Sep 02, 2019

Top 10 Safari Lodges in India

An insight into the world of luxury safaris in India in the 21st Century.


- Varun Mani -

Less than 3% of India’s land mass is protected forest cover, and due to efforts on the part of the Indian government, conservationists, denizens and citizens at large, the remaining population of 3000 or so Wild Tigers remain in India. Read about the apex authority for Tiger Conservation in India.

No doubt, one of the biggest tourism attractions of this country has been the possibility of spotting the big and beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger – one of the most captivating sights on the planet.

Yet, Tiger tourism is the epitome of Wildlife interest in India as we see it today, but it was a very different beast more than half a century ago, as these Government of India advertisements tell us:




The Indian Jungle was the land of the “Shikar” as portrayed in these pamphlets along with various written accounts of various “Shikaris” or hunters.

A luxury safari till the late 1960’s in India included a safari in “a princely caravan, with scores of servants and chefs to tend to every need, expert hunters to guide, and thrills lurking in every rustle of the leaf”.

Reading about such tourism practices, one can’t help but grimace at the thought of such a safari in the modern era where wildlife in India has fallen to its lowest ebb. Frankly, shooting a wild animal for pleasure is a confusing act where one really wonders at the satisfaction derived from it, yet it was an era of abundance and such tourism was the lay of the land.

We fast forward to the present-day scenario which is a Renaissance of Wildlife Tourismin India where the following changes have been rung:


– The long-barrel guns have been replaced with cameras and mobile phones
– The princely caravans replaced by modified 4X4’s.
– Expert Naturalists have replaced the Expert Hunting Guides.



Though you will yet have scores of staff and chefs to tend to your every need and the thrill remains in every rustling leaf, though there may be others to share your joy in those moments.

The hospitality standards and facilities have greatly improved and it allows us to take you across a spectrum of Indian National Parks to the Top 10 Safari Lodges in India:


  • Banjaar Tola – a Taj Safaris Lodge at Kanha National Park :



  • State:
          Madhya Pradesh

    How to get there:
           4 hour drive from Raipur Airport or Jabalpur Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Luxury Tents

    USP:
           Amazing Naturalists, River View., Unique Dining Venues, Wildlife entering the sprawling forested campus

    Key Wildlife:
           Royal Bengal Tiger, Indian Wild Dog/”Dhole” and the Hard Ground Swamp Deer or “Barasingha”

    Brief:
          Located on the banks of the Banjaar River right at the periphery of Kanha National Park, Banjaar Tola is a luxurious getaway amongst beautiful towering Sal Trees. Their expertly trained Naturalists will share an understanding of the jungle which will leave you with a great sense of appreciation of all aspects of the jungle and that in itself is the biggest win for them.
    Being a Taj Hotels’ brand, the hospitality extended exceeds expectations and the plethora of dining venues including dining in the open amongst the wilderness.

    The park itself if one of the most beautiful in the world.

    Pro-tip:
           A nature walk along the Banjaar River is a beautiful experience And for the more adventurous, a fully fledged 7 km Nature Trail in lieu of the Jeep safaris is also worthwhile.


  • Pashan Garh – a Taj Safaris Lodge at Panna National Park.



  • State:
          Madhya Pradesh

    How to get there:
           1.5 hour drive from Khajuraho Airport/4.5 hour drive from Jabalpur Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Luxurious Stone Cottages

    USP:
          Amazing Naturalists, Hospitality & Wildlife entering the sprawling forested campus

    Key Wildlife:
           Royal Bengal Tiger, Marsh Mugger Crocodiles, Leopards, Sloth Bear & Striped Hyena.

    Brief:
           Panna is a must-see on the wildlife circuit due to it’s amazing landscape beauty and its huge biodiversity. A less frequented National Park, one has the feeling of exclusivity in these areas. The property itself is spread over 200 acres of forested land where the amazing stories of Tiger sightings inside the campus have to be heard from the staff there personally to be believed.

    The rooms and the get-up of the lodge along with the commitment of the staff to delight will ensure that this is an experience you won’t forget. Its proximity to the city of Khajuraho – the land of the Kamasutra – makes it an attractive destination.

    Pro-tip:
           – Take an unforgettable Nature walk with the local Pardhi tribe who can teach you about the jungle as no other ; the Pardhis have historically been a hunting tribe who accompanied many-a-Shikari on their expeditions in the past. With hunting being outlawed in the 1970’s, their means of income and reputation have been tarnished. Yet, now, with the help of the Naturalist at Taj through an NGO called Last Wilderness Foundation, they have once again found their calling in Wildlife Tourism.

          – Take a night-drive inside the property as the night reveals many seldom seen wonders of the forest.


  • Mahua Kothi – a Taj Safaris Lodge at Bandhavgarh National Park.




  • State:
          Madhya Pradesh

    How to get there:
           04 hour drive from Jabalpur Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Luxury Mud-huts

    USP:
          Amazing Naturalists, former Hunting lodge converted into a Safari Lodge

    Key Wildlife:
           Royal Bengal Tiger

    Brief:
           Bandhavgarh National Parkis known for its Tigers. That is a definitive statement. It has historically been one of the best places to find tigers. Initially a hunting reserve for the royalty of the land, it has been converted to a National Park, yet the tigers of today take the same path as their ancestors. This makes Bandhavgarh an exciting place to do a safari. The atmosphere here is charged up with the high prospects of the Tiger here amongst visitors and the drivers/guides alike.

    Your stay at Mahua Kothi with its excellent hospitality and charming interiors will take back to a bygone era when the British made India their home.

    Pro-tip:
           Visit the Statue of Lord Vishnu to see a 60ft marvel constructed in the middle of a thick jungle. You have to climb out of your Jeep and walk up 20 steps. P.S – we have it on good authority that Tigers lurk here, hence do so at your own risk!


  • Baghvan – a Taj Safaris Lodge at Pench National Park.




  • State:
          Madhya Pradesh

    How to get there:
           04 hour drive from Raipur Airport or Jabalpur Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Luxury Cottage with an attached Machaan for rest

    USP:
          Amazing Naturalists, Sleeping on the Machaan

    Key Wildlife:
           Royal Bengal Tiger, Leopard & Indian Wild Dog/Dhol

    Brief:
           Pench National Park is known as the Land of the Jungle Book, not merely due to lip-service, but because the real memoirs of Major Sleeman about the boy who lived with Wolves, which inspired Rudyard Kipling, have been based out of the hills of Seoni (erstwhile Seonee)where Pench is located.

    Baghvan is located a small stream which, and it is a small yet quaint property where family-like yet professional service will endear you to the place. There is tremendous activity around the property and one often hears loud distress calls

    Pro-tip:
           There are numerous activities such as Clay Pottery and Sun-downer at the nearby Kohka Lake which one can indulge in while at Baghvan.


  • Oberoi Vanyavilas – Ranthambore National Park.




  • State:
          Rajasthan

    How to get there:
           03 hours from Jaipur Airport ; 05 hour drive from New Delhi

    Accommodation Type:
           Luxury Tents

    USP:
          Unmatched hospitality, Private sit-out

    Key Wildlife:
           Royal Bengal Tiger

    Brief:
           The Oberoi Hotels are the epitome of luxury hotels and resorts in India, be prepared to be treated like royalty while at Vanyavilas. This landscaped resort is spread over 20 acres of manicured gardens and pathways where can move around in electric golf carts or cycles while within. It has a very colonial feel with its massive arched entrance, antique rugs and tea served in silver trays.

    The Spa is luxurious, and the dining venues are plenty with various International Cuisines as well local Rajasthani food on offer.

    The National Park itself is a haven for wildlife due as it is the last home of the various species of the area – the chances of tiger sightings are high, however, the various areas within the park itself give much relief to the eye.

    Pro-tip:
           A watchtower constructed inside Vanyavilas provides unobstructed views of the Jungle beside it, and is also a fantastic open-air venue for drinks and dinner to be booked in advance.


  • Sujan Leopard Camp – Jawai.




  • State:
          Rajasthan

    How to get there:
           03 hour drive from Jodhpur Airport or Udaipur Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Luxury Tents

    USP:
          Luxurious hospitality, Private pool, Leopards Galore

    Key Wildlife:
           Indian Leopard

    Brief:
           An unrivalled luxury wilderness experience in India with amazing leopard sightings to boot – this recently explored oasis is a semi-arid scrub land which surrounds the Jawai Lake, located at the base of the Aravalli mountains. Here is a prime example of co-inhabitance of wildlife and people of the area.

    While the accommodation is in tented camps, the luxurious services provided include butler service, a private temperature-controlled plunge pool, spa services and unique outdoor dining experiences under the Rajasthan sky.

    High-end 4×4’s with the lodge Naturalists take you upon the massive granite boulders where Leopards, Hyenas and Porcupines reside. One has a great chance of watching Leopard families as they leave the dark natural enclosures to perch themselves atop these huge rocks. Spotters keep the naturalists informed of the leopards’ location ensuring that you have considerable chances to see the leopard and other wildlife.

    Pro-tip:
           We love walks in nature, and always recommend it as it is a beautiful way to see the area for what it really is. Take a walk around neighbouring areas and meet the local and quite wonderful tribe – The Rabaris¬ – who are traditionally a nomadic tribe of Rajasthan who are the local inhabitants of the area. They are farmers and livestock herders, and they are in direct contact with the leopards of the area, neither harmed nor bringing harm to them. In fact, their respect for the big cats is to an extent that there are no revenge killings incase of their goats being taken away by the leopards at night.


  • Jaagir Lodge – Dudhwa National Park.




  • State:
          Uttar Pradesh

    How to get there:
           4.5 hour drive from Lucknow Airport or 09hr drive from New Delhi

    Accommodation Type:
           Royal Colonial Mansion with Suites and Villas

    USP:
          Secluded location amongst farmland and orchards. Jungle experience of a lifetime.

    Key Wildlife:
           Indian One-horned Rhino, Indian Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Swamp Deer, Gharial and over 500 bird species

    Brief:
           Set in the last remaining jungles of the Western Terai, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is one of the most bio-diverse areas of India with forest sceneries that really do enchant you.

    The colonial mansion which is now Jaagir Lodge is maintained in a style from the bygone era of the British Empire with white wallpapers, wooden furnishing, large beds and rocking chairs which adorn the place and gives you a warm, cosy feeling.

    Jeep safaris are productive with chances of big animals including the Tiger and Elephant. The beauty of the Terai, and especially Dudhwa is that there are possibilities of seeing absolutely anything at anytime.

    Although we do not encourage Elephant safaris anywhere, it is unfortunately the only way to see the Rhinos which are closely protected here. The critically endangered Gharial which survives here can be seen on a boat safari on the Gairhwa river. One may also be lucky enough to spot Otters and the Indo-gangetic River Dolphin here.

    Also read : A sensational encounter with a Tiger at Dudhwa. Really worth 2 minutes of your time.

    Pro-tip:
           Just enjoy the brilliance of this forest and the Terai region – you are sure to have an unforgettable and eye-opening experience in Nature.


  • Jim’s Jungle Retreat – Corbett National Park.




  • State:
          Uttar Pradesh

    How to get there:
           5.5 hour drive from Dehradun Airport or 6.5 hour drive from New Delhi

    Accommodation Type:
           Cottages & Lodge Rooms

    USP:
          Quiet location by the River, Wonderful Hospitalityand Organic food from one of the best kitchen gardens prepared with much love.

    Key Wildlife:
           Indian Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Hog Deer and 500+ bird species

    Brief:
           Jim’s Jungle retreat is named after the legendary hunter turned conservationist Jim Corbett and it lies in the Dhela region of Corbett, beside a river and surrounded by forests – one can hear the petrified shouts of the Spotted Deer and Sambar at night and lucky guests and staff have even seen the Tiger drinking out the waterholes created by the lodge for this royal beast!

    The rooms are set in the colonial British style which is a common theme amongst luxury lodges in India as the Jungle lore has been written to such a great extent by British hunters, biologists and authors. The Cottages and Family Cottages are very spacious and are extremely well-furnished with a lovely sit out where one can enjoy a quiet book or a cup of tea with their own thoughts. The “lodge” rooms are also spacious and remind us of the forest rest houses with their high ceilings, large windows and rather large beds.

    Corbett National Parkis located at the Himalayan Foothills and it is a landscape buffet for the eyes. The sight of herds of Wild Elephants, Birds, Monkeys and Deer during Jeep Safaris are really encouraging as are the tiger numbers here which are said to be over 100 in number.

    Back at the lodge, their knowledgeable Naturalists also accompany you for cycling trails near the forest as well as the river walk where one can see numerous bird species in the winter as well as elephants(from a safe distance!).

    A really commendable and relief bringing fact is that the lodge recycles their water using a natural process with plants (Canna indica) which filter out the impurities – a must see!

    Machaans or watchtowers located strategically inside the lodge give one a chance to spot some animals or simply enjoy the peaceful surrounding.

    Pro-tip:
           Take the Mahavan walk with their very knowledgeable guide who is a specialist in the indigenous plants of the region – one may learn several things about treating common ailments as well as realise the benefits of nature to promote a healthier lifestyle.

    Also the classy Mrs.Rati Karwal who takes care of the lodge is a treat to interact with!


  • Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge – Nagarhole National Park.




  • State:
          Karnataka

    How to get there:
           4.5 hour drive from Bangalore Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Mud-Huts/Villas

    USP:
          Infinity Pool overlooking the Kabini River, Traditional Décor, Private plunge pool/Jacuzzi, Private Courtyard and Ayurvedic Spa treatments on appointment.

    Key Wildlife:
           Indian Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Indian Wild Dogs, Gaur

    Brief:
           Formerly known as Orange County Kabini, this wonder of South India is right beside the Nagarhole & Bandipur National Park. A scenic village setting, the villas at Kuruba Safari Lodge have pretty thatched roofs(which are rather difficult to maintain), mud walls and flooring which resembles the cow-dung lined homes of the local Kuruba people. Though rustic, it is tastefully designed with comforts aplenty.

    An authentic musical welcome awaits you as you arrive, from locally hired village folk which personalises the experience even further. There are several ways to enjoy this special area, Jeep Safaris along with a boat-cruise down the Kabini River offer chances to see plenty of wildlife and birds. Nature trails both in the daytime and even at night allow us to learn about unique aspects of the many endemics of South Indian flora and fauna.

    There is also a very unique Coracle Ride which one can venture into. Coracles are traditional round shaped boats. The design of the boat is unique to the rivers of southern India and surprisingly to the rivers of Ireland! The coracle will drift slowly down the Kabini, hugging the shoreline.

    The purpose of this activity is to allow the visitor to experience the river by bringing him in direct contact with it. An experiential activity like no other!

    Pro-tip:
           Enjoy time at the very scenic reading-lounge which is slightly elevated with views of the Kabini River. It is quite unique and one that leaves you in a peaceful space.

    The host of activities here will surely provide a gateway into understanding life at Kabini.


  • Diphlu River Lodge – Kaziranga National Park.




  • State:
           Assam

    How to get there:
           04 hour drive from Guwahati Airport or 02 hour drive from Jorhat Airport

    Accommodation Type:
           Cottages on Stilts

    USP:
          River view,(not all rooms), Peaceful surroundings

    Key Wildlife:
           Big 5 of India – Greater One Horned Rhinoceros, Indian Elephant, Asiatic Water Buffalo Royal Bengal Tiger, Swamp Deer/”Barasingha”

    Brief:
           On the banks of the Diphlu river – tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra, situated amongst agricultural land, Diphlu River Lodge is a very cosy lodge in Assam where one can experience North-east Indian traditions and hospitality.

    Half of the rooms overlook the River, while the rest face the rice fields located inside the lodge premises. All cottages are raised about 9ft due to the annual flooding of the river in the monsoon and one has to climb around 15 steps to reach their private sit-outs to enter their beautifully furnished wood and bamboo surroundings. Roofs are thatched in the traditional style of homes in these North-eastern plains.

    Kaziranga – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is one of the jewels of Indian wildlife and the massive marshy areas and grasslands are home to the Big 5 of Indian Wildife. An area of huge biodiversity, one has chances to see and photograph wildlife in spectacular surroundings. Jeep Safaris are very productive with ample chances of spotting atleast four of the Big Five species.

    The restaurant is again of similar setting, overlooking the river, where one can enjoy their meals, a book and have a chat with their resident Naturalists about the wonderful wildlife of Kaziranga and the fascinating paradise which is North-East India.



    Pro-tip:
           Take a scenic boat ride on the Brahmaputra to see the endangered Indo-Gangetic River Dolphin.

    Oh and interactions with the charming Mr.Roy, retired general manager of the lodge now residing there, is bound to leave you in splits, enriching you all the same!



    So come and spend some time on a tour in the Indian Jungle, a ceaseless wonder amongst 1.3 billion people – yet the locals co-exist, scarcely out of choice, but doing so in relative peace nonetheless. A feat not matched by the Western world where animals are culled at will in comparison.

    The Tiger, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Wild Dog, Bears and all kinds of Ungulates and Birds are found here much like in Africa, and there is a special feeling when one can appreciate them in their natural home in India.



    Author – Varun Mani


    Footnote:
           Luxury is sometimes subjective, with novelty and bespoke holidays with basic comforts is also a luxury. It is sometime more rewarding an experience to stay in the Forest Rest Houses which we have been referring to in this blog. Read our Blog on the Places Where You Can Stay Inside a National Park. Yes, inside the National Parks – just like Africa!

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