An exploration rooted in heritage

An exploration rooted in heritage

A smell specialist has been hired to help recreate exotic aromas

He describes himself as an explorer. “Not in terms of an adventure seeker but one who is on an endless search of own identity,” says Abhay Mangaldas.The fact that Abhay is a hotelier by profession may not reveal much about the man who represents one of the two  most respected and affluent industrial families from the city of Ahmedabad – Sarabhais and Mangaldas – but his karma of being an “explorer” aptly summarises his body of work, even as a hotelier.

Today, he presides over a property that for every visitor is a journey into the rich cultural past and present lifestyle – House of Mangaldas or House of MG, which attracts global clientele for its characteristic and unique boutique heritage identity. Abhay, like most of those belonging to affluent families, went abroad for studies. He got a master’s degree in mass communications from Boston University and did graphic designing.

“Despite family legacy, I had limited career options back home. The industrial might of my family was on the decline and so when I came to India, I landed straight in Mumbai and chased my dream of being an entrepreneur. I began my company in graphic designing. But the megalopolis was overwhelming for me to handle. I always felt lost and struggling to find out who I was,” he says.

This is the time, his father suggested that he move back home and take possession of the ancestral house Abhay’s great grandfather Mangaldas Girdhardas had built in 1924. This house was located in the heart of the city, opposite medieval architectural wonder Sidi Saiyad Mosque, whose filigree work of windows is synonymous of Ahmedabad’s rich cultural heritage.

However with time, the decibel levels in the city began to rise and the family moved to newer areas. Even the family of elder brother of Mangaldas, Chimanlal Giridharlal, who lived in an older building in the complex, migrated. The family had completely moved out by 1960s, converting their family home in to a department store and later a denim shop. Once these shops downed shutters in the 1980s, the property began to fall into ruins.
“With multiple stakeholders, it is difficult to maintain a property and the family decided to finally dispose it of.  I invested some of the savings I had from my business in Mumbai and decided to convert the property into a hotel,” Abhay said. “In the beginning my interest was not to take care of Ahmedabad’s heritage. I had always dreamt of being an entrepreneur. For architectural heritage, the tried and tested method around the world is tourism and hotels. So it is a very natural selection,” he adds.

Over the last 18 years, Abhay has with utmost care refurbished and transformed his ancestral house into a heritage tourism ecosystem. An ecosystem that traverses each visitor here on a journey to the cultural roots, by appealing to their five senses of touch, taste, vision, hear and smell. “Like in a house, each family member has different skills, likings and hobbies. We have consciously tried to maintain this ethos by building an ecosystem around food, textiles, appealing building structure, décor, paintings and even building a cosmetics brand,” Abhay adds.

Though palatial and classic, House of MG sports an Indo-European façade. However, each element within the complex, be it the portico, the green courtyard, housing a temple near the door, beds, linen, decorative wall pieces or photographs in each of the 36 rooms, its two restaurants – Agashiye (rooftop Gujarati cuisine restaurant) & Green House (courtyard coffee shop that serves Indian snacks), cosmetics brand - Bodyshine - kiosk (made out of a wooden cart) or flooring, all have local flair and finesse. The restaurants only serve cooked food of fresh regional produce in thalis made at metalcraft centres of the state and even the tiles and sanitary ware are sourced from within Gujarat. It’s gift business - Ahmedabad Trunk – too is an heirloom brand wherein local artisans make and sell high value items.

“To most people luxury is imported from the West but here we have showcased real affluence of Gujarat and India. We are 100 per cent swadeshi. Even the language – English – is swadeshi in a way. Except for our air-conditioners, nothing in this house is without roots here. The interiors look and feel like the 20th century house of an affluent Gujarati family with tapestries, furniture and indigenous crafts. We have a few modern conveniences for our new-age and global guests, including wi-fi, but the soul of the place remains rooted in Gujarati asmita (identity),” Abhay says. “Nothing here is contrived. It is not that something has been created to make an impression. To an extent the ambience is Gandhian, even though it gives one an opulent feeling. It’s a natural place and an island of peace amidst all the artificial surroundings,” he adds.

The thinking behind the swadeshi philosophy, Abhay says, was a conscious decision as he believed that local material was best suited to local climate. “There may be some mirrors or a few pieces from abroad but those were legacy but since I have taken over, everything is locally sourced and made,” he adds.

With most of the physical space already been exhausted, Abhay has now his eyes set on building an experience of buying handmade contemporary products with Indian identity using traditional skills. “For an entrepreneur, it is always the moving target. We are trying to pivot into bigger things to have a bigger bang for the buck. For us it is the online retail segment and leveraging our traditional strength, be it supplying food packets or making traditional craft available beyond boundaries,” Abhay says.

On more traditional footing, he has roped in a “smell” specialist to help recreate exotic aromas within the complex and appeal to the senses of the visitors. “Even smell has a context. Unless you find the context, you forget. This may sound a little off but it is true. It is very similar to music, where we have morning raga, evening raga. Sadly, we are not doing that till now but we want to get into that part too,” Abhay adds.

Sunil Raghu in Ahmedabad

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