A stone’s throw from the lines of veteran vendors selling sweets, fresh vegetables and gems for fine jewelry at the famous Johri Bazaar in Jaipur’s walled Old City sits a hulking late 19th-century limestone building with a terra cotta-colored facade long known as Lal Haveli. For decades, it operated as a single-family home owned by a branch of the Kasliwal family, members of which have made jewelry for maharajahs, kings and queens since the 16th century and whose business, Gem Palace, is now run by the ninth-generation jeweler and entrepreneur Siddharth Kasliwal.
A few years ago, Kasliwal’s relatives reached out to him and asked if he’d be interested in turning the haveli into a boutique hotel. When he went to survey the three-story structure with Abhishek Honawar, his friend and partner in 28 Kothi, an almost five-year-old hotel just a 15-minute drive southwest, in Jaipur’s leafy Civil Lines neighborhood, Kasliwal recognized it as “the same building I flew kites outside of 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 City, one that, however elegant, also felt personal and even homey, and that was reflective of the customs of its setting. “When you walk around these streets, you remember that Jaipur was built, in 1727, as the city of art and culture,” says Kasliwal. He and Honawar agreed to take the project on; they’d run it together, and Naina Shah — who is married to Honawar and the owner of Aditiany, a design firm with a background in couture embroidery that’s based in New York and Mumbai — came on to oversee its design.
The team embarked on a renovation during which they updated the electrical systems and made a few discoveries — including structural columns in one of the suites — as they went. When it came to furnishings, though, Shah always knew she wanted to commission the new objects in the hotel from Rajasthani artisans. (There are also a number of standout vintage pieces, among them framed textiles; wooden chairs carved to resemble tigers’ bodies; and traditional pichwai paintings, which depict the Hindu god Krishna.) “The work that is done in India is so amazing, and sadly much of it is underappreciated and now qualifies as a dying art,” says Shah. The results of her efforts include everything from wall murals and hand-embroidered headboards to block-printed lampshades and camel bone-inlay mirrors. Each of the five suites is unique, all the more so because they are modeled after different gemstones — the manak (Hindi for “ruby”) room is painted the shade of dusty pink so prevalent in Jaipur (also known as the Pink City), while the neelam (sapphire) room has light blue walls that recall the buildings of Jodhpur (known as the Blue City), as well as a love seat-size swing, a typical accent in many old havelis and royal Indian residences. And then there’s the rooftop moti (pearl) room, with a private veranda that offers views of the Old City and the early 18th-century Nahargarh Fort in the distance.
Visitors enter the building via a series of arched doorways, the first leading to a foyer with a domed ceiling painted with six-pointed stars. Past that is a small courtyard appointed with bougainvillea and a pair of frangipani trees, and then comes the 75-seat hotel restaurant, presided over by chef Sonu Singh — formerly of the Four Seasons Mumbai — and offering vegetarian dishes such as Tandoori Shakarkandi ki chaat (sweet potato with yogurt) and Galouti (kidney beans with fox nuts). Shah decided to leave one of the restaurant’s original araish (lime plaster) walls distressed — “it was just too beautiful to paint over,” she says — though she did commission a mural of a jungle scene complete with leopards, monkeys and flamingos, along with yellow velvet-covered chairs, for the second-floor Pukhraj lounge, where hotel guests can enjoy a chai service, followed by a cocktail hour, every evening. That space, along with the rest of the hotel, is accessed by walking through the restaurant and another doorway, upon which the building’s dramatic central courtyard comes into view, inevitably drawing the eye upward to the balconies — pale yellow and bathed in a golden light — wrapped along the inside of each floor.
After a year of work and an additional eight months spent waiting out strict lockdowns implemented on account of the pandemic, the Johri — named after the Hindi word for jeweler and a reference to the market that thrives just outside — is open for booking (though the hotel will of course practice social distancing and take other safety measures for the foreseeable future). It’s been heartwarming, says Honawar, to see the city come back to life a bit in recent weeks. He hopes that the Johri will only add to that newfound energy, while also acting as “an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle.” After a day of sightseeing, for instance, guests might treat themselves to a Johri martini, or to an ayurvedic massage at the hotel spa. “Still,” he adds, “what we’ve built is connected to the world.”