Vanyavilas ts the best Asian Resort
Arriving at the Sawai Madhopur station early on a summer afternoon in the air-conditioned comfort of the train had made me quite sleepy. Sawai Madhopur is the district headquarters, but looks more like a sleepy, dusty hamlet, straddling the wide plains to the south of the Aravallis in eastern Rajasthan. It’s wholly unremarkable a place, but it is famous as the home to India’s largest national park—the Ranthambhore National Park, which is renowned for its tigers.
Despite the mid-day heat, Madhopur sees a fair bit of tourist traffic, and many visitors head for the Oberoi Vanyavilas, one of the best luxury adventure resorts in the world. Set up in 2001, the resort has been receiving rave reviews from every travel magazine worth its masthead. The Conde Nast Traveller recently voted it third on a list of 100 Best Resorts in the World. It also voted Vanyavilas as the best Asian Resort. It isn’t hard to understand why.
A luxury tent inside the Vanyavilas Resort
The Welcome: I was greeted by a cheerful young man in uniform and whisked away in a limo to the resort. Straddling the Aravallis in the buffer zone surrounding the national park, Vanyavilas is 20 acres of blissful greenery, exquisitely maintained. Dotted amidst the greenery are 25 luxury tents, which offer the thrill of a forest camp with amenities that can put some of the world’s best hotels to shame.
Mine was a charming tent surrounded by a mud wall and ringed by a magnificent garden. Inside, a four-poster bed and a Victorian-looking bathtub were the highlights, apart from the armchairs and furniture. You don’t have to leave the resort to be in the lap of nature.
I was greeted by peacocks and at least 10 different species of birds within minutes of getting to my tent. So, while I passed the evening sitting on the porch sipping tea, there were choices galore, like visiting the Vanyavilas spa, run by Banyan Tree of Thailand, for a selection of the best massages and beauty treatments in a traditional Rajasthani pavilion overlooking fountains. Tranquility is pretty much guaranteed. In the evening, eminent conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore delivers lectures on tiger conservation in the library.
I attended one session, and found the gentleman a storehouse of information and anecdotes. As I had to be up early for the safari, I retired early, but not before taking a walk through the resort, where I frightened a large hare and heard the distant call of a Nilgai.
A man-made lake inside the Resort
The Tiger Safari: The morning safari starts at 6 a.m., so you’ve got to be up early. While running to catch the jeep, I noticed that the resort had helpfully given me a pair of high-powered binoculars. Although, there are many private safari operators in the area, it’s best to go on ones organised by the resort, or you might find yourself thrown in with lots of noisy families and whiny children inside a large open-topped bus (basically a bus with its roof sawed off).
Spotted deer at Ranthambhore
A wise course that the Park takes to protect the fragile biodiversity in the area is to allot one of five specific routes to the vehicles for the duration of the safari. This is done through draws of lots, and your probability of sighting a tiger depends on this. I was allotted Route 5, which follows a stream deep into the forest flanked on two sides by the Aravalli. It’s a magical place, and even the bumpy ride and an ill-tempered, whining Frenchman—one of my fellow passengers—could not spoil the thrill of being in an open jeep, keeping my eyes and ears peeled for a tiger.
I almost wished I’d packed a sola topi. There are some 40 tigers in the reserve, and due to increased tourist activity, these tigers have been forced to change their habits. The Ranthambore tigers are diurnal and not nocturnal. This improves your chances of actually sighting a big cat. Unfortunately, it was not to be my day.
We spent a superb two hours in the forest, hunting out tiger trails, stalking a herd of spotted deer near a watering hole, and conversing with other guides over wireless, but without seeing a tiger. This is common, and you are well advised to plan at least two visits to the park to get lucky. There’s plenty of other wildlife, though—from comical langoors cavorting in the sun to peacocks intent on showing off their plumes and spotted deer. It’s also a bird-watcher’s paradise—the region is home to over 250 species.mosimage A Perfect Ending: I did feel a mild sense of disappointment on the way back to the resort. It’s not every day that you get to see a tiger in its natural habitat. But any lingering disappointment I had, was soon banished by an excellent breakfast of bacon and eggs and some fine coffee at the Vanyavilas restaurant, watching the play of sunlight over the lush grounds. I let out a happy sigh. In Vanyavilas, anytime is paradise.
Getting there: Sawai Madhopur, 11 km from the Park, is the nearest road and railhead.
Road: Madhopur is well connected to most cities in Rajasthan, and to New Delhi via Jaipur, 182 km away.
Air: The nearest airport is Jaipur.
Rail: Sawai Madhopur is a six-hour train ride from New Delhi
What to do: You can visit the stunning 11th century Ranthambhore Fort, with its majestic ramparts for an unparalleled view of the Park.
Tariffs: Rs 34,500 per day
Phone: 07462 223999