Rajasthan is synonymous with royalty. A place where palaces and forts tell a story of the bygone era of former Rajput royalty. A place where regal cuisine and rich culture abound, and one where even the royal Bengal tiger has found a home in one of its many national parks. The city has it all and it is no surprise then that the Aman group of hotels chose this place to set up its modern day ‘Mughal palace’ – Amanbagh!
Derived from the Sanskrit word for peace ‘Aman’ and the Hindi word for garden ‘Bagh,’ Amanbagh is a verdant oasis of mature palm, fruit and eucalyptus trees lying in a walled compound that was once the staging area for royal hunts. Evoking the palatial glamor of the Mughal era, Amanbagh has 24 Haveli suites (8 courtyard, 8 garden, 8 terrace) and 16 Pool Pavilions.
The road to Paradise
A 90 km drive from Jaipur airport gets you to this serene paradise which is located in the rural village of Ajabgarh in Rajasthan, India. As our chauffeur drove us along the hot and dusty city streets, we looked on with wonder at the men and women in their colorful Rajasthani attire and marveled at the cows and camels that seemed to have made these streets their second home.
An hour and a half into our drive and the first signs of paradise began to unfold. The roads got narrower and were fringed by vibrant ‘Flame of the Forest’ trees on either side and lush green fields as far as the eye can see. Playful langurs, colorful peacocks, and herds of cows, goats and buffaloes by the dozen kept us company. And in the midst of all this, lying in the heart of the valley surrounded by the Aravalli mountains, we caught the first glimpse of our peaceful garden – Amanbagh!
A warm welcome
We received a royal welcome befitting a king and queen. Hotel Manager Karin and her staff welcomed us with a traditional Namaste and offered us a cold towel and a refreshing ginger honey drink. What happened next really impressed me. The staff serenaded us with a harmonious prayer song that seemed to resonate off the high vaulted ceiling into a glorious melody that actually gave me goosebumps. That was followed by the tying of a prayer thread around our wrists to invoke the blessings of Lord Vishnu to give us a peaceful, happy and restful stay at Amanbagh.
“I couldn’t remember any other hotel that had such a warm and touching welcome”.
A Mughal-style oasis
As we walked to our suite we marveled at the Mughal style architecture of high ceilings, rose-hued marble and sandstone columns which characterized the inner courtyard and restaurant area. Elegant, simple and very evocative of the past is how I’d like to describe it. The resort is built taking into consideration the many trees in the garden that perfectly blends with the hotel architecture. We stood there for some time marveling at both the inner and outer courtyard with its beautifully landscaped lawns and swimming pool. I soon began to understand why this place was called a peaceful garden. The sea-green marble swimming pool shaded by palm, eucalyptus and fragrant hibiscus and frangipani with the sounds of chirping birds, truly makes this an oasis in the otherwise sweltering Rajasthan heat.
As we moved past the Olympic sized pool we came upon a second smaller spa pool a few feet away and were happy to note that this was right next door to our suite.
“To walk in the gardens of Amanbagh is to witness peace. The silence is very real… and you can actually feel it”.
Our royal Pool Pavilion
I have stayed at many five star resorts but I have to say I was blown away by our Pool Pavilion. Situated on the resort’s perimeter, we walked inside to discover a suite of grandeur proportions. Measuring 2185 sq. ft., it was palatial indeed. We stepped into a foyer that provided entry to the bedroom on the right and a bathroom on the left.
The bedroom was a daring blend of Mughal and contemporary style with its high domed ceiling, marble and silk furnishings including a king-sized bed with a huge ornate mirror as a backdrop. The luxurious space and soft pink color palette evoked in me a sense of peace and calm after taking in the myriad of colors and excitement of Rajasthan.
The bathroom was one of the largest I have ever seen complete with separate his and her sink areas and dressing rooms. But what caught my attention most was the incredibly large bathtub made from a single slab of Udaipur marble. It transported me to the days of our Mughal kings and I was able to not just ‘see’ how they lived but ‘live’ like them in true royal style.
Wine & Dine
The resort has only one restaurant but a plethora of seating areas which the staff transforms into a magical setting for you. I’ll come to that in a bit. But first, I’d like to introduce you to the eighth wonder of the world – Chef Kundan! Most of the ingredients Chef uses are from the hotel’s organic garden and every dish he prepares is a gastronomic wonder. I highly recommend the Laal Maas which is a traditional Rajasthani dish. This is a fiery red lamb curry cooked in a variety of masalas and gets its color from the red chillies used rather generously. Served with a side of Indian bread, this is sure to tickle your tastebuds. If you’re spice intolerant you could ask the Chef to tone down the spice levels for you. Another must try is the Rajasthani thali which comes with a variety of veg items, lentils, rice and Indian bread.
Every meal at Amanbagh is a special experience. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, the staff can arrange to to have your meals at a private offsite location, by the pool, inside a traditional hut or even a ‘chhatri’ (rooftop enclave). Dinner is usually accompanied by live classical music that creates a very romantic atmosphere.
“At Amanbagh, it’s not just the food that’s good but the friendly conversation the staff engages you in, that leaves one feeling satiated”.
Amanbagh enjoys a prime location in the area of Ajabgarh and there are many excursions the staff can arrange for you during the day, on foot, by camel, or in the resort’s open jeeps. The Bhangargh fort is one of them. It is 15 km from Amanbagh and is said to be Asia’s most haunted fort.
I highly recommend the Cow Dust tour for a glimpse of rural life in India.
If you’d like to learn how to cook some Indian dishes, personal cooking classes can be arranged and the Chef will take you through the process including explaining to you the different spice levels. Although I did not partake in a cooking class, I heard rave reviews from other guests about how much fun their class was. Once you’ve cooked up a meal, you can enjoy your creations in a thatched hut to the sound of a playing sitar to complete your Indian experience.
For more of Indian culture, you can also engage in some yoga and meditation either in the resort or offsite at the Bhangarh fort. I highly recommend booking a private sunrise yoga session in front of the temples at the haunted village of Bhangarh. Sadly, I missed the opportunity to do so this time around but will be sure to do so during my next visit.
And finally, a spa session is not to be missed. The spa at Amanbagh has a host of Western and Ayurvedic treatments. I booked myself the ‘Maharani’ massage which true to its name had me feeling like a queen by the end of it. You can read about my experience here.
Eat. Pray. Love.
Amanbagh is a complete eat, pray, love experience. Like the movie, it is a journey of self-discovery and you will find that much-needed peace and relaxation. From the moment I checked in, I knew we were in for a special time. The staff seems to hold a genuine pride in their work and love what they do. From always smiling and conspiring with each other on how best to make our stay a memorable one to engaging with us in conversation like family; it is this love and care that creates a magical experience and makes one never want to leave this beautiful, peaceful garden.
Rate: The Pool Pavilion starts from $1150 per night plus taxes and includes daily breakfast for two.
District Alwar, Ajabgarh
Phone: 01465 223 333
Book your stay at the Amanbagh website.
Note– The critic was invited by Amanbagh. But all the opinions expressed herewith are her own.