“Whatever you want, we can do that,” Esver said, as he slipped a garland of marigolds over my head.
“All this and heaven too?” I wondered. My husband and I had just arrived at Aman-i-Khas, a chic resort on the edge of India’s Ranthambhore National Park, and I was already awestruck with the surroundings. Learning that each of the ten luxury tents on the property comes with its own butler rendered me positively speechless.
Tigers motivated us to choose Aman-i-Khas. Ranthambhore is one of the world’s best places to see the big cats and this is the closest lodging to the park. But I was standing in a “tented suite” four times the size of my first apartment and outfitted with a stone tub for two, a large shower, Wi-Fi, king bed with beautiful linens, and a chaise suitable for Cleopatra. It was hard to stay focused on the mission.
Aman-i-Khas also includes elegant tents for dining, drinks, and spa treatments, as well as a swimming pool in the shape of an ancient step-well and a lakeside yoga pavilion. Dinner included delicious veggies grown in one of the large organic gardens near the pool.
In the morning, Esver stood by as we climbed into an open safari vehicle with a pair of game guides and drove into the park. All I hoped for was a view of a Bengal tiger, so the grey herons and white egrets on Malik Lake were a bonus, as were the samba deer, wild boar, and marsh crocodile. Finally, the guides spotted a handsome tiger drinking from a stream, and when he finished, he turned around and looked right at us. Mission accomplished.
The royal service continued at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur. Frankly, I was prepared to be disappointed because I’d dreamed of staying at this hotel for many years and my expectations were sky high. However, when my eyes landed on the vision of white marble and mosaic seemingly floating in the middle of Lake Pichola — all I could do was smile.
Built in 1746 by a youthful maharana with an entourage of lady friends, the Taj Lake Palace is easily the most romantic destination in all of India. The hotel, with its airy balconies, Monet-like gardens, and seductive sit spots, invites guests to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the moment. Within hours of arriving, I waded up my lists of off-island sights and announced my intention to stay put.
I spent time reading and gazing from the window seat in our room, sampling the offerings from the various restaurants (all good), enjoying spa treatments (all great), and trying to capture in photos the beauty of scalloped doorways, stone carvings, and over-water vistas (challenging). Most memorable: At night, candles transformed the lily pond into a dream-like scene that exceeded my expectations.
The Taj Mahal Palace is so steeped in historical ambience that during breakfast I felt like Somerset Maugham might be sitting behind one of the potted palms or marble columns on the open-air veranda.
This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Since the grand hotel opened in 1903, it has been the center of Mumbai social life. The iconic Gateway to India, steps from the Taj, was built on the waterfront to provide a proper welcome for Queen Mary and King George in 1911. After Indian independence in 1947, the Brits left India from this same spot.
Since then, the Taj Mahal Palace has hosted six American presidents and a who’s who of international stars. Ravi Shankar taught George Harrison to play the sitar here. The Rajput Suite was a temporary home for Yoko Ono and John Lennon and later, Brad and Angelina. We arrived just after Salmon Rushdie checked out, but Prince Michael of Kent could often be seen around the pool during our stay.
We liked our room in the Palace wing where antique art and artifacts are on display. This location also provided easy access to the pool and poolside restaurants, which — in steamy Mumbai — are the places to be both day and night.
- In the colonial era, Gandhi, Nehru, and other leaders in the Indian Freedom Movement held meetings here, joined by “foreign guests” including Aldous Huxley and Somerset Maugham. That tradition continues today as world leaders and captains of industry meet and confer at the grand Taj Mahal Palace. ELIZABETH HANSEN
Photography courtesy of Adams/Hansen Stock Photos