Amanbagh

We could have easily missed it. But this being our second time, we were familiar with the tricky twists and turns on the narrow road. We were driving down narrow, dusty roads with corn and paddy fields on either side and the Aravalli hills in the distance. We had passed innumerable villages and made way for farmers on overloaded tractors carrying gigantic sacks of grain from their fields. And, we had been warned that our destination had no signboards or hoardings advertising its presence. So, we drove slowly, keeping our eyes peeled in all directions. Amanresorts is a global hotel chain with a difference. It’s famous around the world for its discreet properties that offer seclusion as its own special form of exclusivity. And the 18-month-old Amanbagh in Rajasthan’s Alwar district is no different – it’s camouflaged by its rural surroundings. So it was hardly surprising that, after driving five hours from Delhi, we almost missed the resort. But, we were saved from the fate of wandering around Rajasthan like modern-day Flying Dutchmen, by an Aman staffer who suddenly appeared from nowhere to guide us to our destination. He was smartly turned out and had impressive Rajasthani turban and he led us through what looked like an abandoned path with weeds and trees growing wild on the side. But as we kept driving we suddenly spotted a low-level beige building behind rows of palm trees. Our entry is very traditional, with a petite sari-clad hostess smearing vermilion on our foreheads and tying the auspicious `mouli’ (red thread) round our wrists. Amanbagh derives its name from the words aman, meaning ‘peaceful’ in Sanskrit and bagh, meaning ‘garden’ in Hindi. The resort has been built inside a walled compound where the Maharaja of Alwar’s hunting parties used to camp when they went in search of tigers to shoot. It goes without saying that there are no tigers here nowadays. The last word in luxury at Amanbagh is the Pool Pavilion is the ultimate that comes for nothing less than 900 USD a night. A private pool in the backyard and a spacious garden is yours to enjoy. The garden courtyard leads to two rooms linked by a glass reception hall. The hall provides access to the shared living area and bedroom on one side and to the bathroom on the other.

On another level is the Courtyard Haveli Suite, located on the ground level. It’s a two-storey structure with a private courtyard. And if you want rooms that overlook a garden, opt for the Garden Haveli Suite. Located on the ground level this has identical design and furnishings to the Courtyard Haveli Suites. The Terrace Haveli Suites come with daybed and two sun loungers. These are located on the upper level of the two-storey structures. Access to each is via a staircase that leads to private terraced courtyards. Can you imagine a private pool right next to a suite? That’s the privilege I had for checking into the most exclusive suite: Pool Pavilion. To begin with, this was also the most luxurious of all the suites. As I wheeled my luggage inside I could not help wondering at the sheer size of the room: 85 square metres. The approach to the suite was through a spacious garden courtyard — big enough to be a mini lawn in any private bungalow. The garden then leads to the two rooms joined by a foyer passageway. I plunge myself in the king-size bed and my head sank in the softness of the pillow. The fine cotton bedcover matched the upholstery that seem to be carefully selected to give a soothing ambiance. I looked up only to see a huge domed ceiling above my bed. This was no ordinary room that any standard five-stars would generally provide. Every piece in the suite seems carefully crafted. Take the rectangular marble table for instance. It is made of a single piece of marble. In one corner of the room, there’s a diwan with bolsters in silk. The room is quite equipped: a stocked bar, a music system and a pictorial book of B.G. Sharma’s painting. Thankfully, I had my collection of music so I was spared the torture of listening to repeated ghazals, the only CD in the room. I then rushed towards the adjoining room that was more than just a washroom. There’s a spacious dressing area, twin vanities, separate shower. The bathtub, carved from one piece of single marble, was more like an art than anything else. The only thing left for me now was to go out of my room and dive into my pool. It was right inside the backyard and nobody could watch me. That’s the kind of privacy the resort promises. The pool was just mine for as long as the room was mine. I swam for hours till hunger pangs struck me. That’s the time when I decided to check out the restaurant which is located near the reception area. Smart wooden furniture and soft lighting adds to the subtle ambiance. On its wall are paintings of different birds in neat silver frame. I joined my friend who was waiting for me. With an Australian executive chef in command, the menu is exhaustive. It has a wide section of Indian assortment, a small section of Western and a sprinkling of South East Asian dishes. Interestingly, it has two sections of Organic Sides and Organic Leaf Salads that are straight from the Aman kitchen garden. That’s another highlight of the resort that sources all its vegetables from its garden that grows all types of herbs and vegetables. Yes, as usual, I found myself wandering around the garden and examining each herb. Thyme, basil, lemon grass, rose mary, and what not.

There’s also the Indian Tasting Menu for Rs 1,600 per head. Of all the things, we opted for a Rajasthani fare and it was quite a treat. Lal Mas, salads and hot naan was a good combination for a hearty lunch. It didn’t take too long for the food to arrive on our table. First came water in heavy silver glasses followed by well-polished silver plates. The service was rather quick. Was it because we were the only guests dining in the restaurant at that time. The other guests, a French family and a Japanese couple were enjoying their wine and snacks by the poolside. Staff hover around even while you nibble your food. At any given time in the day, you’ll always see eager staff hovering around to attend to your needs. After all for the 40 rooms, the resort has an approximate staff strength of about 240 people. That means about five to six staff to each room. After that heavy lunch who would have missed an afternoon siesta? That’s what I did. Even though I came with lots of plans in mind, I ended up doing nothing but relaxing. I had in mind to spot some wildlife at Sariska which was only 35 minutes drive, or to trek to the Somsagar Lake. Strangely I didn’t feel like venturing out. Even my plan of visiting the fort or trekking to the village nearly was conveniently abandoned for nothing better than to retire in the comfort of my room. But then, that’s what Amanbagh does to you. There’s a sense of disconnection you feel with the world that seems so remote now. You don’t yearn for anything at least while you are here. I felt like I have come to a world that wants to heal me and soothe my nerves. Strangely, I found the entire process of just unwinding here such a balm that even though I failed to achieve any of my sightseeing missions, I felt I missed out on just nothing at all. The only time I stepped out of my room was for a meal. That was to do justice to my over indulgence on food. That’s when I went to the health club to try some weights. Compared to the size of the rooms, the health club is rather small. With limited equipment it’s good enough for three to four guests to work out at the same time. The real beauty of the resort is revealed in the evening. That’s when the sun slowly disappears into the sky and darkness slowly envelopes the area. Suddenly the place is surrounded by pitch darkness and there’s complete silence. This is bliss. The resort comes alive once again – and this time with candles and tiny fairy lights. You feel transported once again to a world where only you exist. All this while I was by the pool enjoying the day transform into night. I headed back to my room. Sleep wouldn’t come. Thankfully I carried my unfinished Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. That means I didn’t have to borrow any books from the in-house library that stock books on a variety of subjects. The best thing was the next day. I was woken by the chirping of birds. It was a different morning devoid of any pollution whether noise or air. I looked out of my window and saw nothing but virgin leaves in rich greens. And it looked as if even the birds are happier to be jumping from branch to branch in the tall mango tree opposite my room.

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EATING OUT

BROWN SAHIB, 2ND FLOOR, MGF METROPOLITAN MALL

I must confess, I went to Brown Sahib with a baggage of mixed feelings. One hand, it was a fear that the food might turned out to be awful. And on the other hand, I was completely overtaken by greed and optimism that it would be superb. All that needless apprehension, now I say, was because I had heard very extreme reviews from people who have eaten there.

What took me was sheer greed for that home-cooked Bong food. And it was only obvious that I was in Akanksha Garg’s company for lunch. After all, she’s a pucca Calcutta girl and knows a good food from a bad food.

But my fear and doubt about the place lingered on even after we placed our order. To begin with at 1.50 p.m. we were the only diners inside. Only later after we placed our order two people walked in. But I was set at ease instantly after I heard the wonderful music in the background. The understated and elegant ambience of course, was a delight. The red upholstery contrasting the muted tone of the wall spoke a lot of class. The polite staffs were reassuring.

We realized it was a perfect place to have a serious meeting and enjoy a great meal at the same time. I am quite allergic to eateries with ultra loud music that it turns out to be a noise rather than music. Here, the music was not only melodious but it just enough to let us enjoy and engaged in serious conversation.

The menu is wide and exhaustive. Akanksha is a vegetarian. But am not. Though, funnily, I have begun enjoying vegetarian food. Anyway, I have never been a hard-core non-vegetarian all my life. We were hungry and wanted to order a whole lot of dishes. Practicality took over and we stuck to three dishes: dimmer dalna, a Bengali mother- favourite with eggs and potatoes in a spicy tomato gravy. Not the typical egg curry served in and around North India. Dhonkar dalna, another delicious dish of fried chholar dal in cubes and comes with piquant gravy. The chholar dal was a good choice. What did we pair with? Not rice for a change. The typical bong stuff luchi, puffed bread.

I greedily eyed the the Mocchar ghanto, dry spiced banana flower. Or the Lau ghanto, a dry spiced  bottle gourd delicacy. Or even the paath saag or the moricher jhol, vegetarian stew, or the famous elish maacher mattha, saad with hilsa. But overlooked them for another occasion.

Back to our table, when the food arrived, we were thrilled. The portions were perfect for two. The dishes were flavourful and just delicious. They were just the way it was meant too be. I must admit though I have had better luchi from my (former) senior colleague Bishakha’s kitchen. They came with stuffed peas and less oily. Anyway, am sure it’s the hand that differs.

The dishes on the whole had a distinct home-cooked flavor. The flavor was intact and delicious. I have never enjoyed such a hearty vegetarian meal.

That sadly left us with no space for dessert. I wish though the dessert section was wider given that Bong had sweet tooth. I wish they had shor baja a sweet dish, that my bong colleague Arundhati Basu got me hooked to after she got boxes of them from Calcutta once. There was the usual misti doi, bhapa doi and even a baked mango cheese cake or dark chocolate mud cake with vanilla ice cream. But I don’t think I would have them after a sumptuous Bong meal. It’s only fair that I end on the same note. So something like a saundesh would really do the trick for me.

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