The slow, lingering pleasure of simple things. A jungle cat pads right up the path to the porch, where the darkness of dawn hides me — until our eyes meet at the last minute and he ripples aside into the scrub. Daybreak’s rosy reflection calls teals, sandpipers and sand grouse to the tank below. The afternoon glare draws a pride of peahens to the water. A wagtail shrills his last notes for dusk on a wall beside me.
There’s Ranthambhore’s mandatory park ‘safaris’, dawn and dusk. I could also visit the abandoned baby leopard being hand-reared by the Forest Department at Balas Chowki. Or take a picnic lunch to the Fort, guided by the camp’s own naturalist (trained under Fateh Singh Rathore himself). Or traipse down the road to the Dastkari women’s cooperative, or the Anokhi workshop. Look in at the school and hospital where Rathore’s son, Goverdhan, runs or his Green-Oscar biogas project.
But I think I’ll just stay here, surrounded by space. In my cottage at Khem Villas. Occasionally strolling down to the main house for meals. Where squirrels scuffle inches from my feet. Tree pies scold sternly. An inquisitive bulbul or babbler flits into a chair to see about lunch.
Then I’ll take my tea — and a book — by the ‘lake’ (another man-made tank). Where a baby croc suns himself on the banks, under a tree. And I’ll wait till the stars prickle overhead, to keep the moon’s reflection company in the water. Till the bar is set up, the bonfire lit, other guests return from tiger-trailing and maalish sessions. By which time, everybody knows everybody in temporary residence. And at least half the tourists vow to follow my lazy example tomorrow. So good night — I’m off to my cottage for a hot soak under the stars.
At Khem Villas, the living is easy. Because Goverdhan and Usha Rathore have combined his architectural skills and her experience in hospitality to foster a property as impressive as it is unassuming. Where their constant personal presence imbues your sojourn with the warmth of a homestay. Now in its second season without any fanfare, it is admired through the Chinese whispers of travellers in the know, recently winning a Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice award (a ‘Hidden Gem’ of Asia).
Meat-eaters beware, meals are strictly vegetarian! Much of the produce is grown on the premises. Milk and yoghurt and ghee come from the Rathores’ own dairy.
Breakfast is served from 8am for early birds — cereals, eggs, fresh fruits. But it’s the dawn patrol returning from the safari that gets the warmest welcome — fresh-baked baguettes from the oven at 10am.
Lunch is ‘international’, and not just the usual soup/salad/pasta either. My first afternoon, there’s asparagus soup, slabs of piping-hot pizza, a battalion of potato wedges, leafy salad, sweet carrots and new peas. Next day, green-pea falafels tucked into dainty flatbread pockets, hummus, pomegranate-studded baba ghanoush and curried sweet corn. Ambitious for a two-cook undertaking — and if a little eccentric in choice or recipe at times, that only reinforces the home-kitchen feel.
Dinner is an Indian buffet, with dimpled copper thalis heated on chulhas decorated with local motifs in geru , echoing the walls of country huts. Little phulkas and paratha wedges — made from homeground wheat, harvested in the field behind my cottage — are brought to table in support of an unpretentious but lavish spread.
I’m tempted to return in summer, to sleep on the terrace under a starry sky. And in the monsoon, when the land is a deep green. To think this was a barren wasteland just years ago, that this whispering paradise is man made!
Where: On the outskirts of Ranthambhore National Park, 13km from Sawai Madhopur railway station.
Accommodation: 4 rooms (2 upstairs with bay window, 2 downstairs) in main building; 5 tents; 6 cottages.
Tariff: Rs 7,000 approx (rooms), Rs 11,500 approx (tents), Rs 14,000 approx (cottages); inclusive of all meals, but not activities or alcoholic and aerated beverages.
Contact:+91 9414030262, 07462-252099, 07462-252219, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.khemvillas.com