Preserving the Past

Restoring antiques, artwork and buildings runs in the Khanna blood. Shiven and his farther opened the Vivaana Culture Hotel four years ago following a long restoration process. Their story is one of passion, reward, hope and preserving beauty forever.

“My mother and father, Atul and Devna, are an entrepreneurial couple and together we found a haveli in Mandawa, Rajasthan. A haveli is a mansion in India. My father said on his 50th birthday he wanted to do something different and due to his love of restoration, so we decided to transform the beautiful property into a hotel.”

“When we purchased the haveli we also wanted the one next door to ensure the hotel had enough rooms and space. However the owner of this second haveli said we could not see inside until we have purchased the property. We were under the assumption the inside would need much restoration and would be in a poor condition. However, to our surprise and delight once we had purchased the property we discovered it actually contained the best painted frescos and some were so beautiful we decided to use the spaces as public areas and not turn them into bedrooms.”

Shiven recalls how they had to install water and electricity with the whole restoration taking quite a long time. The experience was all very new to the family because none of them had a hotel background.

However, they tackled it head on and the Vivaana Culture Hotel has now been open for four years and is doing well. The Khanna’s have gone on to purchase other properties in Delhi and are in the process of restoring a smaller 1850s mansion with the aim of providing a glimpse of how life was back then. As with Vivaana they are restoring and maintaining the character of the buildings but with the modern necessities the modern traveller craves. This has become their family’s passion and why they undertook and continue to restore these grand charming properties.

“We want guest to see the unique Mandawa district and use us as a window into the culture and heritage of the surroundings. At Vivaana we focus on many public areas for our guests and include a gallery walk through within the haveli.”

“We have embraced the community around us and now the person who looked after the property during the restoration shows our guests his home and sells drinks when they visit. We feel this experience of viewing local homes and culture is very important. We also work closely with a local farm who provide camel tours, guests can see what’s around the area this way and our community feel we are supporting them by bringing them business.”

Within the haveli are painted frescos which are over a hundred years old. They show Hindu Gods and Goddesses as well as everyday life.

They were painted by artists from all over India, the shekhawati region is known as the ‘open art gallery’. Within the hotel guests can view the paintings depicting the British influence in india which existed in the 19th century and even some exotic images which were discovered during the restoration process. “We soon discovered why this had been covered up.” Shiven explains. “The central façade really has some very interesting paintings of everyday life which have survived the tests of time.”

Vivaana is not only a symbol of craftsman excellence and hidden grandeur, Shiven explains how their hotel packages also entice the guest to the small unexplored village where the haveli sits. “We have packages which contain massages, designed diets, village walks, mediation and yoga and herbal tonics. It’s all designed to calm, renew and invigorate the guest and provide a rejuvenating experience.”

The Elephant House Spa is named after its original use as the stables which were included in the richer traveli’s to house their family’s elephant. As well as the packages the hotel includes O – The Organic Kitchen, which serves world cuisine and local delicacies.

“The region is made up of around 50 small villages and each has haveli’s with paintings in them. Our area has a huge concentration of them and they were particularly favoured by merchants who lived in the area due to the silk route. They built these to showcase their wealth but would often have tiny doors to enter into their haveli’s. This was so when the King or hierarchy arrived they would have to bow when entering to avoid hitting their head, thus allowing the merchant to feel they had gained some respect.”

The mascot for the hotel is a donkey and a life sized statue is on show at the hotel. “We wanted to have the hardest working animal of the region as our mascot. We plan in the future to open a donkey sanctuary because these animals are sometimes mistreated and have to lift heavy items.”

Shiven, a lawyer by trade has relished the experience of working on a hotel and notices the huge differences between the two worlds. “I go to the hotel and see people having a great time and then I go to the courts and see some sort of fight and high levels of stress. I think you know which I prefer!” With its typical Rajasthani architecture and beautiful fresco paintings, Vivaana is an art lovers delight. Stories unravel from each wall and the Khanna’s family passion for restoring the traditional look is clear to see. Shiven and his family has produced an authentic and historic hotel and preserved beautiful frescos of an old world for many in the future to savour.