Saturday, June 9, 2012

Palace Hotel - Bikaner House - Mount Abu - heritage property with dark secrets

The Palace Hotel (Bikaner House) in Mount Abu was constructed in 1893. In 1962, Maharaja Karni Singhji decided to convert part of the residence into a hotel. The property is extremely imposing and is considered a Heritage Hotel. (Source: Palace hotel web site).

Today, Mount Abu is a convenient get away for the well heeled and for the corporate community for meetings and conferences, an escape from the 'dryness' of Gujarat. The drive from Ahmedabad to Mount Abu is dry and sandy. 

The drive from Ahmedabad takes about 4 hours. I realized that not many places in India would be able to compete with the quality of the roads that one finds in Gujarat. 

The deterioration in the infrastructure is quite evident as one enters Rajasthan. Mount Abu turned out to be a typical small, dirty town. It could be anywhere in the northern part of India, a common sight being that of cows nonchalantly strolling around, munching on garbage. It was a relief to enter the campus of the Bikaner Palace Hotel resort. The gardens are parched. Vegetation barely seems to manage to survive. 

The 'Royal crest' is prominently displayed at the entrance to the hotel part of the property, and also behind the reception. 

The guest rooms are built towards the side of the property in buildings made of stone. Evenings and mornings are quite peaceful and relatively cool, compared to the rest of the day.

The rooms are well maintained, my room had a dressing area and a large bathroom. I suspect the furniture is modern, made with the antique finish, which is quite common these days. Rooms have a make believe fireplace. The TV appears to be out of place.

The grounds are relaxing to sit around in or walk early mornings. The garden is fairly large. Again, the harshness of the environment is evident.

The famed Dilwara Temple are visible from the property. Five temples are made of marble, built between the 11 and 13 centuries AD. The conference schedule did not permit a visit to the temples, unfortunately. 

Several large trees with roots growing downward in search of scarce water are visible around the grounds.

A parasitic plant seems to be thriving at the expense of a tree.

The descendants of the erstwhile royal family live in another section at the side of the imposing, main building. 

The interior of the main section of the property consists of a large living area and two dining areas. Paintings of the past inhabitants dot the walls, many in small paintings in the traditional Rajasthani style. The quality of many of the photos taken with my mobile camera were rather poor because of the low light, so I am posting only a few here. 

The walls of the living area are lined with scores of photographs of the bravery of our royalty of the 
past era. Almost always in groups, sometimes accompanied with the 'sahibs' they appeared so desperate to please. Uniformly, though, the members of the royalty appear to be highly satisfied with their success in cornering and slaughtering our magnificent wildlife heritage. 

The royal Tiger was obviously at the top of their 'must kill' list.

Imposing, yet peaceful wild Buffalo were not spared, either.

A matter of great pride, two trophies shown here...

Neither were the graceful Leopards... with a smile...

The royalty went after the magnificent Lion, as well, seems to be an effective way of earning brownie points with the 'Sahib'. 

From the multitude of pictures adorning the wall, it seemed like it was rather difficult for our past royalty to stop gloating at their incredible achievements. 

Having studied a little bit of Indian History, I was aware that many Indian royal families of the past did tend to take immense pride in slaughtering wildlife, well protected by large groups of drum beaters and escorts. My trip  to the Palace Hotel Bikaner House was my first experience with walls full of photographs that documented this behaviour. This was an extremely shocking revelation. 

A disturbing stream of thought kept occurring over and over again. The descendants of our royal past are obviously enjoying a life of comfort and luxury these days. 

My request would be for the descendants of our Royal families to put these disturbing photographs away in their personal archives. Instead, the walls should be adorned with photographs of beautiful wildlife that remains today, which several concerned individuals, groups and countries are attempting to protect. 

I would be interested in learning whether the descendants of our Royal families are attempting to compensate for the misdeeds of their ancestors by supporting wildlife conservation projects. 

-= end -=


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