Think safari and your mind tends to wander to the plains of Africa, David Attenborough, dressed in full khaki regalia, stealthily tracking wildebeest through the Serengeti. Surprisingly India has a lot to offer too in the safari stakes, albeit on a different scale. This is where Aman-i-Khás takes centre stage. Meaning ‘peace’ in Sanskrit (Aman) and ‘special’ in Hindu (Khás), it is open from October to April for the sole purpose of giving five star treatment at the edge of Rajasthan’s Ranthambore Park.
Camping this is not. As you arrive along the dirt track you are greeted quite suddenly by five to six well dressed men, waiting to help you in any way possible. A glass of crisp rose water is handed to you, made fresh from the roses in the rose garden. You are assigned a ‘batman’; he will look after your every desire during your stay, including lighting candles and running a bath in the tent. Even Gotham City’s hero himself would be surprised at the multitasking his namesake can achieve.
Ah, this leads me to the tents.
There are ten tents decked out in colonial style furnishings. Fully air conditioned and heated for the cooler evenings, each tent has a sunken marble bath, very useful for soothing aches and pains after the arduous hunt for the illustrious tiger. There is a colonial writing desk with a pencil hollowed from wood; it lets the imagination wander to days of wearing the pith helmet, chronicling the day’s activities.
Although the tent is made from canvas as you would expect, it doesn’t give that impression. You feel as though you are entering a sturdy wonderland as you peel back the layers of material to discover yet another room, more space than you know what to do with. Little touches are appreciated, mosquito repellent and moisturisers are replenished daily.
The chef is there to cater for all tastes, creating a melange of Indian and western cuisine. Whatever you desire he will conjure up, using herbs from the herb garden, right beside the pond, where if you are lucky, or some may say unlucky, you can see the resident crocodile basking in the midday sun.
Dining al fresco is a must. Even on the cooler evenings a fire is set to keep you warm and in the safari spirit. Twinkle lights adorn the trees, giving a magical feel. They cut out regularly due to the electricity flow, but this just adds to the atmosphere and reminds you of the extreme effort that the staff go to maintain a five star experience in the middle of the Aravalli hills. Gajlal traditional music from Rajasthan is played as you feast on culinary masterpieces, ensure that you mention a dislike of coriander though; it will appear incessantly if not, as per Indian tradition.
As a security guard armed optimistically with a torch and a stick, escorts you back to your tent along the precision paths, you will find your eyes tricking you into seeing wildlife that is not really there, all in preparation for the safari. Aman takes less than 3 hours to turn you into an ardent hunter gather, poised for the danger and excitement that the next day’s adventures may bring.
Suitably dressed in your complimentary hat and safari shirt, a hot cup of tea imbibed, your batman organises a packed lunch, binoculars and a blanket for the early morning start. And so the adventure begins.
Imagine crouching tourist, hidden tiger, the experience at Aman-i-Khás is more focused on viewing wildlife than stealing a glimpse of the tiger that is the pride of Ranthambore National Park.
The park was once the hunting ground of the Maharajah of Jaipur but was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1955. The tiger population has continued to increase since the Tiger Project was launched in 1973, however luck would need to be on your side as well as a those good pair of binoculars to get the money shot.
Aman uses its own selected guides for the safaris. There are twice-daily guided excursions in an open-top vehicle that transports guests into the core of Ranthambore National Park.
After returning from your three and a half hour stalk you can have food in the dining tent or if you wish dine and relax beside the pool.
The perfect way for full relaxation is to visit the spa tent. The tent has two separate treatment areas and the therapists are well versed in a variety of treatments, using specially made oils, to return you to a state of calmness after the adrenalin inducing tiger chase, which in some cases is equivalent to chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Either way it is well worth following, just in case.
Tel :(91) 7462 252 052)
Getting There, The Virgin Atlantic Way!
The captain cheerily booms over the tannoy ‘sit back, relax and enjoy the flight’. How often have you heard that and thought ‘if only you knew the gauntlet I’ve just ran to get to this seat’. Sweat and tears, blistered feet, sore hands from hauling the overweight case, which in all likeliness cost the price of an extra ticket in excess baggage. Now that I’m in the seat, I’m guaranteed, squashed knees, an argument with the person next to me over cabin baggage and the thought of 10 hours in what feels like a body brace position.
Not with Virgin Upper Class.
From the second your chauffeur picks you up you know that your days of airport harassment are over. Waltzing smugly through the private security channel, after a seamless check in, you arrive at the Clubhouse. A resort in itself. Heathrow Clubhouse has a spa, cinema room and food worthy of a top restaurant.
Finish that cocktail at your leisure, you are in no hurry to rush for the flight, everything is taken care off. Although once on board you wish maybe you should’ve hurried a little faster. Champagne on arrival, pyjamas and in-flight dining to suit your body clock are standard.
The flat beds are roomy and comfortable, seems a shame to sleep right away though as there is so much to do. Not usually the word you hark on a long haul flight. The bar, decked in the distinctive Virgin colours of red and purple beckons. There is over 300 hours of entertainment; films, games and TV, including power points for laptops and a roomy table to conduct work if you so wish.
As the captain announces’ ten minutes to landing’ you feel almost a like sad that your flight has come to an end, until that is the return flight, when you get to indulge in this luxury all over again.