The resort of Aman-i-Khás lives up to its name, combining ‘peace’ (aman) with khás, meaning ‘special’ or ‘privileged’. This is a haven – private and exclusive yet intimate and open. The site, with its tree-dotted lawns, wild grassland, undisturbed forests and picturesque backdrop of the Arivalli hills is suggestive of back-to-nature living. The interiors, all rosewood and hide, cut stone and raw linen, are designed with the kind of simplicity that only comes with great opulence.
The clean, straight lines of the slate walkways, the smooth, square lawns dappled by the occasional fig tree and edged with grey gravel, are suggestive of both Japanese Zen gardens and Mughal charbagh. The wild grass is lush and high beneath the sal, neem, and amla trees, and occasional clumps of mature bamboo that arc up into the sky. The tents are tucked away amongst the trees, discreet and widely spaced such that each is a little island unto itself, surrounded by green. The effect is immensely soothing. It’s not that the place ‘blends in’ with nature: more that the boundaries between the natural and the manmade worlds have been made as porous as possible. Sitting inside your tent, you are wafted by the scents of vetiver and khas from the surrounding grasslands; the occasional butterfly will flitter in and out; you may wake to find a squirrel nosing inquisitively through your luggage. The daylight outside permeates the walls of your tent, so the interiors are filled with diffuse sunlight: a soft, cool, brightness.
Most of the guests head out as soon as they can for a safari inside the park, but this is to miss the quieter natural pleasures that are on your very doorstep. The grass is alive with crickets and grasshoppers, shield bugs and soldier beetles, and butterflies galore. I counted at least a dozen species, so it was not hard to believe manager, Gerhard’s assertion that recent guest had spotted 66 species of bird in just one day from their lake-side hide. I was several monitor lizards, geckos and a skink (I think), though no crocodiles or snakes, without even leaving the resort – and even spotted a large chital deer while I was having my breakfast.
Tucked away in the resort’s grounds are hidden treasures. You come upon them unexpectedly. Like the yoga area: a circle of grey gravel, cleared and swept of leaves revealing the cracked earthen floor, smooth as an unfired pot. Or just nearby, the little lake with not only a bird hide at one end, but two raised wooden platforms, set with bolsters and cushions where, if the fancy takes you, you can lounge with your beloved in the peace and tranquility of the sylvan setting. You can arrange for private dining à deux, here or – better still – by the square stone stepwell, also edged with slate stone flagging and hidden away by trees on all four sides, serenaded from across the still, blue waters by a musician, and served with delicious food and wine as the dusk deepens to night.
For it is at night that the resort is transformed again: from its clean formal daylight attire to a place of mystery, candlelight, darkness and fire. In between the trees, the tents glow gently, like outsized Chinese lanterns. The stars blink on and off with the passing of bats; the air is thick with the chirruping of randy crickets. In the central courtyard a bonfire blazes sending showers of fiery sparks up into the blackness, and over in the distance the new moon lifts a scoop of silver from the black jagged edge of the hills.
And if that’s not enough to bring stars to your eyes, David and Janey, a honeymooning couple I met at dinner described how they arrived at their tent in the evening to find the sunken stone bathtub, filled to the brim with warm water and rose petals. Everything, it seems, conspires here to bring out romantic in you. A range of massages and spa treatments are available singly, or as a couple, in the spa tent (ranging from 2-3000 Rs) or even privately, in your own tent if you so desire.
And in the morning, if after all this your ladylove is still refusing to melt into your arms, or your knight is resolutely clinging to his armour, you can arrange for a private, honeymoon breakfast on the ramparts of the fort, in the labyrinthine, whimsical mini-palace-ette known as ‘Dulal Mahal’. Even if you don’t go the whole hog – and breakfast at dawn having hiked up a fairly steep hill mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea – a trip to the Fort is an absolute must. The approach road – flanked by the National Park – is breathtaking: tunneling through thick forests and flanked on either side by sandstone and hard rock cliffs, spectacularly split and seamed with ficus roots. You need not go into the Park itself to get a glimpse of the wildlife. A young male sambar deer stood staring at us, his antlers proud, from between the trees as we passed, and on the far side of a small lake, I spotted a huge crocodile, lying basking in the late afternoon sun. My driver and guide assured me that leopards, porcupines and tigers are regularly spotted crossing the road here. At the base of the fort, we parked the jeep and started up the stone steps. The 12th century structure is magnificent; it rears out of the Arivalli hills like a natural phenomenon itself, sprawling over the ridge, grand and crumbling. Inside are temples, mosques, walkways, tanks, cliffs, walls, turrets and chhatris. And at each turn, black-faced langurs standing sentry, looking out over the staggering view with those unfathomable eyes.
I soon learnt that the Aman-i-Khas stock answer to any question which started “Would it be possible to…?” is: “Anything is possible” and, like benevolent fairy godmothers in this enchanted place, the staff will do their utmost to make your wishes come true.
Outlook Traveller Guides: Wildlife Holidays in India