Right from the moment you meet him, you get the feeling you've never encountered someone with quite as much elegance in their bones as Karan Singh. At 50, he's the poster child for mid life crisis gone terribly right. With his perfect skin (sodium bicarbonate mixed with coconut oil), his impeccable manners, his tasteful jewels ("They're my mother's and I don't care if people laugh I'll wear them!") he makes you feel from the moment you enter, as if you've come home to your favourite mad uncle's country estate.
Unlike his other properties - Suryagarh in Jaisalmer and Laxmi Niwas Palace around the corner from Narendra Bhawan, the Bhawan focuses less on grandeur and more on fun at its most fabulous.
You enter and are greeted by jazz music playing in the driveway (what was once the gaushala for the late King's hundreds of cows), a vintage car in mint green just sitting pretty, and modest steps leading up to a brilliantly tiled patio. Everything is over the top and yet all of it feels accessible. Even the big rose red grand piano painted with Edith Piaf's song Non,Je Ne Regrette Rien - aptly, No, I have no regrets.
There are statues everywhere - once thought so fashionable and by the 90s relegated to vintage stores and grandmother's home, Karan has embraced and rescued them, lining up marble dogs and porcelain mermaids with crystal vases in glass fronted closets. "I love the period in India everyone ignores," he says. "The 1940s to the 1980s". He's caught on to something fantastic. Lord knows we're all sick to death of the colonial nonsense and Days Of The Raj bullshit we're still fed as though our slavery were something to glamorise. Instead Karan has silver footed charpais lining the chevron tiled corridors, because the late king Narendra Singh loved them. He has a restaurant called Pearls and Chiffon - an ode to the sassy Indian women of the late 70s, and two walls of Benarasi silk panels, framed for the property by Ekaya Banaras.
What is truly glamorous though is the fantasy Karan offers. You'll be coaxed into champagne for breakfast and apple flavoured cupcakes before dinner. Nowhere else in the world do you step into a hotel "lobby" that is a library and living room abundant with (what must now be collector's edition) Encyclopedia Britannicas, potted plants, pictures of various old family dogs, and penguin classics galore. It is nothing short of a Marquez novel and any minute now you expect traveling gypsies to come by, set up a tent and sell you potions that will keep you young forevermore.
Do not for one second let the fabulous life fool you, Narendra Bhawan may sound like stepping into your favourite book but like with most brilliant books it is luxury for the intellectual. It is a thinker's paradise...filled with care and clues to bigger things. The pottery outside the bakery isn't just Alice In Wonderland themed, it was personally sculpted for the tearoom by Karan's favourite Bengali artist. The magazines by the reading chair are no ordinary glossies, they're collector's Playboys from the 1970s. You'll find massive extraordinarily crafted light fixtures from little designers in Pondicherry, and limited edition signed art bought off auctions with a dose of luck. Each room is a tribute to a different moment in the life of the late Maharajah of Bikaner and Karan has seen to it that every aspect is represented. When we tell him our room number he begins to explain why he chose the shape of the bed he did, and the idea behind the art above it. We sit there astounded at his knowledge of his own property and the world in general, as a golden retriever named after 1950s New York gangster Bugsy Malone bounds up and the grandame of the property, Juju The Cat stretches out like a queen on the red box you receive your mail in each morning.
Karan's care, concern, and attention to detail reflect everywhere. The staff are in awe of him and they abundantly emulate his attitude. What a formula like that results in is an experience full of warmth, where you feel like no whim or whine will go unnoticed or unsettled. No request is too large, and no problem so great that they cannot with one smooth sweep of a crisp cotton kurta'd arm, solve it. In the evening Karan and his managers Sid and Amara gather at the front bar for martinis, introducing guests to each other, calling for micro mini pizzas, white wine and chilli flavoured chocolates under a starlit sky to an electro swing soundtrack.
Where do you go when your sick of the cold brilliance of luxury? The answer is simple. You go home to Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner.
Our top ten favourite things at the Bhawan:
The Chilli Chocolate
The Banana Cupcakes
The Pickled Cold Chicken
Lauki Ka Halwa
Pickled limes with matthri.
The ghee from Manali.
Sunset at the rooftop swimming pool, with a view of all of Bikaner.
Evening drinks at the front bar.
Playing with Bugsy Malone and stalking Juju the Cat.
Late night star gazing (or breakfast!) at the lake. You can see the enture Milky Way Galaxy from here - so maybe dinner...going into breakfast :)