HOTEL OF THE MONTH
Formerly known as Gulab Bhavan, the magnificent edifice was built in 1910 by the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Pratap Singh, after whom it was entrusted into the able hands of his nephew, Maharaja Hari Singh. Post-Independence, when the latter moved to Mumbai, the palace became Srinagar’s first five-star hotel in 1956 and home to the world’s glitterati whenever the Himalayas beckoned. Changes in administration, careful restoration and modern additions have endowed the hotel with a contemporary garb, albeit with an old-world charm.
Kashmir’s iconic Chinars, often called trees of character, indigenous to the landscape of the region and said to be a legacy of the Mughals, are stolid sentinels in the expansive gardens of the palace, their fan-shaped pointed leaves, changing colours with each season from green to yellow to crimson to gold. Under one of these pillars of history, Mahatma Gandhi and Maharaja Hari Singh had their epoch-making conversation where momentous political decisions were taken. There is even a plaque on the tree’s thick trunk highlighting the moment. Today too, the hotel nurtures some of the finest Chinars in the state and tending to them for the last 50 years is the wizened palace gardener, Baba Maksood.
Much of the ornate furniture and opulent furnishings in the old wing – all suites – were handpicked by the last Maharaja whose interest in art and architecture never waned. Lord Mountbatten stayed here in 1947 as did many dignitaries and aristocrats. The Maharaja and Maharani suites are resplendent with walnut desks, framed jamavar shawls, four posters, walk-in closets and Wi-Fi!
The view? The sweeping lawns, bursting with seasonal blooms, the shimmering Dal Lake and the snow-capped peaks beyond. At the far end of the lawns, nudging the Rejuve Spa, are the palace cottages almost hidden from view. Self-contained little havens, these private enclosures are hugely popular with Bollywood stars and reclusive politicians, although a guest, once out on a morning jog was pleasantly startled to encounter chief minister Omar Abdullah admiring the tulips in the garden!
In remembrance of authentic flavours and aromas of yore, much of which have been immortalised by Maharaja Hari Singh and his wife who often donned the apron themselves for their guests, the multi-cuisine restaurant, The Chinar, tries to replicate the experience. Feast on grilled rainbow trout and stuffed breast of chicken or drop diet inhibitions and gorge on the famed Kashmiri wazwan, a traditional offering of local meats and vegetables. Tackle the onslaught of eight heavy duty dishes topped by the special zaffrani phirni and nap for eight hours after. At The Chinar Garden, indulge in freshly baked coconut macaroons washed down by the warm, almond-rich kahwa and when the sun sets and the shivers begin, make for the Dal Bar and its spirited comfort….
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