Jehan Numa Retreat – A Serene Gateway to Bhopal – The City Of Queens
The expanse of the Bhopal sky slowly turns scarlet as we settle into the serene world of Jehan Numa Retreat. A short 30 minute drive from the Bhopal airport has us approaching the 12.5 acres boutique property of the erstwhile Nawabs of Bhopal in the Malwa plateau of Central India. The private open deck of our Lapwing Cottage, named after a beautiful yellow-beaked bird of this region is a perfect place to sit and watch the winged creatures moving around in front of our cottage. The tweets and chirps gradually fades away as darkness gently descends on Jehan Numa, dotted with six cluster of cottages.
Our first evening is slated for the Bush TV experience: a documentary on Tiger Conservation in India is shown on an open-air projection screen. The hour-long session is a unique awareness program that allows the guests to broaden their outlook, to love and protect wildlife around them. The descendants of the Royal family have taken a great initiative, carrying forward the legacy of the beneficiary works that their ancestors had started long ago.
For more than hundred years (1819—1926), the kingdom of Bhopal was under the successive rule of four queens and each of them left an indelible imprint in Bhopal’s chequered history. They knew martial arts, played polo, went hunting, made palaces and mosques, brought educational and social reforms and made Bhopal the cultural and literary hub of the then India. All of them worked for women upliftment and their achievements both as administrators and reformers are highly commendable. And the successors of the altruistic Queens have taken philanthropic steps to create a sustainable and ecofriendly environment within the city of Bhopal.
Under a star-studded sky, after the rather enlightening documentary, our culinary journey begins beneath a huge Babool Tree. All the Queens were great connoisseurs of food and often hosted lavish banquets. The royal recipes that have been preserved and passed down the generations are served here. The transportive dining experience includes mouthwatering Lotus Stem Dumplings ( Nadroo ki Kofta), scrumptious Filfora (mutton slivers marinated with fresh mint, red chilli and cooked in clarified butter), Nalli Nehari (slow cooked lamb stew), local fish delicacy and a unique dessert made with roses grown in the garden of Jehan Numa Retreat.
Dawn breaks with melodious choir of birds. We take a stroll through the property strewn with cosy sit-outs under large trees, patches of green tracts and a small stream flowing through the premises with cute wooden bridges and after a while find ourselvesat the breezy brekkie spot – ‘Under the Jamun Tree’ surrounded by bright purple bushes. The spread is delightfully varied with local delicacies and English and continental staples, with fresh juices and fruit platters completing the spectacle.
After breakfast we set out for Bhimbetka Rock Shelters just 45 km south of Bhopal. In the foothills of Vindhya Mountains, the rock paintings are visual documentations of Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Historic period. Soon after our car starts navigating the serpentine forestry road we get the first glimpse of the craggy sandstone rock shelters of Bhimbetka standing atoll like a medieval fort. We follow the well-marked path and marvel at the creations of the ancient hunter-gatherer settlers in this part of the globe. In myriad shades of red, white and yellow the life and customs of different periods of prehistoric times come alive through the rock paintings of different animals, group dances and hunting scenes. This UNESCO World Heritage Site deserves a visit at least once in your lifetime.
When you are in Bhopal you should not miss the tribal museum at Shyamla Hills. The six galleries are a perfect amalgamation of tradition, art and architecture of the indigenous tribal people and through full scale models, colourful art installations and cultural performances your immersive journey to the world of the etymological groups will set in. You can delve deep and enter the Buddhist complex of Sanchi around 46 km North East of Bhopal, famous for its Stupa, an important form of Buddhist architecture. In the 3rd century BC, Emperor Ashoka of Mauryan dynasty commissioned to build the stupa of Sanchi to spread Buddhism. The intricate carvings of the gateways, the hemispherical mound, the square railings, and the central pillar supporting the triple umbrella all reflect Buddhist art and architectural splendour.
Now we are back again to our pretty Lapwing cottage enjoying the quietude and watching the swift movements of birds and butterflies. A group of fiery blue coloured peahens join them. ‘They are from Van Vihar National Park”,–one of the staff members informs us. When we tell her about our plan to visit the park, she readily agrees to accompany us to the entrance of Van Vihar, just a short walk away from the Jehan Numa Retreat. A spotted deer welcomes us at the entrance of this green oasis and off we go into the deeper recesses of this urban National Park. The marshy wetlands are hotspots for wide range of birds and mammals. The park has a caged rescue centre for wild animals where we spot a leopard. Here animals roam freely in the green slopes. We choose a place and observe closely a vibrant squirrel going up and down a big banyan tree and watch a sambar deer enjoying its solitary evening stroll. As the sun mellows, casting its orange-yellow hues on the green expanse of Van Vihar we get ready to depart – enriched and rejuvenated.
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COVER PHOTO: Jehan Numa Retreat, under a purple evening sky. Courtesy: Jehan Numa Retreat
A Kolkata-based teacher, Bandita Mukherjee is an avid traveller. In her pursuit to dig deep into the diverse landscapes, cultures and customs, she has visited 18 countries and counting. But while she is thrilled to hike unknown terrains, explore cities steeped in history and understand the culinary scene of every new place she travels into; the nuanced textures of her native India is what she finds most exciting as a compulsive traveller. When she is not teaching or on-the-go, she can be found making her next trip plans, with a mug of fresh Darjeeling tea and her pet cat curled up by her side.