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Aman Junkies rejoice, Amanbagh, the luxury hotel chain’s Jaipur outpost is just as regal and majestic as the city itself, with all the mind-reading service level of Aman Resorts and the authentic, unpackaged unpredictability of India. No wonder it was a wonderful stay befitting a Mughal King.
Located in the outskirts of Jaipur, about 90min from the Rajasthani capital, Amanbagh was a former Mughal residency turned luxurious resort located in the hunting grounds of Bengal Tigers which can be spotted on a day tour to nearby tiger reserves. Given how rural and devoid of any tourists this part of India is the, hotel feels like an oasis in the valley. The nearest village is nothing more than a farming community filled with cows, peacocks observing life from atop trees and deers. It feels almost impossible for something so opulent yet so smoothly blending into the surroundings, as an Aman Resort to be found in this dry, dusty part of India. And yet the brand best known for its underrated luxury and its loyal following did it again.
Arrival and check in to Amanbagh
We arrived well into the dark night. Landing after midnight meant that we did not get to the hotel until 3am by which time we were exhausted and ready for bed. The Aman driver greeted us at the airport and we were whisked to the comfortable van with water and snacks. Walking into the car I knew exactly where to look for them, under the seat rest between the seats, the same place my lovely guide used to hide the goodies in my Bhutanese journey. In a moment, I felt at home, expectant of a wonderful stay in royal India.
When we entered the property I was reminded of the usual Aman approach to cars and hotels: they are always far away from the hotel’s entrance so there is never any noise of traffic, it is like the world inside is a world away from the rest of the world outside. For example, the Punhaka property in Bhutan can only reached by crossing a hanging bridge over a river and then taking a buggy through a snaking path of rice paddies. In Beijing, at the Summer Palace, the cars remain at the entrance, far from the peace of the property. We drove through the main gates and into the expansive gardens before reaching the grand entrance where marigold petals had been used to draw flower shapes on the steps. The staff greeted us gracefully and escorted us directly to our garden haveli room where we signed the paperwork and gave our passports. From then on we were left to enjoy the fabulous room.
The haveli suites
There are four different types of rooms at the hotel, all of which are contained in several dome shaped buildings in subdued pink sandstone. As the buildings have two floors the top Haveli Rooms have balconies and offer a vantage point over the ground floor room category. Then there are the Pool Pavilions which are grand and opulent and will make you feel like you stepped into your own private Rajasthani palace. Inside, all the rooms are designed with platform beds and made almost entirely of marble and carved wood. The floors, the walls, the columns and the bathrooms are made of the same pink hue marble as the Pink City of Jaipur and as the rest of the resort with dashing splashes of emerald green matching the reflecting pool. The entire hotel is built using those two colors and dark wood. Orange and fuchsia bougainvillea add a sense of peace.
The rooms are spacious and split into a living space with sofas, armchairs and a desk and separated from the bedroom area by two columns. The bed is entirely made of marble and rests under a high ceiling dome which I only noticed when I laid in bed. I could smell fresh lilies as soon as I walked into the room.
The bathrooms are palatial. A freestanding one-piece emerald-green marble bathtub stands in the middle. At either side there are his and hers sinks and a walk in closet area large enough to hang all your linen clothing to beat the Indian summer heat.
The lower level rooms open to a back garden facing the outer walls and the hills beyond whereas the top level ones have the same garden views from an elevated perspective. Pool haveli suites are extra large, with a private palatial entrance, two separate spaces at either side of the door and an outdoor plunge pool with a pavilion. If you ever wanted to feel like Rajasthani royalty in your own regal mansion this would be the closest you’ll get.
Dining and food experiences
As the hotel only has 36 rooms there is one restaurant in the main building, just steps from the swimming pool which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The breakfast menu was extensive with many local and international options freshly prepared. The food was amazing. From the rice dumplings to the dosas or the pancakes, French toast, eggs and even the fruit platters to the chai masala tea or any other dish that we could have imagined. Lunch service could be enjoyed poolside, with the same international and locally graced menu options with several light dishes and fresh salads that were a real treat. Dinner was a romantic affair, with live musicians playing by the pool and a menu which included some local delicacies from both the North and South of the country such as the 24h slow cooked lamb leg that we could order a day ahead. Everything was beautifully presented with deep attention to detail, great flavors and incredible farm to table produce. The wine list was large enough, without being overwhelming, and had some local Sula wines which may be looked down upon by wine snobs but I have always thought do go hand in hand with the rich and fiery Indian food.
Despite the fact that there is only one restaurant, the hotel can arrange several private experiences either on the library’s rooftop, under the stars, in your room, at other private settings in the hotel or even at a chhatri, a type of pavilion that dots this rural part of India and where locals take respite from the unabating sun.
A private dinner in a chhatri is sure to be the highlight of a visit to Amanbagh. These are located outside the hotel, about 15min walk through farming land and rural paths, and they are lit with romantic candles as you watch the sun go down to the sound of the flute. Few things in life are as romantic as this. There are no tourists or foreigners in this part of India and the only other people you will see are the local farmers going about their daily life cutting the wheat with a hand sickle or tending to the cows and buffalo while peacocks jump from branch to branch and the fiery orange flowers that bloom only once a year at the beginning of April and which we were so fortunate to see. The romance can be topped off with a full afternoon of time a deux filled with a spa session, henna painting, a holy man blessing and a chhatri dinner.
Picnics at Bhangarh or other locations can also be organised on their own or as part of any of the excursions. Dinner can also be served in the hotel’s garden where the chef gets his fresh local produce, or in a forest clearing, just like the former royalty used to do when the area was teeming with tigers and other wildlife.
Amanbagh’s landscapes and gardens are so perfectly sculpted that they must require a large team constantly tending to them. Because the weather can be so extreme, reaching 45 degrees during the day but dropping to 20 at night, and enjoying mostly dry sunshine but then being flooded by torrential rains that actually close the resort down for two months of the year, to maintain this perfection in nature is a feat in itself.
For those in search of deep peace and relaxation there are two pools at either side of the gym and spa. The verdant emerald color of the pool tiles is the same as the marble in the bathtub and seems to pay tribute to Jaipur’s precious gemstone fascination. The gym is small but well equipped with pretty much all the equipment you will need even for the toughest gym bunny. The spa is tranquil and promises to do away with any stress left after a swim, a replenishing meal and a generous dose of Indian calming music.
Throughout the day, a local musician plays the Bansi flute with melodic tunes relaxing even the most stressed out minds. Anytime at least one guest was anywhere near the main building the music magically materialised, echoing throughout the property and bouncing off the marble and stone walls. It was impossible not to sit down, relax and watch the hours go by when he was playing.
There is a bar and, as is tradition at Aman Resorts, the mind can be entertained and enriched at the library which is stocked with books about Rajasthan, India and novels to borrow.
Things to do in and around Amanbagh
There are so many great sites to see around Amangbagh
The hotel offers daily complimentary yoga sessions expertly delivered by the in-house Ayurvedic doctor and yoga practitioner. She does not take to yoga lightly and will be sure to stretch you out to levels you didn’t think your body could reach. Private yoga sessions can also be organised anywhere in the hotel grounds or, for an extra dose of meditative power, by the temples of Bhangarh at sunrise or sunset, an experience which was one of the highlights of our trip. Morning walks around this rural part of India, following farmer paths and crossing local villages and forts, are also offered on a complimentary basis every morning at 7,30am.
If you wish so, you can attend a local aarti prayer either at 7am or at 7pm every day at the local temple a few minutes walk from the resort. One of the staff members, all hailing from the area, will take you there so you can observe the simple ceremony with loud chanting, clinging of brass bells and gongs and walking around the shrine.
Amanbagh’s location in the heart of Rajasthan provides plenty of opportunities for excursions and exploration beyond the fabulous but more crowded city of Jaipur, which your guide can also take you to on a half or full day tour, an excursion you should not miss out on if you have not seen it before. As this was already my second trip to Jaipur, after having explored the city aboard the Maharajas Express, I wanted to instead explore the more rural parts closer to the hotel.
The area is so rich in history and culture that you may find yourself spending little time at the resort and wishing you had booked a longer stay. Make sure to have at least four days, you have been warned.
Our rate included a complimentary trip to Bhangarh, the ruined village that is famous for ghost appearances and paranormal activity and which gives the hotel its name. Visiting it is a must when staying at Amanbagh. Bhangarh is near the hotel, a mere 15-20m through dusty paths on an open top jeep, and highly interesting, despite we did not see any ghosts. You can read all about it on my write up.
A visit to Abaneri is a must
Aside from Bhangarh and Jaipur, there are a host of other options for exploration. Perhaps one of the most architecturally stunning ones is Abaneri, a step well with the usual architecture that was typical of the Mughal kings for constructing summer residences and water wells. Abaneri is about an hour’s drive away from the resort and can be visited on a quick tour. Local guides will most surely welcome you in and tell you all about it, including showing you pictures of the local Bollywood and Hollywood movies that were shot on its steps. The architecture is mesmerising and slightly dizzy to look at. Recovered statues and stones from a nearby temple can be seen under the shaded parts.
Unfortunately, Abaneri can no longer be explored inside but only seen from the top edges, yet it is very much worth the trip. For an extra dose of Indian culture, get a couple of the pani puri sold by the roadside stall in front of the gate. Pani puri are a favourite of mine any time of the day or night. I have been known to track them down in Singapore instead of the more pervasive MacDonald’s run at 2am. Next to Abaneri is a temple to the Goddess Durga. Ask the caretaker to show you his electric drum used at the prayer times to make the loudest noise you can imagine. Chipmunks abound in this part of India so you are likely going to see many playing around, looking for grains of rice thrown as offerings and generally playing in the sun.
After the temple, our guide asked if we wanted to go say hi to a friend of his who lived nearby and, curious as we were, we said yes. This took the usual feeling of being a foreigner in a foreign land that I often have in India to a whole new level. I have been photographed endlessly in Amritsar (where I even made a facebook post with a collection of selfies with locals who stopped me for one), in Pakistan where the locals literally ran next to me trying to take a selfie as I walked, or even in Myanmar where I remember hearing the snapping sound of cameras behind me as I took photos of the beautiful temples in Bagan, but this went beyond those experiences. Rajasthan can be a very modest and conservative part of India where women cover their faces from unknown men and so me and my friend Vera were aliens to say the least. Their fascination for our clothes, looks and to see what was under our dresses was something I did not experience before. It is fair to say that, lost in translation of sign language between Rajasthani and English we managed to enjoy sweet tea and get offered to swap clothes with them. If only they had had our sizes we would have left with a kurta in exchange for our tops and dresses.
Passing by one of the locals
Another great experience the hotel can organise is what they call a Cow Dust Tour which will take you on an open jeep around the local villages. Witnessing local life unfold either in the early morning or evening is a very authentic way to learn a bit more about Rajasthan. Locals are proud here and they might call you into the local school to show you around or explain what they are doing. There is no asking for money or hassling here, just the humble exchange of smiles and nodding.
As Rajasthan is best known for its forts, temples and palaces, the area is dotted with options. Perhaps the most accessible one is Ajabgarh’s fort and temple. The temple was built in the 17th century and has a large courtyard and a marble façade. It sits atop a hill with views over the fertile valley just a few minutes from the resort, a distance which you can cover by camel. Even if you do not book a tour to the fort, you may see it from the distance on any of the morning walks. Another fort worth the trip is Pratapgarh, where meditation or yoga sessions in an open chamber can be arranged. The fort is said to have been built in the 18th century by the first Maharaja of Alwar, Pratal Singh. Lastly, perhaps the most important of them all is the town of Neelkanth, on the edge of tigerland Sariska National Park, where more than 80 temples from the 6th century can be found. Neelkanth holds the remains of the 7th-century Jain temple of Naugaza.
For those more inclined to physical excursion there are hikes through gorges and to lakes that start from the hotel. Perhaps an oddity, the King’s Throne is a seat carved from the side of a hill where the Maharaja of Alwar used to take seat in his hunting expeditions. A servant is said to bring out a goat while the Maharaja waited for tigers to come down from the mountains to eat their prey.
Last but not least, one of the main appeals of the area is the Sariska National Park where 17 tigers live. Early morning safaris do not guarantee sightings but if you are lucky you may see them in the wild in one of the last few remaining places they can be spotted.
The service at Amanbagh
The ubiquitous flute player, spotted
There is the luxuriously appointed marbled domed havelis, the stunning reflective pool and the fantastic food and then there is the service. Aman does it like no other hotel can. Their mind reading capabilities and the secret room refreshes that happen when you are not there are all part of a magic checklist that I have not managed to understand. It seems so simple, but it is so hard to do. Amanbagh was more rustic and organic than other properties I have stayed at. The service was more genuine, less scripted and it felt like nothing was too much to ask.
Review of Amanbagh – The verdict
There is little else I can add to this review other than: go. Amanbagh is an exquisite journey to the heart of Rajasthan in the hands of my most favorite hotel brand and it did not disappoint at any level. The havelis were regal, the service was perfect and the food was delicious. If you want to explore Jaipur or Rajasthan this is a great way to do so from the understated luxury of the priced hotel chain.
Once in a Lifetime Journey was a guest of Amanbagh. As always, all opinions are our own.