I would be honest. When I first learnt about a palatial hotel in Karnal, I was skeptical: Why would someone set up such a mammoth property in the middle of nowhere? Agreed they are close to the GT Road, country’s busiest highway lined with North India’s wealthiest cities, but then it is just another small town. At the heart of this skepticism was the feeling of superiority that most of us living in metros seem to be born with, or inherit as soon as we move here. Then there was a genuine curiosity. Since Karnal is neither a big city, nor a tourist center why do you have something as grand as Noor Mahal claimed to be located there?
And so, I kept pushing my trip to the place. I also had work, family, illness, and travel that kept me busy. But earlier this month, I gave in to the persistence of the sweet young woman who has been following up diligently. It helped that she readily offered to host all four of us instead of just me. My whims of reaching at day break and leaving in the middle of next were also happily accommodated. I was already sold. And so we drove, in our car so that I do not trouble them any further, early in the morning, to a town I had only bypassed until now.
Karnal is a small yet prosperous town on the GT road and known for its rice mills. It is also home to some agricultural and dairy research institutes, and a lake, there is a nice little church tower and wide beautiful roads. I did not know the city is believed to have been founded by Karna, my favourite character from Mahabharata, and there is a lake by his name too. Now I do. The city is also home to some beautiful homes. Large palatial bungalows, with huge lawns and large terraces. An indicator that its people value the good things in life.
Noor Mahal is one such good thing. The only second place in the country to have a Svarovski Chandelier — the first being Rashtapati Bhawan — the hotel is a treasure trove of art and craft which is brought from all over the country and nurtured with love and care in its corridors.
We are welcomed with a refreshing drink, Rajasthani music, tika and garlands under a sparkling chandelier. Even though it is a hazy day, thanks to the post Diwali smog, the lobby is glistening — some of it could be due to the crystals everywhere, some due to the mirrored tikri work. Done in antique furniture, marble fountains, and adorned with beautiful paintings, it could easily belong to the finest hotels in the biggest cities.
What draws my attention however are the two paintings — of a dapper young man and a women, both dressed in traditional Sikh costumes. Maneesh, the PR Manager, at Noor Mahal, and also our host, informs that while the man is the famous Maharaja, Dileep Singh, the woman is a portrayal of a traditional Amritsari Sardani. Made with real gold and semi-precious stones, these highlight the Sikh traditional attire and costume. Each one, I am told, costs over two million rupees and took over 9 months to make.
The love for art and attention to detail is evident through the hotel, the staircases are home to pictures of erstwhile royal families, heirloom furniture, even zardozi panels and marble artifacts. The corridors are laid with lush, soft, floral carpets and every room is marked by a small taakh, inlaid with hand painted motifs and handset tikri. Our suite, the most expensive and luxurious in the property boasts of some vintage art, a peach chandelier, hand painted ceiling and antique doors from a haveli. The living room is adorned with a intricate repurposed bar.
The dining table and coffee table are made with antique doors. An old wooden plaque, with Persian inscriptions acts as the art piece. Every piece in the suit has a story: The bedspread in the room was cut out of curtains that hung in a royal house in Faridkot. Combs framed and hung on either side of the bed came from an auction in Mysore. The bar in the living room was a balcony, of a house in Amritsar’s Golden Temple complex.
Stories are abundant in the hotel complex if you pay enough attention. The staircase that leads to the beautiful rooftop banquet houses a precious photo-gallery, Tasveerkhana, with rare pictures of princes and kings, nawabs and nizams. Acquired from their original owners they are displayed with pride and passion. The zardozi pieces in the corridors tell tales of the timeless craft practiced in this part of the country, and series of portraits of Sikh Gurus chronicle their lives.
With half a dozen banquets, meeting rooms, conference halls, two courtyards, and acres of lush gardens, the place, we are told is a favourite for weddings and ceremonies. I see two in one day that I spend; more were supposed to follow. The best thing about the hotel however is it location. Adjacent to lush farms, facing a large open residential area (with low bungalows and not high-rises), the rooftop is smartly used to make two little chattris — udaya and ast — to watch both sunset and sunrise. It is from here that I also notice our terrace. While the suite — Khwabgah — itself is over 2000 sq. feet, my terrace is even bigger. Flanked by the national flag and adorned with a fountain, it really makes me feel like royalty.
Everything at Noor Mahal is designed to make you feel like royalty. The silver and velvet couches in the lobby, that act as selfie and groupie spots with local guests during the day and see tired feet rest up amidst of a busy wedding, the courtyards, decked in pink and yellow, with ornate pillars and intricate balconies, the rooms, which cater to all your needs, and even the toilet that comes fitted with a Japanese bidet that can take a commoner like me some getting used to.
Keep watching for more stories on Noor Mahal.