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Travel tales

Enchanting Gaj Kesri

Team exatraveller recently visited Bikaner to explore the forts, desserts, and to interact with the Sukhi, susht and shant people at HotelGaj Kesri Bikaner, a Basavana Art Hotel. I was also looking forward to a visit to Bhujia Bazar in Bikaner to re-live a childhood memory.  

The best time to travel to and in Rajasthan is between September and April as the climate is generally cooler and outings are much more enjoyable. But we chose to visit during the monsoons to romance the fragrant raindrops falling on the sands in the desserts, and also to enjoy the clean facades of the forts.

Gaj Kesri Bikaner was our abode for three days where our hosts were Mr Sunil Rampuria and his better half Mrs. Anju Rampuria. Our romance with Bikaner started as soon as we landed at the airport and headed towards the hotel on Jodhpur Bikaner bypass road.  

Awe struck me as our car entered the massive gates of the hotel. I was at a loss of words as to what to call the property and couldn’t even properly greet the owners, Mr Sunil Rampuria as he welcomed us. It was a mix of royalty and effluence. My short R&D about Gaj Kesri has informed me that Gaj Kesri is a four star heritage hotel. But, NO, it was not a four star hotel, in fact it was not even a hotel. It was like my royal home that I always dream of, a huge house with a central chowk and staff all around pampering me with choicest drinks and delicious dishes. Believe me, guys, that’s how I was treated to for three days.

Gaj kesri, literally translated means -“, “golden elephant,” or “heap of gold”. Saffron is a color of religious significance suggesting morality, philosophy, charity, learning, etc. and saffron was present everywhere in the hotel area.

Set in typical Rajasthani palace style, the royal architecture, conceived and designed by the owner, Mr Sunil Rampuria himself, compliments the charming decor of the building. As soon as you enter the property – it’s a different world; elegance and style ooze out and engulfs your vision and thoughts. The reception area resembles an art museum with displays of hand-painted murals with gold leafs and artifacts done mostly in Usta art form.

The artwork extends to the total of 45 wonderfully done up deluxe rooms, drawing rooms, dining hall and the TV room. The rooms are gorgeously decorated with upto date modern day in-room amenities, like air-conditioner, attached bath with running hot and cold water, television, tea and coffee maker and hair dryer and furnished with the finest block printed fabrics.

You can never be bored when you are in the room, but still if you get bored of watching TV in the room, or finish up your chats and social postings, you can come out in a spacious courtyard, set with chip tiles floors, fondly called, the Chowk and chill out with drinks and snacks. We were there during the rainy days and the skies were a mix of artistic patterns. So while waiting for ever-smiling staff to serve our drinks, we just stretched out on the garden sofas set in the chowk, enjoyed the sky patterns and also captured them on our cameras. The silhouetted Jharokhas and arches at the chowk made for perfect frames for my images and I got so immersed in this hypnotic ambiance that even my hot coffee got cold and I finally drank it as cold coffee without ice cream.

As it got dark and I thought of going indoors to download the amazing shots that I had on my camera, Sunil ji informed me about the musical show that was going to begin soon at the chowk. And soon the Chowk was filled up with soothing and soul-stirring music of evergreen and classical Bollywood numbers sung by the lead singer Raja of Team King Dreams. The icing on the cake was songs by Sunil ji and Mrs Anju themselves on one of the evenings. On one such evening they organised an Antakshari too, where the two teams, Ladies versus Gents, participated whole heartedly with Raja being the umpire. Like always, Ladies won the Antakshari.

“Padharo Mhare Rajasthan” is an old age welcome message for guests and Rajasthanis treat their Atithi with choicest of culinary delights. So how can Rampurias be behind at Gaj Kesri? Yes, friends, we were treated to exotic traditional Marwari food, south Indian delicacies, and also Pastas and some mouthwatering continental dishes at their restaurant, which was elegantly decorated with artifacts and huge paintings.

The beautifully decorated dining hall with tables lighted with fragrant candles will invite every guest. Huge paintings graced the walls all around us, and I was amazed to see one special painting of two masked men. Mrs Rampuria was in-charge of the kitchen proceedings at Gaj Kesri, and I was very happy with this. This meant that I will not be missing homemade food, and that’s what I got to savour for three days. Only Vegetarian food is served here, but non-veggies eaters don’t miss meaty food, as the choices are plenty.  

Oh, yes, I did loved the Desserts part of each and every meal of mine, they really were exquisite and choicest sweets served by the hospitable staff.

Second day of my stay began with a stroll on the 25 acre green oasis created in the desert. As I walked to the small Karni Mata temple, KulDevi of the owners for offering prayers, lots of birds flying around the trees accompanied me, singing and chirping all along. I guess, the birds liked me a lot as they accompanied me everywhere I went during this exploratory excursion of the lush green grounds and other parts of the property.

After the stroll, time was for a sumptuous breakfast, and then time to go out and explore Bikaner a bit. Our hosts were kind enough to have arranged our excursion to the city and also a traditional Marwari Lunch at their ancestral property, the grandest haveli, Bhanwar Niwas. Bhanwar Niwas, in fact is a tribute and testimony to the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans of Bikaner. Completed in 1927 by Bhanwarlalji Rampuria, heir to a textile and real estate fortune, Bhanwar Niwas reflects the fashionable tastes of the 1920′s, formal and well ordered luxury with modern conveniences of the time.

Bikaner is known as the city of Forts, but it has not received the kind of attention it deserves. Thanks to the sprouting of such beautiful and hospitable properties lately, it is now emerging as one of Rajasthan’s favoured locales for royalty and sand dunes. Though most of the forts now lie in ruins, each of them tell untold stories and are examples of ancient beauty. We visited the majestic Junagarh fort and loved its colorful marble floorings. The fort proudly stands tall with pillars, fireplaces and intricate latticework. We also visited the Karni Mata Temple well known for its rats, and the Camel Breeding farm, the only one in India. Because of its location,  Gaj Kesri is surrounded by magnificent sand dunes. Often I used to go out and enjoy the rains falling on sand and oozing out fresh earthy fragrance.   

It rained intermittently throughout the day, and it made us sweat heavily, and I was looking to get into a pool of cool waters. Once back at Gaj Kesri, I quickly went to the blue waters of the swimming pool, set in the midst of greenery. The façade at the end of pool with arches and minarets on either side ware creating an ambiance beyond description.

As I chilled in the pool, and kept looking around; a thought flashed – I am sure Rampurias must have also thought the same, i.e. this dream like environ can be an ideal venue for a royal and enchanting wedding celebration. The impressive red stone palatial facade, minars (turrets) and jharokhas all make it a perfect setting for a big budget wedding and even a bollywood musical shoot.

As usual, the time to depart arrived and we left with a heavy heart. Mr and Mrs Rampuira were present to see us off, and we left with a promise to surely come back with family and friends.

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