If time machines could ferry palaces and forts, we wouldn’t know whether to press the rewind or forward button for this one. Devi Ratn, the latest on offer from Boutique Hotels India Pvt. Ltd, is a curious hybrid that borrows from the 18th century Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, and marries its structural genius with a sparkly futurism.
The Jantar Mantar (or “calculation instrument”) is one of the five observatories commissioned by Maharaja Jai Singh II. It was the biggest of the lot and found itself a spot on Unesco’s world heritage list—one of the many reasons that Anupam Poddar, director, Boutique Hotels, picked it as a base model for his 63-suite luxury boutique hotel and spa destination just 10km from Jaipur city. He wanted something intrinsically local to peg his new venture to, and he wound up suggesting one of the more challenging ones to his architect Prabhakar Bhagwat.
Given that the Poddars’ flagship property in Udaipur, Devi Garh, is housed within an ancient fort palace which allowed scope for restoration but not for creative design, it is evident that with Devi Ratn, Anupam and his mother Lekha Poddar—India’s most discernible art collectors—pulled out the plugs.
Sleight of light: (clockwise from above) A room at Devi Ratn with visible work; the latticework lobby area; and the rooftop dining at the Pavilion.Photographs by Amit Mehra for Devi Resorts
Twenty minutes off the Delhi-Jaipur National Highway 8 on a dirt track will get you to the terracotta-coloured hotel complex, which rises ominously amid a barren landscape (the horticulturists are at work to change this). Once inside the porch, the fort-like appearance of the exterior gives way to a more palatial feel.
The lobby exhibits great innovation. Bhagwat’s team has replicated intricate latticework that wouldn’t have been possible to carve in stone, using a special kind of reinforced concrete instead.
The luxury of Devi Ratn doesn’t lie in its plushness but in its ornateness. Beaten silver surfaces, a modern interpretation of Mewari thekri work, create a running platform along the lobby, while ceiling-length acrylic glass sheets faceted like gemstones take up end walls.
The nine gemstones, or navratn, theme guides the decor of the hotel—and also lends to its name. But apart from the fact that the rooms are done up in gemstone colours (red, yellow, blue and green), this link is tenuous. There are no nine colours to speak of.
In fidelity to his role as an art patron, the rooms in Anupam’s hotel are distinguished by artwork more than the size or amenities. A section of the executive suites (Rs 30,000 per night) have digital pichwais by a third-generation pichwai artist trained at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad; some have lenticular prints that create optical illusions; while other rooms come with a quirky interpretation of the “toy box” (the wood-panelled boxes that are great for hiding small objects). Guests must push and pull their wall-sized toy box to reveal the bar and other utilities.
Devi Ratn’s suites are planned along crescent-shaped streets at varying heights, ensuring that each has a view of the Aravalli hills—undoubtedly one of the hotel’s best features.
What might appear too harsh in the daylight—the stone, concrete and reflective surfaces— transforms the hotel into a mellow haven at sundown. Lighting plays a good wingman. There is no direct light anywhere on the premises, only soft uplighters, tiny LEDs that look like diyas, and bounce-lighting. The light filtering out of the latticework at every corner and turnabout adds to the ambience.
The three restaurants have their distinct charms. Vajra, which serves Asian and continental food, is all elegance in matte gold and silver (and it has its own private sunken seating in a pool). The Jal café is a modern glass palace created using layers of glass arches. And there’s Chakra Bar, where a circular sky roof enables moon viewing. But its crushed glass tables and revolving lights render it too kitsch for the morning.
A “wow” moment is the view from Vajra’s rooftop area called Pavilion, which overlooks the blue-grey hill ranges. Another spectacular inclusion is the machaan or observation deck—the highest vantage point of the property—which is strongly tied to the Jantar Mantar theme. And there is Sila, the monolithic cuboid conference room made of white marble.
The raison d’être of Devi Ratn’s design is its attempt at fusing sophisticated technology with traditional materials and motifs such as jharokhas and jhulas. Take, for instance, the Italian terrazzo patterning on the Rajasthani granite in the flooring. But this “fusion” is best exemplified at the spa. Housed inside a traditional stepwell, or baoli, the 20,000 sq. ft Devi spa is a dreamy underground maze of water bodies and green islands serviced by the French brand L’Occitane.
This ambitious attempt also results in a half-baked finish in parts. The intentionally rustic cement walls of the corridor might make one believe they were forgotten while the rest of the hotel was getting its luxury dressing. Some decor elements are extraneous: Guests could do without a digital pichwai, for instance.
But then, every great leap of design must face a few hurdles.