Does anything say social distancing like being out in the wild with more animals in sight than humans? India’s national parks are open once again, with a range of safety protocols in place. From luxury camps and rustic cottages to cosy hotels, here’s a round-up of camps and lodges from where you can launch into the wild:
The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort
Sprawling across 20 acres, this luxury hotel that borders the Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve offers the best of both worlds–a stay that harks back to the royal palaces of Rajasthan’s erstwhile maharajas and a resort that immerses you in the surrounding wilderness. Within the cream arches lie tents with claw-foot tubs, tiger-motif linen and teakwood floors. They are surrounded by private gardens, lakes and fountains that offer a sense of whimsy. Arrive to a grand welcome by elephants before you meet tigers, bears, leopards and more on game drives. The activities outdoors are sure to work up quite an appetite. So, it’s great to have a range of options when it comes to food; feast on Rajasthani delicacies or European fare. Doubles from Rs 45,000 per night. Website.
Frigid, pre-dawn alarms may feel worthwhile when you wake up at this 16-th century fortress. Each of the 99 rooms exudes opulence, some kitted with four-poster beds and frescoed windows and others with private courtyards and terraces. A spa will relieve you of sore feet, and there are three pools to choose from when you crave some downtime. The amphitheatre is perfect for a night of music song and dance, making it an ideal destination to host a wedding in the wilderness. Doubles from Rs 10,500 per night. Website.
Aman I Khas
If you’ve lived like Rajasthan’s royalty, Aman I Khas will be a welcome change. The property features 10 white plush Mughal-inspired, pyramid-roofed guest tents with colonial-style leather decor, marble bathtubs and cosy king-size beds. A tent that houses a spa also offers body scrubs, facials and Reiki healings. Enjoy breakfast in guava orchards, borrow a book from the cosy library, explore Ranthambore Fort located close by and enjoy a healthy meal at the restaurant; most of the ingredients on the menu are sourced straight from the property’s organic farm. Before you call it a day, enjoy a drink by the camp’s private lake. Doubles from Rs88,959. Website.
Make the most of Ranthambore’s wildlife without burning a hole in your pocket and without skimping on luxury. Sawai Vilas offers game drives to the national park and bird-watching at the Man Singh sanctuary as part of the stay package. Each of the 60 villas is appointed with plush furniture, Jaipur’s hand-block printed furnishings, a sunroof bath and much more. Taste the best of Rajasthan at the restaurant, which offers everything from laal maas to gatte ki sabzi and daal baati churma. Enjoy a night of Rajasthan’s traditional folk dance or snuggle by the bonfire. Doubles from Rs14,600, inclusive of safari, a trip to Ranthambore Fort and all meals. Website
Jim Corbett, Uttarakhand
Taj Corbett Resort & Spa, Uttarakhand
Just a two-hour drive from Delhi, the beautiful hotel sits at the foothills of the Himalayas. Sixty-one rooms spread in a cluster of cottages across the 10-acre property. Elephants, tigers, deer, leopards, red foxes and sloth bears are just some of the many animals you will spot on your game drives here. Besides safaris, there’s plenty to keep you entertained or relaxed. Lounge by the pool, go on a hike or an overnight camping trip and savour a traditional Kumaoni meal of gahat ke parathe and rasbhat. Children below 10 are currently not allowed to enter the national park, but there’s enough to keep them busy–a game of noodle hockey or archery, for instance. Doubles from Rs13,254, inclusive of breakfast and another meal. Website.
Fringed by the Jim Corbett National Park, this hotel has 44 plush villas on offer. They come with garden, mountain and forest views, and a private sit-out to soak it all in. Spend your day spotting tigers, deer, elephants, wild boars and more. Or go mountain biking and horse riding. Return to the hotel for a steam and spa therapy. Relax in the jacuzzi or infinity pool, or catch Uttarakhand’s skies switch colours while you sip on a drink at the bar. For dinner, head to the multicuisine restaurant, Azrak, or opt for a romantic meal in the tree-house on your own courtyard. Doubles from Rs8,999, inclusive of breakfast. Website.
Lemon Tree Premier Corbett
Along the banks of the river Koshi, this five-acre resort offers sweeping views of the Shivalik hills and the forests beyond. Although the hotel is located in a reserve, it offers all the luxuries and modern amenities of a big-city hotel. It has a pool, spa, fitness centre, jacuzzi, high-speed Wi-Fi, a games room for children and more. Doubles from Rs8,000, inclusive of breakfast. Website.
Jim’s Jungle Retreat
Bordering the Jim Corbett National Park, and nestled between the Shivalik and Himalayan foothills, the resort is made up of 18 cottages. With vintage-style furniture and rich upholstery, the interiors hark back to the Raj era. There are no televisions in the room, but that’s not what you came here for anyway! The tiger may be the biggest draw, but you may well spot more birds than big cats here. The curated bird walk claims to show you 10 percent of India’s avian population. Back in the lodge, enjoy a spa free of chemicals, borrow a book in the library or sit back and relax by the pool. For meals, expect farm-to-table Kumaoni dishes made with recipes straight from the Nawab’s kitchen in Rampur. Doubles from Rs13,500, inclusive of breakfast. Website
The Bison Resort
Think you can handle the roar of a tiger before you go to bed? Run by conservationist Saad Bin Jung and son Shaaz, an avid wildlifer and photographer himself, The Bison Resort is as close as you can get to Kabini’s wildlife. African tents meet hunting lodges that date back to the British Raj at this campsite, with some overlooking the backwaters of Kabini. For a more luxurious experience, opt for the Little Bison. The two exclusive tents offer personal valets, outdoor baths and private bonfires under Kabini’s star-studded skies. Feast on breakfast by the backwaters, curl up and watch the sunbathe Kabini’s skies in all colours, sip on a drink by the bonfire. Doubles from Rs 17,280, inclusive of meals and a coracle boat ride. Safaris cost an additional Rs1,990.
Kabini River Lodge
The erstwhile hunting lodge of Maharaja of Mysore is nestled in the Nagarhole National Park. The rooms are spartan, with no AC or television, but they ensure you make the most of what you went there for. Spend your day in the company of sambar, spotted deer, gaur, wild boar, sloth bear and more. Nagarhole is open year round, and each season brings unique safari opportunities. During the summer, the watering holes dry up and Asiatic elephants congregate on the riverbanks, while winter is a great time for birdwatching. Doubles from Rs 12,655, inclusive of all meals, jeep safari and forest entry fees. Website.
Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge
Ride in a jeep, boat or coracle to discover Kabini’s wildlife at this beautiful resort situated right on the riverbank. The stay takes its inspiration from the local Kadu Kuruba tribe with villas framed in bamboo and thatched roofs. The rustic charm extends indoors with tribal-patterned furnishings, ethnic furniture and paintings. Choose between the safari hut or the pool hut. But the pièce de résistance of this lodge is the exclusive pool reserve villa, with a temperature-controlled pool and a star bed, where you can gaze at Kabini’s dazzling skies. What’s more, you can enjoy a private candlelight cruise dining experience and or a dinner for two by the Kabini. Doubles from Rs28,588, inclusive of taxes. Website.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka
The Serai, Bandipur
This hotel is built to ensure you don’t miss out on any of Bandipur’s sights and sounds. With wooden and stone-tiled floors and walls, thatched roofs and wood-beam ceilings, The Serai blends in seamlessly with its surroundings. The cabins on stilts boast floor-to-ceiling windows to ensure the outside always finds its way inside, while the private gardens in the front yard allow you to soak in the beauty of the Nilgiris. The sights and sounds extend to the bar and the alfresco dining area by the pool, where you may hear the distant calls of animals or birds. Besides game rides, go mountain biking and trekking, or ride the train to Ooty. Doubles from Rs 14,500, inclusive of breakfast, a nature walk and bonfire night. Website
The Windflower Resort & Spa
Switch off from the world and your daily routines; there’s no cellphone connectivity, Wi-Fi or television here. But there’s plenty to admire on your game drives, from tigers and elephants to spotted deer and antelopes. Back in the hotel, opt for a suite, with tall windows, sun-roof showers and a cosy bed or a Jungle Cottage with a private sit-out that opens up to views of the valley. The safaris are sure to work up quite an appetite and tire you out. Lucky for you, the resort offers some delicious Kannada meals and live grill stations with succulent meats. The hotel also organises meals by the pool or the bonfire, where you can bring your safari stories, and the friendly staff will bring the kebabs, roti and warmth. To relieve your aches and pains, there’s a plethora of therapies, from hot stone spa treatments to traditional Ayurveda massages. Doubles from Rs9,870. Website.
Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Baghvan – A Taj Safari
About 100km from Nagpur and a five-minute drive from Pench National Park, this luxury hotel keeps you close to the city and closer to the majestic Bengal tigers. Each of the 12 colonial-style bungalows come with a rooftop machhan, indoor and outdoor shower areas and a private sit-out overlooking the woods. When you aren’t distracted by Pench’s rich wildlife, don’t forget to head to the Taj’s signature Jiva spa. Doubles from Rs18,899. The hotel also has a two-night package of Rs35,000, which includes a safari drive, the park fees and all meals. Website.
Jamtara Wilderness Camp
Sleep under the comfort of a star-spangled sky. Jamtara has a four-poster machaan that sits in the middle of the forest. While you keep your eyes out for shooting stars and your ears for the call of the wild, a mosquito net protects you at all times. The best part? You will be contributing to the local farmers, as most of the revenue generated from this initiative supports the cause. But if you aren’t feeling adventurous, choose from the 10 cosy wooden, luxury tents here. When you aren’t busy spotting tigers and leopards, unwind in the pool or borrow a book from the library and curl up in your lawn. Until 30 April 2021, the resort is offering a special package of a two-night stay for Rs53,500. This includes one safari, and other activities such as bird-watching, stargazing, a campfire night and cycle rentals. Website
Pench Jungle Camp
About a kilometre away from the Turia Gate of the Pench National Park, this lodge sits amid 50 acres of lush foliage. From safari tents and cottages to suites, there’s a room for every need at the resort. Pench Jungle Camp has assembled a team of talented local naturalists to meet the needs of every safari-goer. Outside of game drives, watch the skies switch shades by the Khoka Lake, savour a bush dinner, warm up by the bonfire or enjoy a romantic dinner for two by the pool. Rs16,000 per person for a two night stay, inclusive of all meals, two jungle safari experiences and two-way transfer between Pench and Nagpur. Website
Tadoba National Park, Maharashtra
Svasara Jungle Lodge
A stone’s throw from Tadoba’s Kolar Gate, this 10-acre eco-friendly lodge houses 12 cosy suites. One of the highlights of the resort is its talented team of naturalists that ensure your safari experience is unforgettable. The other is the delicious local Varadi fare served in the alfresco Teak Pavillion. The outdoor pool is the perfect place to unwind after a long day spent in the forest. A pavilion on the front lawns also screens tiger-centric documentaries every once in a while. Doubles from Rs10,500, inclusive of meals. Website
With nine spacious villas and three four-bedroom chalets, Bamboo Forest can accommodate a party of two to a family of eight. The lake-facing rooms set amid bamboo groves come with open-air bathtubs and private gardens overlooking the lake-facing gazebo. The thick bamboo forests have made Tadoba the perfect ground for tigers, leopards, sloth bear, Indian gaurs and many other animals, making it a go-to place for wildlife lovers. Besides safaris, there are several other activities at the resort—stargazing, lakeside dinners, nature walks and birdwatching. Doubles from Rs20,600, inclusive of meals. Website
You don’t have to go too far to spot the king of the jungle here. The property is home to the waterhole Tiger Taka, which is frequented by a plethora of wild animals that can be spotted from one of the six rooms itself. Four of the rooms are on the main property that lead to a veranda and swimming pool, while two are located in the neem-shaded cottage with a sunny balcony and cosy living room. Enjoy your morning cuppa in the company of birds on the verandah, take long walks around the jungle and enjoy a bush dinner of barbeque hot off the grill. Doubles from Rs13,000, inclusive of meals. Website
Velavadar Black Buck National Park, Gujarat
The Blackbuck Lodge
Laced with Savannah grasslands, The Blackbuck Lodge along the Velavadar National Park throws you right into the wild. The 70-acre property is punctuated with 14 luxury villas, with decks overlooking the bush, indoor and outdoor baths, and some with a plunge pool. Besides the majestic Indian antelopes, spot the Indian endangered grey wolf and some rare birds. Expect meal time to be just as special as your safari. Food, including traditional Kathiyawadi meals and barbeque snacks, is served at the glass waterfront dining room under a starlit sky. Doubles from Rs14,400, exclusive of meals. Website.
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Mahua Kothi, a Taj Safari
The Bandhavgarh National Park is home to over 70 tigers and your chances of spotting one are pretty high at this park. Mahua Kothi’s 45-acre property lies just on the periphery of Bandhavgarh. Under the shade of mahua trees, lie 12 airy mud-walled cottages that provide guests the village experience with all the luxuries. From the property, guests can enjoy the views of grasslands dotted with colourful birds and monkeys. Pick vegetables and fruits from the garden to make your own salad. Cool off at the pool under the shade of mahua trees or enjoy a sumptuous bush dinner or request your private buttler to reach it to your room. Doubles from Rs20,999. The hotel also offers a two-night package of Rs35,000, which includes all meals, and a safari drive.
Samode Safari Lodge
Close to the Kothi entrance of the park, the lodge is made of 12 rustic villas, an infinity pool, a gym, spa, solar-heated jacuzzi and canopied daybeds, perfect to unwind after a long day in the jungle. Choose between individual chalets and private villas kitted with spacious living rooms and private terraces that let you admire the beauty that is Bandhavgarh. But the biggest draw is its spacious bath—with a beautiful tiger mural painted by a Gond artist—that opens up to sweeping views of the forest. Savour a Mediterranean meal under the shade of Mahua trees at daytime, and feast on Indian fare in the company of brazier that will keep you warm at night. Doubles from Rs22,000, inclusive of all meals. Website.
Your safari ride begins right from the time you reach the property. A machaan here overlooks a watering hole, frequented by animals, so you don’t have to go too far to spot them. You may even see them from one of the five rooms–perched on mahua, tendu, peepal, banyan and palash trees. Although they are made from all natural and local materials like regularized wood, the insides don’t compromise on any amenities, with a cosy four-poster bed, minibar, writing table, balconies and loungers to sit back and watch the forest creatures go by. Doubles from Rs37,000, inclusive of two safari experiences and all meals. Website.
Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
The Sarai at Toria
A walk along a rope bridge leads you to this rustic lodge perched high above the River Ken. It is run by big-cat biologist Raghunandan Singh Chundawat and his wife, wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist Joanna van Gruisen. The six-cottage eco-lodge leaves a minimal carbon footprint, with mud-based walls, tin-and-grass roofing, power run on solar and biomass. But the rooms don’t skimp on luxury and are just as cosy and homely, with sunlit bathrooms, private verandahs and courtyards. Meals and drinks are served outdoors, and for breakfast you may have Golden Orioles and Purple Sunbirds for company. If you’re lucky, Chundawat will accompany you on your game drives. Besides wildlife viewings, there’s a lot more to explore here. The historic temples of Khajuraho are just a 30-minute drive, while the Raneh Falls are about an hour’s drive. The falls are worth a trip even off season. They dry up to reveal a 100-ft pink-and-grey graphite canyon and rocks from two billion years ago. Doubles from Rs20,500 inclusive of meals, a safari experience and boat ride or bird walk. Website.
Ken River Lodge
The grandson of the Maharaja of Nagod Shyamendra Singh built Ken River Lodge in 1986. The lodge has been washed off twice due to floods in 1992 and 2007, however has been rebuilt with the same passion. Today, it is a beautiful property with eight village-style huts spread across 50 acres of land that is home to crocodiles, birds and tigers. A wooden deck overlooks the river with massive tree trunks growing through it. Besides exploring the Panna Tiger Reserve, the brave-hearted can drive down an hour to the Jhinna Camp for an overnight safari experience of watching nocturnal animals like jackals, porcupines, foxes, leopards, hyena and wolves. Doubles from Rs13,000, inclusive of meals. The jungle package doubles from Rs24,000, inclusive of meals and two safari experience with park and guide charges. Website.
Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Banjaar Tola, a Taj Safari
Situated along the Banjaar river, adjoining the Kanha National, is this beautiful lodge sprawling over 90 acres of land. It encompasses 18 large tents perched on the banks of the river on the east and west side, each with its own bar, terrace lounge, dining room and pool. The tents open up to a verandah with the river flowing by and the bathtub to the views of the forest. The food celebrated tribal flavours and the ingredients are sourced from the lodge’s organic garden. A private butler will bring tea and breakfast to your bed and escort you with a flashlight from dinner. Doubles from Rs20,999. The hotel also offers a two-night package of Rs35,000, which includes all meals, and a safari drive. Website.
Kanha Earth Lodge
A haven for a wildlife purist, Kanha Earth Lodge is built in less than 5% of the 16 acres of forest lands surrounding it. Everything screams eco-friendly at the resort. The cottages are built from locally available materials such as mud plaster, terracotta tiles and rough-hewn timber beams. The furniture is crafted from recycled wood. When you aren’t busy spotting one of Kanha’s 90 big cats, unwind under the shade of mahua trees at the infinity pool tipping over the forest, catch a wildlife documentary or borrow a book from the library and savour a traditional meal of tikkar roti (flatbread roasted in camel foot leaves) and lamb boti curry and more. Doubles from Rs12,000, inclusive of breakfast. Website.
The luxury tents of Bagh Villas take their cue from the hunting lodges of erstwhile maharajas. Each tent is set along the lake with a private verandah, and is a cosy place to retreat after spending a long day in the wild. Lounge by the pool, borrow a bike to explore the villages nearby and feast on meals made with ingredients straight from the property’s organic gardens. If a particular dish sticks with you enough to learn how to make it, the staff will be happy to hold a class for you. Doubles from Rs16,000, inclusive of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Website.
Satpura Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
Reni Pani Jungle Lodge
Satpura Tiger Reserve is about 11km away from the property. But a watering hole frequented by wildlife is right by the tents at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge, giving guests the opportunity to spot animals right from their doorstep or even their work desk facing a large window. The other stay option is the cottages with large decks, lounging bay windows and spacious baths. Jeep, canoe or boat safari to catch a glimpse of leopards, deer, tigers, birds and butterflies. Satpura National Park is one of the few in the country that also allows you to explore on foot. Doubles from Rs17,500, inclusive of all meals. Website.
Fringed by the buffer zone of Satpura National Park, Forsyth Lodge sprawls over a 44-acre jungle area that has its share of animal visiting. The 12 luxury cottages are crafted with cob, husk and cow dung and minimal use of concrete, leaving a minimal carbon footprint. Catch a glimpse of four-horned antelopes, Indian skimmers and earthstar mushrooms. Jeep, walking, canoe and dusk, you name the kind of safari and they have it. They also have a camping and junior rangers programme for children. Doubles from Rs13,000. The Jungle Plan inclusive of all safari activities and meals is Rs22,000. Website.
Gir Forest, Gujarat
Woods at Sasan
Gujarat’s Gir forest is home to the last of the Asiatic lions in the country, and Woods at Sasan offers the perfect base to greet the king of the jungle. But the lodge’s special experiences go way beyond the Asiatic Lion. A rail safari transports you to the forests of Kansiya Nes, where the Maldhari community of Gujarat lives. A wood safari lunch takes you deep into the woods to enjoy fresh, local delicacies prepared on wood fire, while you are serenaded by a live flute recital. A guided bird walk offers a glimpse of 300 species of birds and a vintage car ride takes you to the Hiran river to enjoy your evening cuppa and soak in the beauty. Choose to get a good night’s sleep in one of the 38 rooms equipped with all modern amenities, from a minifridge to a TV. Doubles from Rs10,900, inclusive of breakfast. The safari costs an additional Rs7,500. Website.
The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest
If you wish to throw in a safari to your work-from-anywhere routine, this Taj property along the Hiran River and the border of the Gir forest might be the place for you. High-speed internet, flatscreen televisions, a mini fridge and more, the cosy rooms are equipped with everything a big-city hotel has to offer. Don’t miss out on the delicious Gujarati thali served at Gaj. Doubles from Rs10,500. Website.