BACK TO THE JUNGLE
Condé Nast Traveller India|November 2021 - December 2021 - January 2022
Go where the wild things are in Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. Aarti Sheth Cooper picks the best safari lodges
Aarti Sheth Cooper
Over the last two years, The Great Pause gave us a chance to reflect and appreciate the great outdoors more than ever. There is a sense that when we go back to nature now, we will be mindful of our impact, and grateful for what it holds.

Most national parks in India are now open after a long hiatus, and lodges are putting out sweet deals to bring you back. A few days in nature is the best way to beat cabin fever—but there’s a greater payoff. Your tourism rupees will help support local communities and wildlife conservation efforts. The only real problem you will face? Where to begin. For starters, thumb through these pages. It’s a jungle out there—so here’s a guide to camps and lodges that elevate the safari experience.

MADHYA PRADESH

You may have met the denizens of Madhya Pradesh even before you have been to Madhya Pradesh—the forests of this state are said to have inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The fabled tiger passage starts in the south at Satpura and Pench Reserves and travels east and north through Kanha (where Kipling’s book is set), Bandhavgarh, Sanjay and Panna Reserves. Make no mistake— this is prime tiger territory. With nine national parks, six tiger reserves and 25 wildlife sanctuaries over more than 95,000sqkm of land, this is every wildlife lover's delight. The fact that there are so many excellent wildlife camps and lodges situated around these reserves is a bonus!

BAGH VILLAS

Located near Kanha National Park, Bagh Villas boast lavish tents with open seating spaces reminiscent of how the maharajas lived. Along with jungle safaris and yoga facilities, the camp has a spa and a pool to help you unwind. Sign up for a biking trail or get a glimpse into the lives of rural communities around the forests. The kitchen offers a range of cuisines prepared using organic ingredients, and the chefs will host special classes if you want to learn a local recipe or two. baghvillas.com

BORI SAFARI LODGE

Situated amidst 7.5 acres of farmland in the Dhapada village, Bori Safari Lodge boasts eight spacious rooms that offer luxury and comfort. Just 3km from the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary, one can explore the wilderness through 4X4 jeep rides and walking tours. Visitors have a chance to see tigers, leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears, giant squirrels, and various other birds and animals. Spend your evenings here curled up with a book in the library, at the spa or enjoying a drink near the plunge pool. jehannuma.com

JAMTARA WILDERNESS CAMP

Located at the foot of Pench National Park with luxurious tents and tall Arjuna trees, Jamtara Wilderness Camp is for those who wish to go beyond the regular tiger safari. Open from October to May, the camp offers bike rides and nature walks. But the star attraction, quite literally, is the “Star Bed” machan that is placed under the vast open canvas of sky. jamtarawilderness.com

KEN RIVER LODGE

Located in Panna National Park, Ken River Lodge is all about rustic luxury. It offers eight village-style huts and a “Machan” dining room that is designed like a treehouse, right on the water’s edge. Sign up for an early morning birdwatching expedition or, if you are feeling more adventurous, take a boat ride on the river or head out on a night safari through the forest. kenriverlodge.com

RENI PANI JUNGLE LODGE

Located close to Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Reni Pani Jungle Lodge features 12 luxury cottages built in three different architectural designs. The lodge is focused on non-motorised ways of exploring the jungle, so you can opt for elephant-back safaris, boat safaris and walking safaris. Sloth bears and rare birds attracted to the Reni trees (that flower with a berry-like fruit) are the main attraction here, and activities like canoeing, and bird-watching will pack your days. jehannuma.com

SAMODE SAFARI LODGE

Nature meets heritage at this safari lodge, located at the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park. The 12 independent villas borrow their design from local settlements but come kitted with modern amenities. When you do step out of your villa’s private verandah, unwind at the well-equipped spa, go for a jog across the forest, or visit the Mardari village nearby. Definitely go out on a tiger safari, of course. Gourmet dining is taken up a notch through the various alfresco dining spots across the property with the lush, vibrant sounds of the forest for company. samode.com

THE SARAI AT TORIA

Situated close to Khajuraho, and the Panna Tiger Reserve, The Sarai at Toria offers an escape from the ordinary. The resort, which sits along the banks of the River Ken, offers an excellent safari through the “river garden”, where you can spot a range of beautiful creatures. Back on land, sign up for their calming yoga sessions or one of the cooking demonstrations. saraiattoria.com

MAHARASHTRA

At one end are the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot teeming with all kinds of flora and fauna. At the other is the TadobaAndhari Tiger Reserve, now among India’s premier tiger parks, home to one of the youngest and largest tiger populations. Maharashtra commands a legitimate place on India’s wildlife map through the sheer diversity of terrain and the species it hosts. While homestays and farm stays will help you access the Ghats, here are some options if you have the big striped cat on your mind.

SVASARA JUNGLE LODGE

Situated 300m from Kolara Gate at TadobaAndhari Tiger Reserve, Svasara Jungle Lodge features 12 elegant suites with modern amenities. The lodge offers an immersive safari experience, where knowledgeable naturalists will helm your game drives. Be sure to take the nature walk at dusk, which gives you a chance to spot the termite nest frog. At mealtime, you have a range to pick from, but definitely try the local Varhadi cuisine for a taste of the region and its culture. svasararesorts.com

THE BAMBOO FOREST SAFARI LODGE

Located at the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve near Chandrapur, Bamboo Forest is all about rustic luxury delivered through its lakeside villas and private bungalows. Along with night trails, safaris, and chat sessions with naturalists, the lodge offers a spa, swimming pool and fitness centre as more urban ways to relax. Gastronomy is serious business here—you can pick vegetables from the farm, work out the recipes with the chefs, and choose where you’d like your meal: indoors at the restaurants, or out in the bush or by the lake. bambooforest.in

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