The Treehouse Resort, Jaipur
What's the story behind it? It goes something like this: owner Sunil Mehta, who lives in the 'pink city' of Jaipur, in India's Rajasthan state, wanted to buy some fertile land outside the city but didn't have enough money. The only land he could afford was a large tract of dry-as-a-fossil scrubland surrounded by the Aravalli hills. Apart from a few gnarled 'keekar' (Acacia arabica) trees and some cacti, nothing grew in this wilderness, which is just off the highway that links Jaipur with Delhi. Mehta used water-harvesting techniques and his passion for trees and wildlife to transform this barren land into a green landscape, and all in just four years. He called his ecological project Nature Farms and in it the Treehouse Resort, comprising 18 treehouses and two cottages set amid a wild and exuberant profusion of trees bamboo, shrubs and exotic creepers, was born. Local villagers have benefited from the project, with training from Mehta leading to jobs in the resort, breaking a cycle of poverty for many. Kullu, the shy but smiling barman, used to be a goat herd but now makes a mean bloody mary.
Why treehouses? Well, the first thing Mehta built when he was creating this oasis was a machan, a platform placed high in a tree originally used by hunters looking for tigers and leopards. Friends of his insisted on staying in the machan and that's how the resort came about. Mehta built one treehouse, then another and then another. The structures are sturdy and safe, with each supported by more than one tree for stability. Being able to reach out and touch the treetops, with birds and chipmunks just inches away, is a fantastically uplifting experience. And, despite their 'rustic' appearance, the treehouses all come equipped with the usual mod-cons: air conditioning, a flat-screen television and a mini-bar. Below each treehouse is a lawn, where guests can sit and read, bird-watch or just listen to the resort's burbling streams and waterfalls.
What else is there to do? Plenty. Jeeps are on hand to take guests on jungle safaris. The wildlife isn't abundant- some leopards, hyenas, jackals, foxes and wolves- but it is a great drive, even at night. Other activities include tennis, badminton, billiards, archery (harder than it looks), trekking, cycling and relaxing by the pool. Or you can lounge in the gorgeous Peacock Bar (top), fronted by a 400-year-old carved wooden structure Mehta found in Jodhpur. Next month will see the opening of the resort's spa, which will offer Thai and Indian massages.
Bustling, vibrant Jaipur is close by, should you need some city time.
What's the food like? If it's haute cuisine you're after, stay away. The food here is excellent but it is homely, traditional and fairly spicy Rajasthani food - apart from, of course, breakfast, for which the usual cereals, eggs, fruit and cold cuts are available. Two of Rajasthan's famous mutton dishes - lal maas (literally, red meat) and junglee maas (jungle meat)- are done to perfection here. There is no room service. All meals are served in a dining hall, which has lovely views of the surrounding treetops, although the decor lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. The service, however, is friendly and attentive.
What's the bottom line? The tariffs include all meals. A deluxe treehouse costs 16,000 rupees (HK$2,700) per night; a luxury treehouse is 12,000 rupees and a cottage is 8,000 rupees.
The Treehouse Resort is at Nature Farms, opposite Amity University, off National Highway No8, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, tel: 91 90017 97422; www.treehouseresort.in.