Located about an hour south East of Pune, India, in what used to be an old battlefield, then farmland, now light industry that includes an ‘InfoPark’ tax-haven computer tech center, Fort Jadhavgadh has stood since 1710. It is being transformed into a small hotel on the hill by the Kamat Hotels (India) Ltd. This is not a facility being considered by HP, we simply wished to see this interesting place as a benchmark.

The folks at Gadh Heritage Hotels began the transformation work in 2007 of Fort Jadhav Gadh which boasts a hotel coffee shop, front desk, function rooms, and itty bitty bathroom en-suite guest rooms.  This old stone fort has been converted into a small hotel with all the standard features, including huge directional signs, mini bars flat-screen TV’s.  This project is the latest by the proud owner of the famed Orchid Hotel in Mumbai - India’s first ‘echo-hotel’.

The small white ladies' apartment float above the ramparts like a Castle in the Air. It remains the only exterior bit of palace-like facade. The huge undertaking required modern hotel rooms to be constructed completely from scratch with computer control air conditioning (not optional, as the castle has few windows for fresh air!), plasma TV’s at the foot of the bed, make-up-room-please lights and everything one would expect in a standard issue five-star Indian hotel.

The guest rooms circle the interior fortification wall facing the center and inner fortress. Unfortunately, the bank’s financial pro forma must have called for as many rooms as possible so the 34 rooms are all necessarily tiny to be jammed into the outer fort. Replace the center fort with a pool and the place is configured like a California Motel, but worse.  None have a bathtub in the itty bity bathroom with the toilet itself stuck on the wall right in front of the hand slink. No need for the left hand to go far to clean  up!

Ajay Upadhyay, an MBA later trained-up by the Taj Palace folks arrived less than a year ago after the physical plant had long been set in train, everything complete, but for the all-important spa, presidential suite, ‘experiential tents’ as Ajay explained them.  When complete in the next six months (along with the tree lined approach road, more gardens and grass) the 80% Pune corporate clientele, 20% foreign traveler will switch to 20/80.  Meanwhile the soft opening includes a local’s rate and minimum ‘temporary membership’ fee of 500 IR for rubberneckers (like us I suppose - but alas connections waved the fee so we were free to simply look).

The spa has yet to start in the center of the fort.  The center rubble will become a pool for the spa we are told is to be run by a Singaporean spa operation outfit. One wonders what the Singaporeans know about Ayurvedic medicine.

The apartments once build for the ladies (photo below) is to be made into the Presidential suite.  We should have preferred for this space to be made into the ladies only spa area with the gardens and pools below and between the flowering trees (photo above). Oh, a perfect place to be fed peeled grapes!       

The view from these apartments is one of the few afforded by the original designers.  Most openings or windows were just small enough for a gun or weapon.   From this porch, once can appreciate the location (and narrowness) of the surrounding modern guest rooms. (see photo lower left). 

The surrounding visa is of dry farmland (the monsoons have yet to perform their magic on this region). We are told that the precipitation here is much lower even than Pune. This is evidenced by the fort’s rain harvesting systems still in use.  It was pointed out that such will become some sort of feature for the Singaporian-run spa.

We would have preferred to have located the new-build guest accommodation structures around the fort affording each a view of the fort (not as close as present) and the re-foliating hillside.  The ‘experiential tents’ are being tested just outside the fort (photo, below right). We are told they will finally be placed along the hills
facing the fort (photo, above left).   The tent we saw did not look in keeping with the standards of the ‘valiant Maratha General Pilaji Jadhavro’ who first build the place.  Perhaps he would have appreciated the still-expanding palace grounds just outside the fort with ancient temple (photo above, left), as on view by our partner Sarang Kale (photo below). We were standing out on the veranda of the best suite in the castle so far to view the fort’s fair grounds and hadn't a chair to sit on, one would not fit. So we are left leaning on the rampart walls for our view.

This was a very good benchmark for us to consider the pros/cons of a renoation/restoration - adaption project in progress.  We first thought it would be an ideal option for Harmony Project New Tourists to over-night looking for an option near Pune with a strong Sense of History and a Sense of Place. Sadly, this project, so far, does little to satisfy our requirements. 

This was a classic example of poor experiential design. The staff quarters and back of house are in plane view of the roof top ‘grill restaurant’ in the photo below. The tree story building looks like it fell out of Pune.   There are no reading chairs in the guest rooms. The guest rooms are so small, one wonders what to do here if given a 4 day pass..

To answer this question, Sarang and Bradford ordered Kingfisher beers back in Pune. We concluded that in addition to constructing the guest quarters surrounding the fort, we would have loads of options inside the fort to keep everyone busy.  We would also encompass the surrounding village:

  1. BulletWith the women eating peeled grapes up there in the inner fortress, would would have plenty of room for a library (never mind proper reading chairs back in our rooms - perhaps even on be a bathtub) and space to teach children how to make their own games and toys. 

  2. BulletThe farmers outside would be commissioned or instructed to grow organic vegetables - perhaps even a Pune child could plant their own and urge the parents to return to view its progress.

  3. BulletHorse back riding from stables operated by the villagers.

  4. BulletThe dungeons (now used for GM office and winery) could be part of the armory museum - filled with materials recreated by the new village workshops.

  5. BulletStaff housing could be placed in less massive structures that resemble the village or adjacent fort indigenous building technology and design.

  6. BulletStudio space for the artisans commissioned to reconstruct the fort and apartments.

The school (photo, above right) and related buildings are just outside the main gate (photo, below). The owner has built at great expense a personal museum filled with objects with absolutely nothing to do with the Sense of Place here. We were not interested in pushing the idea have having a look; the man with the key was having lunch. However it examples the opportunity to build new facility but with a strict sense of History. In this example, the opportunity was lost to advance the guest accommodations experience with a better use of such a lovely building.

Photo Above: Note the trash still all around the prime viewing area from Grill Room, with the staff housing block on the right.

Photo Below: immediately farm yards and sparse vegetation surrounding the fort.


A Castle in the Air

Jadhav Wadi, Pune, India

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