From Mughal-e-Azam (1960) to Bajirao Mastani (2015), a sheesh mahal (palace of mirrors) has never failed to impress. Udaipur’s 16th Century Gogunda Palace, Maharana Pratap’s coronation (1572) venue; now a new luxury hotel has a sheesh mahal as a bathroom in one of its 40 suite rooms.

Gogunda PalaceAmidst the multitude of one’s reflection, you can also see bold and detailed Rajasthani erotica miniatures of kings and queens in their gardens and bedrooms or on terraces, drowned in the ecstasy of love. Could there be a more exotic shower! Gogunda is an enchanting, medieval-Rajasthani era property offering modern conveniences.

All the rooms of the quaint hotel are designed differently, keeping intact the architecture of the old structure. The walls’ colours range from bright red to fuchsia blue; bed linen in one room is golden, in another block-printed in yellow and green and in yet another it is plain yellow. One bedroom has a round table and another rectangle. “Every room is a different experience,” says Payal-Gandhi Kothari, Co-owner of the hotel along with her sister Meghal Gandhi-Pandya.

Gogunda Palace
Meghal Gandhi Pandya and Payal Gandhi Kothari

The duo was earlier into their family business of mining, and have now focussed their energies on their first-ever hospitality venture, Gogunda. They will soon open another heritage luxury property in Aihole, and the second one in an old Wada, in Hubli, Karnataka. LuxeBook was intrigued to know about their transition from a non-glamorous business to the service-oriented luxury venture. In this piece, Payal takes us through their unusual business journey, the ups and downs and the lessons she and her sister learnt as first-time hoteliers.

Gogunda Palace

Payal’s family is connoisseur of arts, culture and heritage. “We believe in saving the heritage and conserving it for future generations,” says Payal. Her father Jyotin Gandhi. He has been buying heritage properties in a bid to restore them for the last decade. The family purchased an all wooden house in Hubli in 2012 and the old Wada in 2015 to restore them. Next came Gogunda Palace, a property that Jyotin discovered while travelling, which was then owned by a corporate house. The Gandhis fell in love with Maharana Pratap’s childhood residence and decided to buy it and restore it.

“When people live in heritage properties, they understand the importance of preserving our age-old art and design traditions”

The hotel business wasn’t on the agenda until about four years ago when the Mumbai-based family realised that if these spaces must be maintained, they must be lived in and become self-sustainable. “All the properties that we have acquired thus far were former residences. It only makes sense then to turn them into hotels,” says Payal. “It’s important that people experience these spaces to understand the value of it and the importance of conservation.”

Gogunda Palace
Payal Gandhi Kothari

However, transiting from mining to hospitality meant channelling different skills. “We’ve met so many interesting people and in the process have learnt what ‘luxury’ truly means to different people. Our service has continually evolved,” says Payal. So, listening keenly became crucial and so did accepting all kinds of reviews – good, bad or worse. Next, building great relationships; paramount for the hospitality business.

What came in handy here was Payal’s grandfather’s teachings from Lord Krishna’s philosophy. “Whatever we do we give it our best and that’s what it is all about,” says Payal. “There are times when you do think that things are falling apart, but then they fall into place just as suddenly. Nevertheless, there’s no substitute for planning, perseverance and patience.”

Gogunda Palace

Another must is efficient people management, which is sometimes tricky in geographic regions and businesses that lean towards patriarchy. “In mining, I think my sister and I are the only female bosses in India,” says Payal “Gender parity does become an issue in the beginning. To resolve it you must either speak up or do it by the force of your personality.” And seeing Payal in action, one can safely say that these challenges are long resolved for Gandhi.

With that set, the plan now is to reach out to many more luxury holiday seekers who also enjoy art, history and period crafts. “We are organically promoting alternative luxury experiences, moving away from the regular, cookie-cutter type accommodation, and focussing on the history and location of Gogunda Palace,” says Payal. “Our ever-evolving approach has seen abundant growth in awareness levels, and we see it only increasing
going forward.”

Gogunda Palace
The terrace

The focus next is on storytelling. Payal believes that the heroic tales of sacrifice and valour of the Rajputana region must be told more often and brought to public consciousness. The Gandhis are exploring ways to share these stories with people through artistic ways.

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