I have a butler, and it’s a little awkward. What do you ask for when you’re staying in a tent in India? I don’t need someone to build me a fire or beat back wild animals; my canvas-walled refuge at Oberoi Rajvilas has polished teak floors, cloth wall hangings, and an exquisite hand-embroidered canopy. There’s a bathroom with a claw-foot soaking tub, and outside, a wraparound terrace with chaise longues, where I enjoy my morning coffee. This type of “camping” dates back to Mughal rule (1500s to 1700s), when kings traveling for war, hunting, or commerce set up portable palaces adorned with gold- and silver-stitched cushions and sandalwood furniture. Today, I get a taste of that tradition, on grounds that house a modern restaurant, a swimming pool, and a spa, just five miles from Jaipur’s rose-hued city center.
While Rajvilas may be the antithesis of roughing it, the property still provides sensory experiences reminiscent of camping. In the evening, as I walk the otherwise quiet grounds, I hear peacock shrieks along with gongs from the 270-year-old temple that stands at the resort’s center. Torch-lit stone walkways lead to gardens, fountains, and the Ayurvedic spa, which releases scents of sesame oil and roses. I enter the Surya Mahal restaurant for dinner, greeted by the spicy aromas of coriander and chili. The day ends back at my terrace, where I call my butler to request a glass of sauvignon blanc from the Indian winery Sula. I sip it as the sun dips behind desert walls, and I feel grateful that connecting with nature doesn’t have to mean sleeping on the ground.