Aman-i-Khas is a ten-tent luxury safari camp on the outskirts of Ranthambore National Park. It is nestled within a brush forest near the village of Sawai Madhopur. The main attraction in the area is the Bengal Tiger, but there is also a wide array of other wildlife including crocodiles, leopards, jackals, Sambar deer, peacocks, and around 300 species of birds. In addition to the safaris, Aman-i-Khas offers multiple unique excursions that include a trip to Ranthambore Fort, sunset camel rides, and tours of the local village.
Getting there: My husband and I made the trek to Aman-i-Khas from Agra by train. (This can also be done via New Delhi.) I had heard horror stories of the trains in India so I was definitely a bit apprehensive. Luckily, Aman-i-Khas sent a batman (personal butler) out to meet us at the train station to accompany us on our journey. He helped us with our bags and made sure we got on the right train. He set us up in a first class air-conditioned semi-private room (max 4 people) where a Scottish couple was sitting. Our batman whipped out a beautifully patterned Indian blanket and laid it out over the sofa for us to sit on. It seemed the couple sitting across from us were wondering why they didn’t get a pretty fabric to sit on. But then our butler came back and pulled out a small folding table. He set out two cold water bottles, a container of freshly baked banana bread and cookies, and gave us hot towels to clean our hands. I overheard the woman sitting across from us quietly ask her husband why they had not been set up so nicely. I thought to myself, “because you made the mistake of not booking with Aman.” Aman Resorts never miss a detail, no matter how small it may be. So when the choice came to book at Aman or the competing 5 star resort – I knew my choice.
Most of Rajasthan is a very different world than what us Western hemisphere folks are used to, and the train ride through the small villages of the countryside gave us some perspective of this. It felt like I had stepped into a time warp – taken back hundreds of years. Many places were without electricity, or even running water, and people cooked their meals in homemade clay ovens, powered by burning cow dung. Animals roamed the streets in large numbers while local villagers sat around arranged piles of burning trash – trying to warm their brittle hands. Bedazzled camels carried small loads of cargo, with patterns painted on their faces and colorful netting over their backs. Unlike America’s Starbucks-obsessed society, coffee in Rajasthan is a distant luxury that is mostly replaced with tea. The men seem to stand around enjoying this tea while the women do most of the physical work. We were surprised when our guide told us that many of the Rajasthani men were, for the most part, lazy. We caught a glimpse of this as the women were seen doing all of the roadwork, and carrying heavy loads on top of their heads. I found it very interesting that as poor as these people were, all of the women looked so vibrant and beautiful in their pressed saris and braided hairdos. A totally refreshing and spiritual vibration radiates from Rajasthan’s landscapes. Something you can’t understand until you visit for yourself.
Aman-i-Khas: I’ve heard Aman-i-Khas referred to as the most luxurious camping in the world. While I cannot disagree with this, the kind of luxury we experienced was not a flashy, pretentious type of luxury. It was a minimalistic, organic, and authentic kind of luxury. Aman Resorts always seem to be more focused on the experience than anything else – and they do an unmatched job at that. The property here is not impeccably manicured with flashy decorations as one might expect from “the most luxurious camping in the world”. It is arranged in a well-thought-out and intimate setting within a natural brush forest. Each air-conditioned tent (there are 10) is far enough apart to ensure each guest has plenty of privacy. Tents are designed to echo Mughal Pavilions with cotton drapes separating the sleeping, dressing, and bathing areas.
Property: A stroll through the property reveals a library and gift shop tent, a dining tent, and an outdoor dining terrace. A large square-shaped sofa is set around the main fire pit with little lanterns strewn throughout. This is the main area where guests can mingle with a sunset cocktail and enjoy the occasional wildlife viewing. I was able to witness some large deer roaming through the grounds, as well as two resident crocodiles, whom dwelled down by the property’s lake. Small lantern-lit pathways lead guests to the tented spa, gardens, and a contemporary style pool.
Dining: While the menu options are limited, we found each meal to be fantastic. I later found out that Aman-i-Khas grows all of its own fruits, vegetables, and herbs in its beautiful organic garden, which made me enjoy the food even more. You can’t beat that kind of freshness.
Service: All guests are assigned their very own batman (butler). Our batman arranged everything for us, and waited on us during all of our meals. He came with us on our excursions – to ensure our safety and to provide us with whatever we needed. Hot towels, snacks, water? We were covered. He also made sure to keep his distance to give us the perfect amount of privacy. On our last night, our butler set up a private dinner for us in the middle of the jungle. He just said he wanted to make dinner plans for us. He took us to where they had set up multiple clay ovens, a bar, fire pit, and a beautifully set table for two. There was a chef cooking authentic Indian food – the real way – and he taught us how to make naan bread. There had to have been at least a hundred lanterns hanging in the trees and on the ground. The lengths they went to – to provide an authentic and very special experience for us was almost unbelievable. Nowhere else will you ever see service like this.
The Tigers: Let me start by saying that I have had a fear of large cats since I was a little girl. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had nightmares about lions, tigers, and bears. (Oh my!) I’m not going to lie, I was terrified to go on this safari. Mostly because the open-air jeeps they use are more like go-carts, very low to the ground, and within easy reach of any wildlife. I had also heard that just the year before someone had been eaten by one of the tigers in this very park. My husband was very excited about the safari so I figured I’d try my best to conquer my fears.
We opted for the private safari with a driver and a naturalist and left the resort early in the morning while it was still dark. The drive into Ranthambore National Park had me feeling a bit like I was about to enter the gates of Jurassic Park, where carnage and mayhem were about to break loose. I know… I have a wild imagination!
We were told over and over again that spotting a tiger is very rare, but if we were lucky enough we might see one. A couple who had been staying at the resort longer than us, was on their fifth safari and still hadn’t spotted a tiger. I only booked one safari and secretly hoped that we wouldn’t see one! We had only been in the park for 30 minutes when a massive male tiger stood directly in the middle of the road, staring at us.
The driver stopped the car and turned off the engine so we could take photos. The fact that he had turned off the engine made me feel like we were a four-person smorgasbord buffet just waiting to get eaten. Although this tiger really seemed like he couldn’t care less about us being there. He tiger walked towards us, drank some water, and then went to lie in the grass. He was obviously used to humans. This gave me a little relief and for a few minutes and I was able to just watch this marvelous creature, up close, in its natural habitat. But then two jeeps came up close behind us and turned off their engines. The tiger got up and started walking towards us. He got closer and closer and I begged our driver to back up because I feared I’d soon be a half-eaten-Misha-steak. However we could not back up because the cars behind us didn’t want to move. We just had to wait it out and hope he wasn’t hungry. At this point I was about finished with the safari… but the safari wasn’t finished with me! We drove around for three more hours and saw all sorts of other wildlife. While I was totally enjoying myself, I was also scared beyond belief at the thought of running into another tiger, and wouldn’t you know it… we did! The only way to get out of the park was to get within arms reach of her. My husband wanted to stop and take photos of her but I was too afraid. I gave him my camera and as we drove right next to her he snapped a photo. She lifted her tail and gave us a look as if to say “what’s the hurry?”
In hindsight, I probably should not have been so terrified. Thousands of tourists visit Ranthambore National Park every year, and the tigers have never attacked anyone inside of the vehicles. Despite my fear of tigers, looking back on my India trip and all of the destinations and resorts we visited, my time at Aman-i-khas was definitely my favorite part.