“Do you want to see a jackal’s den?”
It’s not the first thing you expect to hear at a luxury resort. “What?” I stutter.
“Look straight ahead.”
I’m at Lakshman Sagar, in the middle of nowhere and this brand of luxury is clearly different.
It was a hike to my room and they have no qualms about it. There was no fussy lobby, and no easy buggy ride. Walking sticks and torches are their comfort equivalent.
Built by its namesake Lakshman Singh, the Thakur of Raipur as a hunting lodge in the 19th century; in 2010, the property was converted into a boutique hotel with the help of hospitality brand Sewara. Indeed, on the hill across from cottage number 12, mine for the next two days, is the home of a jackal, and I’ll be both excited to spot it and relieved if I don’t.
Two of my favourite sustainable architects Revathi and Vasant Kamath, brought Lakshman Sagar back to life. They restored a haveli and a colonnaded veranda that once served as the zenana and mardana (women's and men’s quarters respectively) but are now gender-inclusive and contemporized by a fresh lick of paint, pastel chiks and billowing pink curtains.
They also built two clusters of cottages to accommodate guests on the banks of the lake along the natural topography, responding to the views, sunlight, trees, wind and drainage patterns as they gave each cottage its own identity. The materials they used were sourced from the vicinity. Slate, sun dried mud bricks, sandstone and Bidasan marble, acacia and eucalyptus logs were used for foundations, walls, roof slabs, door and window frames, flooring and beams.
The cottages camouflage into the surroundings so from my terrace, I barely notice the one over from me. But it's hard to ignore the inviting private plunge pool, and two charpais made for stargazing. Sunset comes first though. I run up the rickety spiral staircase of the hotel observatory to down a cold glass of basil lemonade and watch the blazing ball disappear into the horizon.
I wake up to the prettiest light filtering in through the yellow blinds. For all the earthy tones outdoors, inside is the exact opposite. Delhi-based designers Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta were commissioned to create hand crafted furniture that reflected the local village.
The brief is met. The soft furnishings are a riot of colours: cushions with mirrorwork, braided rugs, embossed tiffin carriers. Vases are made from funnels, light fixtures from kadhais. Handmade boardgames, cloth yoga mats, block printed bathrobes, and a jar of multani mitti are playful and thoughtful additions. There are crunchy house-made snacks (free) in my minibar and a trio of candy-coloured sherbets (also free) - the vetiver is my favourite. They only faulter in their use of Nespresso pods for coffee. (Perhaps they’ll find this piece helpful.)
Breakfast today will be in the fields. I scamper along the rocks with a couple of other guests to a farmer’s modest home for a simple meal of hot rotis, pickle, fresh orange juice and buttermilk cooked, squeezed and churned by the women of the family.
Kunaal, my best friend joins me on day two and is the perfect companion. Both of us are equal parts vain and vacationer. We explore the property taking portraits, the scrubby terrain of these badlands provide the perfect backdrop. We sip spirits brewed inside Mehrangarh fort - Jodhpur is only three hours away. Kunaal attempts angling in the lake. I try to track what I’ve seen using a checklist provided inside a tiny notebook in my room - a herd of nilgai grazing by the lake, check. A trio of waddling ducks. Check. Plenty of peacock plumes. Check. We enjoy the fresh, simple homestyle meals made from produce grown on the property or in the nearby village. We appreciate that this hotel is buffet-free.
We admire the design details in the zenana and mardana. Table legs made of bangles, chairs based on the outfits worn by women from the Raika Rabari community, mosaic flooring made from broken pottery and 'hunting' trophies made from plough ends and a grain strainer. Mostly we just hang out. There isn’t much to do here and that is its charm. Those with itchy feet can arrange for a visit to the village nearby. We go for the story, but why would you leave?
From the very beginning. Lakshman Sagar has adopted what they call the zero kilometer concept. It’s hyperbole of course, but it’s not terribly far from the truth.
The resort offers glimpses of local culture and traditional Rajput customs, they provide employment for their neighbours, and they respect the land they’re built on. The village is the muse by design and in the daily upkeep. Ingredients and necessities are still sourced locally.
Above all, Lakshman Sagar demonstrates that slow living and time spent with nature can also be examples of luxury.
But excuse me. I have a tea party to attend between the lake and a pool carved out of rock literally guided by fissures in the geological formations.