Four Stunning Safari Lodges Outside of Africa

Tent deck at Banjaar Tola, India

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When it comes to exotic safaris, who says Africa has to have all the fun? These four intimate safari camps located in central India make for unique and memorable adventures in the untouched wilderness, minus the crowds…

Mahua Kothi

Bandhavgarh National Park

Named after the Mahua tree, prized and revered in the region, intimate lodge Mahua Kothi is located in the Bandhavgarh National Park, a 448 square-kilometre tiger reserve, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

The 12 standalone mud cottages or ‘Kutiyas’ are built in the traditional local architectural style, nestling into an 18-hectare private forest on the periphery of the national park and overlook a large grassland home to monkeys and colourful birds. Each of the cottages features a bean-shaped pool screened by a bamboo thicket and shaded by Mahua trees to create an oasis on sweltering days.

The communal guest areas are housed in a large brick building with expansive verandas overlooking a grassland ringed by a forest patch, and the dining hall has a large fireplace to keep guests cosy on crisp winter nights.

Twice-daily jungle safaris are on offer at the lodge, so guests can embark on jungle safaris with trained naturalists in the national park and spot royal Bengal tigers, white tigers, leopards, deer and scores of bird species including eagles.

Expect plenty of guided nature walks, cultural walks and cycling trips through traditional villages, plus the opportunity to pick fresh vegetables and fruit from the lodge’s private organic gardens for meals. A select menu of in-room treatments including Ayurvedic massage by professional in-house masseurs is also available around the clock to round out a luxurious safari getaway.

Banjaar Tola

Kanha National Park

Safari lodge Banjaar Tola is situated along the banks of the Banjaar River overlooking the heart of Kanha National Park (also known as Kanha Tiger Reserve), in the Maikal Hills of the Satpura range in Madhya Pradesh. It is one of India’s two largest parks, covering 1945 kms of pristine Indian landscape of vast Sal tree forests, and is considered one of the best maintained National Parks in India thanks to successful conservation programs.

Banjaar Tola is perfectly positioned to take in all of this natural beauty, overlooking the core zone of the National Park and surrounded by 36 hectares of private Sal forest, grasslands and a seasonal lake.

The lodge boasts its own pool with outdoor as well as indoor lounge options and interactive dining areas, while the accommodation is glamping style with two intimate, elegant camps of nine tents each. Each tent offers beautiful views of the river and glass doors leading out onto a floating veranda.

The region’s rich cultural heritage can be found in the lodge’s guest areas, where Bastar bell metal work, Gond artwork and intricate stone carvings are found along with bamboo floors, locally crafted furniture and woven textures and textiles in shades of bleached saffron, forest greens and earthy cinnamon.

Twice-daily safaris are available with experienced naturalists in a specially-designed Tata open 4×4 safari vehicle. Guests have the chance to see tigers as well as other local inhabitants like jackals, sloth bears, monkeys, hyenas, mongoose, jungle cats and wild pigs. The elevated plateau of Bamhnidadar is home to birds of prey, while animals often gather at the watering holes of Sondar Tank and Babathenga Tank.

Pashan Garh

Panna National Park

Pashan Garh or ‘stone fortress’ is situated amid 81 hectares of private wilderness in the Panna National Park, a vast plateau dominated by tropical forests, deep ravines, cascading waterfalls and thick teak forest, and the most important protected area in the north central highlands.

The lodge is tucked into a rocky outcrop along the pristine Ken River with views of the Vindhya Hills and is perfectly positioned as a base for exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site Khajuraho – a group of 85 sandstone Hindu and Jain temples that date back a thousand years.

Another enticingly exclusive jungle lodge, just 12 luxurious cottages are on offer, drawing inspiration from the dry-packed stone houses of the Panna region, each with a private veranda and gazebo and a luxurious bathroom with a huge shower and twin hand basin.

The large and airy guest areas have exposed chunky stone walls and have been decked out in local treasures like vintage table lamps and rich textiles, and the open courtyards and stone deck overlook the expanse of the forest down a gentle slope. A lookout tower offers a perfect perch for bird watching by day and stargazing after sundown, and when it’s time to cool off there is a refreshing pool under plenty of shady trees.

With its position close to a waterhole, there are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife like the majestic Bengal Tiger, which Panna is known for, as well as the sloth bear, leopard, wolf, hyena, jackal, wild dog and crocodile. The reserve is also well known for sightings of nilgai, sambar, chital and wild boa and there are over 250 species of birds, including a host of migratory birds, which guests have the chance to see on guided bird walks on the property.

Delicious Indian fare, prepared by expert chefs as well as in-room service discreetly delivered using butler hatches is available. Guests can eat where they want, when they want, but our advice is not to miss Palanquin dining – a bush dinner on an ox cart.


Pench National Park

Situated in the Seoni District of southern Madhya Pradesh, Pench National Park – which runs in continuation with neighbouring Maharashtra – is dominated by hills, forests and valleys and is one of India’s lesser-known parks.

Only a few minutes from the national park entrance lies Baghvan, which literally means the ‘tiger forest’, with its 12 charming, stand-alone bungalows built alongside a picturesque ‘nullah’ (dry riverbed).

Each contemporary bungalow comprises two interlinked buildings accessed through courtyards, each with a spacious air-conditioned bedroom with private shaded sit-outs, cool, pale cream cement screed floors, covered passage inter-linking takes guests to generously proportioned bathrooms with double vanity, a separate toilet and indoor and outdoor showers.

Stairs lead guests up to a Machan, a covered jungle rooftop platform for romanticsleep-outs with mosquito net and overhead fan.

In the colonial-themed guest areas a vintage radio, crystal candelabras and metal chandeliers adorn the space while delicate Parsi tiles on the live food counter, woven hyacinth furniture and giant ebony chests add to the elegance of the hall.

And then there’s the infinity pool, shaded by trees and overlooking the forest. A tiny cottage across the safari shop houses a small library, computer and a television for guests, with massage treatments held in the adjacent room.

A typical central Indian teak jungle with hilly terrain and several jungle streams, Pench National Park supports a rich variety of wildlife including the tiger, leopard, wild dog and birds, and a trained naturalist is on hand to take guests on 4X4 safaris to view tigers and even follow fresh tiger pugmarks (footprints). Then, walk through a traditional MP village, visit Pachdhaar village and admire beautiful local pottery or embark on a foot safari in the nullah.

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