This is part I of Parul’s series on Kingdom of Dreams. Read part II here.
That headline kind of says it all. Kingdom of Dreams is a flash mob if done in one go. It’s possible of course, but you need to come back, you have to, you simply must. Having lived in the vicinity for years I had only visited it once for a meal. Big mistake-Kingdom of Dreams is an experience, not an ordinary outing and certainly not just ‘a’ meal. The entrance is opulent and magnanimous and very much a dream, a Bollywood dream, and then you walk in! An extraordinary artificial sky greets you. It’s always 4pm in Kingdom of Dreams, always. We walked into a folk dance sequence, so frenetic, so pace-y, it left me reeling. I would loved to have captured it, but couldn’t waste a second behind a camera. These were a group of young men and women, shining in their costumes of dhotis and lehengas, beatific smiles on their faces, perfectly coordinated. The first thought that struck me was, apart from the grandeur and largesse, this was preservation of culture, a culture that is certainly slipping into oblivion.
This glorious venture by Wizcraft is actually earning these boys and girls a living; dancers for generations, these kids know nothing else and now they needn’t worry. Their upbringing has paid off. Lovely start to what went on to be a day filled with realizations, memories and surprises. Each pavilion has the theme of a city or state. On the first floor, you can buy handicrafts and products of that state. In fact you can also buy services, like an Ayurvedic foot massage, a tarot reading, have your face read or your palm. West Bengal is one of the most striking with the facade adorned with Goddess Durga’s face, in black. Goosebumps! A truck protrudes out of the Delhi pavilion and we walk on. Something sparkles to our left; a room that glows. The Lucknow pavilion, green and gold, Qawwali, Kebabs and all that jazz. It is spectacular and since photography is not allowed in this pavilion, you have to see it to believe it. Nooks and corners are filled with people offering old and forgotten artistry like pottery, writing on a grain of rice, portraits; much like a bazaar from a Hollywood flick, Indian but super slick! This is where we sat down for a feast (royal!!) that I’ll take you through in part two but for now you have complete the sensory journey with me.
After a memorable meal, we went into a shop filled with handicrafts and knick knacks: beautiful bangles, mugs with your name and picture on them, kurtas and a formation of giant puppets strung on rope from the ceiling. There is an emporium above it for more silver, wood, jute and brass. A maze of installation-like artworks and stories on the walls take you through a Chai Cafe, complete with little white teacups and saucers covering the expanse of an entire wall. Wow! This leads into a reading room and bookstore, cocooned under the umbrella of a learning tree painted across the ceiling. There is a Buddha on the wall, who catches my eye as I cross a dramatic Swiss castle bridge. The Buddha has an expression very few artworks manage to capture, it is humbling. The dry massage parlour is so inviting, yet there is more of India to see. There is a Bollywood bar, since IIFA is the parent company’s venture as well. It has award memorabilia shining everywhere and a very Parveen Babi vibe. And ‘Maikhana’, bright and Nawabi, is very interesting. A walk past jewellery, funky scarves and fashion pieces reminds me of Fashion street and before I can say it, I am told we are walking over Bombay! A pavilion built in a train,its perfect!
Goa has a mini sand beach and a bar, with a Goan home/restaurant complete with wooden shutters and Vindaloo to complete the experience. Notice the Kerala pavilion when you are there; there is beautiful art to be found and handicraft pieces too. The Rajasthan pavilion is like a home. It has the aroma of a home, food is served in large thalis on ‘patris’ and short of being hand fed, you are treated like royalty. This nowhere near completes the travelogue one can do on a place like this but this is as encapsulated as it can be.
So whether you go to shop, eat or get your head in a spin just looking around, you will realize how much more than just a theme ‘centre’ this is. This is a place made of dreams, 140 chefs, 14 state pavilions, shopping, mysticism, rejuvenation and the opportunity to see folk dances you wouldn’t usually run into. This is a place that gives you full full entertainment, ‘paisa vasool’ as they say, but they also help keep parts of history intact. Some of the recipes out of Rajasthan’s kitchen are from erstwhile royal ‘khansamas’; the performers no longer have to wait for Republic Day or Surajkund Mela to be appreciated and employed. Bring the kids for sure, I’m not sure how long we will be able to enjoy a storied India like this, all in one day. And this is just a part of Kingdom of Dreams, the Culture Gully that I have taken you through. There is of course the Musicals and more if you have the time! I also had the pleasure of Ms. Ayesha Dahra’s company, a lady who feels deeply passionate about her brand, Kingdom of Dreams, and I could see in her eyes, that no matter how many people she walks through these ornate corridors, she loves it every time!