Roop Pratap Choudhary: Recreating old wines in new bottle

ByAnshu Khanna

The Sukerchakia Jat Sikhs who were the landlords of various regions of Undivided India including Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Lahore, and Amritsar are now mostly settled in Karnal, Sangrur, Patiala and Ferozpore. Erstwhile nobles they are born in the lineage of none other than Maharaja Ranjit Singh and occupy high positions of relevance in independent India. One such family being that of Col. Manbeer Choudhary, a much decorated army official from the Armoured Corps who, with his creatively disposed wife Binny Choudhary recreated a cameo of their palatial home in Gujranwala town. Earmarking many acres of his land for a modern-day palace he brought alive the much acclaimed Noormahal Palace which today has become the most preferred destination of discerning Indians seeking a few days to emulate the princely life.

Noormahal’s architecture recreates the rich iconography of regal India: Frescoes in Gold made by 5th generation artists whom the family invited from Rajasthan to paint the sprawling courtyards. Including one such baradari that mirrors the brilliance of City Palace, Jaipur. Shares the colonel, “ I worked closely with Maharaja Bhawani Singh ji who was a decorated war hero. I visited him often at his home and fell in love with the chintz inspired frescoes at the City Palace in Jaipur and decided to recreate in our palace hotel. ” A living museum, the hotel also houses a vast collection of rare antiques and paintings his wife collected from across the country over the years.
I had the occasion to visit this splendorous space and meet their son Roop Partap Choudhary who not only oversees every tiny detail of the palace hotel but also has created Colonel Saab in Covent Garden, London as an ode to his father, the Colonel Saab.

An excerpt of a freewheeling chat with him
Q: How was it like seeing your parents create such an iconic property such as Noormahal Palace when you were growing up? What are the initial hospitality lessons you learnt during that time?
A: I was very young when my father started giving shape to his dream of building a hotel that embodied the magnificence of the Indian royal era and the warmth of Indian hospitality along with the comfort of a modern day hotel. Totally opposite to what other hospitality brands were building, he decided to build a hotel true to the architecture of an Indian palace. Observing my parents work on the project and listening to them talking about their work was my first and most rooted lesson in hospitality. I learnt that without passion there is no excellence. And if you truly believe in your dream then no matter what the challenges are or what the prevailing trends are, you can break all barriers and create a historic edifice.
I also learnt that, while madly chasing an impossible dream of creating an immersive palace property you can seamlessly blend in modern-day amenities that are starkly opposite to a laid back palace life.
Q: How did the founders, your parents and now you continue to maintain the balancing act of past living with the future?
A. Maintaining a balance between the grandeur of rich Indian royal heritage and modern amenities is in our DNA. We enjoy Indian art, imbibe it into our life and I think both the hotel in Karnal and the restaurant in London is an embodiment of that.
We are also mindful of integrating technological advancements seamlessly into the system. Even our staff training modules are designed to maintain an optimal balance of warm Indian hospitality ethics and modern practices. One would be surprised to see how well these two very different concepts work together.
Q: In recent years, experiential travel has become increasingly popular among travellers. How does Noormahal Palace provide unique and memorable experiences to its guests?
A: Indians, in fact, people across the world are looking for experiences. They want to enrich their life with moments of joy and I think at Noormahal Palace we help them feel the euphoria of living like modern day kings and queens. We take them into the annals of our glorious past. We help them relive the opulence. And we do that with our attention to detail.
I believe in the idea that God is in the details and we do not ignore even the smallest thing. So right from the palatial architecture inspired by Mughal and Rajputana Palaces, showcasing art works and antiques that are true pieces of our history (scouted from across the country), traditional frescos, handpicked furniture we first work hard on remaining authentic. Then there is the culinary experience that comes together in the fine dining restaurant Frontier Mail that incorporates signature dishes of every town and district the famed Frontier Mail chugged through. That is an experience in itself.
Q: Sustainability and responsible tourism are gaining prominence in the hospitality industry. Could you shed some light on the eco-friendly initiatives undertaken by Noormahal Palace to reduce its environmental footprint?
A: Even before sustainability and responsible tourism became buzzwords, we as a responsible citizens had taken initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and keep it at a minimum. Noormahal Palace hotel’s architecture, inspired by the palatial blueprint, has abundant ventilation and provision for natural light. This drastically reduces the need for artificial energy during the day. The water used in the hotel is recycled to reduce wastage as much as possible. We also encourage our guests to follow the principals of responsible tourism to safeguard local ecology.
Q: What inspired Colonel Saab and how was the experience of venturing to London?
A: I wanted to pay an ode to my father’s journey in life. His innings as a celebrated Colonel, his struggle to establish such an iconic property. Living and traveling to the UK, I realized that there cannot be a better place to reach out to global food-lover community with our rich culinary heritage than London. London is the melting pot for global travellers and food lover community. We designed and packaged our heritage, our passion, our strengths, our food and our hospitality in Colonel Saab.
My plans were delayed due to the sudden hit of the pandemic, but that did not discourage me. As soon as we were allowed to resume work, we swung into
Working in London is completely different from working in India. But it has been a wonderful experience and truly gratifying to see the positive response that the global food-lover community has given to our efforts. They simply love Indian food and our Indian hospitality. Which I think is the most befitting reflection of my father’s love for India.