The Rashtrapati Bhavan will showcase India's hospitality at its very best when the doors of its gleaming new guest wing are thrown open on Monday for foreign dignitaries after it remained unused for over two decades.
Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his Queen will be the first guests to stay at the brightly decked up refurbished suites in the sprawling Presidential Estate on Monday to get a taste of the country's fabled 'Atithi Devobhava' culture.
The guest wing has been restored to its old glory at the special initiative of President Pranab Mukherjee. The Rashtrapati Bhavan was formally inaugurated in 1931.
The King is on a state visit to India from December 6 and will stay in the VVIP suite of the wing for five days which is adorned with heavy panelling of exquisite wood, beautiful drapes and classic wall paintings, all brought out from the stores of the Presidential mansion.
According to available records, which are being verified by the President's Secretariat, the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who visited Delhi in 1986, was among the last of foreign dignitaries to stay in the guest wing.
Since then, this section was locked until Mukherjee decided to give the guest wing a new lease of life.
"The refurbishing of this wing has been done entirely from the material that was lying unused in dust in the Toshkhana of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Old carpets were dusted, the paintings and presents that were gifted to successive Presidents were cleaned and they now adorn the interiors of this historic section," Joint Secretary in the President's
Secretariat Gaitri Kumar told media persons.
The designs in the rooms have been done in such a manner that it reflects contemporary Indian history. "The President gave us a mandate that this wing should be restored to its old historical elegance so that visiting dignitaries could stay in the Rashtrapati Bhavan rather than staying out. His idea is that every section of this building should be put to use, be it for public or for dignitaries," Omita Paul, Secretary to the President, said
New names drawn from Indian rivers such as Brahmaputra and Kaveri and mountain ranges like Vindhya and Shivalik have been used to identify the 14-room wing, with VVIP and VIP suites, deluxe rooms, rooms for ADCs and standard rooms.
The two most elite suites have been named 'Nalanda' (for the Queen or the top female dignitary) and 'Dwarka'. The officials said the President himself chose the names for the rooms.
Catering to the needs of modern-day diplomatic missions, a special enclosure to function as business centre and a place for communications gadgetry have also been created in an air-conditioned environment.
Special upholstery and furniture have been also placed in the VVIP rooms which have been beautified for the visiting dignitaries.
A large metallic 'hookah', old clocks sporting the Ashoka emblem and relics of artistic paintings and murals were on view as one moves from the gallery to the residential lounge.
Venu Rajamony, Presidents' Press Secretary, said the brief of the team which restored the place was "to take out things from the existing stores and inventory that was tucked away for long and was not in use."
A special team from the household staff of the Presidents House will service the guests round-the-clock. The old and iconic Jaccuzi, which opens with a gush of water when the tap fixtures are rolled clock-wise, have been restored in the premium suites.
Joint-Secretary Kumar said the work on the interiors of this section of the Presidents Estate began in October last year while civil construction work started in May with an assortment of teams which include masons, electricians, interior designers and curators.