In 1994, Arifur Rahman used to work as an assistant manager at a tea garden owned by James Finlay. While working there, he noticed that people were very interested in visiting tea gardens but until and unless they knew someone high-up in a tea company, there was no way they could spend a holiday there.
"I realised tea gardens were an extremely popular tourist attraction, but there was no way for regular people to access it," said Arifur, now the managing director of The Palace Luxury Resort at Putijuri in Habiganj's Bahubal upazila.
While working at the tea garden, a business idea began to brew in his head. He left his tea garden job in 1998 and joined the textile industry, but the idea never left him. He ran the idea by his business partners at the time -Md Abdus Salam and Md Abdul Awal - now directors of The Palace.
Around the same time, Kamal Hossain, (now chairman of the resort) who owns a large portion of the land where The Palace is now located, showed interest in the idea.
Arifur further bounced the idea off his schoolmate Iqbal Ahmed during one of his frequent work trips to the UK.
The dream got bigger and bigger.
The initial budget for the project was only Tk30 crore. Iqbal convinced Arifur the project had far greater potential. Finally, the budget reached Tk300 crore.
"We wanted to do something big. Even though there was no electricity, gas or water connection back then, Kamal and his wife used to go there, dreaming something big could be done," Arifur remembered.
The Palace opened its door to the public in 2014.
The resort boasts a tower with 107 rooms, 22 additional villas, three restaurants, separate amenities for sports, cinema, prayer and many other activities.
At the entrance, it welcomes guests with a large waterfall decorated with stones and greens.
The semi-paved pathway inside the resort is filled with green patches, brick steps are covered with grasses, a hanging bridge surrounded by gardens, a large lake and a wooden staircase – are a perfect blend of nature and architecture that can surely mesmerise you.
There are badminton, cycling, basketball, trekking, fishing, boating and mosque facilities. For children, there is an amazing green maze made of tall bushes. There is also an indoor and outdoor game zone and playground for kids. There are so many activities that will never give you a chance to get bored.
Besides staying close to nature, you can taste a life of luxury too. The resort has a state-of-the art movie theatre. There is also a spa, fitness centre and the infinity pool with a panoramic sunset view and a backdrop of greens, helipad, amphitheatre. You can also take a sauna bath after swimming and relax.
The lobby is a double height area with unconventional round sitting arrangements. The bright chandelier at top of the lobby in the tower building and traditional motif on the marble floor and Islamic Jali design in columns speak of the architect's exquisite taste.
Two types of accommodation facilities - executive and signature rooms - in the six-storied tower building and the villas have made the resort arguably one of the fanciest and most luxurious places in the country.
The rooms have bright walls, modern furniture and large windows for the guests to enjoy the magnificent tea garden view.
The room rent– divided into categories such as executive king, signature king and signature twin- starting from Tk16,000 a day with 15% VAT and 10% service charge.
Eight of the villas have one bedroom, eight have two bedrooms, four have three bedrooms and two are presidential villas.
The tower building, as it is called, literally provides a justification for the name The Palace.
"The Palace was indeed named to invoke the exact impression of entering a palace. The name was given by Iqbal," said Architect Hasan Quyyum of Studio
Asked if there are any plans to make the resort more affordable, Arifur said, "Actually, I want to see it from the opposite point of view. If you look back on the last 12-13 years, you can see an immense change in peoples' standard of living. Those you are concerned about today will be coming here tomorrow automatically. I believe The Palace will attract more foreign tourists in the same way we go abroad to visit different resorts."
The Palace epitomises aristocracy. Being the 'only resort with a 5-star certification', it aims to soar higher, getting a 7-star status.
"The villas are made to ensure seclusion," said Quyyum.
The resort offers an overwhelming experience as the serenity of tea gardens is graced with a touch of luxury.
For avid connoisseurs of food, restaurants of The Palace are a perfect place to visit. The resort offers a multi-cuisine experience at Revolution, Nostalgia, and Olive. Saigon, which will offer Vietnamese cuisine, is opening soon and promises to add delightful memories to the guests' visiting.
The Palace is all about space. It is so massive that even if it is fully occupied, nobody will feel any sort of disturbance at all.
"Every amenity is individually constructed. Hence, a separate identity is established in such a manner that the guests do not have to face any queue vis-à-vis the typical scenario in our tourist spots," said Quyyum. Guests can avail and enjoy the facilities peacefully.
The Palace was closed in March when the pandemic hit Bangladesh. Reopened in early August amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it took several measures to maintain social distancing like keeping certain rooms and spaces empty, not allowing everyone in the swimming pool at once, enlarging the dining hall and so on.
"Overall, The Palace is doing well. People are coming, though in limited numbers. The facility is supposed to do better but the pandemic is hampering our regular progress," said Arifur.
Details of the resort can be found on www.thepalacelife.com.