Early December, during a long weekend holiday, Laveena and I packed for a safari and travelled to Ranthambore in Rajasthan, India, in search of the majestic Bengal Tiger. We were greeted at the Airport by our chauffeur Jagdish, from the Aman-I-Khas. Our 3-hour long drive from Jaipur airport, was peppered with interesting conversation with Jagdish, who was bursting with enthusiasm, and showed a keen desire to share with us, his knowledge about the National Park, which he said was formerly a hunting ground for the royals of Jaipur. He also talked about the Ranthambore fort, the local Marwar culture and just as we were getting further engrossed in his detailed description about the Indian Government’s Project Tiger, he suddenly slowed the vehicle down and stopped by a local village belle selling guavas, which he promised would be the tastiest, we had ever tried. We couldn’t resist and with his help, we handpicked a bunch of freshly plucked fruit, which Jagdish cut with a kitchen knife he borrowed from the young village girl. He sprinkled some chilly powder and salt on the guavas and we feasted on this delicious snack. Less than 30-minutes later, we drove in through the gates of Aman-I -Khas, a luxurious camp, located at the foot of the Aravalli hills, a short 15-minute drive from the National Park.
As members of Taj InnerCircle, India’s largest hotel loyalty programme, valid at over 80 hotels locally, and at 16 hotels at iconic international destinations, we look forward to our yearly stay-cation in our city of residence. Over the years we have enjoyed our free weekends as ‘Taj InnerCircle’ members, at the Vivanta by Taj – President, Taj Lands End – Mumbai and our favourite, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, a property we love dearly and have celebrated many a special occasion at. For us, the Taj brand embodies a perfect mix of sophistication and warmth, with high standards of services and etiquette from their staff.
This year, a friend recommended we spend our weekend at the Taj Santacruz, the brand new luxury hotel, located near the domestic airport in Mumbai.
Wanting to escape from the heat and dust of Mumbai over the long weekend in October, Laveena and I, were excited about our visit to Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa which is located in the Sahyadri hills. Our 3-hour drive to the retreat was a pleasant one and although there is a short 2 km stretch of mountain road which is uneven and bumpy, the emerald-green, rain-soaked landscape more than makes up for it.
A comfortable 3 and a half hour car ride from Delhi, on the Yamuna expressway, got us into Agra on a Friday afternoon. The traffic on Friday is thin in Agra, as it is the one day in the week that the Taj Mahal is shut for tourists. As we drove along a sweeping approach road, surrounded by native trees, through the gates of the Oberoi Amarvilas, we were met at the main entrance, by a young hotel staff member who guided us past the grand quadrant style forecourt, into a lobby where a crystal chandelier hung from a blue-and-gold dome, showering its glittering light onto the marble floor.
Laveena and I were once asked by someone who knew our penchant for travel, whether we were Aman Junkies. Since neither of us were familiar with the term, we inquired as to what an Aman Junkie was? We were told that the luxurious Aman had a dedicated fan base, travelers who were loyal to the brand and who were devoted to the treasures offered by this super hospitality group to all who chose to experience the magic of Aman. “In fact, a true Aman junkie is known to plan his vacation according to the 32 resort locations around the world”, we were told. When asked what about the Aman made the experience so different from the other top of the line hotel brands like the Four Seasons, The Oberoi or the Taj, we were told that the Aman promised to help guests ‘lock away cherished memories for life’. This simple response was enough to raise our curiosity and we immediately began scouting around for an Aman property in India given that Laveena had a short weekend break in December.