Mr. Ashish Vohra, Ceo Of jüSTa Hotels And Resorts, Interviewed By DNA Magazine
When you say Lake Palace, it’s the destination in Udaipur that comes to mind. However, the Justa Lake Nahargarh Palace, Chittorgarh Resort, is also a luxurious option that is now coming to the fore. Set in the middle of a private lake and surrounded by eighty acres of land and abundant wildlife, Lake Nahargarh Palace was originally a hunting lodge made by the royal family of Salumber and Parsoli. It was then bought over by late Maharaj Nahar Singh ji of Ralavata and developed by his son Raja Jitendra Singh Rathore of Ralavata into a magnificent palace. The Resort is surrounded by the Aravalli Hills and a dense forest. Ashish Vohra, founder, Justa Hotels, gave us insight into this luxurious yet intimate property.
Considering, there’s already a Lake Palace in Rajasthan, what was the inspiration behind Lake Nahargarh Palace? The inspiration is obviously the Taj Lake Palace. But the more important fact is that this is a very unique location. Chittorgarh is a world heritage. This part is now becoming popular with the Indian travellers. It has been an important place for the German and French market. It’s not just that it’s in the middle of a lake it’s also about the backdrop of the Aravalli Hills and the forest, and this huge vast piece of land, that gives you an amazing view of the sunrise and sunset. Bundi is an interesting place which is has a quaint quality to it. It’s like stepping back in time. The place is still picture perfect. Plus there is a wildlife sanctuary within 20 minutes distance, there’s a 15th century Shiva temple. It’s a great place which offers you a good mix of art and culture and history with natural beauty. The road from Chittorgarh to Kota is an amazing road. It’s almost straight as an arrow and a pleasure to drive on. The inspiration is the fact that this area is largely unexplored.
How long did it take for you to set up this property?
It took almost three years to set up. We are now bringing it to people’s notice in a more aggressive manner. But its already popular among foreign tourists. If you really want to enjoy Chittorgarh it will take you two days. The property has been up and running for four years.
What were the challenges that you have faced?
This is a man-made lake. The challenge was to hold it. It was a smaller lake. Today, it’s 12-and-a-half acre of lake. The water source is rain water. What gives us happiness is the water table has increased. Earlier the water would be wasted, but now because of conservation the levels has gone up. The farmers are also benefiting from it. Earlier, there wasn’t network available, but now, unfortunately or fortunately, we have excellent network.
How closely do you work with the local community?
There is a small village attached to the place. We provide lot of local employment. Almost 20-25 people are employed with us. People, who come visiting, now want to do various things like explore the village. Villagers showcase their art, they put up puppet show, conduct walks around village… all these initiatives benefit the locals as well.
What kind of growth have seen in the last few years?
We have done various things like conducting an international artist residency Chitrashaala. Artist from almost 20 countries were here last winter. Also, we are seeing rise in destination marriage. From an incremental growth, we are now looking at an exponential growth. We have almost done double the revenue of last year.
Most of your properties have 50 rooms or lesser. Is that an advantage or weakness?
Hoteliering is an art, its not a factory setting. It’s also about you relate to your customers and how you can make their experience unique. If you have 300-400 rooms you lose that touch. We’ve taken our inspiration from Aman Resorts, which one of the world’s best small luxury chain of hotels. The interpretation of luxury is not whether something is gold plated or is it silk upholstery. That concept is evolving in our country. The intimate-living concept is our interpretation of luxury. It is very appealing to people. Some of these locations really help you connect with your soul. That’s what people are looking for. Connecting to the soul is our key motto.
How have you seen the tastes of the Indian traveller change over the years?
People have become far more discerning than we had imagined. They want an experience that’s off beat. Something that will make their holiday memorably. Indian domestic business has not just multiplied, bit it has grown exponentially. We recently had Harley Davidson group from Indore, we have had people driving from small towns. People are now getting into truly exploring a location. For the first time, we have people who come in without reservations. These are people who are driving around and decide to stay at a place on the way. That market has grown a lot. Rajasthan in winters is an amazing place. The experience can about food, wildlife, desert, some place in middle of the jungle… you can go to some very intersting places. This part of the country is easily drivable, security is not a huge concern, you can buy great art, antiques, fabric…there is just so much to explore. It’s a bridge between culture, region, time and place. Then there are amazing local musicians. It truly showcases the spirit of India. The spectrum is unbelievably large.
What’s in the pipeline?
We have three-four projects under development. From the city hotel point of view, we are doing something very interesting and different. The first prototype will be ready in 18 to 24/months.
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