History to Hospitality
Heritage tourism is gaining traction worldwide and India with its ancient and rich cultural background offers ideal setting to explore and experience the history. Actively involved in the restoration of India’s lesser-known architectural ruins, Aman Nath, Founder-Chairman, Neemrana Hotels talks about the process of restoring the past glory.
Neemrana Fort Palace located at a distance of 120 kilometres from Delhi, looks nothing short of an architectural genius. The grand fort is a perfect weekend getaway and the occupancy rate of the historic resort palace is always hundred percent. But this was not the case two decades back. At that point in time Neemrana Fort was nothing but a dishevelled ruin. If today there is sunlight on what were once broken columns, then the credit for it goes to Aman Nath and Late. Francis Wacziarg.
Neemrana non-hotel Hotels, have won National and International awards such as from Government of India and UNESCO.
Neemrana Fort-Palace was bought by Aman Nath with two friends in 1986. They took around five years to restore a wing and opened this amazing fort in 1991. The inspiration behind restoring the ruins of Neemrana Fort, was the book on ‘Havelis of Shekhavati’, which was co-authored by Late Francis Wacziarg and Aman Nath.
Wacziarg was a French resident, who took the Indian citizenship in the year 1992. While, Aman Nath directed the restoration, Wacziarg took over the administration and accounts work. Together they directed the style of the rooms and public spaces – as well as the crockery,cutlery and the tableware.“The idea was to make use of India’s ‘unlisted’ wasted architectural heritage and make it a part of mainstream tourism earners,” said Aman Nath.
Talking about criteria for selecting heritage properties Nath, stated, “When a place is magical it needs no consultant to tell you about it. One has to be sensitive to such vibrations. All Neemrana properties have a great sense of arrival.The older they are the more rugged is their appeal. But, each property has its own peculiar problems too.”
We call ourselves as non-hotel hotels as none of our properties were originally meant to be hotels. They are all monuments of historical significance with different stories to tell.
Neemrana Fort-Palace – 15th Century
“We started by looking at restoring historical properties which held the stories to tell about the glorious past of India. The Fort Palace of Neemrana was spotted in 1977 as a vast and splendid ruin. While conducting architectural restoration-for-reuse, the focus was to recreate the past historical wonders into a modern day hotel which can give a unique authentic picture about Indian culture and heritage to the discerning traveller.
The Neemrana non-hotel Hotel brand of hospitality hinges on the real – not necessarily on the ever-escalating standards of more. In India, where dramatic disparities exist, Long before one can enjoy the Neemrana experience, it is vital to humble oneself before the vast and continuous sprawl of history. Humans come later.This awareness can open within us a new, positive approach to experience the unexpected diversity that India unravels. To get ‘more’ from ‘less’ is what India can teach from its vantage point in philosophical evolution. Eventually, it is simplicity which is the ultimate style.
Aman Nath, maintains all his properties with sheer passion and love. Talking about the feedback his properties has received in past two decades, he explains with utmost modesty that, “Twenty years of positive feedback can spoil anyone, but we keep updating and pushing ourselves to improve. Over the years, Neemrana has set standards in heritage hospitality. Even in bad tourism years we have been up by 20%. We have created a special niche where not just foreigners enjoy India’s history but a whole new set of Indian travellers.”
Neemrana Hotels have restored many historical ruins over the last two decades. Neemrana continues to revitalize many old properties in destinations that are off the beaten track. The heritage properties across India hold out the unique opportunity of experiencing a panorama of 700 years of history – from the 14th to the 21st centuries.
Amongst these historical ruins were some former 19th Century palaces in India namely Baradari Palace, in Patiala, Punjab and Tijara Fort-Palace in Alwar, Rajasthan
The Baradari Palace is a white, colonnaded building, centered on a rectangular Sikh-Mughal-style, twelve door pavilions or baradari which gave its name to a splendid garden commissioned by the then ruler Maharaja Rajinder Singh. When the founder-restorers of Neemrana took over the building, they decided not just to preserve the original period look through careful restoration, but also to revitalize it to suit the requirements of the present day traveller.The structure without confirming to a single architecture style, unites Hindustani, Mughal and Colonial trappings.
Tijara Fort-Palace is an architectural wonder with its terraced hanging gardens sited on a hilltop overlooking the countryside.In 1835 CE Balwant Singh started the construction of a Fort-Palace. Because of his premature death in 1845 CE, the construction remained incomplete till it was taken over by Neemrana Hotels. The Rani Mahal consists of 20 suites and rooms named after India’s leading lady painters who have honoured them with their work. The Mardana Mahal houses 40 rooms that have been styled by leading male designers, artists, and aesthetes. The Kanch Mahal or palace of glass is a central structure where guests arrive for their meals. One of the sunken wonders of the Tijara property is Pataal Kund – a large swimming pool. There is also an underground auditorium below the fountain garden.
Neemrana Noble Homes are large homes that provide personalized holiday experience. The first in this series is recently opened four room Ishavilas in Soilim, Goa. The six rooms, Diwan’s Bunglow is scheduled to open soon in Ahmedabad. Explaining the concept Nath, said, “These homes get families or a set of friends to enjoy the property on their own. Now, one doesn’t has to build a home but can just get the keys to these stylish, maintained homes to enjoy river, sea or a mountain setting in their own privacy.
Aman Nath is a historian by education. He has co-written and authored thirteen large-format illustrated books on art, history, architecture, corporate biography and photography, two of which have won national awards. His Jaipur book was the first Indian book chosen by Christie’s for worldwide distribution.
Late Mr. Francis Wacziarg came to India in 1970. Initially, he was the commercial attaché at the French consulate in Mumbai. On gaining Indian citizenship, after an active 20 year affair with India, he joined Aman Nath, to co-author two books as also to invest in Neemrana Fort-Palace in 1992 when it was already running as a hotel.