Monday, February 23, 2015

Into the Wild: On Safari in India and Dreaming of Magnificent Tigers at Sher Bagh Camp

I was in India recently working on a book project—and I took time off to spend four days at Sher Bagh, a very special tiger camp in Rajasthan in Northern India. Did I see tigers? Yes, I am very happy to say. You’ll see the images taken by my guide, Salim Ali with his high-powered professional lenses.

Sher Bagh means ‘tiger garden’ and I went there to see tigers. 

On safari in Ramthanbore tiger preserve, I saw a very beautiful mother tiger with her two 10-month-old frisky cubs. My guide Salim Ali, captured the moment with heart-stoppingly beautiful shots.

Sher Bagh is a tiger safari camp created by the Sujan Luxury company (a member of Relais & Chateaux) with luxurious tents, private swimming pools, superb organic cuisine, and a lovely staff who take care of every detail.

Located southeast of Jaipur, it's in the remote region of Ranthambore, a centuries-old tiger preserve and former home to princes and maharajahs that is a triumph of Indian history and conservation.

Sher Bagh camp is directed by Anjali and Jaisal Singh and the Sujan Luxury company, a superb family operation that has been involved with conservation for many decades. The Singh family also owns The Serai, the chic desert camp in northern Rajasthan I’ve written about here previously.

At Sher Bagh, guest accommodation is in twelve very comfortable tents, hand-made and hand-stitched in the traditional Rajasthan style, with spacious interiors and sheltered outdoor verandas.

Sher Bagh is expertly managed by Hajra Ahmad.

It’s all very authentic, very Kipling, very ‘Jungle Books’. Come with me in my search to meet The Tiger.

On the first morning at Sher Bagh, I rested beside the pool and immersed myself in the lovely natural setting, surrounded by stillness.

In the very mild and still afternoon, we set out to the reserve to find tigers. I was accompanied in the search by Varun Kutty, a naturalist with Sujan, and with the highly-trained and insightful Yusuf Ansari, a noted lecturer on wildlife, and director of guest experiences for Sher Bagh and The Serai, and other Sujan camps. As we drove deeper and deeper into the scrub, Yusuf pointed out owls, sloth bears, a grey crocodile disguised in a sand bank, and identified a doe and her fawn, vivid lime green ringneck parrakeets, and later flocks of yellow-headed parakeets.

We’d sit silently in the Jeep, hidden among trees, listening for tiger roars, attuned to the crackling of leaves, wisps of dust, shadows, the slightest movement. We watched for movement in grass, or listened for animals stirring, signs that a tiger is nearby.

My reserve guide Salim Ali is an expert at finding pug marks (tiger pawprints) along the dusty trail, and we listened as tigers roared in the distance.

We had intelligence that a tigress and her cubs had been sighted near a small island on a lake. We headed over and parked discreetly beneath trees. I pulled out the binocs.

‘Look, there, in the grass,” whspered Salim Ali, as I focused on an area near a copse of trees and a large black rock. It was about … oh, fifty meters away, beyond an inlet of the lake. Suddenly the very large tigress emerged and bounded onto the rock. I followed her gold-and black stripes in sharp focus with the binocs as she turned and reclined along the top of the rock. She flicked her long sinuous striped tail. She turned directly toward us and looked in our direction. We watched silently, as Salim Ali took the shots above with his super-telephoto lens.

The tigress lay there in the shade of he scrub oak trees for about 25 minutes. She occasionally flicked her tail, turned her head. It seemed that time passed in slow motion.

Then she climbed slowly down, stretched on a tree trunk, and joined her two cubs in the grass. Mesmerizing. 

We watched the cubs, got some shots. Then they disappeared into the long grass. We could see blades of grass shimmering as they passed. We breathed again. And then they were gone.

Thrilling. We drove around the lake, and sat silently waiting, scanning the binocs, but the tigers had vanished in the forest.

Shankar brought out the Thermoses and poured chai spiced tea into our camp mugs. We ate housemade butter and lemon cookies and analyzed each movement and detail. Talking about seeing a tiger is almost as fun as seeing the tiger.

By now it was almost 6pm, and Shankar, our handsome driver, headed back along the trail, past the temples and hunting grounds, with sunset casting golden light on the distant hills. 

Here are some other shots of tigers taken by Anjali and Jaisal Singh in Ranthambore. The tigers there, protected, are the noblest creatures. They’re very large-scale, and their feet seem enormous. They roam for miles. They are camouflaged in the flickering shadows of trees, but their markings are distinct and very clearly defined.. They look so healthy and pristine—it’s easy to imagine that at night they might return to a luxury tent where they are brushed and groomed and their teeth are polished, and they’re given their vitamins and a sumptuous deer or two for supper.

Instead, they sleep beneath the stars, rulers of their domain.

Glorious creatures, indeed.

One afternoon, we took a detour on the game drive to visit an ancient temple and a fort that ran along the ridge. We sat on the ramparts and sipped chair spiced tea, and nibbled on ginger snaps and chocolate chip cookies. The reserve stretches out for fifty miles to the north, and we checked for tiger sightings. We saw small water temples near the lake.

Animals roam free. Visitors cannot exit their Jeeps, for safety.

Sher Bagh has twelve luxurious tents, including two luxury tents with outdoor showers, pools, terraces –very classic Raj-y. Each tent has a ‘veranda’ for enjoying the sounds of the forest, for bird watching, or for studying in one of the expert guidebooks provided.

Sher Bagh is a perfect setting for a three or four day visit. Two days could be devoted to game drives (one early morning, one late afternoon when animals come down to the lake and streams to drink), and two to relaxing at the pool, or visiting local handcraft groups.

Tiger sighting is highly addictive. There’s the thrill of seeing all of the wild creatures in their habitat. At first, even the sight of a motionless grey mugger crocodile dozing in the sand, or frisky taupe-colored Sambar deer running in a herd, or spotted deer in camouflage among the trees, is very exciting.

From my perch in the front seat of the old Jeep (no seat belt, very old-school) , I saw peacocks dancing their mating quadrille, as well as yellow-headed woodpeckers perched on the head of docile deer pecking the wax from their pricked-up ears. Nature at its most synergistic.

Late one afternoon we saw a troop of monkeys leaping around on a grassy plain, and later marsh crocodiles slumbering while l sparrows ate the bacteria on their back. We saw aggressive wild boar hot-footing it after deer. But I anticipated a tiger.

During the day, guests are away on game drives, so the camp slumbers in the noonday sun. It’s very peaceful.

At night, butlers place hot water bottles in guests’ beds. Early morning breakfasts for tiger-lovers who depart before 6am to go in search of tigers are a special treat and worth the early wake-up. The breakfast buffet offers a very British splash of brandy with hot oatmeal before heading out, wrapped in hand-woven shawls, in the cool of the early light. The brandy is the perfect kick in the pants.

I spent several mornings and afternoons in the front seat of a classic old Jeep, with Shankar the handsome driver, and a naturalist for expert insight.

Sheer Bagh recently added two new luxurious handcrafted tents, with outdoor showers, spacious bathrooms, terraces, sheltered indoor sitting areas for dining, and a private terrace with a heated swimming pool.

The tents are incredibly comfortable and have the soothing scent of traditional sea-grass matting. Furniture is traditional Anglo-Indian campaign/safari camp style, complete with rosewood desks, teak campaign chairs, and a library stocked with books on Indian birds, and volumes on tigers, northern India, Rajasthan, the Maharajahs, and the wildlife of Ranthambore.

The tents, which are surrounded by traditional Indian clay walls, are totally private and quiet—and the tent canvas creates a tranquil mood. Windows can be opened, and doors and walls are always adjustable depending on day warmth and evening cool.

At night, arboreal lanterns flicker in the trees. Crickets murmur in the darkness.

Beds, after a day on safari, are extremely comfortable and on cool evenings, the butler slips one or two hot water bottles among the sheets for cozy warmth.


Heading out for game drives and tracking tigers is thrilling and surprisingly arduous as the terrain is occasionally dramatic and rough. In three or four hours, we drive many miles, stopping, watching, observing, whispering, laying low, then heading off to a likely spot for viewing birds, Sambar deer, crocs, and we hope, tigers.

We return for lunch around 1pm, and enjoy salads from the garden, fresh fruit, and perhaps a fresh pasta salad or sandwiches. Iced ginger tea is a wonderful counterpoint.

Arriving back at the camp at end of day, everyone is hungry.

Dinner is usually served around a campfire and the atmosphere is very ‘Out of Africa’ with red-turbaned waiters in white tunics, very Raj-y.

In the morning, the butler may bring a wake-up tray of tea and toast. Later, breakfast of fresh fruit and perhaps an omelet or French toast can be served beside the pool. One morning I enjoyed brioche toast with chunky house-made orange marmalade as well as wild honey. Birds chirped in the trees, waiting for crumbs.

At 7pm, after a day spent in the open Jeep charging over rocks and up steep inclines, guests return to the silent camp, lit by lanterns.

It’s very romantic and quiet.

We dressed in casual chic eveningwear, and headed through the trees to sit around a rousing fire, sipping cocktails and reminiscing. Listening to the adventures of friends is almost as good as seeing the tiger or the mugger crocodile.

Dinner is served around the campfire and we linger long into the night, discussing wildlife stories, telling tiger tails, with the great company of Yusuf and Varun, and watching fire sparks rise into the the bright, starry sky.

I was sad to leave the next morning. Sher Bagh has a compelling, individual culture. But I had a date further west in Rajasthan, and headed out at 9am.

I was very sorry to leave. It had been an exciting few days, with golden hours in the wild and evenings sipping dazzling tall lemongrass cocktails dreamed up by Varun.

Ranthambore — The Tiger's Realm

One of the many reasons I loved Sher Bagh is that from the start, fifteen years ago and even before, the owners worked to protect the habitat. In the summer, when temperatures are too hot, the camps are simply folded up, with canvas tents taken to be cleaned and refreshed.

The Singh family is also highly involved in the local communities, providing medical facilities, and offering veterinarian services for local cattle, and medical aid for village tribes. The camp offers specialized training to staff, many recruited from the region.

The Park takes its name from the crenellated fortress of Ranthambhore, a UNESCO world heritage site, which sits atop a hill surrounded by the forest is one of India’s largest and oldest forts.

Tiger Safaris: What you need to know

Although there is a growing population of tigers in Ranthambhore, sightings are not always guaranteed as the Park is divided in different zones that cover the territories of different tigers. As the animals are constantly patrolling their territories over many miles, tracking them can be a daunting task. Sher Bagh’s staff collective knowledge of the park for over forty years has allowed them to hone tracking skills with some of the best trackers, drivers and guides working in the region.


Fly from Delhi or Mumbai to Jaipur, and then drive to Sher Bagh, which is approximately a four-hour drive. 

There is also an airfield in Sawai Madhopur at a distance of 14 kilometres and a helipad four kilometres away from Camp.

There are regular trains from New Delhi and Mumbai to Sawai Madhopur Railway Station, which is a 20-minute drive from camp. Many guests take the opportunity to see the countryside and watch birds from the train window. The train also continues on to Udaipur.


Photography of Sher Bagh and tigers courtesy Anjali and Jaisal Singh, Jawai Luxury, Delhi.

Tiger images—tigress and her cubs—were photographed exclusively by Salim Ali, Naturalist,Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Email:

Images used with express permission.


The camp is open from October 1 to May 15. Sher Bagh is a member of the Relais & Chateaux group.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Super Chic Design Ball in Paris: A Night of Surreal Style

Last month, Paris-based superstar interior designer/architect Jean-Louis Deniot celebrated fifteen years in business—and the launch of super-successful ‘Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors’ (Rizzoli).

He dreamed up a witty, modern, slightly subversive and totally delirious ball, complete with Margot and Mia, Los Angeles-based The Dolls who are prodigiously talented DJs and magicians with the electronic violin. The dishy duo, best friends of Katy Perry, whipped guests on the dance floor into a frenzy of moves. It was a dreamy fog of ancient chandeliers, boiseries, parquet de Versailles, marble statuary, sweeping staircases, mirrored walls, and images of the cosmos projected through fog onto ceilings and walls.

The ‘Black Tie and Leather’ ball was held in late January, with snow falling, at the historic eighteenth-century mansion, Hôtel Salamon de Rothschild, complete with a haunting garden, vast misty rooms, DJs to die for, designer friends from around the world.

The Designer, The Host

Interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot, wearing a black leather headpiece designed by Erik Halley, planned the party. It was in honor of our new book, ‘Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors’…and as well to officially to mark his fifteenth years in business. It was also planned to coincide with Paris Haute Couture, as well as Maison & Objet and DecoOff, the leading fashion and interior design events of the season.

The Ball

It was an hallucinatory and romantic clash of eighteenth-century grandeur and naughty modernity. ‘Black tie and Leather’ the invitation read, and three-hundred-and-fifty guests arrived in costume, including elaborate headpieces, masks, black leather equine heads, dashing leather gowns and jackets too glamorous to mention, and everyone ready to dance. Ruinart Champagne was poured, and DJs The Dolls had dancers in an out-of-time buzz. Worlds collided and dissolved.

Xavier Béjot, the photographer for the book, attended, with his wife, Morgan, and divine friends arrived from Los Angeles, Moscow, Chicago, Miami, Chennai, San Francisco, London, New York, Rome, Milan, Antwerp, along with many of the top interior designers and fashion designers of Paris, and style-setters and trend-leaders and architects from around the world.

Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Digest Russia, Evgenia Mikulina, who recently engaged Jean-Louis as the guest editor of the December 2014 AD Russia, flew in from Moscow with her staff. She said, "Jean-Louis Deniot is the most influential and admired designer in the world today' and gave him carte blanche for her editorial. The AD Deniot features: 100 pages. Wow.

Thanks, Damion Matthews

The great San Francisco editor and Realtor Damion Matthews was the first to report and publish a vivid report on the ball—when he started receiving on-the-scene Instagram images from friends like Mia Moretti and other guests at the ball.

Here’s part of Damion’s very insider report, from his hotly followed website, SFLUXE,

“The atmosphere was imbued with a sense of mystery and dark glamour, the dance floor thick with a fog reminiscent of the opening sequence to Catherine Deneuve’s “The Hunger,” or of a Deborah Turbeville fashion shoot. Attended by leading figures in fashion and interior design, the look of the evening was sophisticated, seductive. Guests wore sexy masks, black leather haute couture, and a naughty attitude.

San Francisco’s Jay Jeffers and Michael Purdy paired their tuxedos with gorgeous leather horse masks designed by Bob Basset for Givenchy (found at Sui Generis), while several others wore exquisite pieces designed by Erik Halley. Artist and jewelry designer Herve van der Straeten made a stunning impression with his mask of golden spikes also by Erik Halley. Those with faces uncovered were menswear designer Neil Barrett from Milan, and interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, as well as William Holloway, Charlotte Moss, Jamie Creel, and Yiouri and Rita Augousti, among others.”


The Guests

We celebrated with and sipped Ruinart with Paris museum curator Pamela Golbin, editor-in-chief Michael Boodro, Jean-Francois Lesage, Hervé Van der Straeten and Bruno Frisoni, Sean Yashar and Olive Furth, Erick Jansen, Holly Hunt, Jamie Creel and Marco Scarani, and Larry and Dana Creel, Thomas Vasseur, Fabrizio Rollo, Christophe Bolloré, Charlotte Moss, Jay Jeffers and Michael Purdy, Marla and Fred Lappe, Princesse Diane de Beauvau-Craon and her niece, Princesse Victoria Botana de Beauvau-Craon, along with the jovial and admired vintage expert Didier Ludot and his partner, Felix Farrington.

Style was well represented by Jane Pendry, Melonie Hennessy, Doris Chevron, Martin Lawrence Bullard, Cecilie Starin with Alexis Luscatoff, Anne Crawford, William Holloway, Virginie Deniot, and fashion designer Neil Barrett with his partner Carlo Barone, and Cynthia Lund, business associate of Will Hearst and dancers with moves to die.

DJs after midnight, driving the dancers wild in the vaporous mansion, were Harold Bérard and Agnes Forcade, two of Jean-Louis Deniot’s oldest friends. Divine.

The Fabulous Erik Halley

The witty and extravagantly talented Paris-based designer Erik Halley photographed above (and yes…he is related to ‘Halley’s Comet’ astrologists)…) created the witty and frisky headpiece/mask for Jean-Louis Deniot. He also designed the gold spiky headpiece/mask for Hervé Van Der Straeten and many of the masks for chicest women guests.

Erik Halley’s artful and intricate designs have been seen everywhere from the couture runways of Chanel and Alexander McQueen, and in the spotlight at the electric stage presentations of superstars like Madonna and Beyoncé.

Jean-Louis, The Ball, The Concept

The idea was to go as far as possible from a pretentious event.

The Ball was planned to be festive and eccentric. I wanted all my guests to have pure fun. I wanted a decadent feeling with elegance and mystery.

The impression of no limits, in space, decor, Ruinart Champagne and incredible music.

Very atmospherique, poetique, surrealistique.... was my goal.

The very grand mansion, wasa perfect back drop for neon installations, the 360-degree cosmos projections, very under-lit and mysterious general lighting to make a moody and sexy interior. Architectural elements, 18th century chandeliers hanging in clouds of smoke and dynamique green lasers all created a dance-club mood.

The Author and Friends

Diane with Hervé Van Der Straeten (in a headpiece by Paris designer Erik Halley). Hervé is the fantastically talented Paris designer who created custom furniture, lighting and mirrors for interiors by Jean-Louis Deniot. He's in the book. And my new best friend, Fabrizio Rollo. Readers who follow THE SARTORIALIST (Scott Schuman) will know Fabrizio from many street fashion shots in Milan at the Pitti Uomo season. Fabrizio is a style editor with Vogue Brazil and a superbly talented interior designer.

I met the lively and lovely Doris Chevron, who is an editor-at-large for Architectural Digest. She loved my ostrich and peacock feather (and diamante) headpiece custom made for me with a black leather headband by the marvelously talented Denise Fiedler and our friend Petrushka, in San Francisco.

My evening jacket is by fashion designer, Jane Pendry. Jane, based in Paris, has a private clientele for her fashion collection, Dovima Paris, that’s made in Paris with Italian/Como fabrics. Luxe, indeed. (

Oh, and the crop. A dashing gift, and a lot of fun. It arrived, elegantly wrapped, with a card, ‘Give in to your Desires’.

L'Equipe Jean-Louis Deniot, Paris

The Jean-Louis Deniot team from the rue de Verneuil headquarters was out in force. They’re a very worldly and attractive group of designers, architects, antiquaires, and talents. Many of them have worked with Jean-Louis since he first opened his company on the Left Bank, fifteen years ago.

Among the group portraits: Jean-Louis Deniot + William Holloway , Virginie Deniot , Susannah Maund Patricia De Oliveira, Alexis Lamesta, Charles Albessard, Jean-Charles Saudemont, Leo Mogas, Simon Pesin, Guillaume Le Gall, Audrey Bertounesque, Valerie Cortenraede, Julia Dromer, Beatrice Serre, Celine Hug, Romain Hug, Aurélie Leblanc Kim Caliot, Alix-Marie Roblot, Carole Rink, François Warnot, Jane Alexander.

Cynthia Lund, left, business associate of William Randolph Hearst, at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, in Silicon Valley. Right is Jane Alexander, an associate at Jean-Louis Deniot studio and the director of OnSite Antiques, Paris (and a wonderful cook).

Delirious Evening

Guests danced into the night. Sighted.

About Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild

It’s in the residential eight arrondissement and a few minutes walk from the Champs-Elysées and Avenue Haussman.

Oh…and it is not a hotel. It’s a listed private residence with sphinx statuary in the garden and mythical creatures in stone guarding the front entrance.

The Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild is a listed historical monument.

The architecture, pure neoclassicism with a dash of baroque and rococo thrown in, expresses the pure architectural tastes of the end of the 18th centuries. Interiors are a cavalcade of marbled fireplaces, virtuoso stairways, painted ceilings of delight, and vistas to the gardens. Standing in the grounds that were formerly occupied by the sumptuous Folie Beaujon estate under Louis XVI, the Hôtel has a majestic quality and gracious exterior. Recently discreetly renovated, the interior spaces offers an atmosphere on which Jean-Louis Deniot projected his dream party, with cosmos projections on ceilings, fog machines drifting a vaporous mood, and misty lighting for the dancers. Oh, and the witty clash of fluorescent light thrown hither-thither among the boiseries.

And yes, there were delectable bites and nibbles, all dreamed up by super-chef Yannick Alléno, multi-starred, who directs the catering. Think delicate and exquisite hors d’oeuvres of mythical delicacy…tiny leeks in gelée with caviar, morsels of rabbit (not for me, I’m a vegetarian), and baby carrots, and later little mignardises of chocolate and cream and pretty little glazed fruits. Too divine.

San Francisco interior designer, Jay Jeffers, and his partner, Michael Purdy, the founder of Cavalier, a design store in San Francisco. Their leather headpieces were among stars of the evening.

Also dancing to The Dolls, romancing among the boiseries, and swooning on the double marble staircase were Joe Ujobai and Eduardo Ardiles, Alexandre Biaggi, Chris Burch, Princesse Suki de Somalie, Suzanne Kasler, Andy Schanbacher and Tom O’Connor, Thomas Vasseur, Jane Pendry and Olivier Germain, Anne Sokolsky, Aude de la Conte, Jaime Jimenez (Baccarat), the great Timothy Corrigan, Suzanne Slesin, Kelli and Laurent Champeau, Mallery Roberts Morgan, Manuela Zervudachi, and Kifu Augousti and others too divine and fabulous to mention.

And so we danced on into the night, with moments of escape to the dark and romantic columned terrace overlooking the garden, to smoke or chat and reminisce and romance.

Later, perhaps at 4am, it started to snow.

And we drifted away, eventually, in a dreamy haze and a flurry of snowflakes.

Uber arrived to take us home to rue de Lille and Ile Saint-Louis and Chantilly and Pigalle and Nouvelle-Athenes and Avenue Matignon, and the Palais-Royale. On Sunday we gathered in Chantilly to reminisce, walk in the garden, chat beside the fire, play, enjoy marvelous country cuisine, dream, laugh and happily recall every moment.

A ball to remember.