In a class of its own, Jehan Numa Palace offers hospitality experience that reflects the true ethos of Bhopal—a city known for the nawabs and their grandeur. Operational for over three decades, this hotel has made a mark on the hospitality map of the country for not only being unique in its service offerings, but also for its captivating simplicity that distinguishes it and connects everyone to the nature. An account of Suchitra Chanda and Sanjeev exploration with narrative of Hospitality Expert Sanjeev!
I was lazing by the swimming pool. I could see people were, one by one, getting into the gymnasium next to the pool for their routine fitness chores (lots of gym members staying in the vicinity in addition to in-house guests). They were going through rigorous exercises, while I was enjoying the calmness in the atmosphere, far away from the ‘business as usual’ environment that I usually experience. It was a perfect setting that all city denizens wish to experience, always. Jehan Numa Palace is more than just a hotel, and goes beyond to offer services that may seem unexpected if one is not aware of the insight of Bhopal’s superior hospitality.
It was a delight to be at this hotel which is in existence for almost 30 years—and experiencing the mix of royalty and classy elegance with great layout, making me savour every possible opportunity of its hospitality finesse. I loved the fact that you need to walk a bit to reach to rooms, which turn out to be great experience as you get to stroll through wide corridors and pathways decorated in a minimalist manner. The walk was good, and I said that only for one particular reason…nature. Yes, landscaping has to be the synonym for the hotel’s beauty, which—for me—overshadows the beauty of the interiors that have been equally picked with precision matching the hotel’s ethos. In fact, the mix of interior and exterior, i.e., having a blend of colonial furniture, traditional and ethnic furnishing, tribal artworks, etc., and landscaping make this hotel truly regal. While sitting outside the room overseeing the swimming pool, I enjoyed watching horses taking a stroll by the designated track dedicated for them. It definitely brings a unique dimension to the hotel that its peers can’t claim to have. This really reinforces the fact that the place used to be a residence palace and administration office of Bhopal way back in the late 19th century, as it continues to live retaining all myriad facets.
White structure, pure
The present-day structure, or the hotel, in sheer white, reminded me of the quarters where the political class resides in Lutyens’ Delhi—although in terms colour and structural approach. But, this is truly a revered property; it won’t be wrong to say that it is one of the key landmarks on the landscape of Bhopal’s hospitality. It is definitely the pride of the city, which you can evaluate while interacting with the staff. The General Manager of the hotel, Gaurav Rege, is equally proud of it and feels that the hotel has everything that could turn it into the best. He is gung-ho about taking the hotel from the present pedestal to an even greater height (read the interaction with the GM in the article published earlier. The hotel is no longer the administrative palace of General Obaidullah Khan and has progressed to become a melting pot of culture, leisure and evolving mind-sets (youth).
…with a past merging with the present
The hotel claims that this regal 19th Century residence is a rare fusion of contemporary comfort and care. On visiting and experiencing the hotel, I would reciprocate the same tone. There’s a historic significance at every turn; there’s a sense of past not well-known to me and many others around the older construction of the property. The 100-room hotel includes six suites—viz., regal, palace, imperial, junior, heritage and presidential. The presidential suite displays photographs of the royal family members and it is interesting to go through the past. While this wing has two green courtyards, the area, just above the reception, on the second of the two-storeyed building hosts events/meetings for small exclusive gathering with service that could accentuate the importance of events.
The new wing, as I would point it out to, displays open garden areas and balconies with a variety of trees well-preserved, with the swimming pool being the focal point. The trees seem to appear as if they have evolved with the building facades. Furthermore, I met with an opportunity to see live restoration of a painting being carried out by experts, while Rege and Faiz Rashid—one of the directors of the hotel kept their observant eyes and discussed the progress. I was told that the hotel has several of such paintings and they are restoring them. The hotel, thus, has several paintings and artefacts that brings out its novelty.
Coming back the corridors of the old wing, you would come across old newsprint articles adorning a section of wall, and the one that attracted my immediate attention was penned by Ismail Merchant, the famous Hollywood filmmaker. It was an article written for NEWYORK TIMES, dated Sunday, 12 February 1995. He talked about food and the historic significance of the region—Khajuraho, Panna and Rajgarh—where he shot some sequences in 1987 for the film ‘The Deceivers’, and how he explored the food and enjoyed it. At the end of the article, he informed his readers about this hotel—“Jehan Numa Palace Hotel, 157 Shamla Hill, Bhopal 462013, Madhya Pradesh, India: telephone…. Sixty air-conditioned rooms, including four suites. Fitness centre with sauna and steam bath, tennis, swimming pool and 24-hour room service. Doubles range from $24 to $57 plus 15 percent tax. Dinner for two $16 to $22. The Garden Barbeque in the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel serves Indian, Continental and Chinese cuisine(s)….”
While I was enjoying the hospitality of Jehan Numa Palace and the sumptuous food, I could also relate to what Ismail Merchant professed about Jehan Numa Palace food. More than two decades later, the hotel continues to astonish new visitors (like me) and mesmerise the loyal ones with great tastes and flavours. I had the opportunity to meet the Executive Chef of the hotel, Akash Chattopadhyay. He told me about the way hotel is among the top places for dining in the city, and equally popular among those who love authenticity apart from the youth. While discussing about food, he insisted that I taste tikkas—which I was reluctant about being from the capital city which is quite popular for tikkas. “You try tasting the tikkas made by us, you will sure find it different, and for the better,” he had challenged. I have to agree that the tikkas were different; they tasted little different from the conventional ones, yet really delightful in a way where the taste lingers for long. Tikkas tend to go chewy if not cooked well; however, the tikkas which I experienced were extremely soft. I truly enjoyed the difference.
According to Chef Chattopadhyay, there are several recipes in the menu that are exclusive to Jehan Numa Palace, which have come from the kitchens of the royal family. The hotel offers elaborate dining options. Having an elaborate breakfast at ‘Shahnama’ would make you feel truly being treated by a cosmopolitan luxury city hotel. The massive spread of fresh fruits and the assortment of oriental, continental and Indian dishes is on a par with the most popular five-star hotels in the country. This restaurant is located at the first level of the separate section of the hotel, which has conference halls, with a small lawn to play host to open-air dining events.
On the other hand, the restaurant ‘La Kuchina’ is preferred by those looking for Mediterranean and Italian food. This also highlights the fact that even as a city—which is not a tier-I category—there is a fair audience and inbound tourist traffic that this restaurant, and the hotel overall, caters to. Other gourmet attractions of this hotel are ‘Under the Mango Tree’ (offering barbeque and grills during evening hours) and ‘Cafechino’ (café and patisserie). Since, I wanted to experience hospitality the royal style with optimum comfort, I opted for room service as well. Past experiences have always made me believe that I may not get the best food in-the-house through room service orders—to an extent it is true as well. However, the hotel proved me wrong. Jehan Numa Palace is commendable in its approach to offer the best one can think of in room service. While kebabs melted in mouth, khumb malai palak was one dish that I won’t forget ever. I can go on and on about the variety one can enjoy, but that is not the point I am putting my emphasis on. What is important to know for me is the hotel’s approach to customise the needs, while retaining the impact of respectable dishes with minor variations. Hence, I would say that innovation and approach are perfectly blended by the kitchens of this hotel.
…make for a delightful stay
Any hotel wins its customers back for two important reasons—service approach and hospitable atmosphere. There are a few staff members in this hotel who have been serving either since the day hotel started its operation or for more than two decades, which exemplify the organisational environment within, and the reason why customers to like this hotel.
Recalling the time spent in the hotel, I am impressed by the clarity the hotel aims to offer to its guests not only to enjoy a relaxing place to be in, but also allowing each one to understand the way hospitality should be relished.