NEWDELHI: Magnificent rooms with high ceilings, windows that open to picture book views, long winding corridors and a continuum that has existed from the time it was home to the Viceroy — the guest-wing of the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan is ready to host visitors.
On Monday, the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema will arrive for a five-day sojourn in New Delhi. The royal couple will become the first dignitaries to stay in the refurbished guest wing after two decades. The Bhutanese royal couple will be hosted in the VVIP Nalanda and Dwarka suites.
When he took over as the country’s 13th President in 2012, Pranab Mukherjee wanted the guest wing with its 14 rooms, including the plush VVIP suites designed by Edwin Lutyens, to be opened up again. His brief to his team was to get the rooms refurbished by the “next winter.”
Teams of workers functioned round the clock to get the job done. Ugly scars of seeping water on the ceilings are gone. Carpets that were specially woven for the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge have been restored. History that lies hidden in every nook and cranny has been dusted back into view.
A four-poster bed, the famous spider web chairs designed by Edwin Lutyens, paintings and artefacts, some dating back to the Company period, have all found a niche in the guest wing.
“We have refurbished the place using furniture and furnishings that were available here. Nothing has been bought. Everything here has been cleaned and restored,” said an official of the President’s Secretariat.
Another change is the rechristening of the rooms. The guest wing that was originally the residence of the Viceroy was used to host dignitaries after Governor General C. Rajagopalachari, the first Indian to move into the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge, decided to swap the residence for the guest quarters. The names given to the rooms here were Imperial.
But President Mukherjee wanted contemporary nomenclature for the rooms and opted for names based on rivers, mountains and regions. So there is a Nalanda and Dwarka for the VVIPs, Ganga, Saraswati, Godavari, Jhelum, Cauvery and Brahamaputra for officials and Vindhya, Nilgiri and Shivalik too.
“Several dignitaries have stayed in the guest wing, including the former Russian President, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Japanese royal couple Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko and Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana,” said Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President.