The Nawab Begums of Bhopal who ruled between 1819 and 1926, each succeeded by her daughter, were dynamic and charismatic women. Their personalities, vision, preferences, beliefs and action highlighted, and in some ways redefined Bhopali tradition with its combined Muslim and Maratha heritage. A cosmopolitan culture took root under the peaceful rule of the Begums.
This is a history that talks to you as you walk around the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel. It is a culture redolent in the fine nuances of the Jehan Numa Retreat and Reni Pani Wildlife Lodge. Royal Bhopali courtesy combines at Jehan Numa with the elegant aesthetic of a classical heritage with a sophisticated and progressive world-view.
Qudsia Begum was the first woman ruler (1819 – 1837) followed by her only daughter Sikandar Begum whose husband Nawab Jehangir Mohammad Khan then ruled from 1837 to 1844. Their daughter Shahjehan Begum succeeded him. This was followed by the long rule of Sultan Jehan Begum (1844 – 1901), after whom the Jehan Numa Palace is named.
Advocates of women's rights, the Nawab Begums were progressive leaders, commanders of their armies, women who rode, played polo and were excellent swordsmen. They reorganized the administration and revenue systems. They ruled with style and elan, always keeping the good of the people foremost – founding hospitals and dispensaries, building railways, waterworks, postal systems and a municipality. The Begums played host to Indians and foreigners alike, traveled the world, attended the Imperial Court, and promoted the arts and literature. Sikandar Begum was the first Indian ruler to travel to Mecca. Sultan Jehan Begum wrote poetry in Urdu and Persian and her work was published and highly acclaimed.
The first Jehan Numa hotel - Jehan Numa Palace - was built in 1890 during the rule of Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum, and named after her, by her second son General Obaidullah Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the erstwhile Bhopal state Force. After the death of the General in 1924, the Palace was occupied variously, moved and renovated, and through this time the General's sons continued to use it as their secretariat till 1952, when all Jagirs were abolished by the Government of India. The family rented it out to the Government for use as a hostel, and then as the office of the Geological Survey of India, till 1981.
Nadir and Yawar Rashid, the grandsons of General Obaidullah Khan, and the owners of the Palace, then decided to share their legacy with the world and convert it into a world-class heritage hotel. Jehan Numa Palace Hotel opened its doors to visitors in September 1983. In the year 2000 the Palace was classified as a Heritage Grand Hotel, the first of its kind in Central India. Additions and changes to the original Palace are imperceptible, so seamlessly do they blend into the style and structure. The fine tradition of Bhopal hospitality continues, albeit in a new form. The younger generation, sons of Nadir and Yawar, are also involved now in running the Jehan Numa Hotels. Royal living, once the sole preserve of nawabs, is offered to guests generously and with courtesy.