An Interview with the Owner: Ikaki Niwas’ Host JD Rathore

Some might call Ikaki Niwas a “boutique hotel.” Some might call it a “family-run” hotel. But, according to the owner JD Rathore, what Ikaki Niwas definitely can’t be called is a “box hotel” — this place has character.

I sat down with JD to talk a little bit about his family’s hotel and how they turned it into the oasis it is today.

First, I asked JD about the hotel’s name and where it came from. He said it’s a character in Hindi, which might be translated to “of one” or rather, “alone” or “solitude.” While these terms might have a negative connotation to it, those who have spent any time in crowded India may think otherwise. The location of Ikaki Niwas allows guests to simply be alone and relax a little bit away from the bustling center of Jaipur, without being too out of reach.

Something else that was unique? The way “Ikaki” looks on paper. Take a closer look, and you’ll see that it’s spelled as a palindrome, a word that has a continuous flow to it, no matter which way you look at it. The name is therefore easy on the eyes, too, just like the hotel itself.

At first glance at the stunning exterior and interior of the hotel, it would be hard to believe that the hotel once stood on a farm. In fact, JD even pointed to the office and said, “There used to be cows there!”

Additionally, JD takes pride in knowing that his guests are welcomed like family from the moment they arrive. When you walk inside, you’ll be greeted graciously by the staff members and shown to your room as if you’re the only guest in the hotel — something else that perhaps “Ikaki Niwas” can be loosely translated to — “Only…”

JD says that his hotel should feel like a mixture of all kinds of hotels. Once you arrive in your palace-like room, you’ll first sense that it is like a boutique hotel. Each room at Ikaki Niwas is intricately decorated in different patterns, designs, and colors, which right away provides serenity for the guests. On each floor, there is a sitting room with comfortable sofas, tables, lamps, and antiques. There is also a library, filled with books from travelers who have come and gone. Sitting in one of these rooms — or on one the two terraces — will give you a chance to really enjoy the present, instead of getting stuck about planning your next destination; no doubt a common theme for travelers to India.

But, there are some little touches that you might find at a box hotel in your room. For instance, you’ll find all of the amenities you would hope to have while on vacation. The little bottles of toiletries are there on the tile vanity. The towels are folded nicely and there is toilet paper in the room, so you don’t need to call downstairs and ask. There is TV and internet, and an air conditioner that’s not blowing directly over your face whilst you sleep. Food served at the restaurant is made with ingredients from the family farm, and you can drink the water without worrying about becoming ill. The shower is hot at a nice water pressure, and there is even a closet to unpack your clothes, which is a nice relief from the many hotels that don’t have that option. But, unlike a box hotel, which can often feel suffocating, JD says that not having to compromise on comfort — a common problem at hostels as well — should be the main takeaway for travelers staying at Ikaki Niwas.

But, there is something that a hostel provide that JD didn’t forget to include in his hotel, and that’s community.

Part of Ikaki Niwas being your home away from home, is that you won’t feel like a stranger at a hotel. You’ll truly feel like a guest in a loving relative’s home, where you’ll quickly make friends with other guests. In addition to taking part in a cooking demonstration, there are yoga classes, folk dances, festival parties, a swimming pool, and so many more activities available for guests as well as non-guests of the hotel. But, you don’t need to partake in any of those to belong to the family here. Just by coming down for lunchtime (or, rather, “coming up,” as meals are served on the roof), you’ll be sure to meet other kind guests and staff who all make Ikaki Niwas what it is.

So, maybe Ikaki Niwas doesn’t exactly stand for “solitude” but instead, “of one.”

One community, one family, and if you come here alone, one amazing experience all to yourself.

This is what you can expect to have at Ikaki Niwas.

The Best Cooking Show in All of Jaipur

One of the biggest appeals of India to foreign travelers is her food. Indian restaurants can be found in the largest of cities and the smallest of towns all over the world. But, while the dishes at these restaurants are certainly delicious, they’ll never be the “real thing.” For travelers who are coming to India in part to try their favorite cuisine directly from the source, there’s no better place to do it than the Ikaki Niwas Hotel.

During our stay here in Jaipur, we had the unique opportunity to participate in the cooking demonstrate that’s offered a few times a week at the hotel. Here, we could get up close and personal not only with Indian cuisine, but the people behind it.

At around 6:30 P.M., we were called from our rooms to come down for the cooking demonstration, led by Devika Rathore. She and her husband, JD, own the hotel, and she was by far one of the best parts about the cooking demonstration, offering her smiles and kind words to travelers. After chatting with her, it’s easy to see that the secret ingredient in the dishes she makes is nothing other than “love.”

We briefly introduced ourselves to the other travelers coming to see the demonstration; a mother and son from Brazil. Though they were only in Jaipur for a night and not staying at Ikaki Niwas, we learned that it’s possible to join the cooking demonstration even if you won’t be putting your head down at the hotel after eating. We talked briefly on the hotel’s terrace, where other groups of friendly tourists were gathered, having a beverage and enjoying each other’s company. The weather was brisk, and out from the terrace, the moon shone brightly in the sky above the city.

We were gestured over to the sitting area in front of a table with a portable stove top, spices, bowls, and pans. Devika stood behind it and told us what we’d be cooking today: lentil papadum curry, halwa and chapatis. I couldn’t wait. Devika gently introduced us to the different ingredients she used, and while I can’t recite all of them now, you will get your own recipe card if you visit Ikaki Niwas for this demonstration. For some reason, the fresh bay leaves she used stuck out to me, and I kept my eye on them as she added them to the wok. She also explained Rajasthani food. Rajasthani cuisine is different than anywhere else in India, because it’s defined by ingredients that come from the desert, that can go several days without needing to be heated. Lots of lentils, beans, gram, spices, etc., and not many vegetables, make up the dishes. But, make no mistake, Despite the fact that ingredients have been limited in the past, the Rajasthani people have learned to make incredible dishes with what they have.

Devika made cooking Indian food look so easy. I’ve tried it myself on a few different occasions, as my boyfriend and I like to eat vegetarian, and many Indian dishes don’t contain meat. Devika talked to us throughout the demonstration, and I found her natural and genuine multi-tasking abilities to be amazing. She and JD had a young son, too, who was walking around making conversation with the guests.

At this point, the smells radiating off the stove were mouth-watering, and even though we were out on the terrace, the scents lingered and didn’t drift away in the cool night time air.

Finally, it was our turn to participate in the cooking demonstration.We looked over at the others with hesitation. We were clearly both afraid of doing something wrong! Surely, we couldn’t do it as well as Devika! Luckily, she already took care of the hard stuff. All we had to do was cook the chapatis, which didn’t seem too difficult. Devika showed us how to make the bread with flour, water, and salt, and I couldn’t believe all this time at home I had been spending hours trying to create the perfect naan bread with tons of other ingredients!

When it was my turn to step up to the plate – or, pan rather – Devika instructed me on how to roll, flatten and pinch the dough to create the right shape for the chapati. With the thin pan hot and ready, I hesitated slightly before placing my chapati on the pan. Devika guided my hands and let me know when it was time to flip the bread. And, viola! The chapati was made. The remaining participants cooked their chapati, too, and before we knew it, it was time to eat.

We moved inside to the dining area, and the table was all set. Dinesh, the server and helper that had been waiting on us since our arrival at the hotel, smiled graciously and gestured for us to sit down. He brought the food over, and went around the table to ask each of us what we would like to drink. After, he served us a little bit of each dish onto our plates, and we added our own spoonfuls of rice and a chapati. I wondered as I took from the basket which one was mine, but they all looked amazing. Devika was a great teacher, after all.

As we ate, we talked more about life in Jaipur, the hotel, the people that come to visit, and what everyone’s plans were for the following day. This cooking demonstration really sums up what Ikaki Niwas does — bringing people together in a foreign country, over something we can all share and enjoy:

Delicious, homemade, Rajasthani food.

Our Wonderful Stay at Ikaki Niwas

A popular place to stop on a trip through India (especially for first-timers) is the Pink City of Jaipur. The city is home to old forts, incredible architecture with buildings painted in pink, monkey temples, and bursts of color at every turn. On our journey through Rajasthan, we knew we had to come and explore Jaipur.

One of the things I wanted to do most while traveling through India was to stay at a traditional Haveli-style hotel. I knew that staying at one of these hotels was really part of the India-experience, and I’d regret it if I didn’t book at least one stay during my trip. Through a search online, I came across Ikaki Niwas, and from the photos, fantastic reviews, and reasonable prices, I knew right away that the hotel was perfect for us. I had no hesitation in booking, and couldn’t wait to see what was in store.

When we arrived at the airport in Jaipur, we didn’t really know what to expect. I read in our guidebook a few pages on what there was to do in the city, and I had seen pictures of our hotel. But, exhausted after traveling from the chaotic, yet, beautiful city of Varanasi, I was more than ready to have a place where I could put my head down and relax in comfort.

As soon as we exited the terminal, we were greeted by our enthusiastic driver. It felt nice having someone to retrieve us, as navigating the cabs and public transportation can be confusing and stressful in the Rajasthani heat. The driver helped us load our bags into the air conditioned car, and we admired the scenes of Jaipur as we made out way to our hotel, which was just a short distance away.

When we arrived to Ikaki Niwas, we were instantly mesmerized by the facade of the building. Located in an upscale neighborhood next to residential homes, you might not guess that this building was a hotel just by looking at it, but it was beautiful. The lights lining the terrace upstairs stuck out to me first because they reminded me of my living room back home.

With a genuine “Namaste,” we were greeted by the manager, Johnny, who gave us a brief introduction to the hotel, but also minded the fact that we looked obviously exhausted from our journey, and eager to get to our room. He led us to the third floor where we could find the entrance to our sleeping quarters for the next few days.

Before entering our room, we were taken aback by the beautiful terrace that we had all to ourselves. From the terrace, there was a magnificent view and I couldn’t wait to see what it would look like once the sun went down. Johnny led us through two thick, wooden doors to our room, which made me feel as though we were staying at a palace, and I was the princess.

Inside the room, we were amazed by what we saw. Our particular room was designed in a blue theme, which provided an immediate sense of tranquility. There were any pillows on the four-poster bed, two with matching blue peacocks printed on them. The chandelier and the lighting in the room made for an intimate setting, and I knew it wouldn’t be hard to fall asleep here. Blue tiling led into the bathroom, which was fit for a king and by far the nicest bathroom we had the entire time in India. I was looking forward to having a bath while I was here.

In the meantime, Johnny asked us if we’d like any tea of coffee before dinner, so we happily accepted. Before heading downstairs, I sat down on the little chair on the terrace, overlooking the Arabian-nights view while I wrote a few notes in my journal.

“This is the welcome I was hoping to receive in India, but especially in Rajasthan. The weather is brisk – not humid at all – just a warm feeling with a nice breeze. I may even need a sweater!”

We went downstairs to have our delicious masala tea served by a man dressed in traditional attire, and we came to learn that his name was Dinesh and we’d get to know him well over the next few days at the hotel. As we sipped our tea, we were thrilled to hear from him that dinner would be served soon as well. The atmosphere in the dining area which led out to another stunning terrace, was unlike anything we had experienced in India up until that point, but the only way to describe it was true Rajasthani hospitality.

As we ate, the owner, JD, came over to introduce himself and tell us a little bit more about the hotel. He told us how he built it from the ground up and wanted to create a place where people could come to eat and enjoy, sit on the floor, relax, and make connections with other guests. I could tell that this was very true, as at that moment, JD introduced us to another couple staying at the hotel. This couple invited us on their sightseeing tour the next day, and we quickly became like family while we were at Ikaki Niwas. This is what JD was talking about.

Finally, it was time to say goodnight. We walked up to our room and quickly fell asleep in our comfortable bed. The next morning, we awoke as the sunlight filled our room. Feeling restful from a good night’s sleep, we were ready to start our day. Before heading downstairs for breakfast and to meet our new friends, we took a self-tour of the hotel. There were lots of different sitting rooms. My favorite was the library, which had plenty of books left from travelers who had passed through the hotel. I could have spent all day just in that room, but, we had places to go!

At breakfast, we were welcomed again by Dinesh with tea, coffee, and juice, and a massive smorgasbord of food. Outside on the terrace, Dinesh had laid out lentils to dry in the sun next to the hotel’s swimming pool, where pigeons sunbathed enjoying the warmth, too. We met up with our friends, and after feeling nice and full, we left together to explore Jaipur.

After a long day of seeing what Jaipur had to offer outside of our hotel, we were looking forward to yet another restful and calm evening at Ikaki Niwas. When it was eventually time for us to check-out of the hotel and head on to our next destination, the staff led us out as if we were VIP guests. Saying goodbye not only to the staff but the friends we made during out short stay at the hotel was difficult, and for the remainder of our stay in India, no other hotel matched the experience we had here.

If during your stay in India you’d like to get the Rajasthani welcome that the guidebooks rave about, you’ll find it here.