When you think ‘Rajasthan’ what comes to mind are dusty horizons, forts and palaces, and ochre landscapes. The Tree House is none of these things. Instead you’ll find a lush paradise an hour outside of Jaipur. It strikes you the second you enter the green gates stamped ‘Nature Farms’. Tiny green bee-eaters swoop down in front of the car, there are neelgai in the distance and then you see a small sign saying ‘Nature Lovers Only’. You’re there.
Intrepid travellers already familiar with The Tree House would have been struck by the uniqueness of the water element that characterised it. In every corner of the property you could hear the very non-Rajasthani lilt of flowing water. Extending this element exponentially, the good people at Tree House have now created an oasis above the existing property and called it The Water House. It’s a seamless extension of nine elegant cottages arranged artfully upon waterbodies surrounded by plants and inviting in thirsty birds that wake you sweetly at dawn. Walk till the end of The Water House and you will find a beautiful waterfall washing over an old Buddha statue. While the new property does have its own charming dining room and reception area, guests have access to the facilities of The Tree House as well. Being lost in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be glad to know there are plenty of facilities to partake of, from lazing by their lagoon-like swimming pool to more energetic stuff. Tennis fans will be happy to know they have a beautiful court set in the valley, surrounded by hills, but my favourite was the tiny five-hole golf course. Then there’s the thrill of archery, riding ATVs and night safaris (where you’ll probably see hyenas and jackals, and if you’re lucky, a leopard!), or the quiet joys of nature walks, where you’ll see a huge variety of birds.
The birds deserve a special mention. They’re close to the heart of owner Sudeep Mehta, and even closer to his wife Anvita’s. You’ll probably see her around the property, camera and zoom lens in hand, looking skyward for her favourite Eurasian Eagle-Owl. She can tell you most of the birds’ names simply by hearing their call. Surprising for a girl from a big city like Mumbai. I ask her whether it’s hard living out here in the middle of the forest with mainly koi fish in ponds for company and she laughs because everyone has asked her that question. The answer is a resounding no. Her and Sudeep’s love for the place spills over and shows itself everywhere. They’re young, not even in their thirties, and yet there’s a worldly calm to them.
Sudeep’s father created the concept of The Tree House many years ago when he built the first cottage up in the leaves of a large tree. (It’s Room 6 now, if you’re interested.) Amazed by the beautiful wooden cabin with the trunk of the tree running through it, his family, despite his lack of even basic architectural knowledge, spurred him on to do more. To find a luxury property with heart is almost unimaginable these days, but that is precisely what the Nature Farms properties are. Anvita takes out a before-and-after photograph to show you, and it’s amazing to see that once upon a time, not so long ago, the now-verdant space was indeed very desert-like. When I point that out Sudeep says, “Well, we’ve planted five lakh trees.” He’s not lying. Building the land was a painstaking process where the family finally decided to use local expertise to understand which trees would be best suited to the climate and soil conditions. After losing thousands of plants they have finally, with the help of traditional farming methods, managed to slow the plant mortality rate. And in a kind of karmic return they managed in the bargain to teach the villagers something about modern methods. Noticing that the locals relied mainly on the monsoon for their crop cycles, they decided to create a 200-metre irrigation pipe that brings water to the farmers and has increased crop cycles. In the process they’ve also done something previously unheard of in the desert state…they’ve managed to raise the water table levels.
The evidence that this is an eco-property is all over the place, but guests in the past have been disconcerted by the luxury, claiming this isn’t a socially aware hotel. “You can’t keep everyone happy,” Sudeep laughs. It must come as a surprise to him that people judge the rooms based on the wi-fi, television, kettles and running hot water, rather than the fact that the vegetables you eat are grown organically on the land, or that they have a standing rule on Nature Farms that “not a single leaf is to be plucked, not a single branch cut.” That the giant turkeys and baby rabbits you see roaming the property freely were all rescued from cages along the highway where they would have become someone’s dinner.
To say they are socially aware is an understatement. Most of their employees were hired from the villages adjoining their land. In the process, the family turned a hostile and suspicious community into a warm (and an economically better-off) one. They even took on the task of building the roads in the area. Most recently when the national highway was being expanded and they heard of the many trees that were going to be chopped down for it, they contacted the forest and highway authorities and got permission to have all those trees transplanted to their property, at no cost to the government.
This is not your typical weekend getaway to a peaceful spot. It shines as something different because of how personal it is. Be it sending you a cake to your room on your birthday, offering a welcome spa treatment, or setting up a game room for the kids, the attention to you and to detail is incredible. You’ll notice it at every turn…a metal dustbin disguised by a wicker basket...windows shaded from the public by fronds of palm leaves…outdoor geysers painted over in beautiful leaves and flowers (the work of another one of Sudeep’s rescues, a man who did odd jobs and then showed Sudeep his art work on a whim and was immediately upgraded to Tree House artist).
If you’re the kind of person for whom birds chirping in the morning is a hassle—yes, one guest checked out early because of this “disappointment”—then give Nature Farms a miss. For everybody else, drive down for a weekend, maybe a week. And as you raise your glass at sunset in the reconstructed 400-year-old Peacock Bar (ask them to tell you the story behind it!), I promise you, you’ll thank me.
The information Getting there
By road, it’s an easy 3-4 hour drive from Delhi down NH8, past Shahpura, Chandwaji and NIMS (National Institute of Medical Sciences). Take a left turn from Amity University for Nature Farms.
When to visit
The resort is open year-round. Summer is good for animal sightings and swimming in the pool, and winter is perfect for bonfires at dinner. The best months to visit are October and February.
May-Sep: Rs 9,500-Rs 14,500, Oct-Apr: Rs 16,335-Rs 21,175.
Prices include three meals for upto 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 children per room and vary if you take a 2-3-day package.
The resort offers archery, tennis, golf, ATV riding, cycling and nature walks. For more information, contact the travel desk.