Mrinalika Bhanj Deo belongs to the 48th generation of Mayurbhanj's royal family
Mrinalika Bhanj Deo belongs to the 48th generation of Mayurbhanj's royal familyMrinalika Bhanj Deo/Instagram

Meet The Princess Putting Mayurbhanj Back On A Traveller's Radar

Co-founder of the palace-turned-boutique-stay, Belgadia Palace, Princess Mrinalika Bhanj Deo, talks about her journey of becoming a young entrepreneur and what it takes to empower the local community and preserve centuries-old traditional crafts

“I feel like now, if you search Mayurbhanj on the web, the narrative is completely different, so that is one step closer to what I did want to achieve,” says Princess Mrinalika Bhanj Deo, co-founder of the palace-turned-boutique-stay, Belgadia Palace.

While the boutique stay, since its opening, has earned several accolades and cemented itself as a bucket-list experience, the royal sisters who steered in this direction are equally laser-focused on ensuring that behind all the grandeur, the impact on the local community and celebrating the region's heritage remains a top priority. In this exclusive interview with Outlook Traveller, Bhanj Deo takes us through her memories of childhood days spent in the palace, the process of restoring an 18th-century structure, and what it takes, as an entrepreneur, to empower the local community and traditional artisans.

A vintage photograph of the Belgadia Palace
A vintage photograph of the Belgadia PalaceThe Belgadia Palace/Instagram

Tell us about your childhood days spent in the Palace. What are some special memories of growing up in the Palace and Mayurbhanj that you would also like your guests to experience?


Growing up at Belgadia Palace was always incredibly thrilling. Whenever the holidays approached, and my parents suggested a trip there, my sisters and I would be filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing our grandparents. Belgadia Palace has been our family's ancestral home for the past 250 years.

The most cherished moments at Belgadia Palace were undoubtedly the dinners and entertainment organized by either my grandparents or my parents. I vividly recall the drawing room adorned with fresh flowers from the market, casting a delightful fragrance throughout. Soft jazz music would often provide a soothing backdrop to these gatherings.

Occasionally, I would trail behind my mom to the kitchen, where she oversaw the culinary team with precision. I remember watching in awe as the meal was meticulously prepared and the table was set with care. And who could forget the distinctive green plates with their elegant gold linings? They remain a nostalgic reminder of those special occasions.

Food was undeniably a focal point of our gatherings, alongside the warm hospitality extended to guests, family, and friends. Our culinary offerings, influenced by the diverse backgrounds of women who married into our family—Nepalese, Rajasthani, central Indian, and Odiya—reflect our rich heritage.

Visitors to Belgadia Palace are not only treated to exquisite cuisine but also to an immersive experience of our cultural heritage and heartfelt hospitality.

The resplendent dining hall at the Palace
The resplendent dining hall at the Palace The Belgadia Palace/Instagram

Please describe your journey in restoring the Belgadia Palace and explain why you decided to embark on this journey.


Restoring Belgadia Palace was a collective decision for my family. The conversation began around 2013 or 2014, gaining momentum when I relocated from the US to India in 2014. It stemmed from our desire to delve into our own history and family legacy, envisioning how we could carry it forward.

Our aim was to spotlight the rich cultural heritage of Belgadia and the surrounding regions, showcasing the craftsmanship and cultural nuances often overlooked in rural areas. We saw Belgadia as a platform to share this heritage with the world and our fellow Indians, ultimately transforming it into a heritage stay.

Belgadia Palace became the embodiment of immersive, experiential travel, where guests could engage with art, architecture, culture, people, and cuisine. The restoration process, spanning three years, involved meticulous planning and local labour engagement in giving back to the community.

Overcoming challenges like dealing with thick walls and lofty ceilings, we preserved the palace's authenticity while incorporating modern amenities. Much of the furniture, some dating back 200 to 250 years, and the chandeliers retained their historic charm, adding to the palace's timeless allure.


While restoring a 200-year-old property to a luxury boutique hotel, what challenges did you face?


Handling challenges such as wall thickness and ceiling heights of 23 to 40 feet posed significant obstacles. Decision-making processes regarding pipelines, air conditioning installation, and preserving the integrity of the palace's authentic decor required thorough consideration by the family to align with our vision.

A crucial aspect was retaining the property's structural integrity without making any structural alterations. Understanding its historical construction—from stone foundations to brick and traditional materials like turkey and tuna—was essential. We opted to maintain the original structure while introducing modern amenities like updated bathroom fittings and some room fan installations.

Preserving the palace's authentic ambience was paramount. Although the property was in good condition prior to restoration, some upgrades were necessary, particularly in bathroom fittings and a few rooms with new wallpaper. However, we retained much of the original flooring and décor, opting for bolder colours to infuse a youthful touch.

Drawing rooms retained their opulent ambiance with scalloped and velvet curtains, maintaining the timeless elegance of the space. The ballroom, for instance, underwent minimal changes, primarily in paint colour selection, while retaining its layout and historical artefacts' placement. Overall, our goal was to honour the palace's heritage while enhancing its appeal for guests seeking a luxurious yet authentic experience.

At the Palace, travellers can experience the diverse art forms native to Mayurbhanj and Odisha
At the Palace, travellers can experience the diverse art forms native to Mayurbhanj and Odisha The Belgadia Palace/Instagram

Besides its illustrious history, how does the Palace represent Mayurbhanj's cultural wealth?


Mayurbhanj earns its title as the "land of art and architecture" due to its rich cultural heritage, particularly in the realm of handicrafts and traditional arts. The Sabai handicraft clusters showcase the skill of local women who weave baskets and table mats from the readily available Sabai grass, known for its sustainability and biodegradability. Similarly, the Dhokra metal casting technique, dating back 4000 years, is meticulously crafted by hand without the use of machinery.

Our foundation, the Mayurbhanj Foundation, aims to promote local arts and culture through various initiatives. Guests at Belgadia Palace are offered a two-night itinerary that includes cultural performances such as the Mayurbhanj show or Odissi dance, providing an immersive experience into the region's artistic traditions. Additionally, visits to village clusters allow guests to witness firsthand the intricate process of Sabai and Dhokra handicraft making, emphasizing the value of these products and the dedication of the artisans.

The heritage walk offered by our foundation explores historical structures dating back over 200 years, including the 800-year-old Jagannath temple. These walks offer guests insight into the region's history and architectural marvels, enriching their understanding of local culture and heritage.

Participation in festivals such as the Mayurbhanj Festival and Rath Yatra Festival further immerses guests in the vibrant cultural tapestry of the region. The unique aspect of Baripada's Rath Yatra festival, where Subhadra's chariot is pulled exclusively by women, highlights feminine empowerment and community participation, making it a memorable and enriching experience for all involved.

Artists from Project Chhauni display their traditional dance form
Artists from Project Chhauni display their traditional dance formThe Belgadia Palace/Instagram

In what ways do you positively impact the local community besides ensuring employment?


In our commitment to empowering the local community, we've collaborated with three NGOs, each dedicated to preserving and promoting different aspects of Mayurbhanj's rich cultural heritage. Project Chhauni focuses on promoting the Chhau art form through evening performances, providing a platform for artists to showcase their talents and preserve this traditional art form.

Additionally, we work closely with the Sabai and Dhokra handicraft clusters, recognizing the importance of supporting local artisans and preserving their crafts. By engaging with these communities, our guests gain insight into the meticulous process of handicraft making and have the opportunity to interact with artisans firsthand, fostering a deeper appreciation for their work.

Our efforts extend beyond mere patronage; we aim to spotlight the vibrancy of the local community, recognizing their pivotal role in shaping Mayurbhanj's identity. By empowering individuals within these communities, we believe in catalyzing broader, collective change over time.

The establishment of the Atelier boutique store further reinforces our commitment to showcasing and supporting local artisans, especially during challenging times like the pandemic when traditional markets were disrupted. By providing a platform for artisans to display their crafts, we not only contribute to their livelihoods but also celebrate the unique heritage of the region.

Over time, the Atelier boutique has evolved into a symbol of empowerment, representing our dedication to uplifting local artisans and communities across various sectors, including textiles and handicrafts. Hatia, our latest initiative, consolidates these efforts under one roof, offering a comprehensive platform for supporting and promoting local artisans and their crafts.

The Sabai artisans at work
The Sabai artisans at workThe Belgadia Palace/Instagram

You place a lot of emphasis on empowering the local community, especially the artisans and craftsmen. Why is this so important to you? And how do you see this purpose, or passion, develop in the future?


Local artisans form the backbone of our communities, and by honouring and supporting them, we initiate a positive ripple effect that reverberates throughout local economies. In a world saturated with mass production and consumerism, it's crucial to champion these artisans who offer sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives while preserving cultural heritage through their traditional craftsmanship.

By eschewing machinery in favour of traditional methods, these artisans not only produce unique, high-quality goods but also contribute to reducing our carbon footprint. For example, Sabai handicrafts are made from biodegradable materials, aligning with our commitment to eco-friendly practices and a sustainable future.

Belgadia Palace has always been at the forefront of climate conservation and change, advocating for sustainable practices. Empowering local communities and artisans is a crucial step toward achieving our vision, encapsulated in our commitment to the Triple C's—Climate, Conservation and Change.

Supporting these artisans not only provides them with livelihoods but also creates a cycle of reinvestment into their communities, fostering economic prosperity and social cohesion. Each small change in this direction sets in motion a lasting ripple effect, paving the way for a greener, brighter future for all.


Last but not the least, what has been one lesson you learned that you now hold close to as a young entrepreneur in the industry?


"Return on Impact" is a more holistic approach to measuring success of your business. Cosnumers are nowadays value driven and want to see our socially responsible indicators.

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