When childhood memories begin to nudge and coax to act, a Haveli is born at Kaatha village near Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh.
On a trip with fellow members of Travel Correspondents and Bloggers Group to village on outskirts of Delhi, I stayed at Shikwa Heritage Homestay.
The Haveli in its present stage has literally risen like phoenix from the ashes or ruins of ‘kaziyon ki haveli’ as it was known in its hey days 800 years ago. It took 13 years and almost all the savings of ex-UN Diplomat Mr Sharik bin Raza and his journalist wife Alka Raza to lovingly restore and renovate the ruins back to its glory.
In a tête-à-tête with Mr Raza over hot mugs of coffee an interesting story emerged from the archives of his childhood recollections. The family of Razas was once the ‘kazi’ of the village or the village judge. His great grandfathers dispensed justice pertaining to regular affairs of villagers. The ‘haveli’ during those days which date back to Mughal era was known as ‘Qaziyon ki haveli’.
The intriguing name of the house came about in memory of Mr Raza’s mother who would fondly refer young Raza as ‘mera shikwa’. It seems kid Raza had a lot of complaints about small everyday things and he would pester his mother for setting things right as per his wishes.
Built of mud bricks, the house gradually succumbed to age over the years till the time the family stopped residing in the structure. The ownership however stayed within the family. It was not until Mr Raza who had been staying all over Europe owing to his work as UN Diplomat decided to return to his roots and restore the inheritance that the house began to feature in the family discussions. Friends and well wishers scoffed at the idea of Razas wanting to stay in Kaatha village away from city facilities and because the Baghpat area was infamous for notorious elements of society.
But Razas had made up their mind to tend to their ancestral home and revive its elegance.
Then began the search for traditional craftsmen, stone workers, wood workers, iron-smiths and master builders who knew the old construction techniques. The idea to engage architects was flatly turned down because Razas wanted to recreate the haveli from memories of childhood.
In fact when I mentioned that I was an architect and why the services of my kinds were not sought for, I was told very bluntly that architects don’t know much and it was the local ‘thekedar’ who would know better. I later ignored a few more digs at architects….I wasn’t there to recommend on structure after all.
The Shikwa Heritage Haveli
The haveli has opened its heart to responsible travelers with six rooms that have different names depending on the decor. The family home of Razas would prefer to have guests who respect the family values and sentiments…who would treat the home-stay as a peaceful retreat from chaos of city.
With the names like Princess room, King’s room, Africa lounge, rider’s room the haveli sure did look grand at first glance. The jalis of monolith sandstone panels and geometric patterns, stone corbels, carved wooden doors with antique chain locks, floral arches and a ‘baradari’ style pavilion on the roof all reminded of Mughal era courtyards and palaces.
The washrooms that had marble inlay panels like that at Taj Mahal in Agra were in fact made by artisans from Agra itself. For 7 years some artisans from Agra stayed at the site to give the haveli its authentic stone work.
The property has a beautiful courtyard for evening dinners and also has small garden ‘Bagh-e-bahisht’ which again with its jharoka and fountain reminds of Mughal era.
I was put up in ‘Rider’s room’ adjoining Africa lounge. We all had early morning breakfast in Burma Lounge. These rooms are decorated with collectibles that the Razas accumulated from their travels as high profile diplomats over the years. So while Burma Lounge had artifacts from Burma, Africa lounge (you guessed it right!) was all with zebra print furnishings and souvenirs from Africa. Then there was one Ivory room and crystal room as well.
Every inch of the haveli has some interesting corner which becomes conversational point.
Our trip was planned as ‘Yoga retreat’ with a trained yoga instructor Ritu Sushila Krishan, a fellow member at TCBG and journalist.
Early morning we all were at the roof top with a mosque and rising sun as backdrop learning simple Yoga techniques to make the limbs little more flexible. Besides discussing the little nuances of doing an exercise right, it was more of a fun morning with all of us trying to control our unbalanced postures and under-worked bodies. We toppled, straitened balanced and stumbled time and again only to realize that all of us had taken healthy practices a bit too casually and needed to buckle up!
Since it is a home-stay property, the food was simply delicious fresh and cooked in home style. With options of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, a filling breakfast and relaxed tea-coffee, what else does one need on a vacation.
I loved the pre-Mughal cuisine for dinner where no spices were used in the preparations, the basic ingredients spoke for themselves and flavours were not hidden behind strong spices better known as ‘garam masala’.
The Social Side
The Razas are also involved in social cause. A small group of women have been trained to work with fabrics and create table linen and accessories. Underprivileged children too get free help in their school work at the Shikwa Haveli premises. Alka Raza is also involved with the United Nations Women’s Association working towards empowering women.
I loved the products of the women self-help group and did end up buying table cloth and a runner.
If you are looking to escape chaos of city life, Shikwa haveli just couple of hours from Delhi, gives you a perfect respite and weekend getaway. With nothing to distract and tire you, a stay-cation at Shikwa Heritage Homestay may just be the time-off you need.
I am all for a relaxed evening with nothing much to do but that’s it…. But a day more and I would need to do something else instead of being cocooned in a room. There is nothing to see or visit beyond the haveli so a trip for a day seems nice.
It can be a great writer’s retreat or with its deliberate old world charm a painter’s and photographer’s delight.
KAATHA VILLAGE, Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh
Read more views on this delightful Stay-cation option Shikwa Haveli here.