BELGADIA: ODISHA'S REGENCY ROMANCE
National Geographic Traveller India|January 2021
Two sisters opening their ancestral royal home to visitors have dug up the treasures of an ancient land
RUMELA BASU

Looking into the story of my family led to unravelling almost 1,500 years of history.”

As a young student in America, Akshita Manjiri Bhanj Deo, who might have been the 48th documented ruler of Mayurbhanj, Odisha, spent her holidays in family cottages in upstate New York, along with elder sister Mrinalika. The idea of opening up their ancestral home to guests took root there. So in 2015, Akshita opened the doors of The Belgadia Palace to visitors looking for a brush with its glorious past. Built in 1804, the mansion in Baripada city once welcomed foreign dignitaries to the royal state. In its 200- odd years, Belgadia has seen a thriving monarchy, the Raj era, the formation and dissolution of a constitutional monarchy, been a barrack for World War soldiers, as well as a family home.

HOME, HEARTH AND HISTORY

There’s a story in every corner of this 22-acre property. A small wall cabinet right outside my suite holds a well-preserved collection of antique tobacco pipes, most bought in London. It’s twin on another wall has an assortment of children’s vintage puzzle games. All along the mansion’s walls are paintings of royals and sepia snapshots of family and state.

It took over a year-and-a-half and the expertise of a family friend to restore this beloved home. Once Pooja Bihani of Spaces and Design was introduced to the Doric Corinthian-style mansion, she restored it to its former glory with utmost care—carved details were brought out and painted a different colour, murals and paintings were restored in Kolkata’s old antique shops, and some creature comforts introduced. Now, the ground floor rooms have carved wooden

desks and beds, and walls showcase the family and state history in frames. Wrapping around them, is a sunbathed corridor whose large French windows open to the sprawling back orchard. Among the 15 different fruit trees that grow there— yes, you can go fruit picking in the summer—is a special hybrid mango tree. Created by grafting two types of mangoes, as requested by Akshita’s grandparents, it used to bear heart-shaped fruits.

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