“The longer the party, the happier I am,” said Indian trapshooter Shagun Chowdhary by phone from Narangah, her family’s organic fruit and vegetable farm on the outskirts of Jaipur, India, where she recently hosted her first major event. Although guests had come to toast to newly married couple Neha Luthra and Samarth Kasliwal (son of the late jeweler and co-owner of Gem Palace Munnu Kasliwal), Chowdhary had her own reason to celebrate: the week before she had qualified for the ISSF’s Shotgun World Cup in Lima, Peru. (She finished fourth in her event during the competition, which ends tomorrow.) It was another milestone for the 38-year-old athlete who in 2012 became the first woman to represent India in the sport at the Olympics.
Trap shooting may 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 archers. “Shooting was historically a sport for the royal families of India, or people associated with them, but it was off limits to the rest,” said Chowdhary, whose father, Sushil, previously met the owner of a corn factory in Bikaner. clay 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, becoming enamored with the sport and practicing it himself, despite being one of the few women in the field. “My dad always said, ‘You’re my champion, honey, you’re my champion,’” Chowdhary recalls. “He believed in me before I believed in myself.”
Growing up, Chowdhary regularly spent up to half the year in Italy, where her last coach was based, and where she discovered and fell in love with several boutique hotels set in picturesque farms or vineyards. When the pandemic stopped her sporting activities, she returned to Jaipur and the kinnow orchards where she spent her teenage years: 25 acres of splendor with a thousand orange trees, hundreds of gooseberries, fields of wheat, a reservoir with countless fish and an abundance of birdlife including, at last count, 42 peacocks. She looked around and saw what was missing. “I thought, ‘Since we live on this beautiful estate, why not give others access to it, too?’” she says.
Then Chowdhary decided to open his own hotel. Although the 12-room inn, which will also include a spa and farm-to-fork restaurant, won’t be ready for guests until October, she decided to start with a celebratory dinner among the stars. “The orchard wasn’t a place where anyone ever thought we’d entertain them. It’s a place to grow oranges,” said Chowdhary, admitting that getting Narangah in shape for the party was no small feat. It didn’t help that there was no electricity. A ramp had to be built to lead guests – including the groom’s brother, the jeweler, Siddharth Kasliwal; the hotelier Manvendra Singh Shekhawat; and the art patron Nandini Singh Jhabua – from a newly built entrance with an arch made of wheat sheaths to a 60-meter lantern-lined path that culminates in the unveiling: a lush clearing surrounded by swaying mustard fields, with orange trees clad in strings of 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, gathered around fire pits and showed off their juggling skills (with oranges). The locals of the group expressed their surprise at such a magical place a stone’s throw from the center of the bustling city. The hostess was enthusiastic. “I loved that people were having such a great time,” she says, “and that I was the catalyst to make it happen.” Below, Chowdhary offers some tips on how to organize a relaxed outdoor party on your own.
Put friends and family to work
While entertaining comes naturally to Chowdhary, she admits, “The last 20 years have been all about training, competing and traveling.” Fortunately, she knew exactly where to go for help: a group of creative friends who, for convenience, were also guests. She sat with one, Aparna Kakrania, to design the harvest themed invitations. (Dress code: “spring chic.”) The plates, champagne coupes and napkins, hand-painted with an orange motif, came from Ecru, a Jaipur store owned by Lebanese interior designer Nur Kaoukji, who divides her time between Jaipur and Kuwait. Chowdhary’s mother, Shelley, also joined in, designing Chowdhary’s deep orange chiffon dress as well as her citrine, diamond and pearl earrings.
While a 5pm arrival time may seem unusual for a dinner party, many of Chowdhary’s friends, including Akshat Ghiya, the founder of the Tallin jewelry line, and his wife, art consultant, Noelle Kadar, arrived with young children in tow. Chowdhary created a separate children’s menu of lentils and rice, setting up play areas covered in dhurries and safari tents with queen-size beds so they wouldn’t get in the way of their parents’ enjoyment at night.
Find a theme that brings the location to life
Early on in her schedule, Chowdhary decided that oranges would be the decorative stars of the evening. Lines of light bulbs were strategically strung in trees to illuminate them, while large dishes stood on pedestals, and a hefty serving table, covered with cloth painted with a tangerine motif (along with a few bees “for luck,” she says), contained a long, lush center of oranges and neem leaves.
Make eating easy
“A lot of thought has gone into the food and drinks,” says Chowdhary. “I wanted everything to be bite-sized — it was meant to be a grazing table, not a buffet table.” Shivika Kothari, co-owner of the Café White Sage and Meraaki Kitchen restaurants in Jaipur, helped her put together the vegetarian menu, with ingredients largely sourced from the farm, including pumpkin and green pea hummus tarts, flavored with fenugreek and mustard seed, tandoori paneer tikka flatbread seasoned with pesto and smoked tomato and puff pastry filled with slow cooked mushrooms and locally sourced thyme and feta. The caterer, Kaku Bhandia, a childhood friend of Chowdhary, was tasked with providing the non-vegetarian offerings: a selection of five ‘traditional dishes with an international twist’, such as slow-cooked lamb in ghee and Mathania chiles with a baked flatbread. bowl (a mash-up of junglee maas, a famous Rajasthani dish, and puchka, a typical Indian street food) and orange chicken keema crostini, or minced chicken cooked in spices and orange zest with garlic, coriander, red pepper, tomato and lemon from the farm .
When it comes to music, leave your guests guessing
Cameraman Gaurav Mathur provided the music for the event, instinctively switching from jazz to electro swing to classic soft rock to deep house depending on the mood. As the evening’s soundtrack played, guests meandered among the trees sipping custom cocktails like the Orchard Martini, a combination of the Singleton or Glendullan 18-year-old single malt Scotch whiskey with orange juice and citrus, and lounging in mudda chairs and hand-woven charpais. In Chelsea boots, Chowdhary led the dance under a starry sky. The festivities reluctantly came to an end at 2:30 a.m. — “because the sound guy had to leave, not because people wanted to,” she says. But it does not matter. Two weeks later, Chowdhary, back to her workout regime, was still cherishing the success of the nine-hour party: “We went from a sundowner to dinner to an after party. I think we’ve got it all covered.”