Fit for a Maharaja
Luxury meets rusticity at Aman-i-Khás, Jean-Michel Gathy's camp in Rajasthan, India
Anubha Charan -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
At Aman-i-Khás, it's difficult to tell where nature trails off and man-made takes over. The luxury wilderness camp, in Rajasthan, India, nestles next to Ranthambore National Park, once the hunting grounds of the maharaja of Jaipur. And there's not a single fixed building in sight.
Guest accommodations and public amenities occupy 14 separate tents, almost sculpted into a backdrop of dry, brush-covered hills. It's clear that Jean-Michel Gathy—the Denniston International Architects & Planners principal who took responsibility for architectural, interior, and landscape design at 'Aman-i-Khás—followed Aman Resorts's simple design brief to a T: Let the environment set the tone.
But how could a design integrate a strong conservation policy and offer every conceivable luxury of contemporary living? "The luxury," explains Gathy, "comes from the tranquillity of nature, the personal service of Aman staff, and the spaciousness and comfort of the tents."
Tents are an integral part of India's past, developed in Rajasthan and used thereafter by everyone from nomads to royal hunting parties. Gathy has won numerous international accolades for pioneering the tent's revival in resort design around the world. "As the most humble and basic yet proud expression of mobile architecture," he points out, "it was a natural choice for Aman-i-Khás."
He constructed the tents with thick, waterproof canvas of pure white cotton, supported by a steel frame that soars to 20 feet in height. All tents measure 920 square feet, and all of them are air-conditioned, a necessary luxury in a region where summer's average high temperature is a scorching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (They're heated, too, for winter's 45-degree nights.)
The "smart casual" look of the tents, as Gathy refers to it, features tinted-cement floors covered by dhurries in sand tones and earthy pastels. For lighting, he re-created the flickering oil lamps of old—though his versions are much safer: 30-watt bulbs recessed in aged-brass lantern bases, topped by sandblasted and frosted glass.
The 10 guest tents are separated into sleeping, bathing, and lounge areas by billowing cotton scrims. "Windows," actually transparent mosquito netting, punctuate the canvas walls, so guests can view wildlife from the comfort of their bed or the bathrooms' sunken tubs, set in surrounds of tinted cement.
Gathy used local mud on boundary walls. Sandstone quarried in nearby Kotta appears as decorative plinths, retaining walls, stepping stones, and walkways that lead from the guest tents to the public ones.
In the lounge tent, simple teak chairs and tables are completely foldable, enhancing the theme of colonial traveling camps, and the teak bookcases contain titles on tigers, Ranthambore National Park, and the history and culture of the Indian subcontinent. Similar furnishings, which appoint the formal dining tent, can be easily rearranged to suit the needs and sizes of groups of guests. The spa tent offers massages, scrubs, and traditional henna art based on local herbs and spices. Antique bronze kalash, or pots, add to 'the spa's feeling of authenticity. Painstakingly collected all over Rajasthan, these mammoth containers carry grain and water—as well as the charms of the region.
For landscaping, Gathy reconstituted the natural habitat by planting indigenous banyan, sheesham, and ashok trees at random and blanketing the area with khus grass, favored by tigers. The architect also kept the site's original profile intact, with existing terraces and vegetation retained to separate the guest and public tents.
Meals are served in different locations throughout the grounds—in addition to the dining tent—and dinner usually concludes around a terrace's roaring outdoor fireplace, which Gathy calls the "soul of the camp." But perhaps the most stunning spot at Aman-i-Khás is the serene man-made watering hole at the southernmost point of the site. In the evening, colorful sandgrouses, deer, boars, and other wildlife gather here, in harmony with their human visitors.