I didn’t have any expectations when I heard there was a heritage fort hotel in Jaisalmer. But I was blown away when I got to Suryagarh. I kept looking for something that was newly constructed on this property, something that would break my eye. But nothing did.
My host in India was Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, a INKTalks Fellow and traditional architecture enthusiast. Photographed below with James, who traveled with me from Bali.
Manvendra Singh Shekhawat’s love lies in hotels, heritage conservation, design, experiential real estate and social entrepreneurship. His hotels take the path less travelled and his NGO, I Love Jaisalmer, was responsible for launching the city’s largest cleanliness and conservation drive. Manvendra is currently working on building experiential hotels, development of a renaissance township and the restoration of a 350 year old military fort.
Above my bed there was a roof made of cut stone, just stone on stone to make this incredible roof.
It was an amazing experience. If you get to Jaisalmer, stay in this hotel. They dug a huge pond to collect rainwater and they’re on the edge of being completely sustainable.
We then went to Bikaner. A long drive through the desert. We stayed in a art deco inspired hotel there that was the private residence of a Prince of Bikaner.
We visited the second family property- an incredible palace that hasn’t been renovated yet.
Vegans of India:
We visited a place that made mortar. Rajasthan is quite cold in winter and hot in summer. The power of mortar was demonstrated to me in an old palace, where I could feel the difference in heat clearly between a section with cement and a section created with mortar. Mortar is the material of the future. Mortar creates buildings that breathe.
The haveli buildings are an incredible example of appropriate building for the Rajasthan summers. Many haveli are being torn down and replaced with ugly ten story concrete buildings. Along the roads of Jaisalmer it’s just urban sprawl. As I was going along, I kept thinking is there no civic pride? No temple? No town hall? I was told we were traveling along town outskirts to avoid traffic, but how could the people with the most incredible architecture in the world be building these concrete structures now?
But Manvendra has been collecting haveli parts and learning the architecture. It’s really, really exciting to see people who care.
We then visited the jewel of the crown- a defunct, mineralized, deep well pumping piece of land with around 600 acres. The farmer went broke and the family bought the land and they’re turning it into an amazing property. They built three lakes and the lakes harvest water from rain. When the lakes filled it replenished the water table and all the local wells all of a sudden had water in them. They’re growing grain for the hotels there and have planted a band of indigenous trees around the property. The property will become a sustainable village of the future- it will have a school and people will be living in a very sustainable way. A remarkable vision for a young man.