You have arrived knowing you will be staying in a lake-side property but where is the water body you wonder as you walk from the car park located inside a grove of trees, past a short shaded path bordered by orchards and thickets. And then just as you climb a series of stone plinths to emerge in a spacious courtyard, you spy the vast expanse of the water. They sure know how to spring surprises on the visitor.
Located near the historic town of Nimaj in Pali district of Rajasthan is a new luxury address, RAAS Chhatrasagar. Overlooking an artificial lake, it is a reinvention of an earlier tented accommodation that existed here. The fourth in the series of boutique hospitality destinations by Walled City Hotels, this new property is an eco-conscious wildlife camp. Designed by Studio Lotus, an Aga Khan Award-nominated architecture practice based in New Delhi, RAAS Chhatrasagar treads lightly on the site yet without sacrificing any glamor quotient.
According to a Studio Lotus representative, the sensitive ecological context of the site made it imperative that all additions to the locale be erected with minimal impact. Keeping this in mind, the architects designed a system of low-impact foundations and light-weight superstructures for the newest iteration of the hospitality destination.
Chhatrasagar is an artificial lake that was built formed in the late 19th century when a local Rajput noble, Thakur Chhatra Singh, created an embankment across a tributary to the rain-fed Luni with the intent to provide farmers continuous water supply for irrigation. Replenished by monsoon showers, the reservoir soon transformed the nearby scrubland into a lush arable tract. Over the years, the area turned a vast stretch of forest, attracting wildlife and native avifauna, including migratory species.
However, most farming activities were suspended nearly a couple of decades ago when the owners decided to re-wild the landscape, reserving a small parcel of land for organic farming. The noble’s grandson ran a temporary simple tourist camp on the embankment. The camp, which usually operated between October and March, was a favourite with nature lovers and birding enthusiasts.
The camp had the potential to become a round the year property. So a local, successful boutique hotel company, RAAS was brought on board to chalk out a comprehensive blueprint to improve and enhance the guest experience while retaining the essence of what the guests loved about the property. To develop a perennial property resilient to the harsh summers and cold winters of the region, without harming the site's sensitive ecological context, was a challenge indeed.
Keeping in mind the environmental concerns, the Studio Lotus team set out to construct almost entirely without cement, employing a dry construction methodology and using lime as a binder wherever minimal wet work was required.
The owners’ private residence lies along the northern end of the central courtyard and screened from public view by a small garden. To the north of the central court is the reception-cum-bar and restaurant, abutted by an all-season infinity pool to the west. The public and private spaces were laid out in a linear configuration along the length of the dam.
Bordering the southern periphery of the court is the camp consisting of stilted tented pods, a reminder to the erstwhile tents. The stilts preserved the embankment's structural integrity and allowed the rainwater to drain into the lake.
To retain the memory of the former tents, the team stretched a tensile fabric roof over a series of lightweight partitions mounted with boarding and hand-painted fabrics executed by Dhvani Behl’s studio Flora For Fauna, which drew inspiration from the diversity of plant and animal. The private suites were designed to provide uninterrupted views of the forest as well as the lake. Local timber and stone punctuate the spatial experience; local crafts form contemporary interventions in the new property.
Each room has decks for outdoor lounging, perfect for enjoying the forests and the lake, the birds and the scintillating sunsets. You may enjoy the fresh breeze as you read a book or simply take in the view as you relax with your favourite tipple.
Inside, the bedroom has an attached study, and furniture from Mangrove Collective. En-suite bathrooms comprise a walk-in wardrobe, demarcated by dry and wet areas and a vanity; private, free-standing bathtubs are placed against glazed surfaces to afford views of the lake. Air-conditioning is via floor-mounted AC units, which also serve as hand-crafted wooden consoles.
The Baradari restaurant, situated over the dam, is a contemporary expression of the Rajputana twelve-pillared pavilion. With panoramic views of the lake on one hand, and the serenity of the forest belt on the other, its built envelope extends up to the embankment walls on one side, open on to the deck lining the private pool on the other.
The interiors of the restaurant consist of hand dressed Chitar stone while Dhvani Behl’s woodblock printed patterns have been translated into stone panels—chiseled by hand to depict the idyllic landscape and biodiversity. Upholstered country-style furniture, fashioned out of locally-sourced Acacia (kikar) wood marks a subtle counterpoint to the pink stone surfaces. The bar counter features elaborate hand carved relief work depicting a flock of flamingos. The restaurant serves local delicacies as well as Indian and International cuisine. The organic garden provides most of the vegetables.
While the property will entice you to stay within, do go for a jeep drive into the surrounding grasslands, where you may see birds aplenty and may be herds of nilgai (blue bull). They can also arrange for birding from boats, bush lunches, etc.
Information: Nimaj is about 230km from Jaipur, roughly four hours’ drive away. The nearest airport is at Jodhpur, about 140km by road. You may contact the resort for pick up and drops (on separate payment).
Raas Chhatrasagar can be visited round the year but winter is the best season when you may see a lot of migratory birds.