The setting is almost worthy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. An offbeat eco-resort near Jaipur helps you translate into reality the childhood fantasy of living in a tree house
It is up in the air .....but safe’.......This may be an oft-heard sentence during a cricket commentary but to apply it to a resort is something that just defies your imagination.
Tucked away in the beautiful Syari Valley at Nature Farms, the Tree House Resort, as the name suggests, is literally perched on tree tops. Forty km from Jaipur on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, it is the world’s largest resort of its kind.
The Aravallis accompany us on one side of the road on the hour-long drive from Jaipur on NH-8. Finally, as we take the turn towards the resort, the hardy landscape of the desert state is spread miles all around. The vast expense of yellow sand, interspersed with few sand dunes, shows hardly any signs of vegetation. But then this is not entirely unexpected, after all, this is Rajasthan. As our vehicle meanders through the narrow approach road, we seem to be navigating a sea of sand. The harsh but bright sunlight turns it into molten gold, but then deserts are known for the mirage.
Our vehicle stops in front of an unpretentious gate bearing a small green board. The initial interest and enthusiasm about the novelty has given way to niggling scepticism. Will its USP meet the hype and expectations? After all the visitors are a motley crowd of urban-weary journalists who’ve been there and done and seen almost everything.
A mélange of black stone Buddha statues of various sizes greets us at the entry to reception of the resort. As we step beyond, our senses are inundated by a world of greenery. We seem to have been transported into the fictional realm of Narnia, a world of magic; the only difference is that this is for real. To create a rainforest amid a desert is nothing short of weaving magic.
The resort is the brainchild or rather the ‘lovechild’ of Sunil Mehta. A wildlife enthusiast, Mehta was inspired by a tree house built by hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett at the Aberdares National Park in Kenya. He wanted to build a similar getaway for himself. So he painstakingly created a small cottage for his family with all the modern trappings. More than the family, the tree house caught the fancy of his friends and their kids, as all of them clamoured to spend a few days on this tree-top perch. Soon the demand increased and they begged him to add a few more. This is how the idea of a resort took shape and it grew from one family cottage to the present 22 rooms.
Spread across 200 acres, the resort has around a million trees. All this lush vegetation attracts all kinds of birds and wildlife. More than 200 species of birds, including the rare Eurasian eagle owl and spotted creeper bird, can be seen while turkeys roam freely. Neelgai, jungle cat, hyenas and jackals can be spotted during the jungle safari. The lucky ones can even meet the biggest cat of all, the leopard.
As Mehta’s son, Sudeep, recounts these facts you are hearing but not listening, because your eyes are wandering around the forest trying to spot the resort’s USP, the tree houses, which are called, what else — the nests. Build atop sturdy and live keekar trees, these unique tree houses are actually nests of luxury. A wooden staircase takes you atop the wooden cottage, nestling among the branches. You open the door and walk into a tree trunk literally coming through the room’s floor and growing out of the roof. The trunk is not there for the décor. The tree house rests on it.
Situated between 20 and 40 feet above the ground, these nests offer a fantastic view of the Aravallis, with winged visitors providing 24-hour music. There is no room service but the eating lounge Machaan offers all kinds of cuisine. Rajasthani specialties are strongly recommended.
The resort has added more elements of nature like the water bungalows. A huge waterfall near the bungalows offers a soothing view. The surprise element of the interiors of the bungalows is the glass-bottomed floor which has colourful fish swimming right under your feet.
For the spirited, there is the peacock bar. Like many other features of the resort, the 400-year-old bar also has a story. The Mughal-era cottage was found in the backyards of a fortress near Jodhpur.
Awarded the Gram Bandhu and Jal Mitra award by the state government, the eco-resort does more than its bit for conservation and community development — with rain-water harvesting, use of local and eco-friendly material and employing local villagers as staff.
Even the untrained staff is seen as a boon, as many times trained people do not go beyond the written word, quips Mehta. “The locals are easy to teach and have the age-old Indian values of athithi devo bhava. The foreign guests appreciate our effort towards community partnership. Once a guest from France spent two days teaching the bar staff the finer lessons on serving wine,” he adds.
An earth resort is also coming up on the property to complement other two elements of nature — the air and the water. I can’t resist asking where is the element of fire? Before Mehta can answer, a senior journalist remarks wisely, “The fire is in his belly.”
How to reach: It is 40 km away from Jaipur on the Jaipur-Delhi highway (NH-8).
What to do: Bird watching, jungle safari, archery, billiards, golf, nature & ATV biking, swimming.
What to see: For the first-time visitors, a day-trip to Jaipur offers a trip to many forts (Amber, Jaigarh, Nahargarh), Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal etc.
What to buy: Nearby Jaipur has specialities like Sanganeri textiles, blue pottery, lac jewellery, inlaid marble and wooden artefacts. The resort has a souvenir shop that stocks organic items, Buddha statues and other artefacts made of stone and papier mache, imported from Bali.
Tariff: From Rs 10,000 for tree houses to Rs 20,000 for water bungalows.
Oasis in wasteland
The land around the resort was totally barren and it took Sunil Mehta close to four years to convert it to a rain forest through intensive plantation. With the help of rain-water harvesting, one million trees were planted and are thriving.
No architects, engineers or designers have been involved with the construction. All elements from structural design to landscaping were either drawn on earth as a map or communicated verbally.
The tree houses are entirely made of keekar wood except for steel stilts. These were prone to leakage and insect infestation where the trunk passes through the cottage. This problem was solved with help of desi nuskhas by villagers. A paste of flour and other ingredients, often used to seal pots of grain, was used to seal the gaps.
Word-of-mouth publicity has ensured full occupancy, despite there being no advertisements about the property in the media.