Baradari Palace: Off the beaten path in Punjab, India
Not many people outside India are aware of Neemrana Hotels, a hotel group endeavouring to preserve India’s architectural heritage through the restoration of historical properties. One of Neemrana‘s most successful projects, Baradari Palace in the city of Patiala hearkens back to a time when the unimaginable wealth of India’s maharajahs allowed for the construction of fabulous buildings. These buildings are found all over India; sadly, many of them are in dire condition after centuries of tropical weather and neglect. Many, but not all.
Neemrana Hotels called Baradari Palace a ‘non-hotel’ since it is not meant to feel like a hotel. The key to enjoying a stay at Baradari Palace is arriving with a realistic idea of what (not) to expect. The building is indeed a former palace, and though it may have seen better days at the height of its owner’s powers, today the voluminous rooms with 6-metre ceilings still convey an air of privilege in the space if not the ambience. The hands-off staff are friendly and professional; they are always about and ready to help but for the most part they stay behind the scenes, giving guests a feeling of being in a home rather than a hotel.
Baradari Palace‘s 18 rooms vary in size from the enormous Raja Sardul Singh and Raja Amra Singh rooms to the comparably intimate Maharani Mohinder Kaur corner room on the ground floor which has doors opening directly onto a wide colonnade and expansive gardens beyond. The adjacent Baradari Gardens, an unofficial botanical garden with tree specimens collected from all over the world, is a favourite place for late-afternoon strolls amid the greenery. The gardens were the private grounds of the palace before being made into a public park. Mornings begin with music emanating from the nearby Sri Kali Devi Temple (within easy walking distance) and the occasional train whistle coming from somewhere beyond the trees add to the sensory experiences of being in India.
Thinking Patiala to be off the beaten path, I was surprised that the first guest met upon arrival at hotel was a fellow Australian, albeit one in town for business rather than leisure. The large Pepsico operations in the city bring a mix of international business travellers to Patiala, making Baradari Palace the most cosmopolitan place in town. Patiala rarely sees international leisure visitors, and it is exactly their absence which adds to the city’s appeal. The authenticity of experiences here is complete; this includes the warm hospitality shown when visiting temples where foreigners are rarities but where they are heartily welcomed.
The immense Mubarak Qila complex, a massive compound reminiscent of Beijing’s Forbidden City, has fallen into disrepair and is currently undergoing a comprehensive restoration. The splendid Durbar Hall building to the right of the complex remains unaffected, however; though the extraordinarily lavish interior is somewhat dank, most of the items on display invoke a mild curiosity; deeper appreciation comes when putting things in perspective with regard to time. A 1903 Fiat, much larger than today’s popular Fiat 500, looks like an old car, but when one realises there are not many 113-year-old cars around, it can be appreciated as an advancement in technology for its time. Overall, the museum is well worth the admission charge of…25 cents!
Yes, another advantage to visiting India off the beaten path is the lack of two-tiered admission charges for locals and foreigners. That leaves more money to spend with Indian Vistas, a leading tour company that can make arrangements for travellers to visit Patiala and elsewhere in India. Indian Vistas can create personalised itineraries for individual preferences and make all the arrangements necessary to make a dream trip to India come true.