The first thing you notice—and you can’t help but—when you check into Aahana (‘first rays of the sun’) is an elevated walkway that curls over a narrow country path and connects the reception area with the rooms and the rest of the property. That land is part of the property but the proprietors did not wish to disrupt the traditional walking route used by the villages on either side of the resort. Had they not created the maloo creeper-enwrapped walkway, the villagers would have had to skirt the resort on their daily jaunts and travel several extra kilometres in the bargain.
It’s just one of the many, many things this eco-conscious resort, set up by the Tripathis (who are hoteliers and realtors based in Nainital), is doing in its bid to create a minimal environmental impact experience for its guests. There’s no reason to turn up one’s nose at their showcase Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), which employs the biological Canna Root Zone System to recycle wastewater from the facility into clean water for gardening. Basically, the wastewater flows into a pit, where the roots of the Canna plant purify it. No electricity or chemicals are used in the process and gravity pushes the water into an underground storage tank, from where the gardeners take it. They are also aiming for zero-waste production. Gardening at Aahana is strategically non-intrusive. This is no mere lip service to eco-friendliness. Committed to the conservation of nature, the entire property has been landscaped with forest species (worth a guided tour; I planted a camphor tree before I left) and grass to provide extended space to wildlife. The lawns are not mowed and no pesticides are used. Besides lending a wild vibe, the unmanicured lawns and unshorn trees attract a spectacular number of insects. This is turn draws feathered friends in the droves to the resort. So many, in fact, that the resort is able to offer a birdwatching programme on the grounds itself.
But then the jungle is just round the corner. In fact, the property shares a boundary wall with Corbett’s Bijrani zone. Tuskers can be seen quite frequently and I was told that, from my room, which hugged the boundary wall, guests had seen leopards on more than one occasion. Now that’s not the sort of thing that warms the cockles of my heart—close encounters of the wild kind—but you get the general drift. It’s all rather thrilling.
One afternoon, I drove into Corbett’s Jhirna zone to properly acquaint myself with the wild. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Romesh Barlow, Aahana’s chief naturalist. Mr Barlow is in it for the passion of it, while Mrs Barlow manages the resort’s well-appointed gift shop. Mr Barlow was a mine of information on the area’s flora, fauna and birdlife. We didn’t see any tigers that day, driving through thickly-knotted forests where the weak winter sun barely reached the ground. I, for one, wasn’t complaining. We did run into a tusker and some fearless jackals, and a veritable aviary of birdlife, including the Great Indian Hornbill. We also looked at pugmarks, at the anthills (a positive marker of a forest’s health) and at the trees and the landscape. Corbett really is one of our greatest national parks.
Back at the resort, after viewing a film about Carpet Sahib (Jim Corbett), I sampled some of their warm hospitality. It was a crisp evening with a decent number of stars pricking the heavens. A bonfire had begun to crackle by the poolside and a couple of local musicians burst into a soulful number, their voices carrying splendidly in the wind, no microphone necessary. When there’s a full house, as is often the case on weekends, Aahana lays out the most lavish buffets for its guests at Dhikala, its multi-cuisine restaurant. I couldn’t fault with anything and retired to my room content.
Besides being a wilderness retreat, Aahana is also a serious ayurveda operation and attracts a lot of long-stay guests who come exclusively for the rejuvenation programmes. The rooms, with their sloping roofs, are spacious, plush and quite self-sufficient. If you so choose, you’ll never need to leave yours. The rooms have lovely names too, like Jim’s Retreat and Jungle Lore. And that’s lure enough for me.
Where: Village Sawaldeh, Jim Corbett National Park. 15min from Ramnagar railway station, 70km from Pantnagar airport, 240km/5hr drive from Delhi.
Accommodation: 48 rooms in a range of categories: Corbett Club, Jim’s Retreat, Jungle Lore, Rangers Suite, Aahana Family Suite, The Villa
Tariff: From Rs 10,000 including breakfast
Contact: +91-124-4908604 (reservations), +91-7088600021 (resort), www.aahanaresort.com