Samar Mondal’s baritone reverberates through the open central courtyard of The Rajbari Bawali hotel, as Sanskrit shlokas roll off his tongue, accompanied by the conch and beats of the drums. His aristocratic ancestors once called this two-storey rajbari home. Now, he visits the 250-year-old mansion every day to talk to the guests about its history and conduct evening prayers on the steps of what was once the thakur dalan (public courtyard), where most social ceremonies were held. Today, the thakur dalan has a restaurant where a full Bengali lunch is served in traditional terracotta dishes.
The two wings of the Rajbari rise around the courtyard and are a product of seven years of tedious restoration. Recycled cast iron fittings, pillars and Burma teak, and many parts of the original house including shutters and grills have found a new home here. Old-world charm melds with grungy at the Rajbari; there are vintage knick-knacks such as brass pots and sculptures in rooms, and most walls have exposed slim bricks that I learn were custom-made at a kiln in Murshidabad, to resemble the original home. Beyond the central courtyard and the Rajbari’s two wings, there are two ponds, a swimming pool, clusters of rooms detached from the main building, and a spa.
Mondal’s prayers drag me out of the Ivory Suite Done up in warm tones of ivory and beige, it has a vintage four-poster bed, a sitting room with comfortable couches and cushy ottomans upholstered in fine linen and a selection of books. The collection, I note, is smaller than the hotel’s library, which has cushioned teal armchairs and a swing, ideal for a night-time cuppa and a book.
Having opened about a year ago, The Rajbari Bawali is still lesser-known, much like the eponymous village around it. On a village walk organised by the hotel, Priya, a staff member at the Rajbari and a resident of the village tells me about her home. A prime horticulture hotspot, Bawali is also where most of the denim pants going into Indian markets are stitched on a mass scale. A Shiva temple nearby, tranquil riverside views, stories of the ruins of temples and jalsaghars (country estates where noblemen entertained guests and organised dances) and a thriving football culture define life in the village. And just round the corner from a temple ruin and a cycle-repair shop, a wall opens up to the understated grandeur of The Rajbari Bawali.
The Rajbari Bawali is a three-hour drive from Kolkata airport and has 28 rooms; www.therajbari.com; doubles from Rs9,600.
Rumela Basu is former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.