[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It feels like a discreet world of mirrors and chandeliers. Until recently it was a bus stand.
The monumental Bikaner House in central Delhi has existed in the city’s collective consciousness as a boarding point for Rajasthan-bound buses. That impression is gradually fading. Although a corner of this erstwhile princely property continues to survive as a transport hub for Jaipur and the cities around it, the main portal, today, leads to a place of shy, subdued beauty.
The building’s restoration by conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah began in early 2014, and the refurbished edition was unveiled a few months later with designer Vivek Sahni’s boutique, Vayu, and a beautiful art gallery imaginatively called Art Gallery. Chor Bizzare, the famous Kashmiri speciality restaurant that has its original outlet in Old Delhi, recently opened here–it is decked up with a maddening variety of artefacts, including Karl Marx’s multi-volume Theories Of Surplus Value, an unreadable treatise that in these capitalist times can only be rustled out of a real chor bazaar. Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar, the Jaipur-based food chain popularly called LMB by its devotees, is also to set up shop here. A reading library is also understood to make its entry.
Built in 1938, Bikaner House is one of the few former palaces in the Capital that are accessible to the public (the nearby Hyderabad House, for instance, is used by the Prime Minister to host banquets for visiting kings and presidents). Its new version was conceived by a panel comprising the art world’s who’s who, such as craft revivalist Laila Tyabji and artist Bharti Kher.
The stern-looking Malvika Singh, publisher of the legendary Seminar magazine, who has been associated closely with the making of the new Bikaner House and is also on the aforementioned panel, credits Rajasthan’s artistically inclined chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia for the turnaround. “She restored the building,” says Ms Singh in her booming voice, “and she decided to return it to Delhi as a ‘culture hub’.”
The palace makes for a beautiful walk. The corridors resemble a gallery of mirrors, and lamplights are reflected on the smooth chessboard floor. As you walk down the principal corridor, you might sight your passing reflections on these mirrors on the wall. That makes for a surreal experience.
Bikaner, 0 km