Home Economy Once a hunting lodge, now a nature lover’s delight

Once a hunting lodge, now a nature lover’s delight

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

Nimaj (Rajasthan) : History-rich Rajasthan may be dotted with hundreds of heritage hotels, but on the outskirts of this 700-year-old erstwhile royal estate in Pali district lies a resort that prides itself for eco-sensitive tourism in India’s desert state.

Welcome to Camp Chhatra Sagar, which factors in the importance of rainwater harvesting and irrigation and couples it with ethnic cuisine, plush accommodation and adventure activity to create a marketable mix. Nimaj is around 222 km from state capital Jaipur.

“We have a family home in Nimaj. My great-grandfather realised that it was necessary to harvest rainwater to sustain the agrarian economy of the region and feed the dry terrain. He built a dam and a hunting lodge to shoot ducks and geese in 1890,” Rajyavardhan Rathode, one of the four cousins from the erstwhile royal family who manage the camp, told IANS.

His great-grandfather was Thakur Chhatra Singh of Nimaj, a powerful noble of the Marwar area who built the Chhatra Sagar Dam 118 years ago to tide over the water scarcity in the region.

History has it that Chhatra Singh damned a mountain stream to build the reservoir and a hunting lodge to shoot game in the grasslands across the reservoir.

The lake feeds a perennial canal that runs through the plains of Nimaj, irrigating the fields and charging the wells outside the huts in villages along its course – and watering the camp.

“During the hunting season, he pitched tents on the embankments for the hunters, mostly from the neighbouring royal estates. That was how the seed of this luxury camp was sown.”

The green lake shores teem with wildlife like with deer, antelopes, porcupines, jackals and at least 210 species of migratory birds, including the bar-headed geese – a spillover from the neighbouring Rawli-Tatgarh Sanctuary. These are any nature lover’s delight.

For almost a century, the hunting lodge on the embankment of the dam served as a weekend retreat and a party venue for the Nimaj nobles and their hunting entourages.

However, in the year 2000, four siblings – sets of two cousin brothers – Harshvardhan, Nandivardhan, Jaivardhan and Rajyavardhan of the Rajput Rathode clan – decided to turn it into a business proposition.

They pitched 13 luxury hand-stitched tents – 11 on the embankment and two honeymoon suites atop a hillock – to draw the throng of foreign and niche Indian tourists whose wanted to break for a quiet weekend of adventure in course a Rajasthan safari.

The tents are priced at Rs.17,250 (plus 10 per cent tax) on a twin-sharing basis with meals and activities per day.

The hand-stitched tents attached with private porches overlooking the lake are done up in traditional Rajasthani style, with hand-painted bed spreads, embroidered rugs, ethnic wooden furniture, wall motifs and black shale-stone baths fitted with hot and cold water.

The floors are hand-painted with traditional henna designs and the courtyards are caked with dung and mud.

A large dining arena, a bar and an open party lounge form the community zone from where one can sight wildlife on the other side of the reservoir with a small telescope and binoculars.

“The activities during an average three-day stay includes adventure treks through the grasslands, village visits to get a feel of the traditional chilly-growers and silversmiths at work and a shepherd’s trail,” Rajyavardhan explained.

“The high point of the itinerary is a hill-top sun-downer where guests can watch the sun set on the hills of Nimaj with drinks and refreshment.”

According to the Rathode sibling, the itinerary has been designed to stay connected to nature without disturbing the flora and fauna. Since the siblings banned farming on the bank of the lake two years ago, the wildlife tally in the park has spiralled.

“Even our food fits into the traditional mosaic of the retreat. My sister-in-law (brother Jaivardhan’s wife) prepares the menu and personally supervises the kitchen,” Rajyavardhan said.

The fare is a combination of local exotica like sangri, the fruit of the khejari tree, pittor made of gramflour, rabori (an appetiser) and sogra (hard bread) made of maize and millet flower and special dishes like lotus seeds with cardamom and rosewater and rose petal pudding.

“We usually look for the FIT (fit for travel and fully independent travellers) groups of 10, though individual travellers and couples also book short holidays,” said Jaivardhan.

The siblings plan to expand the retreat this year.