Variety

Shikari opulence

ARUNA CHANDARAJU | Updated on September 15, 2011

Luxury hunt: The Vivanta by Taj property at Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, is arestyled former royal hunting lodge. - Photo: Aruna Chandaraju

A wildlife themed suite.   -  ARUNA CHANDARAJU

Jungle book scripted by five-star hospitality.

An oriole held us back as we were checking-in. We were being ushered to our suite at Vivanta by Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge when we caught sight of the shy, brilliantly hued bird in the tree canopy above us. A second later, a crow pheasant's rust-and-black wings flashed past, disappearing into the foliage behind the room. As we walked towards the tree cover on the far side of the resort, we saw treepies and cuckoo-shrikes. A cluster of babblers (locals call them satbhai) were gathered on the far edge of the lawn but flew away even as we turned in their direction.

So, it was a good half-hour later that we actually entered our room. When we apologised to the accompanying hotel staff for keeping him waiting, he smiled understandingly –– he's obviously endured many a bird-loving guest before this!

The Deluxe Allure suite was wonderfully spacious with eye-catching thematic interiors –– leopard and tiger-skin print furnishings. An enormous picture of a tiger loomed over the bed while other nature-inspired art adorned the rest of the room.

All the rooms at this resort have thematic interiors. From door knockers and lampshades to the glass-topped centre tables, their designs are inspired by wild animals, birds and trees. The lounge has a stunning mural, dating back to 1938, depicting wildlife, besides other artefacts inspired by the forests. And this is only to be expected, as the resort is at the gateway to the renowned Ranthambore National Park and is the former hunting lodge (built in 1930) of the erstwhile Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II. The resort's pride is the Premium Temptation suite, which once hosted Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. The stately, richly-furnished room with a private terrace and sit-out is truly fit for royalty.

In the morning, we awoke to the strident cries of peacocks and screech of parakeets –– 62 species of birds have been spotted at the lodge's 12 acres of forest greenery.

Of course, Ranthambore Park had much, much more to offer. A few minutes into our first safari, we had fleeting glimpses of two leopards, one with a kill in the mouth. An hour later, we watched a tiger for an incredible half-hour at Zone 3 as it wallowed in the Rajbagh Lake before rising and wandering off into the surrounding bushes.

We also saw countless sambar, deer, peacocks, including dancing ones, and nearly 30 varieties of birds (the park has about 300 species).

On the afternoon safari we had fewer co-passengers. Barely 20 minutes into the safari, after rare migratory-bird sightings (blue-tailed bee-eater among them) we encountered a tigress lounging beside the Malik Talab Lake. And she stretched, purred, and changed position several times –– throwing her legs up in the air now and then –– and all the while a group of peacocks and peahens strutted around her. Some even flew above her. Finally, one peacock, at a slight distance away, spread out its iridescent tail, pirouetted around and disappeared into a nearby bush. “For me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the naturalist accompanying us exclaimed.

Back at the resort, we trooped into the restaurant, which caters to a variety of tastes –– from Mediterranean to Indian, including Rajasthani specialities. The Neem Terrace is for al-fresco dining experiences –– which, given the Rajasthan weather, would mean only winter nights.

The elegant conference room at the resort can seat 60 theatre-style. The lawns, which can accommodate about 250 guests, are for large parties.

There are also facilities for badminton, table tennis, cycling, swimming, pool table, cricket, croquet and other outdoor activities. That is, if you can tear yourself away from the tigers at Ranthambore and the birdwatching at the resort. We certainly could not!

Fast facts

Sawai Madhopur is a three-hour drive from Jaipur, which is well-connected by major airlines.

From Delhi, there is a railway link to Sawai Madhopur, a 365-km, five-hour journey.

Published on September 15, 2011

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