The revelation began while driving up to the front porch. Not sure what I had in mind, but I certainly hadn’t pictured this. Greens so lush, and they came in so many shades, flowers abloom with slated beams of sunrays, everything seemed fresh, quiet, and serene. The car stops and we alight into the main lobby entrance, greeted warmly by a team of charming staff. “Welcome to the Jehan Numa Retreat” they say in unison.
The autumn of 2023, and we cousin sisters from across the world decided on a little ‘sis reunion’, much required for our ‘thick as thieves’ family, post the pandemic. The older sister knew exactly where we must escape to for some quality time, to unwind and with enough to explore – given restlessness runs in our DNA. Jehan Numa Retreat and Bhopal it is – was a clear text on the group. Bookings were made over a simple email and there we all were, a short flight from Delhi.
Seated in the spacious lobby while the staff smoothly checked us in, we soaked in the vibe of the space – and there is a distinct one. Warm and inviting, the design and décor is oh-so-earthy and seamlessly luxurious at the same time. Before we knew it, us five ladies were escorted along the outdoor pathway of slated roof with teasing views of the verdant gardens and farms, to our cottages. I couldn’t help but notice the rather foolish uncontrollable smile across our faces. The peace was clearly contagious.
The retreat’s architecture is a harmonious fusion of contemporary design and traditional aesthetics. The use of local materials and craftsmanship is evident in every nook and corner. The gardens teemed with abundant foliage all around, and vines delicately adorned the walls and roofs.
We enter our cottages and were welcomed with a lovely welcome letter placed on the smart, wooden writing desk. We instinctively reached out to the handmade jeera cookies at the tea, coffee station and didn’t regret it – they were nostalgic and delicious! Spacious and elegantly decorated with furnishings and artwork that offers homage to the region’s rich cultural heritage, each cottage had an antique-style four-poster bed, a separate seating area with a convenient walk-in closet that connected to a beautiful ensuite bathroom. We also had an outdoor shower in case we decided to bathe while basking in abound nature! Breathtaking was the view when the curtains drew to our very own aesthetically-done balcony with the sight of stunning greens – we had found our morning tea venue for the next 2 days.
Our days were planned, so with a healthy and sumptuous bite at the gorgeous Greenhouse Bistro, the retreat’s organic farm to fork café, we were off to the UNESCO heritage site of Bhimbetka caves. These mesmerizing rock shelters still hold vivid, millennia-old paintings of hunting and wildlife scenes that speak volumes of the prehistoric era’s artistry and imagination. Back at the Retreat, dinner was a treat at ‘Under the Jamun Tree’ with authentic delicacies from Central India, along with dishes whose recipes came straight from Bhopal’s royal kitchens, and brilliantly whipped cocktails.
At this point, it is pertinent to mention that the Jehan Numa retreat is owned and managed by the descendants of the Bhopal royal family, and they do a splendid job of maintaining family’s tradition of timeless hospitality. The Bopali royals have been known to be impeccable hosts through their history.
The retreat sits next to Van Vihar National Park that explains the spectacular foliage. While we were offered cycles by the utterly polite and friendly staff, we opted for walks down the Park the next morning, chatting and admiring the beauty that surrounded us. We needed the walk, after all we had a lunch planned at Shahnama, Jehan Numa Palace. A meal of sarson wali machli, bhopali murg rizala and bhopali filfora among others, Shahnama is a fitting odé to Bhopal’s cuisine heritage. Interesting fact – some of these dishes follow centuries-old recipes, those that were once served at royal dinners and banquets in the yesteryears, and some that were private for the royal family.
For those unaware of Bhopal’s intriguing history, the erstwhile state was ruled by the women of the ruling family, the Begums for over 100 years. They were known to be detailed administrators with keen interest in advancement of education, healthcare, and literature. They were also brilliant diplomats and carefully navigated their way through the colonial rule to serve their people. There’s so much and more to learn of Bhopal’s powerful story at the Jehan Numa Museum. Located at the Palace itself, the museum made for a great walk-around post the heavy lunch. We also managed a quick caffeine fix at the Royal Paddock, watching the horse trot about the tracks, and a visit to the Tribal Museum, admiring the heritage architecture and cleanliness of the city as we drove by.
Left with another day of quality time together, we decided to keep Sanchi Stupa for the next visit and spent our time lazily by the pool. With a few relaxing treatments at Nirvana spa, leisure walks around the property and the organic garden, and fresh cocktails especially curated upon request, it was already time for us to bid adieu to Bhopal and the precious retreat.