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Living like a Modern Royal at the Jehan Numa Palace

Blessed by four consecutive Begums, the city of Bhopal has a legacy of royalty that believes in harmony, prosperity and development. A token of their lineage, Jehan Numa Palace is now a heritage hotel that lives in pristine white, calming tranquility, giving its guests a glimpse of the royal life. 

LF Says: ★★★★

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal

Bhopal is most commonly remembered for its horrific gas tragedy of 1984, an incident that left generations disabled and ill, but the city is more than that. The city of lakes has rebuilt itself to its former glory. The roads are clean, dargahs and temples reside together in harmony, the breeze is crisp, and the Upper Lake sparkles under the sun. Bhopal is a lesser-visited Indian city and hones an understated charm deeply rooted in history and culture. Nothing had me prepared for the wonders of Bhopal, and of Jehan Numa Palace. I went in with a blank mind and was surprised beyond measure.

Loosely translating to “the view of the world”, Jehan Numa Palace is located at the foot of Shymala Hills, sharing its address with significant aristocratic and administrative residences. The seven-acre property enjoys privacy surrounded by gardens. As my car moved through the gate, it felt like I had entered a yesteryear film set with the main structure slowly coming into sight. Constructed in honour of the last Begum Nawab Sultan Jahan’s second son General Obaidullah Khan, the Palace is an amalgamation of British Colonial, Italian Renaissance and Classical Greek architecture. It had served as an administrative office during British rule for the General.

Stay like the royals

The first thing that you notice when you reach the property are vintage nuances such as a chariot on the left and an antiquated car parked alongside others. Moving into the lobby, there are life-size portraits of the Begums, vintage ammunition and furniture in a renaissance decor. Passing through the foyer is the courtyard with a beautifully maintained garden surrounded by rooms. It was initially built with only 16 rooms. The veranda in the center harbours a mango tree older than the property. Eventually, more rooms were added, with the current total being 106 rooms, including six suites. Contrasting the spotless white walls are green potted plants across corridors and hallways.

The hallways are a canvas of Bhopal’s history, art and culture with exquisite rugs, vintage vases housing fresh flowers, and images of the bygone generations

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal

The hallways are a canvas of Bhopal’s history, art and culture with exquisite rugs, vintage vases housing fresh flowers, and images of the bygone generations. Honouring the rich history, Jehan Numa Group has recently added an expansive archive of images and articles at the Jehan Numa Museum. The Museum is located in the central courtyard and displays a collection of old family photos, artefacts, and memorabilia of the Royal Family of Bhopal, its engagements and its story entwined with that of Bhopal. On a guided tour of this Museum with the Front Office Manager, Virendra Singh, I saw the city’s history differently. He also pointed out a few design references around the hotel from the archival images, like the fence like structure around the Cafechino Café & Patisserie which is taken from the horse fences of the Palace stables during those times.

The rooms of the Palace are impeccably styled in yesteryear glory. The Imperial Room – where I stayed – had a spectacular view of the swimming pool and the horse-riding track. Just like its name, the room is clad in the classic off-white and brown colour palette with accent wooden fixtures. The in-room amenities are modern and do not disappoint. Floor-length windows allow abundant sunlight. My favourite corner in the room was the coffee table on the private balcony. I loved the crisp evening breeze flowing through while enjoying my coffee amidst beautiful flowers. Luckily, I also sighted the Palace’s thoroughbred horses that gallantly rode the tracks – a truly royal experience!

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal horses

Dine like the royals 

My early morning flight took me to the property’s only all-day dining restaurant, Shahnama. Located on the first floor of the left wing of the palace hotel, this restaurant depicts modern royalty. The classy black and white marble flooring with accents of brass elements create a decor that looks splendid throughout. The breakfast spread offered quite an expansive variety, from English breakfast items like sausages, pastries, eggs and toast, to the authentic Indian breakfast delicacies like Nalli Nahari, poha and idlis.

Apart from Shahnama, the palace hotel offers a rather diverse, eclectic and scrumptious choice of restaurants: TAO (Tattenham Across the Ocean) – the city’s first Pan-Asia bar; La Kuchina – an Italian and Mediterranean restaurant; and Under the Mango Tree – the city’s first fine-dining barbeque restaurant. TAO has a young, peppy vibe with a life-size mural hand-painted by a local artist. The music, lighting, and elegant interiors create an atmospheric environment, which takes you on a journey Across the Orient. With a range of classic sushi, dim sums and make-your-meal options, TAO also has a few innovative numbers like Chocolate Spring Rolls and Fried Ice cream that you should try. This restaurant also boasts multifarious signature cocktails. I tried the Bhopal Wanderer and Spicy Tao and loved them both.

It is said that the Begums were splendid hosts. They loved hosting parties and dinners to celebrate over food. The royal family has shared a couple of recipes that have travelled down the generations. The chefs are trained at the Royal Kothi by the royal khansamas to perfect these recipes’ taste, texture, and method. With these treasures, the palace hotel has introduced The General’s Table – a must-try if you want to experience royalty in its truest form.

Most of the dishes weren’t high on spice but were slow-cooked over more than 24 hours to achieve the ideal texture, enhanced by its own flavours, aided by the condiments added. 

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal the general's table

The General’s Table is a separate dining table arrangement either set up near the swimming pool or the veranda – mine was at the latter. On the second night, when I was informed of a specially curated menu being served for dinner at Under the Mango Tree, I had not anticipated its grandness. My perplexity changed to excitement and wonder as I was escorted beyond the restaurant to the veranda to a table that one couldn’t possibly imagine. A section of the veranda was beautifully lit with candles and flowers, with an immaculately decorated table at the center and a butler waiting with a pleasant smile. I was speechless.

The General’s Table is a lavish 8-course meal consisting of more than 20 scrumptious dishes served at a dinner hosted by General Obaidullah Khan under the very mango tree where I was sitting. And every preparation served was beyond impressive. Most of the dishes weren’t high on spice but were slow-cooked over more than 24 hours to achieve the ideal texture, enhanced by its own flavours aided by the condiments added.

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal food

I started with Murgh Badam ka Sorba, a smooth soup with a nutty punch. The piquant Dahi ke kebabs were one of my favourites from the feast. The chef also indulged me with stories of the General’s hunts and what the khansamas would pack on these trips. Khameeri roti was one such on-road invention – a fermented roti with poppy seeds that has ruined regular rotis for me. The Nadru (lotus stem) ke kofte, the traditional Yakni pulav and other main course dishes celebrate the distinct flavour palette of Bhopal. The iconic sheer korma, dal ka halwa and shahi tukda were the concluding bits of my extravagant meal. The setting and the special epicurean journey of The General’s Table allows us to glimpse into the food-life of the royals.

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal food

Tour like the royals 

Heritage walks or drives are the best way to know a place, its history, and its people. Along with the Sanchi Stupas and the Bhimbhtka caves, the city of Bhopal still lives in the bygones era, surrounded by palaces and forts now converted into administrative buildings or simply abandoned. My guided tour of the town was in a vintage 1942 Jeep, the fourth model of the 50 such jeeps that the last Nawab of Bhopal bought after World War II. Except for the battery, the entire vehicle is still preserved with its original parts. A surprising fact, the jeep was a left-hand drive!

I was guided by Sikander Malik, an avid historian, an impeccable storyteller and a true Bhopali at heart. Our first stop was the Takiya Tapu, followed by various palaces like Moti Mahal and Asia’s largest mosque – Taj ul Masajid, and the smallest mosque – Dhai Seedhi Ki Masjid. Mr. Malik indulged me in stories of the Begums, their love for their subjects and their long-sighted vision, along with anecdotes and architectural references that are prominent in these structures. On the road, I had tea and a paan – because when in Bhopal, do it as the Bhopalis!

A legacy like the royals 

Jehan Numa Palace is a custodian of the city’s royal family and their contribution to society. But it also harbours the same love and respect for its staff – the Jehan Numa Palace family. In an interaction with the charismatic General Manager, Gaurav Rege, he mentioned that the group did not lay off a single employee during the pandemic. The relationship between the employees and the management has always been enriching and encouraging – no wonder there have been a few employees with the group for more than two decades. And this satisfaction shows in the service – every employee I encountered greeted me with a formal namaste and a pleasant smile.

Jehan Numa Palace is a custodian of the city’s royal family and their contribution to society.

Jehan Numa Palace Bhopal service

Like the employees, the Jehan Numa Group prioritises its guests with the utmost regard. “We want to work on enhancing our experiences and offerings. We have been upgrading our product so that we can truly offer a unique luxury experience to all our guests,” said Faiz Rashid, the Director of Jehan Numa Group of Hotels, and a descendent of the royal family.

With a heavy heart and another fantastic breakfast feast at Shahnama, I moved forward to Jehan Numa Palace’s sister resort, the Jehan Numa Retreat – a heaven for those who love nature and want zen without losing their mobile network – but that’s for a different time.

LF Says: ★★★★

Coordinates: 157, Shyamla Hills Rd, Shymala Hills, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India