In the gatehouse of the 18th-century Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar, from where sentries once guarded this citadel, lies a little lodge and café. Just inside the main gate, a Labboo’z sign near the check post catches our eye. We’ve seen plenty of heritage structures converted into government offices stacked with dusty files, so this is refreshing: a piece of history beautifully preserved, in a sustainable manner. The intriguingly named and located Labboo’z was run as a budget lodge, until its five guard rooms, each named after a bird easily spotted in the area, were renovated in 2016.
Magpie is a modest room but full of character, done up in blue, white, and laterite stone. But HH Richard Holkar of the erstwhile royal family, who runs this and the Ahilya Fort hotel, leads us upstairs to Bee Eater, a room on the roof. Overlooking the fort’s ramparts, Bee Eater is the pick of the lot, with private terraces on either side. Inside, cute alcoves have been resourcefully reinterpreted. Hiding behind a curtain is a washbasin, a shower area is in another, while the toilet is discreetly tucked behind a blue door. A toilet overlooking a bustling street at the fort’s gate may be a bit odd, but this one has zany character. Other wall niches have been turned into spaces for luggage, or cosy seating areas. The blue-grey tiles, and the Kashmiri crewel embroidery linen sourced from Holkar’s mother’s personal collection add a touch of class. Our wrought-iron bed is comfortable, and there are added perks like cable TV, air-conditioning, and Wi-Fi.
Large grey steps lead to a third terrace above the room, perfect for stargazing. No room service is available, but we can bring a cup of tea to sip on here, if we like.
In the heart of all the action at the fort’s entrance, Labboo’z’s café gets a lot of walk-ins, often visitors who stop by after exploring the ghats. It has indoor and outdoor seating in a leafy courtyard abutting the fort wall. This is a good spot to relax on cane chairs next to book-lined alcoves. The sweet, ever-smiling local staff is happy to dish out chai, lassi, samosa, pakoda, grilled sandwiches, poha, or peanut chaat from their pure vegetarian menu.
And the strange name? “It comes from Lakshman, my old driver who ran the lodge initially,” says Holkar. “He was tall, and people called him Lambu. However, my kids mispronounced it as Labbu, and the name stuck. It’s called La-Booz, but there’s no booze there” he adds wryly.
Location: Labboo’z Café & Lodge
Address: The Gatehouse, Outside Ahilya Fort, Maheshwar.
Contact: +91 77710 04818
Tariff: Double room ₹1,900; single room ₹1,680
Café hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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