We live in a narrative culture. We thrive on stories, myths, legends and folklores, passed from one generation to the next. The palaces of Rajasthan stand testament to this tale. My maiden trip to the former desert kingdom was in pursuit of these stories. On a quest to find out what lies behind the curtains of extravagance, I found myself en route the camel country.
Think glamour, opulence and charming Rajput traditions. The royal residency of the Rampurias is a welcoming haven of traditional hospitality. A short drive from the Bikaner Airport—which at first glance comes across as a mansion in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by barren and sandy countryside—it reveals itself to be an oasis of serenity.
Built on the outskirts of the walled city of Bikaner, Gaj Kesri, an ‘art’ hotel in its truest sense, is the passion project of the textile and real estate mogul Sunil Rampuria. Sprawling across an area of 25 acres and surrounded by the ever-looming desert, it is tailored to give guests a taste of the regal lifestyle.
Keeping up with the quintessential haveli-style decor, the rooms are adorned with Indian motifs and traditional artefacts. The hotel was established in 2006 and is a reflection of the glorious 'usta' art of Bikaner, characterised by intricate designs in combinations of gold and bright colours. Rampuria’s penchant for art and aesthetics is evident in every nook and corner of the property.
There’s an abundance of colours, patterns and traditional craftsmanship on display in the interiors of the hotel, but it is the beautiful gem-like pool, exploding with shades of turquoise, teal and green that beckons a dive. Though not mammoth in size, the hotel is an ideal escape from the concrete jungle.
My dip in the pool was followed by a lavish dinner. I was ushered into the in-house, strictly vegetarian restaurant— Polki. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I’d have to say, it was a feast fit for kings. Unfortunately, most of the delicacies that were once an integral part of the Marwari cuisine are dying a silent death; secretly languishing in sepia-toned pages stashed away from the public eye. But I was given quite a glimpse; doused in desi ghee and laced with the most complex of spices.
The aroma of baked kheera kachori, dahi puchka and dahi parwal (pointed gourd cooked with yoghurt) wafted over from the kitchen and found its way to the table. And then came dessert. Though a part of me was expecting bling and over the top silver-coated sugary treats, I was a little surprised by the modest fare and, honestly, a tad bit relieved too. The chenna toast and moong dal halwa oozed warmth and comfort. The chefs at the restaurant work under the strict supervision of Ms Rampuria and nothing escapes her notice; everything that emerged out of the royal kitchen lives up to her standards.
Later, I headed to the magnificent courtyard where local bands performed live. The classic Bollywood melodies kept our toes tapping while we indulged in hors d’oeuvres and drinks.
For Sunil Rampuria, a true-blue Calcuttan by birth, whose forefathers had migrated to the city to seek their fortune, life came a full circle when he returned to his roots to turn the ancestral mansion, Bhanwar Niwas, into a heritage hotel. One of the nine havelis owned by the Ramapuria clan, the foundation of the property was laid in the 1920s by Seth Bhanwarlal Rampuria. In 1992, the family moved back to Bikaner and took to converting the haveli into a hotel. The three-storeyed mansion built in Dulmera sandstone boasts of intricate carvings and a fascinating mix of Indian and European styles of architecture. With a legacy of over 90 years, Bhanwar Niwas continues to be a tribute to the craftsmanship of the artisans of Bikaner.
Resplendent mansions, architectural masterpieces and a few sumptuous meals later, I had experienced the epitome of grandeur and opulence.
The property has 41 rooms including 31 art guest rooms and 10 standard rooms.