7 best luxury wildlife lodges in India is a guest post from Jyotsna Ramani of Wander with Jo.
Wildlife safari accommodation has progressed in leaps and bounds as compared to the basic dusty tents which were the hallmark of explorers of the past.
Nowadays, safari specialists in India are offering a range of luxurious lodges and opulent tented camps to attract guests who are seeking a safari experience that comes with comfort as well as a lot of style.
From superb gourmet cuisine, memorable game drives in state-of-the-art open topped vehicles to expert guides having in-depth knowledge of jungle lore and local culture, tour operators are vying with each other to offer their clients the best base to launch their Indian wildlife experience.
We give you here, a roundup of seven of the most luxurious lodges in India, that not only offer absolute comfort but will redefine your safari vacation bordering some of the most popular national parks of India as well.
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Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdundee
Conveniently nestled in the wilds of the Seoni the Chindwara districts of the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Pench Tree Lodge is the epitome of luxury, offering its guests an intimate wildlife stay in twelve elegant cottages and tree houses.
Run by Pugdundee Safaris chain of lodges, the Karmajhiri gate of the famous Pench National Park is a short twenty minutes drive away from the lodge, from where guests are offered morning and evening game drives, accompanied by extremely knowledgeable guides, who know the area and animal movements like the palm of their hands.
Apart from game drives, guests have a host of other activities to choose from including birdwatching, cycling, night walks, village visits and much more. For those looking for relaxation, you can cool your heels in the outdoor swimming pool or just tie a hammock under a shady tree and watch unhindered forest views from the sprawling verandah.
Savour lip-smacking local dishes, sourced from the organic garden or the nearby tribal villages and curl up with a book at night and let the sounds of the surrounding jungle remind you that you are amidst mother nature, before you are lulled into a peaceful slumber.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for Pench Tree Lodge here
Shergarh Tented Camp, Kanha
Rustic comfort and homely charm, has earned the Shergarh Tented Camp the reputation of an ideal luxury base to explore the nearby Kanha National Park in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The in-house well-versed naturalists in this lovely tented safari camp,will provide an authentic wildlife experience to their guests, unlike none other. Kanha, being a part of the finest eco-system in India, is home to a healthy population of Bengal tigers and few visitors return without at least one glimpse of the majestic animal.
The Shergarh luxury camp is located merely 3 km from the Mukki entrance gate.The property has its own water body, fed by underground springs, which ensures it remains full even during the harsh summer months. As such, birdlife inside the camp is plentiful and one can spot kingfishers, egrets and other water birds from the verandah of the lodge.
Wholesome Indian and Continental cuisine is served to the guests using locally sourced fresh produce, including fish, farmed on the camp’s own lake.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for Shergarh Tented Camp here
The Ranger’s Lodge, Corbett
This high end homestay located right on the edge of the Corbett National Park, near Ramnagar, Uttrakhand, is run by the well-known naturalist Imran Khan who has been roaming the surrounding jungles for over two decades.
Surrounded by lush green dense jungle on two sides, with a water channel forming a natural boundary, the clean and air-conditioned The Ranger’s Lodge provides guests with the most upscale amenities, with barbeque facilities either on the terrace or on the edge of the jungle.
Apart from the lavish accommodation, guests are greeted with surreal forest views and a cacophony of bird calls, first thing early morning. Activities include nature walks, birdwatching, a trip to the Garjia temple and most importantly game drives in different zones of the park accompanied by the master naturalist Imran, himself.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for The Ranger’s Lodge here
Mela Kothi Chambal Safari Lodge
Just an hour’s drive away from the iconic world famous monument the Taj Mahal of Agra,this exclusive Safari lodge lies in the heart of the Chambal River Valley in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Situated over acres and acres of reclaimed woodland, the Mela Kothi at the Chambal Safari Lodge makes for a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the neighbouring towns. Guests can simply relax in this oasis of tranquillity or go for bike rides, besides spending quality time on the sprawling lawns with other guests.
All rooms are set in idyllic settings consisting of eight cottages and three suites in other buildings. Guests are served authentic homemade food with ingredients sourced directly from the local farmers.
The key activity here is a boat safari on the Chambal river for great sightings of mugger crocodiles, gharials and turtles basking in the sun, apart from home to many migratory birds and the occasional glimpse of the critically endangered gangetic dolphin.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for Mela Kothi here
Sariska Manor, Sariska
This neoclassical wilderness retreat is located right next to the entrance of Sariska, one of the oldest of all the national parks in India. Sariska Manor is spread over many acres of land, the outer periphery of which is on reclaimed forest land, complete with fruit trees and a water body to enable the flora and fauna to thrive.
As many as 26 tasteful cottages with Lux dining and lounging areas, allow guests to experience the colonial charm of the beautiful gardens and the elegant swimming pool area. The style of accommodation provides an insight of the fondness of English and the Maharajas who had a penchant for wildlife.
From cycling, visits to ancient temples,forts, birdwatching, rock climbing and game drives inside the park, the activities at Sariska Manor offer an unbelievable adventure experience to the discerning wildlife enthusiast. For ghost lovers,the spooky Bhangarh Fort is said to provide the ultimate haunting experience.
For the genial owners, Gajendra and Sunita Singh, Sariska Manor was love at first sight, and we are absolutely sure that it will be the same for you.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for Sariska Manor here
Denwa Backwater Escape, Satpura
Located in the vicinity of the Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh, the Denwa Backwater Escape is a premium safari lodge overlooking the waters of the Denwa River in an area called Madhai. This ten acres of prime property lies on one side of the river, while the park itself lies on the opposite side.
The luxury lodge offers unparalleled views of the Denwa River and the dense forests beyond right up to the rolling grasslands at the base of the Pachmari hills. Moreover, it enjoys a prime location in close proximity to all the important entry points to the park with the Madhai gate being the nearest.
Key activities at the lodge include non-vehicular impact, buffer excursions to Rukhad, nature walks, wildlife photography opportunities in the Kipling Hide(the first of its kind, luxury underground hide for photographing wildlife in the whole of India) as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A boat safari on the Denwa River is a unique way to explore the park and the sight of crocodiles and a host of resident and migratory birds keep visitors occupied during the trip. When it comes to something out of the ordinary, guests can have a dreamy outing by enjoying an alfresco meal and a drink or two during a riverside bush dinner. A perfect setting to bond with your loved ones.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for Denwa Backwater Escape here
The Junglemantra Resort is a high-quality lodge located quite close to the Tala gate(the most sought after entry point) of the spectacular Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh.The beautiful resort enjoys a top class location, surrounded by dense jungle in an area of over 21 acres.
A stay in Junglemantra is a thrilling experience in itself as wild animals commonly sneak inside the lodge limits(the owner once came across a cow killed by a tiger just yards away from the lodge) and can be even spotted on a walk back to the rooms at night. If this doesn’t give a boost to your wildlife holiday, nothing else will.
The lodge has recently installed a Treehouse Hideaway where guests can enjoy fantastic views of not only the main tiger reserve, but the impressive Bandhavgarh Fort in the background.There is a waterhole in the vicinity where wild animals often come to drink and on any given day guests can spot deer, wild boar, leopard or even a tiger coming for a drink.
Other accommodation in the resort includes exclusive but rustic cottages, which blend seamlessly with the surroundings and come with a private verandah overlooking the vista of jungles.
Owing to its excellent location between the buffer and core zone of the Bandhavgarh National Park, Junglemantra is a haven for both birds and animals alike.While the lodge offers conducted open jeep safaris inside the park at an additional charge, a walk in the sprawling jungle within the lodge itself provides an exhilarating experience in a wild setting.
Read TripAdvisor reviews for Junglemantra here
Safari travel money for India: How much to transfer and how much to bring?
While banks and ATMs are present throughout the country, the same is not the case where the National Parks are located. India is still very much a cash economy, so it is important to have access to hard cash on your safari trip.
Our tips for paying for your wildlife travel from your home country:
International Money Transfer:
For sending large amounts and peer-to-peer transfers PayPal is heads and shoulders above its competitors because of accessibility and wide choice of payment methods.
PayPal charges 99 cents minimum and $4.99 maximum with no limit for verified accounts. Funds are received instantly into the recipient’s PayPal account and transferred into a bank account the very next day.
Zalle: Best for bank transfer
If you don’t use PayPal, but still want fast and zero bank charges transfer you can directly pay through the Zalle app, even if your bank has no partnership with Zalle. While funds can be transferred in minutes, there is a limit of $500 per week.
Wise: Best for low fees
Depending on the currency in question, Wise offers fast transfers and low fees with Fx markups ranging between 0-1%. Wise charges a transaction fee of $99, which will give you the best safari deal by far
International Bank Transfer:
Once your safari agent in India quotes you in INR, you can remit the money by bank transfer.You will, however, have to pay substantially more fees in the form of charges using the SWIFT network, a fee of $100+ plus the exchange conversion charges of 3-4% extra.
Our picks for paying in India:
Travel card, debit card or credit card:
A travel card, unfortunately, doesn’t permit loading of Indian rupees, and if you do so a currency conversion fee will be levied if you use them in India.
Instead, it is better if you use debit or credit cards that do not charge fees for currency conversion and reduced fees for withdrawal of cash from ATMs.
Make sure you have different spending options as cards can get swallowed up by ATMs or wallets go missing. In such a scenario, it is best to have a combination of credit and debit cards and some extra cash for backup.
If you are a foreigner, you can bring up to 25,000 INR into the country. There is no restriction on the foreign currency you bring in, providing you declare amounts of $5000 or more, on arrival at the customs.
Moreover, credit cards are widely accepted across the country, have excellent in-built security measures and come with travel insurance and without foreign transaction fees, plus reward points earned.
Visa and MasterCard are accepted everywhere, while some establishments may accept American Express and Discover cards as well.
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.
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