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Luxury in the wilderness

October 29, 2003 10:07 IST

Aman Resorts' first property in India, due to open at Ranthambore this weekend, was unveiled by the management earlier this month.

A joint venture between polo player Jaisal Singh and Aman Resorts, Aman-i-khas is a wilderness camp of six magnificent tents just off the tiger reserve near Ranthambore National Park.

The tents are already sold out for the first two weeks. Strange, one would think, as a three-night package at Aman-i-khas costs nearly Rs 100,000, certainly the most expensive tariff available in India today.

Clearly, there's a growing tribe of wealthy travellers who pay exorbitant sums to be enveloped in islands of luxury.

So will the luxury tents trigger off a new trend of small, ultra deluxe hotels upping the ante on "Vilased" out guests?

For those not in the know, the Aman chain and its creator Adrian Zecha is a legend in the hospitality sector and the pioneer of luxury destination tourism.

Aman properties are spread over idyllic locations, mostly in South-east Asia. Zecha's logic is simple -- bring a small but demanding, well-exposed traveller to a personalised property, cut him off from the world completely (no TV, or newspapers) and pamper him with the best service money can buy.

Zecha's philosophy has ensured his expansion into Mexico and Morocco. Over the last two decades its 15 properties claim to have created 7,000 loyal Aman junkies who religiously spend a week at an Aman resort each year.

It may be correct to say that the Oberoi group had a similar concept in mind when it embarked on Bikki Oberoi's dream "Vilas" project with properties in Jaipur, Udaipur, Agra and at Wildflower Hall, Shimla.

The Vilases are the most luxurious properties in India. At one third the tariff (Rs 38,000 for a three-night package) of Aman resort prices, Vilases seem like a steal.

The Aman group entered India nearly two years ago after outbidding a number of Indian hotels in ITDC's divestment of Delhi's Lodhi Hotel. It also snapped up the Manor, a delightful boutique hotel.

It also took over the management of the Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur. The turnaround of this hotel would be critical to gauge Aman's success with large-sized properties.

Though both Aman and Oberoi properties at Ranthambore are pitched to the high-heeled consumer, they are very different in their approach.

Aman's hugely elegant and minimal tents are for real as compared to Oberoi's mock-tent feel. It's like the Mercedes S class versus the Maybach for want of better comparison, Aman clearly being the latter.

As for the Ranthambore junkies, they stay at neither. The preferred choice is Sherbagh -- the original inspiration for Aman. From organic food to single malts and Cohibas, Sherbagh is in a class of its own.

Its drawn people from James Murdoch to Hemendra Kothari and Ranil Wikramasinghe to Saba Douglas Hamilton. It's quite simply the place to stay in Ranthambore.
Nitin Bhayana