The Gir Sanctuary in Junagadh, Gujarat is one of the largest wildlife parks for the Asiatic lions in India. As of 2020, there are an estimated 674 lions spread across a landscape of 1,412 sq kms out of which 258 sq kms is a fully protected national park and the rest of it is the wildlife sanctuary. Situated on the fringes of the national park is Aramness Gir, a recently-opened luxury boutique safari lodge that seamlessly blends the local culture and traditions, with modern sensibilities. Its name is derived from the union of two words: ‘aram’, meaning rest or peace in Gujarati and ‘ness’, which is the word used to de- scribe the local Maldhari villages in Junagadh. Designed for the global traveller, the 12-acre area that connects the lodge with the national park facilitates a rare Indian wilderness experience that is a mix of raw, rustic elements and understated luxury.
Owned by Jimmy Patel, an avid wildlife conservationist, wildlife photographer and a design enthusiast, Aramness is his vision of modern Gujarat. Right from the time one steps into the safari lodge, one can clearly see Jimmy’s passion for wildlife, design, culture and sustainability. The lodge poetically encapsulates the essence of Gujarat. The ambience reflects the birth of a new Indian safari experience, a village style lodge entrenched in the local culture, designed with authenticity and luxury in equal measure and a wildlife experience that rewrites the script.
Conceptualised and designed by Nicholas Plewman Architects and Fox Browne Creative, the lodge design takes its inspiration from the characteristic local village, Haripur, with its central cobbled streets fringed with courtyard homes, called kothis. With a total of 18 kothis, Aramness paints a quaint picture of a calm, luxurious local village that is self-sufficient and sustainable in its means. The site, where the lodge sits today, was barren land, completely devoid of greens and thus the architectural narrative had to be crafted by looking to the neighbouring villages, beyond the site’s borders rather than within.
A typical Gujarat village has well-worn cobbled streets and alleyways that interlace the homes (called kothis) and other buildings, bringing a network of life and energy in the form of ox-carts, shops, people and livestock. Inside these kothis exist hidden courtyards in which daily life unfolds for people and livestock. The fact that man and wildlife have coexisted peacefully for thousands of years was of great inspiration for the design team and this manifested into a beautiful synthesis that gave rise to a narrative that became the design focus for Aramness. While the safari lodge has recently opened its doors to visitors, it feels like it’s been there for decades. This old-world charm is weaved in through the finer details. Whether it is via the use of traditional re-purposed doors, furniture and decor elements or the controlled design narrative that weaves itself into a cultural story; Aramness is a pause in time, in the middle of wilderness for the ones seeking some calm away from the hustle-bustle of daily city life.
Each kothi is a spacious double-storey home that acts as a private sanctuary by itself. Locally sourced materials such as sandstone, limestone, plantation teak and stucco have been combined to create an authentic yet modern vibe. The interiors are simple yet sophisticated. Typically, each kothi has either one or two ground floor bedrooms along with a sitting room, a luxurious and spacious bathroom, series of courtyards and an open-to-sky swimming pool, which is inspired by Indian step wells. The kothis overlook empty green pastures and on a lazy afternoon there could be a high possibility of one spotting a leopard or a deer. To effectively utilise the abundant natural light, jaalis (screens) have been added, which create a play of light and shadow, adding a soft charm to the interiors.
The jaalis are a common feature throughout the lodge. The ‘Haveli’, where guests first arrive, flanked by a set of impressive ramparts clad with jaali screens, marks the entrance to the village, announcing Aramness Gir with its contemporary but locally relevant facade. From there, a courtyard with its characteristic tinkling water feature gives way to a village street, where kothis are located in a haphazard manner. The Haveli is sur- rounded by the dining room, sitting room and library, and looks out over beautifully landscaped, terraced gardens.
Aramness has a little bit of everything for everyone—from authentic farm-to-table food experiences, tailor-made safaris to indulgent spa treatments and cultural trails. Think sunrise game drives into the park, jungle walks in the teak forest, visiting a Maldhari family in their home or sampling delicious Gujarati food. Usually at a safari lodge, one would expect a limited menu but things get interesting as well as surprising at Aramness. Curated by the founder of Kitchen Therapy, Kamini Patel, the menu at the lodge is a rotational one. Depending on the time of year, season and local availability, Kamini customises the menus that promise a unique culinary experience.
Being a safari lodge, game drives are an exceptional experience at Aramness. Led by Adil Arif, a senior naturalist, the drives are a strategy lesson in themselves. From tracking down lions at the crack of dawn, spotting rare birds to soaking in the rare flora fauna, this is a must for every nature lover.
With a focus on integrating cultures, design, farming and conservation, the lodge successfully reflects a symbiotic relationship between luxury and authenticity. It is inclusive yet exclusive and that’s the sweet spot that makes Aramness Gir a one-of-a-kind lodge in India.