Hotelier and CMD of Orchid Hotels Vithal Kamat has acquired the 300-year-old Jadhavgad Fort at Saswad, around 25km from Pune, and converted it into a fort hotel. If you haven’t yet experienced the pleasures of a regal Rajasthani fort palace, Jadhavgad is a pleasant, easy-to-reach replacement.
At first sight, the fort is a bit disappointing—I was expecting something more grand than the solid, squat, grey structure. We visited on a working day and, though the hotel was not strictly functional for another two days, the staff was already in their Maharashtrian-style uniform—the navvari (nine-yard) sari draped dhoti-style for the receptionist and bandgala-dhoti for the male staff. Perhaps a dress rehearsal was afoot.
There are 12 ground level rooms, six of them premium, built around a central courtyard with a lovely old banyan tree. They are pleasant enough, but dimly lit with little natural sunlight. Also, since the windows here open into the inner courtyard, your privacy could be less than complete.
The premium rooms on the ground floor come with lovely open-to-the-sky rain showers. Smart thinking on the part of the architects now means that you can actually take a shower under the clear blue sky and simultaneously watch your favourite TV show/cricket match through the glass wall that divides your room and bathroom. Larger families should opt for interconnected premium rooms.
The fare at the coffee shop, the only functioning restaurant, is unremarkable and identical to restaurant spreads in Mumbai, Pune or anywhere else. The coffee shop is currently being converted into a bar, and can be a great location for couples to enjoy a cozy sundowner. Jadhavgad will have a rooftop restaurant, Mostly Grills, in the next couple of months. Once complete, the restaurant holds great promise for romantic dinners under a starlit sky.
Construction in the inner core of the fort is due to begin by March. This second phase will see further improvements in facilities, including a terrace pool carved from the rocky foundation of the fort, a spa and a health club. Topping off renovations will be an outdoor swimming pool, fashioned out of an old pond, surrounded by lush greenery. When complete, the hotel plans to outfit guests with walkie-talkies so they can call in with orders for drinks or snacks wherever they are on the sprawling property.
If history and Indian culture are your thing in life, Jadhavgad is worth the trouble of driving up from Mumbai just for the museum that has been set up there, with a stunning collection of Indian artefacts. The museum has everything from a collection of women’s combs, surma danis (kohl containers), quaint mirrors, sindoor containers to palkhis and horse carriages.
Kamat Hotels (India) Ltd, a player in the premium five-star business hotel segment with its Orchid brand, plans to offer Jadhavgad as a destination for conferences and will also pitch it as a boutique heritage hotel that will cater to tourists wanting to taste a cocktail of luxury and scenic beauty with a slice of history. They also plan to hold wine and cheese evenings.
The good stuff
Right now, it is the best place to go if you are seeking a holiday that is quiet and not full of things to do. You can go for long walks along the farmlands, maybe buy some fresh, farm-picked figs that grow in abundance (at Rs100 a kg, they were a steal) around the fort or just lounge around with an ebook or podcast. If you are spiritually inclined, you could do a trip to the Balaji temple a few kilometres away or to the famed temple of Khandoba at Jejuri. Purandar Fort, 15km away.
If you are the kind who wants some action in your vacation, this place is not for you. Much like the famed Rajasthani palace resorts, Jadhavgad is all about lazing around doing as little as possible.
If food is a large part of the holiday experience for you, visiting Jadhavgad just now can be a little disappointing. The coffee shop is the only operational food and beverage outlet at the moment, serving regular breakfasts, lunch and dinner. The lunch and dinner menus offer interesting options. For committed non-vegetarians, the Maharashtrian favourite Kombdi Vade—a chicken dish cooked with coconut and coriander, and served with deep-fried Indian bread—is a great choice.
Vegetarians, be prepared for the usual paneer makhanwala, vegetable jalfrezi, dals and pulao. Sadly, the menu does little to incorporate elements of traditional Maharashtrian vegetarian cuisine such as bhakri-pithla.
And, for now, there are no creature comforts such as pools, health clubs or spas. Many of the staff are first-timers to Maharashtra and, understandably, seemed a bit out of place.
At Rs16,000-Rs22,000, plus taxes, the rooms seem overpriced, especially for what is on offer just now. It might be a great place once all the amenities are in place.