It's Camping Season And These Are The Luxury Safari Lodges In India On Our Listby | October 19, 2019
Living under the shadows of glass and concrete buildings, driving on smooth, parallel roads, it’s difficult to picture another world, where the rules of urban life don’t apply. Imagine going to sleep after gazing at a sky full of stars and waking up to the sounds of nature—birds chirping, leaves swishing, animals roaming in the wild. If you’re lucky, a giraffe will pop its head into your window to say hello or a hippopotamus will plonk itself in the waterhole next to your safari lodge. That’s the journey from the concrete to the bush I made when I had my first safari experience in South Africa.
With a vast green cover in India (we have more than a hundred national parks in the country), there’s so much we can explore in our homeland. So, don’t book Masai Mara just yet because the luxury safari lodges in India pack a punch with their offerings—expansive properties, nature-inspired decor, views that never let you forget where you are, and curated safaris with conservationists and experts. Since the season has arrived to bring out the camouflage jackets and leather boots, we’ve handpicked the best safari lodges in India that will add a little wild to your life.
Not your usual safari lodge, Aman-I-Khas on the outskirts of Ranthambore National Park has 10 Mughal-inspired tents that are bigger than an average house in Mumbai. These six-metre-high canopies will change your idea of tented accommodation—all come with a living room, an ensuite bathroom, and a bedroom, divided by white cotton drapes. In the mornings, enjoy a cup of coffee on your private deck and watch the sunrise against the Aravali Hills with no sounds of urban life to interrupt the silence.
In your Aman itinerary, add enough safari slots (morning and evening) to be able to spot the resident tigress Arrow Head and her two young cubs. Once a hunting ground for the Maharaja of Jaipur, the national park is home to tigers, leopards, sambar deer and more than 300 varieties of birds. Apart from open jeep safaris, you can also go for camel rides, explore the Ranthambore Fort, and plan a bird-watching trek. After a day in the forest, come back to your tent for a soak in the tub, or book a traditional Ayurvedic massage.
Price: INR 24,000 upwards per night for two people
Diphlu River Lodge, Assam
The Kaziranga National Park shelters the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos, and separated by a river from this UNESCO World Heritage Site is Diphlu River Lodge. A four-hour drive from Guwahati, the lodge has become a royal address after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine Middleton stayed here in 2016. But there’s more to the lodge, including its eco-friendly practices. The cottages are made from bamboo and wood, with thatched roofs and feel almost one with the natural forest surroundings, with no fences keeping the wild out. Inside, there are pieces of cane furniture and local artefacts. In addition, the lodge employs the local community, serves their own organic fruits and veggies, and recycles greywater for irrigation as part of their commitment to responsible tourism.
With just eight private cottages and four semi-private cottages, the safari lodge offers exclusivity to its guests. The meals are served at the riverfront Machan, where you can sit in the verandah and gaze at the birds of the forest. Diphlu also organises picnics by the riverside and barbeque and cultural performances in an open area surrounded by bamboo trees. Safaris in the national park, definitely, are the highlight of the stay—travel in windowless, open jeeps with an in-house naturalist and come back with an album full of pictures of the forest (and rhinos if you’re lucky). Want something more out of your trip? Check out the rest of what the lodge offers, including elephant bathing, a river cruise, and cultural activities like exploring the village and watching an Assamese dance performance.
Price: Winter package starts at INR 9,975 upwards per night
Jaagir Lodge, Uttar Pradesh
Deep inside the Terai forests, The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) is bringing nature lovers to a colonial jungle lodge, built in the 1940s, for an intimate safari experience. A part of Rare India, the exclusive lodge is a perfect vacation spot for birders, wildlife lovers, and families that want to educate their kids about nature and conservation. The rooms and suites in the lodge are designed to recreate the comforts and glamour of the colonial-style of safaris (antique furniture, plush upholstery, and high ceilings). The new brick villas with thatched roofs and private verandas don’t distract from the scenery. In fact, they blend into the forest and, of course, the modern touches (selection of pillows, luxury amenities, air conditioning) are appreciated.
With four forests in its vicinity (Dudhwa National Park, Pilibhit National Reserve, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, and Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary), the camping experience is diverse and educative. Here, you'll get a chance to find out more about conservationist Billy Arjan Singh, and learn about the one-horned rhino, the barasingha, and a variety of birds.
Price: INR 45,000 upwards per night
The Blackbuck Lodge, Gujarat
You may not get to see the elusive tiger or other big mammals, but this is the ideal spot for those who want to learn more about the endangered species and the conservation efforts in place to stop their extinction. The Velavadar National Park was once the hunting ground for the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, who was known for hunting cheetahs. Today, however, the endangered blackbucks are more protected in the region and live freely in the wild. Your chances of spotting one are quite high since conservation efforts have increased their numbers from 200 to 3,400. In addition, bird-watchers can spot pelicans, painted storks, cranes, and the rare Lesser Florican.
The Blackbuck Lodge, close to the national park, has 14 luxury cottages, replete with ensuite baths, an outdoor shower, a deck, and a patio and sitting area. Inside, you’ll find a combination of rustic and modern designs with rough-hewn stone walls, wooden logs as bedside lamps, granite floors, and wooden furniture. The best room in the house is the Pool Villa, which comes with a beautiful outdoor pool that looks out to the forest. As is expected, there are jungle safaris, excursions with naturalists, and discovery of the local attractions on the cards here. You can also book a bush dinner experience.
Price: INR 14,000 upwards
The Serai Bandipur, Karnataka
The Bandipur National Park, located in Karnataka, is a great location for spotting tigers, leopards, elephants, and sloths. Amidst the dry vegetation and African savanna-like landscape, The Serai Bandipur gives wildlife lovers a taste of nature. Spread over 35 acres, the luxury resort has taken cues from Africa’s gaming lodges and also has tell-tale signs of the clean, Mediterranean style. The rooms have wooden paneling, verandahs, and floor-to-ceiling windows so guests can revel in the beauty of where they are. The Serai features courtyard rooms and log huts, but The Residence is the most discreet and luxurious address here, with a living and bedroom, a dressing area, an ensuite bathroom, and an outdoor bathing area. Take a flight of stairs to the terrace and watch the everyday life of the jungle from the daybed.
Jungle safaris are definitely the highlight of the stay, but families can also go for nature walks and a bullock cart ride to a nearby village. At the Oma Spa, book some ‘me-time’ with a signature massage (there’s also something special for couples on the spa menu). If you’re planning this trip for a special occasion with your partner, then you’d love the outdoor picnics and romantic dinners that the property can plan for you.
Price: INR 14,000 upwards
Reni Pani Jungle Lodge, Madhya Pradesh
In the heart of Madhya Pradesh, the Satpura Tiger Reserve is not a name you will hear in the safari circuit as much as the crowd favourites Panna, Bandhavgarh, and Pench. That’s why it’s on our list. Here, you can see a tiger (if you’re lucky), go canoeing, and boat riding, and explore the different landscapes (from hillocks and gauges to waterfalls and valleys), but without tourists clicking away all around you. When the jeep is purring through the jungle with intensity, you will not find more motors crowding the scene around the sloth or the big cat, and that makes its enriched wildlife even more exciting. Even if the tiger evades you, you will still come back with the sounds of the jungle and (most likely) photos of its houseguests—sambhar, sloth, Indian white bison, and Malabar squirrel.
Your home in the wilderness will be the Reni Pani Jungle Lodge, which derives its name from the Reni trees that surround the property. The lodge offers accommodation in luxury tents and cottages designed with indigenous materials that let you be one with nature. Listen to the chirping of birds out on your deck early in the morning, take a dip in the private pool, book a massage at the spa, or grab a book from the library and spend your evenings by the fireplace—the lodge will give you some downtime in the forest. In addition, the lodge also gives you a taste of the local area with an anthropological expedition, a nature walk, an elephant safari, and bird watching.
Price: INR 28,000 upwards per night
Featured Image: Aman-i-Khas