There’s a museum in the corridors of Jehan Numa Palace

Tall marble pillars frame pictures, cars and more as the royals of Bhopal uncover their past at the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel

Tall marble pillars frame pictures, cars and more as the royals of Bhopal uncover their past at the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel

Over the years, the Jehan Numa Palace in Bhopal – built on the slopes of the Shyamla Hills in 1890 by General Obaidullah Khan, Commander in Chief of the Bhopal State Force, and the second son of Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum – has many robes. Blending British Colonial, Italian Renaissance and Classical Greek architectural styles with Art Deco facets, the white marble building was built as the general’s office and then used as his sons’ secretariat. After independence, it became a government hostel and later the offices of the Geological Survey of India.

In 1983, after the restoration of the five-acre estate, the General’s grandsons reopened it as a heritage hotel – the colonnaded corridors with sepia-colored portraits and the interior with rooms, four restaurants, two bars and a spa. Now the pandemic has given it another facet: a museum, which fell together almost like a “jigsaw puzzle”, says Faiz Rashid, director of the Jehan Numa Group of Hotels and a member of the royal family of Bhopal.

Faiz Rashid

Faiz Rashid

A showcase with columns

†[Over the last 20-odd months] we tried to come up with innovative ways to nurture hospitality. Due to the time available, we started looking at family archives and thought about why we shouldn’t share the legacy with the world,” Rashid says. He tells me about assembling memorabilia: artifacts, clothes, “beautiful letters in Urdu” written to his great-grandfather, documents, “invoices of the cars that the royal family bought [like a Ford Phantom and a customised Bentley]- all of which are now on display at the hotel.

“General Obaidullah Khan accompanied his mother, the last… begum, on her foreign travels. He was inspired by different architectural styles and the exhibition is a pictorial history of the evolution of the hotel from its construction in the 19th century,” he says.

The photo of the begum from the archive

The begumphoto from the archive

The corridors along the central courtyard, with its famous 100-year-old mango tree, were chosen as the ideal backdrop for the exhibition. I take a virtual tour of the elegantly framed archives, arranged in clusters on the walls of the checkered black and white marble and granite corridors, zooming in on the photos and taking a glimpse of the life and times of a pre-independence royalty who were forward-thinking and involved, rich but not flamboyant, stylish but never ostentatious.

From letters to thoroughbreds

The family enlisted the help of Joe Alvarez, the noted jazz singer who wrote a coffee table book about Bhopal, to put together the memorabilia. “We’ve divided them into nine topics, starting with the four deludesthe last nawabvisiting dignitaries, nawabia sports and the outdoors, and the like,” said Alvarez, who also generated a voiceover and added a QR code to enable a Walk-In Museum audio guide. He recounts the images of a thriving stud farm, something that continues to this day (a trotting track set up when the hotel opened gives visitors a glimpse into the royal family’s passion for breeding thoroughbreds), tailor-made made cars, branded weapons and weapons and official visits from dignitaries.

The job at the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel

The job at the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel

“The nawab begums of Bhopal were very dynamic and built the city differently from male rulers. They focused on all areas from education to women’s empowerment. We realized so much of their contribution – like building hospitals, improving railways, opening schools – as we put this together,” says Rashid, adding that in 1889 Shah Jehan Begum funded the construction of the first purpose-built Great Britain mosque in Woking. The collection is still evolving as more memorabilia slowly makes their way to them, from the extended family. A plan to buy the wedding dresses of the . to restore and exhibit deludes is also in the pipeline.

The museum is accessible to everyone. Rooms in the hotel are from 8,000. Details: jehannuma.com

Bori Safari Lodge

Bori Safari Lodge

Spot the tiger at Bori Safari Lodge

Another post-pandemic hospitality initiative is Bori Safari Lodge, an eight-room wild camp started by Rashid’s brother, Aly, in the Satpura Forest. “When we started the Reni Pani Jungle Lodge [a two-and-a-half hour drive away] 2009 was all about experiencing the diversity of the forest, with river safaris, walking trails and bird watching. With the Bori, the tiger takes center stage,” says the trained naturalist, who works with the state tourism office.

Aly is a trained naturalist

Aly is a trained naturalist

A tiger relocation program successfully launched four years ago has revitalized the habitat and the local population. “The tigers have not only blossomed, but have actively started mating.” Aly – who has great memories of his childhood in the forests – also leads expeditions to spot snow leopards in Ladakh and to look for the red panda in the northeast. “This one [project] is a means of preserving the landscape. The alternative income for local people will recharge the community, support conservation and ensure wildlife is seen as an asset.”

From ₹ 25,000 (all inclusive)

Other heritage places to see

Gopnath BungalowBhavnagar, Gujarat

Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil has “wonderful memories” of spending summers at the Gopnath Bungalow of the royal family of Bhavnagar, “collecting shells on the beach and climbing trees with my brother”. The seaside mansion, built by her great-grandfather, Maharaja Krishnakumar Sinhji, in 1942, is an hour’s drive from Nilambagh Palace in Bhavnagar. “The main house was virtually closed and unused,” Gohil says, adding that during the pandemic, the family returned to the old haunt and rediscovered its charm and beauty. Now they are restoring the building to its former glory and it will open to guests in mid-March.

Gopnath Bungalow

Gopnath Bungalow

Built in a blend of colonial and Kathiawadi architecture style, mainly using Mangalore tiles and wood, the bungalow renovation stays true to its roots. Four rooms of the bungalow will also have walls painted by a local artist, with themes inspired by the natural heritage of the region. Gohil – an archeology student and a history buff, who started the Bhavnagar Heritage Walks in 2018 and spearheaded the restoration of many architecturally rich buildings in the area – believes the bungalow’s remoteness is its USP and favors stargazers, wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers will attract viewers.

Palace of Belgadia

Palace of Belgadia

The barnBelgadia Palace, Odisha

A surprising influx of domestic travelers during the pandemic prompted Mrinalika Bhanj Deo, a royal descendant of the former principality of Mayurbhanj, to expand The Belgadia Palace’s offerings. (Part of the family’s private residence opened as a resort in 2019.) She is currently expanding their outdoor dining options in the garden.

The barn of Belgadia Palace

The barn of Belgadia Palace

The Barn, as she calls it, can accommodate 30 guests. She also works outdoors, tagging trees to conserve flora, organizing nature walks, and introducing activities such as archery, croquet, cycling, and games such as cricket and badminton. Meanwhile, her older sister Akshita – who works with the craft communities in Mayurbhanj – has opened Beej, a boutique in the palace resort, to sell products such as honey, millet and crafts to aid them.

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