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In an orange grove in India, a celebration of harvest and love

“The longer the party, the happier I am,” says Indian trapper Shagun Chowdhary over the phone from Narangah, the family’s organic fruit and vegetable farm on the outskirts of Jaipur, India, where she recently hosted her first big event. Although guests came out to toast newly married couple Neha Luthra and Samarth Kasliwal (son of late jeweler and Gem Palace co-owner Munnu Kasliwal), Chowdhary had her own reason to celebrate: the previous week she had qualified for the ISSF’s Shotgun World Cup in Lima, Peru. (She ended up placing fourth in her event at the competition, which ended Thursday.) It was yet another milestone for the 38-year-old who, in 2012, became the first woman to represent India in sport at the Olympics.

Trapshooting might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Indian athletics, yet four of the country’s 35 Olympic medals have been won by shooters. “Shooting was historically a sport for the royal families of India, or people affiliated with them, but it was not accessible to the rest,” says Chowdhary, whose father, Sushil, a former flour mill owner in Bikaner, met skeet and skeet shooting champion Maharaja Karni Singh, who later became his instructor, through mutual friends. From an early age, Chowdhary accompanied Sushil to the range, falling in love with the sport and pursuing it herself, despite being one of the few women in the field. “My dad used to say, ‘You are my champion, baby, you are my champion,'” Chowdhary recalled. “He believed in me before I believed in myself.”

Growing up, Chowdhary regularly spent half the year in Italy, where her last coach was based, and where she discovered and fell in love with several boutique hotels on picturesque farms or vineyards. When the pandemic halted her sporting activities, she returned to Jaipur and the kinnow orchards where she spent her teenage years: 25 acres resplendent with a thousand orange trees, hundreds of currant bushes, fields of wheat, a reservoir with countless fish and a plethora of birds including, at last count, 42 peacocks. Looking around, she saw what was missing. “I thought to myself, ‘Since we live on this beautiful property, why not let others have access to it too?’ “, she says.

It was then that Chowdhary decided to open his own hotel. Although the 12-room inn, which will also have a spa and farm-to-fork restaurant, won’t be ready for guests until October, it has decided to start with a celebratory dinner among the stars. “The orchard was not a place that anyone would have thought we would entertain. It’s a place to grow oranges,” says Chowdhary, who admits getting Narangah in shape for the party was no small feat. It didn’t help that there was no electricity. An aisle had to be created to lead the guests – among them the groom’s jeweler brother, Siddharth Kasliwal; hotelier Manvendra Singh Shekhawat; and patron Nandini Singh Jhabua – from a newly constructed entrance with an arch fashioned from wheat sheaths to a 200-foot lantern-lined path culminating in the revelation: a lush glade surrounded by rolling mustard fields, complete with orange trees dressed in fairy lights and burlap lanterns.

The international crowd – friends of the hostess and the newlyweds – mingled under the darkening sky, sipping craft cocktails and, as the night wore on, gathering around fire pits and showing off their juggling skills (with oranges). The locals in the group expressed their surprise at being in such a magical place just a stone’s throw from the center of the bustling city. The hostess was delighted. “I loved that people were having such a good time,” she says, “and that I was the catalyst for it to happen.” Below, Chowdhary offers some tips on how you could host a casual outdoor party yourself.

While entertainment comes naturally to Chowdhary, she admits, “For 20 years, it’s all been about training, competing and traveling. Fortunately, she knew exactly where to go for help: a group of creative friends who, conveniently, were also invited. She sat down with one of them, Aparna Kakrania, to design the harvest-themed invitations. (Dress code: “spring chic.”) The plates, champagne glasses and napkins, hand-painted with an orange pattern, come from Ecru, a Jaipur boutique owned by Lebanese interior designer Nur Kaoukji , who divides his time between Jaipur and Kuwait. Chowdhary’s mother, Shelley, also got in on the action, designing both Chowdhary’s dark orange chiffon dress and her citrine, diamond and pearl earrings.

While a 5 p.m. arrival time might seem unusual for a dinner party, many of Chowdhary’s friends, including Akshat Ghiya, the founder of the Tallin jewelry line, and his art consultant wife, Noelle Kadar, came along with young children. Chowdhary has created a separate children’s menu of lentils and rice, and has set up covered play areas in dhurries and safari tents with queen-size beds, so bedtimes don’t interfere too much with the pleasure of their parents.

Early in his planning, Chowdhary decided that oranges would be the decorative stars of the evening. Rows of incandescent bulbs were strategically strung into the trees to illuminate them, while large bowls were set on pedestals, and a substantial serving table, covered in fabric painted with a tangerine pattern (with a few bees “for good luck,” she says), featured a long, lush centerpiece of oranges and neem leaves.

“A lot of thought has gone into food and drink,” says Chowdhary. “I wanted everything to be bite-sized – it was meant to be a pasture table, not a buffet table.” Shivika Kothari, co-owner of Café White Sage and Meraaki Kitchen restaurants in Jaipur, helped her create the vegetarian menu, with ingredients sourced largely from the farm, which included pumpkin pies and flavored green pea hummus with fenugreek and mustard seeds, paneer tandoori flatbread tikka seasoned with pesto and smoked tomatoes and puff pastry stuffed with simmered mushrooms and locally sourced thyme and feta cheese. The caterer, Kaku Bhandia, a childhood friend of Chowdhary, was in charge of the non-vegetarian dishes: a selection of five “traditional dishes with an international twist”, such as lamb simmered in ghee and Mathania peppers with a fried flatbread shell (a mix of junglee maas, a famous Rajasthani dish, and puchka, a typical Indian street food) and keema chicken crostini with orange, or minced chicken cooked in spices and zest orange with garlic, cilantro, red pepper, tomato and lemon from the farm.

Cinematographer Gaurav Mathur provided the music for the event, instinctively shifting from jazz to electro swing, classic soft rock to deep house, depending on the mood. As the night’s soundtrack played, guests strolled among the trees holding custom cocktails such as the Orchard Martini, a combination of 18-year-old Singleton of Glendullan single malt Scotch whiskey with orange cordial and citrus fruits, and reclined in mudda and hand-woven chairs. charpais. In Chelsea boots, Chowdhary led the dance under a sky full of stars. The festivities reluctantly ended at 2:30 a.m. — “because the soundman had to leave, not because people wanted him to,” she says. But whatever. Two weeks later, Chowdhary, back to his training regimen, was still basking in the success of the nine o’clock party: “We went from a sunset to a dinner and an after-party. I think we have it all covered.


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