Perched atop a 150-year-old check dam which forms a perennial rainwater lake, RAAS Chhatrasagar is a hospitality property located near the town of Nimaj in the Pali district of Rajasthan, India.
The Property History
Chhatrasagar is an artiﬁcial lake that was formed in the late nineteenth century. A local Rajput noble, Thakur Chhatra Singh built a dam across a tributary to the rainfed Luni River with the intent of providing farmers a continuous water supply for irrigation. Replenished by monsoon showers, this reservoir soon transformed nearby scrubland into a lush arable tract.
Over the years, the property mushroomed into a vast stretch of forest attracting wildlife and native bird life, including migratory species. Most farming activities were suspended a couple of decades ago when the owners decided to rehabilitate the landscape, reserving a small parcel of land for organic farming.
The Hospitable Beginnings
The original tourist camp at Chhatrasagar, run by the noble’s grandsons, comprised of tented accommodation operational from October to March. This was dismantled during the harsh summer months only to be assembled again at the onset of Autumn. The canvas tents were charming in their simplicity but offered dismal insulation and lacked visual and acoustic privacy. This combination made for an unsustainable business model.
The Modern Take
RAAS, a local boutique hotel company with a history of turning around difﬁcult projects, came on board to chalk out a comprehensive blueprint to improve and enhance the guest experience. They aimed to retain the essence of what guests loved about the property.
The design team from Studio Lotus, consisting of Ambrish Arora, Ayesha Hussain, Deepesh Harbola, and Pranvi Jain were commissioned to reinvent the earlier property and provide guests with a year-round opportunity to observe the region’s abundant biodiversity on the eight hundred acres of pristine forestland. The design brief called for developing a perennial property resilient to the harsh summers and cold winters of the region. The existing capacity had to be extended to sixteen tented units and the public spaces had to be upgraded.
The site plan laid out the sixteen ‘pods’ as an arrangement of conjoined suites raised on stilts to preserve the embankment’s structural integrity and allow rainwater to drain freely into the lake. The team created a system of low-impact foundations and lightweight superstructures. They built almost entirely without cement, employing a dry construction methodology and using lime as a binder wherever there was the requirement for minimal wet work to be done.
The Unifying Feature
The Baradari restaurant, also on the property, designed using a lightweight metal frame, dry mounted with hand-dressed stone in-ﬁlls, is a contemporary expression of the Rajputana twelve-pillared pavilion. It creates a seamless connection between the two key experiences of the site, the panoramic views of the lake and the serenity of the forest belt.
It does this with its naturally ventilated wraparound veranda extending up to the embankment walls on one side and stepping down onto the deck lining the private, all-season inﬁnity pool on the other. It quietly nods to the Art Deco sensibilities of the bygone era of the British Raj when nobles entertained Western dignitaries with sumptuous feasts and hunting expeditions in tented lodges.
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