|Every room at Oberoi Amarvilas has views of the Taj Mahal, which is less than a mile from the hotel.|
Meg North, executive vice president of Brownell Travel, recently returned from a tiger-tracking safari through the wilds of India, with her trusted travel advisor and business partner, Martha Gaughen, who recommended the trip. The invigorating spiritual journey made a lasting impression on the pair.
When my friend and business partner, Martha Gaughen, vice president of Sterling Brownell in Atlanta, suggested a three-week safari to India for my 60th birthday, I was certain it was going to be an adventure. What I didn’t expect was for it to be the beginning of a love affair. Our primary focus was to see some of the few remaining wild tigers and learn more about the people and culture of the destination. We worked closely with &Beyond, India and for a part of our 21 days there, we were coddled and pampered by Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.
Much like an African safari, the destination comes alive when accompanied by an experienced guide. We were fortunate enough to travel with &Beyond’s CEO Suhail Gupta and Toby Sinclair, vice president of special projects. The antiquities we admired, the food we enjoyed, the wildlife we viewed and the fireside conversations in the evening were each made richer and more colorful by them.
|Meg North shares a moment with a village elder near Mihir Garh, Jodhpur.|
We arrived in the peaceful outer court of Oberoi Vanyavilas in Ranthambhore, and were greeted by two beautifully adorned and painted elephants and their mahouts. There, we were handed foot-long pieces of sugarcane to delight our enormous and gentle greeters. This made for a memorable welcome.
The Oberoi Vanyavilas is a true luxury jungle resort on the edge of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Nestled in the forest, it oozes with Rajasthani culture. The lobby and courtyards are replete with patterns, textures and colors; the grounds are lush with natural landscaping, bridges over calm waters, tiled reflecting pools and flowers in bloom. We immediately felt wrapped in a cocoon of safety and comfort knowing full well that predators lay in the forests beyond.
The jungle tents are remarkable, complete with embroidered bedspreads and canopies, miniature embroidered tigers crouching overhead, luxurious bathrooms with separate shower and soaking tub, plus a walled garden with more flowers and comfortable woven lounges in Rajasthani style. Like a maharaja’s hunting tent, they were as comfortable and well-equipped as any fine Oberoi hotel room.
We had the privilege of meeting Fateh Singh Rathore, Ranthambhore’s first field director. Rathore is now retired but runs a local NGO called Tiger Watch and remains dedicated to the animal’s conservation. We spent an informal evening around the outdoor fire pit enjoying drinks as he shared with us the history of the conservation efforts, as well as personal anecdotes. The next evening he entertained us with a lecture and slide show. Shonali Datta, managing director at Peirce & Leslie Travel, flew in to join us and share a few bottles of Indian Sula wine!
|Martha Gaughen and North take an elephant ride fresh from the Kanha Tiger Reserve.|
Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is the former hunting ground of the maharajas of Jaipur and is widely considered one of India’s most beautiful national parks. Indeed, it has the remains of ancient Rajput history, undulating hilly landscape and a diverse collection of birds and wildlife. We highly recommend Salim, a knowledgeable and delightful guide, whose family has been showing visitors around for many years. As we entered the forest, Salim’s father said, “The tiger awaits you!” Shortly thereafter, we had, according to the experts, the best tiger sighting in two years: An adolescent male stalking his prey through water—a panicky and ultimately relieved spotted deer, which narrowly escaped becoming dinner.
The experience then shifted from the jungle to the Oberoi spa where we had our chakras balanced—one of the more amazing spa experiences we have ever had. Did I mention the food? All three meals—breakfast, lunch and dinner—were outstanding, and can be had either outside or in the lovely dining room.
We were lucky enough to visit two other Oberoi hotels. On a site visit to Rajvilas, just outside the bustling city of Jaipur, we were treated to a delicious dinner. Rajvilas sits on 32 acres of landscaped gardens, pavilions and reflecting pools that create the romance and grandeur of the erstwhile princely Rajasthan. I recently had clients staying there and they loved the resort so much they rearranged their touring schedule to begin after 1 p.m. each day. It is indeed the perfect place to relax during a hectic India itinerary.
|Village girls collect water from their vilage well near Mihir Garh.|
Last, but not least, we had a royal treat at Amarvilas in Agra, a grand and beautiful property where every room has a view of the Taj Mahal. The Mughal architecture of the resort is inspired by the Taj Mahal, and one never tires of gazing at the Taj’s perfect symmetry and delicate beauty. Don’t miss cocktails and sunset on the terrace! Note: Be sure to ask for a private dinner, served outside by the pool under the Indian night sky with Amarvilas at your back and the Taj Mahal in front of you.
We may have left India after three weeks of inspired travel and a deeper appreciation of the country—but India will never leave us!