Castle Royale

A ruined fort in Gujarat is now waiting to turn into a luxurious resort
Darbargadh Dared after its renovation as a heritage hotel
Darbargadh Dared after its renovation as a heritage hotel

During the Mughal Empire and British colonial period, Gujarat’s Saurashtra region was divided into about 200 princely states and jagirs (fiefdoms). The medieval rulers lived in castle-like structures called darbargadh, which had exquisite stonework and woodcarving, open courtyards, residential and administrative areas,” says owner Raghvendra Sinh Gohil as he restores his ancient property in Dared (pronounced Daar-edd), Gujarat, as a heritage hotel. “I was inspired to restore it in order to preserve not only this medieval style of architecture typical to the Saurashtra region, but also to keep alive the culture, traditions and way of life that was prevalent in those days,” he says.

The restoration was not easy. The property had been badly damaged by the 2001 earthquake. This is when Prashant Mehta, whose Vadodara-based architecture and construction firm Sarang had done wonderful work in reviving a couple of palaces damaged by earthquakes and other natural disasters, stepped in. Explains Mehta, “The restoration process was very challenging, as the property was founded in the 17th century and extended during the 18th and 19th century making it a complex combination of different materials put to use to fortify the property from outside and embellish it inside. We had a severe problem of leakages from the roof which was caving in at some places, with depleted structural beams.”

The team went to work on identifying and documenting the existing structure with material data for the restoration and taking an inventory of the furniture. Among the major challenges, was cutting out windows and balconies in 1.5- to 2-metre thick walls, and add mechanical, electrical, plumbing and security systems, and facilities for a luxury hotel.

“The retrofit was accomplished by the use of high-strength steel cables fully embedded in the mortar bed of damaged or out-of-plane walls, then dressing them with mud mortars and lime mortars in some portions of the property. It was a challenge giving the dimensions, load and specifications to the UK-based company for the cables. This technique of restoring damaged masonry walls has rarely been used in the country,” Mehta says. Another achievement was salvaging 80-90 per cent of the wood that was originally used in the structure.

The old property in ruins before restoration
The old property in ruins before restoration

“I added my own inputs and insights, coupled with those given by my family to give a personalised and historical feel to the property,” Gohil says, adding, “We managed to use most of the existing furniture, antiques and artworks in the property, and any new furniture and artifacts were designed to match the designs of the period pieces.”

Once the property was ready, Gohil looked for a suitable operator to professionally manage the heritage hotel. “We invited Himmat Anand, founder of Tree of Life, who requested to be allowed to inspect the property alone, for fifteen minutes. He was appreciative of the high standard of restoration, decor and facilities,” Gohil says, adding, “By 2023, we were ready with wide-ranging facilities—swimming pool, croquet lawn, sports and games room, art gallery, a gym that also has traditional Indian strength-building equipment like mudgal and gaddha mace, multi-cuisine restaurant, etc.

The short walk along the bastions and ramparts looking out to open countryside is also much-appreciated by guests.” Buoyed by the feedback, Gohil now wants to develop the property into a resort with more rooms, luxurious facilities and a spa. “We want Dared to be a complete leisure destination, where guests can unwind, relax, enjoy sports and recreational facilities, opt for wellness treatments at the spa, and explore Velavadar National Park, the Jain temples of Palitana, and historic towns in the two-hour driving radius of Dared,” he says. A true royal repast, shall we say?

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The New Indian Express
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