests to carry home-cooked food. “We had a guest from Jaipur the other night and he had brought his own food with him. He had it in his room, made a digital payment for the stay and left the next morning,” Singh said.
Once a guest checks out, no one from the hotel staff is allowed to enter the room for at least a day. The doors and windows of the room are left open to let sunshine and fresh air do their bit in sanitising the place.
The heritage property is also famous for its restaurant, which is much-loved by the foodies of Kota, including the writer of this story. The restaurant will reopen in a few days as sanitisation is in the works. The tables have already been placed at a greater distance than what the guidelines mention. In the interim, the hotel has set up a separate dining hall so that regular customers can come in with a group of four and enjoy a wholesome meal. They are required to collect their order from a table far away from the dining table. When done with their dinner, they can either pay digitally or drop cash in a cash-box placed at the reception.
Talking about the road ahead, Singh told us that the hotel is currently aiming to maintain a 20 to 30 per cent occupancy and plans to take it to 30 to 40 per cent in the next one or two months. “Gradually, we would love to get back to our normal occupancy of 80 per cent,” added an optimistic Singh.
At Brijraj Bhawan Palace, thermal screening and hand sanitisation is being followed for everyone entering the property, including the hotel staff. Overlooking the Chambal River, the stunning property belongs to the Kota royal family and a part of it also serves as their residence. The heritage hotel is the best bet in town for those willing to splurge a bit. All the seven rooms of the property have been sanitised, hand sanitisers have been placed inside. A declaration form has been placed on tables, which guests will have to fill-in their details so that they can be traced in case contagion is reported.
The staff is required to abide by government guidelines and wear masks at all times. Jagdish Mewara, a front-desk employee at the hotel, told us that they had to cancel three bookings in May. They were made by parents of coaching students who were supposed to appear for the NEET entrance exam.
Brijraj Bhawan Palace is all about the views. The hotel is hopeful that the monsoon will bring loyal patrons who come here every year to unwind in the lap of nature.