A Lodge That Pays Tribute to Rajasthani Arts and Crafts
Just a stone’s throw from the ranks of seasoned vendors selling candy, fresh vegetables and precious stones for fine jewelry in the famous Johri Bazaar in Jaipur’s walled old town is a huge, late 19th-century limestone building with a terracotta facade which has long been known as Lal Haveli. For decades it was a single-family home owned by a branch of the Kasliwal family, whose members have been making jewelry for maharajas, kings and queens since the 16th century and whose Gem Palace business is now run from the ninth. Generation jeweler and entrepreneur Siddharth Kasliwal.
A few years ago, Kasliwal’s relatives turned to him and asked if he would be interested in turning the Haveli into a boutique hotel. When he and Abhishek Honawar, his friend and partner in 28 Kothi, a nearly five-year-old hotel, only 15 minutes by car to the southwest, in Jaipur’s green Civil Lines district, toured the three-story structure, Kasliwal recognized it as “The same building that I was in flew kites as a kid with my dad and cousins during the city’s annual kite flying festival. “But he also saw something new – an opportunity to create a kind of hotel that didn’t otherwise exist within the walls of the old town, that felt elegant, but also personal and even homely, and that reflected the customs of his attitude. “As you walk down these streets, remember that Jaipur was built as a city of art and culture in 1727,” says Kasliwal. He and Honawar agreed to take over the project. They would run it together, and Naina Shah – married to Honawar and owner of Aditiany, a couture embroidery design firm based in New York and Mumbai – oversaw the design.
The team started a renovation that updated the electrical systems and made some discoveries over time – including structural pillars in one of the suites. When it came to furniture, Shah always knew she wanted the new objects in the hotel to be commissioned from Rajasthani artisans. (There are also a number of outstanding vintage pieces, including framed textiles, wooden chairs that resemble tiger bodies, and traditional Pichwai paintings depicting the Hindu god Krishna.) “The work being done in India is so amazing, and unfortunately much of it is underestimated and is now considered a dying art, ”says Shah. The results of their efforts include everything from murals and hand-embroidered headboards to block-printed lampshades and camel bone mirrors. Each of the five suites is unique, especially as they are modeled on different gemstones – the Manak room (Hindi for “ruby”) is painted in the dusty pink that is predominant in Jaipur (also known as Pink City). The neelam (sapphire) room has light blue walls reminiscent of the buildings of Jodhpur (known as the Blue City), as well as a seat-sized swing, a typical accent in many ancient havelis and royal Indian residences. Then there’s the rooftop Moti Room (Pearl Room) with a private veranda that overlooks the Old City and the early 18th-century Nahargarh Fort in the distance.
Visitors enter the building through a series of arched doors, the first of which leads to a foyer with a domed ceiling painted with six-pointed stars. Behind it is a small courtyard with bougainvillea and two frangipani trees. Then comes the hotel restaurant with 75 seats, chaired by head chef Sonu Singh – formerly Four Seasons Mumbai – with vegetarian dishes such as tandoori shakarkandi ki chaat (sweet potato with yogurt) and galouti (kidney beans with foxnuts). Shah decided to leave one of the restaurant’s original walls in Araish (lime plaster) in distress – “it was just too beautiful to paint over,” she says – despite commissioning a mural of a jungle scene with leopards, monkeys and flamingos in yellow , with velvet-covered chairs for the Pukhraj Lounge on the second floor, where hotel guests can enjoy a chai service every evening followed by a cocktail hour. This space, along with the rest of the hotel, is reached by strolling through the restaurant and another door through which the building’s dramatic courtyard becomes visible and inevitably draws one’s gaze up to the balconies – pale yellow and bathed in golden light – along the Wrapped inside of each floor.
After a year of work and another eight months of waiting due to the pandemic, the Johri – named after the Hindi word for jeweler and a reference to the market that is thriving right outside the door – is bookable (although the hotel will of course practice social distancing and take other security measures for the foreseeable future. It was heartwarming, says Honawar, to have brought the city back to life in the past few weeks. He hopes that the Johri will only add to this newfound energy and at the same time act as an “oasis in the middle of the action” After a day of sightseeing, guests can treat themselves to a Johri Martini or an Ayurvedic massage in the hotel’s spa, for example. “Nevertheless,” he adds, “what we have built is connected to the world.”