Being cooped up during the pandemic sure did a number on my brain, which craves culture, tradition and a long, long drive away from the madness that comes with a city. So when I did get a chance to go to a quiet town where the distant roar of the tiger echoes in the majestic foothills of the Aravallis and the Vindhya ranges, it is no one’s guess what I did - I pounced on it.
A back-breaking train journey to Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan and a short ride in the city dropped us at the Anuraga Palace. I half-expected a pleasant pushiness, but the luxury property, the walls of which have as much history to them as the Ranthambore National Park, delighted us with their courteousness, grace and generosity. A palace resort, Anuraga will remind you of a beautiful Rajasthani haveli, done in white with domes and arches, set around a beautiful which doubles up as a mini performance theatre in the evening.
The exquisite Anuraga Palace is located about 12 odd kilometres from the national park, which draws many visitors to its doors. Especially those, who seek recourse in a heritage space, decked with all modern luxuries. On that account, the resort does not disappoint. Anuraga Palace has 44 rooms, 2 Junior suites and 4 plush thematic suites, all overlooking the verdant green lawns. The roof in our room, much like the foyer with its high dome ceiling, had beautiful hand paintings, with motifs reminiscent of the frescoes that havelis of the Shekhawati region are famous for.
Over high tea in the evening, the property’s guardian, Pramod Naithani, indulged us in the history of the place, which is captivating. In 1984, Jaskaur Meena, a local farmer and an educationist started Anuraga, named after her late son Anurag, as the first hotel in the area, the only other being Taj, which was a hunting lodge. Since then, the property has been renovated many times, yet retaining its charm as a heritage property. But in a district adjacent to the Ranthambore National Park, hotels are dime a dozen. So what sets Anuraga apart?
I set out to figure this out, and over long conversations with the staff, many of whom are locals, having lived their entire lives in villages nearby, I learnt how life at Anuraga is a tad different. The food here, for example, arrives from Shabri Farms, an organic farm owned by Jaskaur, where the focus is on wholesome and delicious produce. The same produce turned into the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Visitors can choose to eat at Basant, the multicuisine restaurant or dine under the stars at Hindol, their rooftop dining alternative. A special poolside dinner on my first night at the property saw me indulge (read: overeat) in a variety of Rajasthani delicacies such as laal maas, gutta curry, daal baati churma, ker sangri and kabuli rice. A generous serving of malpua later I was ready to call it a night.
Aside from indulgent meals, folks at Anuraga Palace are kind with their arrangements for guests who wish to visit the park for a safari to spot the elusive tiger, or even to the fort, if you wish so. I made a beeline for the safari the next morning, but two rides later, returned somewhat dejected, but still refreshed.
At Anuraga, a daily screening of the documentary on Ranthambore starts at 7pm, preceded by a cultural night featuring live performances by a folk band, so there is really no dearth of excitement. Even if you don’t find the tiger, you can always make do with some peace as you read a book near the pool, or feel all your tensions ironed out at the Serenity spa. You could, like me, wipe away your pandemic blues with a quiet dip, but watch out for tanning though. The sun here isn’t as kind as the Rajasthani hospitality!