Baghvan Taj Safari, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Live the machan high life, and re-live the glory days of the ’50s, in this lodge by the Pench river that lets you turn into a modern-day adventurer. Located in southern Madhya Pradesh, Pench National Park is teeming with wildlife such as tiger, leopard, wild dog, gaur, sambar, chital, and a variety of bird species, and yet it is one of India’s lesser-known parks. The Baghvan Taj Safari (the name is inspired by the Bengal tiger, bagh, and forest, van), is a mere five-minute drive from the park’s entrance and offers a colonial-era experience in the jungle. “The location of the lodge, on the dry riverbed of the Pench River, makes it particularly quaint,” says Kanhai Kapoor, Associate Vice President, Taj Safaris. “It is also very close to the Turia Gate, which is one of the most popular safari zones in Pench.” The standout feature of this resort is the 12 stand-alone suites that come with a private machan for a one-on-one experience with the surrounding forest. “The Machan Bungalows have a private verandah overlooking the forest as well as a romantic, open-to-air shower,” Kanhai shares. “The couple can choose to sleep in their air-conditioned bedrooms or on the machan. This is a cocoon of privacy for nature lovers and lovers... You can sit outdoors in the early mornings and be serenaded by chirping birds, or try your hand at photography, with abundant sun and shade provided by trees.”
For those who enjoy cooking, there is an open kitchen in each bungalow where you can prepare traditional Indian dishes (all recipes and ingredients are provided). Take a short drive to the Teliya buffer zone to experience a monsoon-drenched jungle—or a night drive (between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.) into the area to catch a glimpse of wolves, porcupines, flying squirrels, and other animals not seen during the day (without harsh searchlights). The Park is home to endangered species such as the king of the jungle, the tiger—the dominant predator, leopard, hyena, and jackal. If you are a bird buff, you might want to take your binoculars and gaze at parakeets, kingfisher, orioles, minivets, wagtails, hornbill, and raptors like the crested hawk-eagle and crested serpent eagle. You can book a drive to the Rukhad Wildlife Sanctuary, which epitomises the densest part of the jungle. Here, explore the ancient Kurai Garh (an old bandit fort) that offers stupendous 360 degrees panoramas of the forest.
A Bonnet Breakfast (served literally on the bonnet of your 4 x 4 Safari vehicle while you’re in the park, comes replete with fresh bakes, curried rolls, fresh juice, muesli, sandwiches, and your favourite tea or coffee. For lunch and dinner, consider the à la carte menu of soup, tossed salads (with vegetables from the kitchen garden or nearby farms), pizzas, pasta, or, of course, delicious local dishes of the Vidarbha region. Discover surrounding villages and their unique crafts like the Pachdhar Potters’ Village, a half hour’s drive away, and try your hand at pottery. Or visit the Khamba Village, where the inhabitants still live as they did centuries ago, and ride on a bullock cart. End your day with a high tea on Kohka Lake, six kilometres from Baghvan. The heart of wilderness is calling, and this just may be the answer.
The rustic lounge area at Baghvan preserving the 1950s forest lodge aesthetic
The cosy, rooftop machan amid the jungle is perfect for romance
An open 4x4 Tata Safari to view the tigers and wildlife inside the Pench National Park
Enjoy a cocktail or two by the in-house mixologist after a thrilling safari drive
The interactive kitchen at Baghvan where chefs prepare international as well as local Vidarbha cuisine
A bedroom inside the Machan Bungalow with soothing turquoise and copper interiors that opens onto a verandah
Suján Jawai, Jawai Bandh, Rajasthan
Set amidst ancient granite hills and scrubland of Marwar, this luxurious tented camp redefines glamping, even as you enjoy leopard sightings and brand-new equine wellness therapy, featuring the fiercely loyal Kathiawari and Marwari horses. Amidst the former royal Rajput States of Jodhpur and Udaipur, the property borrows its name from the seasonal Jawai river that flows through the arid landscape. Think spacious, air-conditioned tents propped up in the middle of rocky terrain comprising granite hills, which are 850 million years old. This Relais & Châteaux property is your own private wilderness, with the Suján group’s comforting and luxe touches. Lodging is the real star (as are the excursions and safaris, of course), with eight Rock Suites, one Royal Panthera Suite, and the brand-new private encampment called Eden. Suján founders Anjali and Jaisal Singh have personally overseen the refurbishment of the interiors, with natural fabrics and weaves. Guest areas like lounge and bar tents have been opened up and brought closer to the wilderness, allowing further engagement with the magnificent views.
As supporters of not only the wildlife and forests of the area, the Singhs are opening a boutique in each camp (with some pieces designed by Anjali) that supports local traditions and crafts. In stark contrast to the rugged, rocky landscape are the scarlet turbans of the Rabari herdsmen and herdswomen who roam the area with their flocks of sheep. Suján Jawai pays homage to them by not only organising strolls with this fascinating pastoral community (the men wear white angarkhas and dhotis with mojris, while the women wear deep-red lehengas and dupattas, gold naths and white churas) but also with photographs inside the tents that highlight their colourful attires. Since you are in the leopard territory, hop into any one of the two wilderness drives that leave the camp in 4 x 4 Gypsies, in search of the elusive big cats. While leopards are the predominant species in the area, you will most probably chance upon antelope, hyena, crocodile, and smaller mammals, too. On safari, there are trackers and expert drivers who will look out for the precise location of, say, a leopard, so sightings are virtually guaranteed if the animal happens to be in that area. The area is also home to over 250 species of birds, from the migratory greater flamingos and sarus cranes to resident raptors.
What makes your expedition all the more enjoyable is a packed picnic with hot beverages and breakfast food. Dine al fresco with chairs surrounding a bonfire as you sip a spirit of your choice, or eat a hearty Rajasthani meal—with their farm-fresh produce (ethically sourced from local producers), Suján Jawai’s cuisine is a mix of local delicacies and international classics. What Anjali and Jaisal have added this year is the concept of Riding in the Wild—where not only can you explore the rugged landscape on horseback, but also improve your mental health through their Healing with Horses programme. The first of its kind experience in the country, the programme aims to spiritually connect you with the horse handpicked by you. Tenacious and loyal, these magnificent creatures are surely bound to teach you a thing or two.
Uninterrupted views of the rocky terrain at Suján Jawa
Learn to tie a bright red saafa (turban), Rabari-style, by a member of the nomadic Rajasthani tribe
The fierce and loyal Kathiawari and Marwari horses are the true stars of the equine therapy programme
Minimalist lobby and lounge tents
Cool-off with a dip in the pool after a long, hot safari
The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort, Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan
Get away from your busy life and make a date with the regal Indian tiger as this September, The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort—that sits within 20 acres of landscaped gardens, adjacent to the Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve—reopens after being shuttered down for the monsoon season. Set between the Aravali and Vindhya mountain ranges in South-Eastern Rajasthan (land at Jaipur Airport and have one of the resort’s cars pick you up—a 180 km drive), lies this property (one of India’s first, truly luxurious jungle resorts) that is buzzing with birdlife and verdant shrubbery and trees. Stay in one of the resort’s 790-square-feet 25 luxury tents, placed within a discreet distance of each other, inspired by the caravans of the royal families who once patronised this forest, replete with wooden floors and furniture, and done up in the colours of the jungle.
Needless to say, the handsome four-poster bed is the central, most welcome element of your stay, with a mattress that ensures heavenly repose after a day spent ambling along treks or exploring the jungle on special drives. Be woken up at the crack of dawn and make your way to the 4 x 4 vehicle waiting in the driveway (pack sunscreen and hats with you as it can get extremely hot) and explore the depths of the 392-square-kilometre Park with experienced guides. The drive comes with cushioned seats and a detachable roof and seats up to four people. It is not rare to spot up to six tigers in one go—not to mention crocodiles and deer (and, if you are very lucky, a leopard or two). The Park (open from October to June) is a photographer’s delight—if you are fortunate enough to spot the Royal Bengal Tiger loitering around the ruins of the former Raj Bagh fort, stone arches, steps, and palace outhouses located between two water bodies, which makes for surreal imagery.
Back at the resort, take a walk around the garden, or indulge in a spa treatment, spend time birdwatching, enjoy panoramic views (or a champagne sundowner, served with canapés made with herbs and vegetables from the resort’s vegetable garden) of the neighbouring jungle from the resort’s private observation tower. Or opt for dinner under the stars in the restaurant courtyard (with pan-Indian, Rajasthani, or Continental fare), in the gardens or in a special, romantic setting by the small, private lily pond nestled within an amphitheatre. The Royal Rajasthani Thali served here is best savoured on a candlelit table, surrounded by burning mashaal fire torches, with traditional folk music and dance for entertainment. We are told this monsoon has brought enough water to rejuvenate the forests of Ranthambore; the water bodies are full, bringing down the temperature of the area and providing relief for the jungle’s creatures. The population of tigers has risen to 70 tigers, according to the latest data, which includes 22 cubs. This means that all the zones of the park may become tiger territory, offering great sighting opportunities to its visitors.
Make a dinner date or enjoy a Rajasthani Thali at the private lily pond
Relish champagne and canapés or take in the views of the Ranthambhore National Park from your personal observation tower
Luxury tents set strategically apart to ensure privacy
The 4x4s lined up at the majestic wooden gate of The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort
Mary Budden Estate, Binsar, Uttarakhand
This charming British Raj-era estate is a set of two luxurious cottages set inside a private, unspoilt Himalayan forest sanctuary that offers the perfect antidote to harried lifestyles, with nature walks, bird watching, and the chance to explore quaint Kumaoni villages. Tucked inside the densely forested mountains of Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary (just a short drive from Almora town) sits the five-acre Mary Budden Estate. Bought in 1899 by the Englishwoman after whom it is named, the original cottage served as a school for orphans. It lay derelict for a century until Delhi-based photographer, Serena Chopra, bought it in the 1990s. “The original structure, which had three rooms, is 200 years old, and Serena added more rooms by constructing the lodge next door,” says Siddharth Yadav, Vice President, MRS Group of Hotels, which manages this boutique property. The original cottage houses six people in three rooms, along with a dining and living room, while there are four additional rooms at the lodge, all tastefully done up by Serena herself, with antique furniture, wooden accents, log fireplaces, stone patios, and plenty of sit-outs. Since it is built on an elevation, all the rooms have picture-perfect views of the forest and mountains. The bathrooms have a wooden theme, and the water is heated via solar panels and tends to be scarce (they use harvested rainwater, so use it wisely!). Luxurious touches such as cashmere throws and opulent, high-thread-count cotton bedsheets make the indoors all the cosier. But it is being in the middle of this private sanctuary in the Himalayas that is the ultimate luxury.
Home to 26 leopards, the deodar and pine tree forest beckons you and you can explore it at your own pace. Take a half-hour walk to the famous Zero Point, to the jaw-dropping 180-degree panorama of the Himalayan range, which includes peaks like Nanda Devi, strung across the horizon like a snow-capped pearl necklace. Amble on ponies or by foot along Ramsay’s Road (named after the much-loved Henry Ramsay, assistant commissioner of Kumaon around the 1840s), through cedars and oaks, past waterfalls and rock outcrops. Discover the Dalar Village, one of Kumaon’s best-kept secrets, and one of its oldest settlements, with stone roofs and bright blue windows. “It is like a Hobbit town,” says Siddharth. You can enjoy a lovely picnic prepared by the Mary Budden Estate chefs, on the banks of the Kosi River, featuring fresh fish. The forest has 170 bird species, and guides are happy to point out babblers, thrushes, and woodcocks (Uttarakhand is home to 50 per cent of India’s bird species, including five endangered species like the red-headed vulture and Himalayan quail). And if you are lucky, you might just catch a fleeting glimpse of a leopard, from the estate itself!
Eating outdoors can never be more pleasurable and a stay at the Mary Budden Estate offers ample opportunities to enjoy your breakfasts, brunches, and dinners nestled in the lap of nature. One such highlight is the Serena Garden Lunch, where you can feast on Himalayan or colonial-era dishes, in a sunlight-filled corner with a magnificent view, seated on low stools and surrounded by oak trees. With such clear, smog-free skies, it is an absolute treat to dine under the starry skies, something the resort happily arranges. And in such sylvan surroundings, comes the spiritual desire to absorb cosmic energy that can be found in the temple dedicated to Goddess Kasar Devi, in the eponymous village not far from Almora. The temple structure dates back to the 2nd century CE and has attracted the likes of Swami Vivekananda, Lama Govinda, writer D.H. Lawrence, and musicians Bob Dylan and George Harrison, who chose it as their meditation spot. You can also visit the famous Jageshwar Temples, a set of iconic 124 stone temples dedicated to Lord Shiva (dated between the 7th-14th century), or visit the quaint Chitai bell temple dedicated to God Golu with its myriad bells.
The dining area at the newly-built lodge with European touches
The original cottage boasts of three luxurious rooms
A modern addition to the estate, the lodge is built on an elevation and in harmony with the older colonial Cottage
An al fresco lunch with panoramic views of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary
Flavourful Kumaoni dishes made from a fresh and seasonal local producer
Here's a shinier and smoother version of glass hair
The couple tied the knot in an intimate ceremony in 2020, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.