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The Belgadia Palace, Mayurbhanj Odisha

T he Belgadia Palace is a 200-yearold renovated property in the erstwhile princely state of Mayurbhanj, India which opened earlier this year as a boutique homestay to build sustainable communities an initiative of the Bhanj Deo family. The district of Mayurbhanj is very rich in its arts and culture – from endangered crafts such as Dokra (ancient wax casting art form) to Mayurbhanj Chhau (martial arts dance form) and the palace itself has art from renowned artists such as Hemendranath Majumdar and architecture nearby from the 8th and 14th century. Mayurbhanj and The Belgadia Palace are a hidden artists treasure trove and has housed many famous personalities as it was the erstwhile home to the royal family and built to house foreign dignitaries from Annie Beasant, Mark Shand (Late brother of Camilla Parker Bowles) Gyandendra Shah, the last King of Nepal, to J.N. Tata and Keshab Chandra Sen (Bengal Renaissance Reformer) among other famous personalities.

Introduction

Nestled amidst a lush green backdrop of rolling hills and sparkling waterfalls of the rich and diverse Eastern-Indian countryside is The Belgadia Palace. An 18th century victorian brick-built double-storey structure in the classical Western style of Doric-Corinthian column, a mixture of Greek and Victorian architecture. Home to the erstwhile royal family of Mayurbhanj, The Belgadia Palace, Mayurbhanj Odisha 66 TRAVEL LINKS | DEC-JAN 2020 DEC-JAN 2020 | TRAVEL LINKS 67 this boutique homestay invites guests to take a trip down memory lane and introduces the idea of purposeful travel by engaging with the local tribal community and through curated tours to truly explore the state of Odisha, the soul of incredible India. This unique blend of old and new is encapsulated at this offbeat location which is an adventure-lovers paradise a few hours from the Simlipal, an Elephant and Tiger UNESCO Biosphere, the second largest national park in India.

History

The Belgadia Palace’s construction began on the orders of Maharani Sumitra Devi Bhanj Deo in 1804, who ruled the state from 1796 to 1810. In phased development, the palace gets its aura of majesty with intricate designs being added during the rule of her descendents who used it as a royal guest house for state visitors. The present interiors are designed on the orders of the Bhanja dynasties most famous ruler Sri Ram Chandra Bhanj Deo, popularly known as ‘The Philosopher King’ for his second wife Maharani Sucharu Devi, daughter of Keshab Chandra Sen, founder of the Brahmo Samaj movement famous during the Bengal Rennaisance. The palace sits on a raised hill overlooking sprawling lawns on either side, with the entrance highlighted by a long drive-in with indigenous flora and fauna dotting either side and ending at the Elephant Porch or “Hathi Baramdah”, which is a high arched porch built to accommodate the ruler when he would mount the howdah on an elephant for ceremonial processions. The doublestoried mansion with turrets flanked on either side has rooms envisioned for work and leisure with the Maharajah and Maharani wing having black and white checkered marble verandahs overlooking the sprawling lawns, with the royal insignia embossed along with the glass windows. A natural lake is situated at one border and a manicured walking path criss crosses the entire estate. The open verandahs were meant to be viewing parlors for the women of the family to watch the chhau performances at the main lawn, a martial arts dance form that was practiced by the state military and flourished under the patronage of the erstwhile rulers.

The present renovation echoes the golden era of the state with furniture and upholstery being repurposed from the original palace. The original palace’s (which is now a college) exterior was built to be a replica of The Bukingham Palace. The annals of history come alive with vintage vinyl records, persian carpets, old world chandeliers and century old oil paintings placed along the halls and porches of the estate. The paintings and art around the palace juxtapose the untamed and ethereal beauty of the district. Nothing like the smell of monsoons hitting the red laterite soil as you lounge in the verandah enjoying the natural landscape! The suites offer hints and whispers of a royal era with the dark winding mahogany staircase at the lobby draped with a red carpet used for receiving the Maharajah, connecting the first floor rooms to the upper chambers. With each step into the palace the jewel toned colors have a soothing effect with soft wooden finishes transporting you to a bygone era.

The Belgadia Palace

The palace’s restoration to its former glory included landscaping of its surrounding, fruit and flower orchards and an organic farm for a fresh array of local cuisines served on embossed cutlery. The careful restoration of its interiors was done in stages keeping in mind the unique pieces of furniture and furnishings handcrafted for the family. Additionally, the rooms have antiques and collections of artwork belonging to the royal family from their travels around the world. The modern and lux design of its interior contrasts the ancient and ornate architecture of its exterior making the property and its surroundings a walk through the annals of history. The present-day occupants of the palace, apart from the Maharajah, include the present Queen mother and the Queen of Mayurbhanj who belongs to the royal families of Nepal and Jaisalmer respectively. Each of them brings their own aesthetic to the unique interiors which include 10 rooms, each designed to highlight the numerous personalities who have either visited the Palace or have connections to the erstwhile royal family of Mayurbhanj. Belgadia Palace is 3.5 hours from Kolkata Belgadia Palace is 3.5 hours from Bhubaneshwar.

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