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Home > Business > Special

When hotels turn into fantasy hubs

Sushmita Choudhury & Ravi Teja Sharma in New Delhi | April 21, 2007

Few of us will ever sleep in a drug kingpin's mansion. Even fewer dream of shacking up in a nun's cell. Or how about spending a night in jail? Across the world, these are just some offbeat places that have been converted into a luxury hotel to cash in on the trend of theme hotels.

Now, reportedly, some love hotels in Japan even have an alien spacecraft theme, including one involving abduction. While Indian hoteliers may not be willing to go that far, they are discovering the advantages of thinking out of the box.

Take Sahara Star, for instance. Located near Mumbai airport, it is a luxury hotel with a tropical theme. While it is yet to open its doors to guests, sources say that in the centre of the hotel is 50,000 sq ft of space with a tropical garden and dense vegetation enclosed with a dome on top. 

Sahara Star is not alone in trying out the theme route. Themed hotels have traditionally existed in India for a very long time in the form of the palace hotels in Rajasthan, each of which captures elaborate tales of the lives and times of the maharajas. Now, however, the trend is getting more pronounced and contemporary too.

C G H Earth's latest property in Karnataka. SwaSwara, meaning "my own rhythm" in Kannada, for example, is a 24-villa luxury yoga retreat offering large private villas with yoga decks built in traditional Konkan style - laterite brickwork, Mangalore-tiled canopies, and thatched roofs.

Long stretches of beach and a state-of-the-art yoga and ayurveda centre are trademark features of this brand new resort. At SwaSwara, you can expect personalised attention from yoga experts. In fact, yoga is the major theme here and that can be seen throughout the design of the resort.

The centerpiece of SwaSwara is the blue meditation dome, at the head of the swimming pool. Its circular form and blue tiles form a mandala (or cosmic sphere) of harmony, echoing the temple architecture of nearby Gokarna.

If you're new to yoga, you can just sample a bit of it all, practicing as the mood takes you. For more serious yoga lovers, as also for people with specific ailments, there are a whole range of options including a customised therapy programme complete with yoga postures and pranayama (breath exercises), various forms of meditation, a balanced diet and Ayurvedic massages.

Jose Dominic, managing director of C G H Earth describes SwaSwara as a sanctuary for the self through yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are reflected even inside the rooms. Each room is 1,000-1,200 sq ft with a bedroom area (the only air-conditioned space here) which opens out into a garden, which further opens out on to a verandah.

Go beyond the verandah and you step out into the lake. The bathroom here half opens to the sky. The best feature is the large private meditation and yoga space which is above the bedroom. If this doesn't encourage you to commune with nature, nothing else will.

Neither does a resort have to be uber-luxurious to qualify for the "themed hotel" tag. You only need to visit The Chalets in Naldehra, Himachal Pradesh, to see this in effect. Just 22 km from Shimla, this storybook location recreates a Finnish fairy-tale fantasy - accommodation in quaint pinewood log cottages, including an attic bedroom under the sloping roof, leisurely picnics, curling up with a book in front of the fireplace, horse riding and high tea�hot buttered scones anyone?

Says Yatish Sud, managing director, The Chalets, "The raw material for the structure and layouts were imported from Finland. Tourists are given opportunities of experiencing a stay in Finish chalets without going through the hassles of travelling all the way to Finland."

It's not only the new properties that are taking to the burgeoning idea of the hotel as a sort of fantasy camp. Sometimes the stimulus is more pragmatic than psychosocial - like trying to reinvent an existing hotel as a contemporary hub for corporate travellers, which necessarily pushes hotel design activity more into the province of the interior designer than the architect.

As was the case for the Park Hotels, particularly the ones in Delhi and Chennai. Sure, these hotels may be better known as the pioneers of the boutique hotel concept in India, but the hotels also have a neat "theme" going.

According to Aparupa Ray Ganguly, director, public relations, The Park, "All Park hotels are themed boutique hotels and all are thematically woven around an interesting story." Whilst The Park in New Delhi is based on five elements of vaastu, The Park in Chennai, created on the erstwhile Gemini Film Studios, has been transformed to house the theatre of life in its private and public spaces.

In the Delhi property, the leitmotif is inspired by the five elements of nature. So there is Mist, the 24-hour restaurant, bringing in the element of "water", complete with blue glass beaded curtains re-creating a random pattern of water droplets along the opaque window wall. In keeping with the theme, the seat upholstery here is in blue and cream leather.

Central to the space is a minimalist water sculpture in marble, polished steel and glass. The theme then spills over to Aqua, the al-fresco lounge area adjoining the pool. Contrast this with Agni, the bar, which exudes energy and passion.

The dark walnut timber creates a good setting for a variety of hot light effects while a radiant orange wall, behind an irregular trellis of bronze flats, dramatically lights the background. Everything about this space is red-hot and wicked.

The hotel's 168 well designed luxury rooms highlight the third element - earth. No, it's not just the use of earthy browns in terms of upholstery and furnishings. It might be the organic touches expressive of feng shui's design philosophy omnipresent in the rooms - you just can't miss the box of wheatgrass growing along the writing table. By our guess it is actually a sum total of aesthetics that screams "earthy" in these rooms.

The message sent out by all these properties is clear: to stand out in the competitive cut-throat hotel industry, hoteliers have to think out-of-the-box to survive and, indeed, thrive.

According to Sud, the next big thing could well be themed rooms in the same hotel: "Very soon you will probably have rooms that depict the culture of different states. Each room in a hotel will be built around a specific theme that portrays the culture and diversity of the country."

And as hotels increasingly blur the borders between lodging, lifestyle, refuge and living theatre, it's the consumer who stands to gain the most. Especially those consumers who are looking for an experience and not just another cookie-cutter hotel.

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