Samir Bhatia (PGP 1991), www.kanerretreat.com Located at the gateway of the Thar desert, Kaner showcases the story of the resilience and courage of desert plants and the life around them. The native plants have co-existed with the people, supporting them through harsh conditions. The people celebrate the plants through their food, textiles, rituals and culture. At Kaner, you can explore life in the desert through plant based cuisine and unique experiences. The radiance of the sun and the stars are complimentary.
In the first year of the formal launch, Kaner Retreat – India’s first desert botanical resort has received coverage in Conde Nast Traveller, India and has been included in the top 5 hotels by Sita India and Distant Frontiers, India’s leading inbound operators.
If we look at the trajectory of Kaner, it all started with my wife Sapna and I brainstorming and researching about the concept. Sapna is a botanist and an international journalist; and I come from the background of management consultancy and setting up businesses. Sapna and I were exposed to many plant based hospitality concepts while visiting Europe. We visited the Chelsea flower show in London, Kew Gardens, Jardin – an exhibition on botanical art that was held in the Grand Palais in Paris. We were surprised to see that Petersham nurseries, a plant nursery had a restaurant with the coveted Michelin star. We also realised that sustainability was on everyone’s agenda and some people like the La Recyclerie restaurant in Paris made sustainable practices a part of their operations.
With this knowledge that we gathered by wandering around an idea started to take shape. Sapna is from Jodhpur and understands the flora and the culture of the Thar very well. I came up with the tagline of India’s first desert botanical resort. We then started looking for land and after a long search, we found an arid land near a sacred grove known as ‘Oran’. It was the perfect spot for Sapna’s botanical walk. Then, we studied the houses in the village where Kaner is located. The village is surrounded by mines where the Red Balesar stone is mined and most of the people make houses that have small rooms around a courtyard. We decided to keep the same design for our villas. We wanted the rooms to feel like a walk in an art gallery. Each room was designed around a local flower. We commissioned botanical art and used reclaimed wood for the furniture in the rooms. We created a small courtyard that is filled with scented plants. It is a great experience to sit in the courtyard and gaze at the desert sky while being surrounded by the natural scents.
We worked on the cuisines and experiences so that the guest could sample the whole spectrum of desert botany. An exclusive and intimate dinner on dunes lets guests sample sundried delicacies reflecting the culture of preservation. The signature Kaner Thali is the story of the Thar on a plate and it is offered after the botanical walk so that guests can relate to the dishes. A Mediterranean lunch offered in an Olive grove of 6500 trees tells the story of the new Marwar which is welcoming new produce. Desert skies gave us an opportunity, and I studied Astronomy, astrology and mythology to develop a star gazing and story-telling session.
With every new concept, the struggle is to market it well so the message goes out with a clear USP. We worked on the press release and came up with our positioning message ‘Kaner Retreat offers an intimate introduction to the quiet brilliance of the Thar.’
Keeping in view our positioning, we recruited locals to man all operations and trained them to deliver the traditional hospitality with efficient systems and consistency.
I have learnt a valuable lesson – focus on building product value and let people know about it and it will sell itself.
As the last year ended, we were proud with the news that our Kaner Retreat will be included in a coffee table book published internationally by Lanoo Publishers titled, Desert Escapes. Accompanied by stunning photography, this book bundles together 40 dreamy global locations in one volume and shows the most special stays the deserts have to offer.