When the current owner first spied the Rajbari in the small village of Bawali, just south of Kolkata, he was immediately smitten and vowed to bring it back from the beautifully elegant but sadly crumbling ruin that it had become. Replete with collapsing ceilings, trees growing through it, and the outside encroaching inwards from all corners, it was a monumental task but one that he has miraculously achieved and with stunning results. The Rajbari Bawali is a building unto itself, highly unusual and one that deserves to take back its rightful place in history.
This glorious neo-classical palace sits by a lake surrounded by farmland. Replete with decorative Italian architectural motifs, breezy balconies and graceful colonnades, it was formerly the resplendent headquarters of a petty kingdom ruled by the Mondal family. Abandoned after independence due to the family falling into hard times, it fell into decay but has recently been painstakingly and thoughtfully restored by the new owner who was determined to let the building speak for itself and to let it be seen in all its original glory – what he calls ‘inspired heritage’. He has succeed brilliantly in keeping the essence of the original building intact, through ingenious restoration work which retains the crumbling lime-rendered walls and underlying rusty red bricks.
The lofty, unpolished bedrooms boast an eclectic mix of traditional antique and rustic, chunky furniture contrasted with giant, flat screen TVs and all things modern. There are 30 rooms and suites all around the building and in various wings and they immediately transport you to another time and another place. Some are pale and ‘feminine’ with pretty French style, distressed furniture; others are darker and more ‘masculine’ with heavy, old antique furniture. The bathrooms have been done very well and boast large power showers. The palace’s public areas are equally diverse and remarkable and vary in furnishings from deep leather ‘club like’ seating to delicate Chinese items, to angular, contemporary pieces – it sounds strange but, when thrown together, it works and makes for an interesting ‘journey’ through the palace.
Outside is all turrets and columns, ornate courtyards, and balconies overlooking the lake, fields and fascinating temples unique to this region. When lit up at night it is truly spectacular and enjoying a drink on the lawns listening to local musicians playing folk songs is very special. The spa provides a lovely sanctuary for a few pampering moments on return from a gentle wander through the village and fields, observing daily life going on; or a visit to the beguiling Bon Bibi temples that are unique to this area.
This stunning mansion lends its self perfectly to grand celebrations. With oodles of space, a remote location, plenty of bedrooms, it would be ideal to take over in its entirety for a grand party. Lawns, terraces and plenty of ‘hidden’ spaces abound and a party here would be remembered for ever. When lit up at night it really is a sight that has to be seen to be believed – grand, romantic, magnificent, ethereal are words that immediately spring to mind but come and see for yourself! The owner’s style and taste would ensure it is catered beautifully and arriving here would be like walking into a fairytale.
A stay here offers a window to the past, revealing a little of this grand building’s extraordinarily illustrious and extravagant history; and a glimpse of a world few get to see. Hugely relaxing, restorative and peaceful after a hectic journey!
Rajbari Bawali can be reached by air or train to Kolkata, followed by a 1 hour road journey, or by road from the Sunderbans.