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. Or traipse down the road to the Dastkari women’s cooperative, or the Anokhi workshop.

But I think I’ll just stay here, 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 manmade 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 Usha and Goverdhan Rathore have combined his architectural skills and her experience in hospitality into a property as impressive as it is unassuming.

Meat-eaters beware, meals are strictly vegetarian! Much of the produce is grown on the premises. 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.

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 manmade!

Tariff Rs 9,500–17,000 Contact

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