At the foothills of Amber Fort stands a haveli that can best be described as a jewellery box- fortified on the outside, but hiding true beauty on the inside. Having witnessed the tumultuous tales of Jaipur’s rise, the haveli has been magically transformed into a boutique hotel that’s received much acclaim from industry insiders and worldly-wise travellers alike. Madhuvanti Singh, a well-known figure among Jaipur’s elite, is the lady behind this magical transformation.
With several years of experience in the tourism industry, Madhu — as she is known to her friends — brought together her eye for luxury and old-world style with hospitality, a relatively new endeavour for her family. HELLO! got to discover this unique heritage revival project and speak with the mind behind it, as she shared with us the story of this marvellous metamorphosis.
HELLO!: How did you decide to take over and transform Surya Haveli into a hotel?
Madhuvanti Singh: Since 1947, the haveli had been inhabited by several families before my father, Thakur Bhim Singh of Rampura, and I inherited it. At the time, it was completely dilapidated and in desperate need of restoration. Though what it always had was the most amazing view of Amber Fort. One evening, while sitting on the roof terrace, gazing at the fort, we decided to transform the haveli to its former glory.
H: What were the challenges you faced when converting such a heritage structure into a modern-day luxe getaway?
MS: To preserve its original features, I worked with specialist restoration artisans from across the country — yet, the renovation of Surya Haveli still proved a challenge! Not only was the original building made of limestone with no bricks and cement, the builders also had to contend with the roofing, made of gigantic stone slabs from the foothills of the surrounding Aravallis. Installing the elevator elegantly was another monumental task. Despite the challenges, our desire and love for restoring the haveli won through.
H: You’re probably one of the closest hotels to Amber Fort. What are the pros and cons of such proximity to a massively popular destination?
MS: The best part about having a property overlooking the fort is the breathtaking view. Especially watching the sound and light show from atop our rooftop restaurant. Across the world, properties often have views of such iconic sites, which gives you the real sense of the city and its history. We are lucky to be perfectly placed, overlooking this marvellous UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Surya Haveli lies off the beaten track and yet, is at the heart of the action. Overlooking Amber’s main square, fruit and vegetable stalls, textile houses and a market bursting with life are all on the haveli’s doorstep. This means guests can be fully immersed in local life while enjoying the mesmerising views. The sounds of Amber absorb guests further into the ‘real India’, with the azan from the nearby mosque clearly audible and the bells from the fort’s temple adding to the magic.
I cannot think of any cons except being in an area that falls under the Architectural Survey of India’s purview. We have often struggled with planning permissions and have had to take meticulous care to abide by the guidelines when restoring the structure.
H: Your interior designer Adil Ahmad has a very distinct sense of style. What was the brief you shared with him when renovating the place?
MS: Adil is a master at perfectly blending modern and traditional interior design, so we didn’t lose the original character of the property. He had already done our Sonaar Haveli in Jaisalmer and now worked his magic on Surya Haveli, producing a colourful creation worthy of a king. The bedrooms, named after chambers in Amber Fort, are unique in design, view and craftsmanship. His specially-created wallpaper for each room tells the many stories of Jaipur with Mughal motifs, the tales of the hunting days of the maharajas and beautiful pleasure palaces.
My brief was to bear in mind the three different Rajput architectural styles in Amber — Hindu, Mughal and Persian. Surya Haveli is inspired by Amber and retains this trio, which is only apt, with this heritage hotel being right in the centre of the city. Although the haveli belonged to Rajput ministers, both Hindus and Muslims lived here over the centuries. Consequently, the design inspiration was taken from both temples and mosques. This is evident in the courtyard, the arches and the specially made wallpaper.
H: Any plans to add more facilities to the property?
MS: Absolutely! We’re currently amid adding a rooftop pool and a restaurant, so there’s a new and exciting oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of sightseeing around Amber. We’re also taking a keen interest in our hotel kitchens to serve authentic Rajasthani cuisine. We want to celebrate the best of local produce and heirloom.
H: You and your family have been involved in tourism for decades now, with Rajasthan Tours. How did you decide to branch out into hospitality? What’s it been like so far?
MS: We’ve been in the travel and hospitality industry for 63 years. My father started Rajasthan Tours and has always been a great ambassador for promoting tourism in Rajasthan. We wanted to give our state something unique. Having understood what attracts people to Rajasthan, we felt there was a great opportunity in the boutique hotel segment, so we thought of a design hotel that’s affordable, central and sustainable.
The journey has had its twists and turns. The pandemic severely affected the tourist count, especially inbound tourism. We like to think the worst is over and that better days lie ahead.
H: Any plans to expand to other areas of Rajasthan?
MS: We hope to create a chain of these unique boutique hotels in the heart of Rajasthani cities. We want them to feel like a home rather than a hotel, so we’ve deliberately kept them small and personal.
H: What’s your personal interior design ethos? What school of design inspires you the most?
MS: Having lived in Rajasthan for so long, traditional arches and carved pillars married to modern-day amenities for the ultimate comfort is what inspires me. Blending traditional interiors with a contemporary twist, with all new-age comforts and facilities is the perfect mix. It’s also important for me to give back to the local community and ensure that the environment’s been treated as a priority during the construction and operation of Surya Haveli.
Photography: Abhishek Khandelwal; Creative Direction: Amber Tikari; Hair: Dilip Sisodiya; Makeup: Kanupriya Dular
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s September 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!