Luxury getaways in India
Stanley Moss ventures to northern
India and identifies four of the best resorts in the region, for everything
from ecology to the ultimate spa experiences
IN LIGHT of the terror in Mumbai,
the compelling question of just how safe India is requires a rethink.
Don’t abandon India as a destination, even though the answer is
complicated. Terrorists will select high-profile targets, especially
those they call ‘soft’, with weak security. But that should not
deter a trip. Security has been beefed up and the bad guys have
been arrested. Let these simple cautions apply:
don’t spend your time in big city destinations, especially tourist
make sure your connections are definite, safe, secure, in the
care of experienced guides or handlers;
whenever possible, avoid high-traffic public transport;
steer clear of the urban glitz and glam spots;
when you first walk to your hotel room, count the doors to the
fire exit, in the unlikely event you need to find your way there
in the dark.
Having established these parameters, India still has
much of the remarkable and incredible to offer, especially luxury
experiences far from the teeming crowds. You can still find the
soul of India, at a safe remove from the chaotic hubs of transformation.
But progress intrudes, an aggressive national highway building programme
will soon render many of the outposts more easily reached. So, as
always, go now while you can, when the values are good and the demand
is low. Think of India as an opportunity.
The four destinations reported here were visited in
October–November 2008, just prior to the Mumbai attacks. Three are
in rural Rajasthan, one in the northeast state of Uttrakhan in the
low Himalayas. Each offers exceptional and rewarding experiences
for the intrepid traveller willing to go far afield from the mainstream.
Chhatra Sagar, an eco-friendly tent camp in Rajasthan, India,
summons to mind the motto of Hoshi Ryokan, a Japanese inn located
outside Osaka, Japan, first opened in 718 and today run by the 46th
generation of founding family: ‘Take care of fire. Learn from water.
Cooperate with nature.’ In many ways Chhatra Sagar is a living illustration
of that quality of enlightenment. The camp lies a two-and-a-half-hour
drive from the city of Jaipur. It’s a lifetime project of the Rathore
family, direct descendents of the Maharajah of Jodhpur, owners of
this land for 17 generations.
Originally in 1890, great-grandfather Thakur Chhatra
Singh decided to dam a seasonal stream flowing through his estate
and changed the face of the valley, turning arid scrub into lush
farmland. Over the years irresponsible farming, well-drilling and
animal grazing damaged the water table. In 2001 the family decided
to give the land back to nature, and established this eco-resort
of 11 camp-style tents overlooking 365 protected acres on the east
side of the dam, which fills with water from October to March.
Following their conservation effort, over 200 varieties
of wildlife have returned, egret, heron, kingfishers, antelope,
wild boar, small jungle cats, all easily observed from the ramparts
of the dam or on nature walks into the habitat. The sustainability
quotient is optimal—the camp serves all locally sourced food, has
intense community involvement, and is furnished by indigenous craft.
The property employs 30 local families from the nearby village of
Kheda Deogarh, sponsors teachers, provides medicine, classroom furniture
and brings specialized educators who address subjects ranging from
family planning to recycling to soil conservation.
The Rathore family deeply love the land, and view water-harvesting
as an ancestral responsibility. Stewards and guardians of a unique
place, their personal involvement and constant presence reinforce
the commitment. They bring to the equation a natural grace and elegance,
making the experience an altogether authentic one. They have created
utterly comfortable lodging, and the ‘one price-everything included’
policy makes for an even-more attractive offering. By far the most
romantic beds are found in ‘the tents on the hill’, with their 360-degree
view, to the east the Aravali Hills, to other directions the rolling
contours of rural Rajasthan. Come for the silence, the bird-watching,
the isolation, the bats who fly over the dinner tables at dusk,
the fresh pomegranate juice on the terrace, the tangible humanity
of this singular place.
District Pali 306 303
Telephone 91 2939 230-118
Chhatra Sagar | Devi Garh
| Amanbagh | Ananda
in the Himalayas
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From top: Masala omelette at Chhatra Sagar. Wildlife viewing.
Chhatra Sagar, an eco-friendly tent camp in Rajasthan,
India, summons to mind the motto of Hoshi Ryokan, a Japanese inn
located outside Osaka, Japan, ﬁrst opened in 718 and today run
by the 46th generation of founding family: ‘Take care of ﬁre. Learn
from water. Cooperate with nature’