Unmissable Jungle Retreats In India: Part I

There's tourism beyond tigers. Under the bountiful canopy of nature, OT curates a unique list of guilt-free wildlife holidays that are exciting and rewarding for discerning travellers seeking immersive experiences in the forest
Forest exploration is rewarding for all age-groups, with learnings that go beyond books
Forest exploration is rewarding for all age-groups, with learnings that go beyond booksShutterstock

Want to take a break in nature but don't want to travel out of India? Here are some great options for a secluded holiday in the wild. With abundant forests around, opportunities to explore the small delights of Mother Earth can be a rewarding experience to choose, also for a greener planet, if you will. OT curated a list of 20 amazingly wild experiences to consider as a modern eco-friendly traveller in you. This list is spread over two parts.

Shergarh, Kanha National Park

Shergarh promises quintessential camp life in the wilderness with rustic comforts
Shergarh promises quintessential camp life in the wilderness with rustic comfortsShergarh

Located close to the Mukki gate of Kanha National Park lies Shergarh, a clutch of six unassuming tents centred around a waterbody in regenerated forest. Established in 2004 by Jehan and Katie Bhujwala, the place promises quintessential camp life in the wilderness with rustic comforts (locally made mud-tile structures over the tents offer protection from the heat and cold), homey meals using vegetables from their own garden and an air of informality overall. Aside from game drives with in-house naturalists, Shergarh also organises cycling trips into the forests and tribal belts, village walks and birdwatching treks. 

Tariff: INR 4,000 per person per night (includes accommodation and food), INR 6,000 per person per night (includes accommodation, food and safari) open mid-October to mid-May 

Contact: Jehan +91 (0) 9098 187346/ Katie +91 (0) 7567 953074 shergarh.com

Buxa Valley Homestay, Buxa Tiger Reserve

Enjoy the lushness of Buxa
Enjoy the lushness of BuxaBuxa Valley Homestay

This beautiful reserve in West Bengal is one of a contiguous network of conserved wild spaces that stretch from Bhutan to Assam. At 760 sq km, it is also one of the larger ones. Home to, of course, the tiger but also to the clouded leopard, wild dogs and the pangolin, this is a beautiful land of rolling forests. As tourism in the core area is prohibited here anyway, it&rsquos unaffected by the ongoing tussle over tiger tourism. In fact, villages around the reserve like Lapchakha, Santalabari, Chunavati and others have opened a number of homestays that are cheap and comfortable with the active support of the West Bengal tourism department. 

Tariff: From INR 2000 for doubles 

Contact: www.buxavalley.com

The West Bengal Tourism website, westbengaltourism.gov.in, has a detailed list of the homestays including their addresses, contact numbers, number of rooms offered and tariffs.

Wildernest Nature Resort, Swapnagandha Valley

Wildernest is an award-winning establishment that provides everything you could ask of a nature retreat
Wildernest is an award-winning establishment that provides everything you could ask of a nature retreat Wildernest.Goa/Instagram

Wildernest Nature Resort was conceived in 2004 as a counter move - an effort to block the mining lobby from ravaging this stretch of the Western Ghats. This region on the Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra border, on the fringe of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, was an important wildlife corridor and the founders wanted to keep it that way. Twenty years later, Wildernest is an award-winning establishment that provides everything you could ask of a nature retreat sylvan surroundings, treks, an impressive array of flora and fauna, appropriately rustic ambience, local ethnic food and a garden bar called Cloud 9 where, in the summers, you should try a local cashew extract called "urrak". 

Tariff: Wildernest (from INR 6,900, double) and its sister concern Swapnagandha (INR 10,000, double) are a two-and-a-half hour drive from Margao.

Contact:

Time 10.00 A.M. to 7.00 P.M.
+91 831 4207954 and +91 831 4201662
Time 7.00 P.M. to 10.00 P.M.
+91 93411 12721wildernest-goa.com

Chambal Safari Lodge, National Chambal Sanctuary

Mela Kothi is a peaceful oasis on a 35-acre heritage plantation surrounded by the Chambal ravines
Mela Kothi is a peaceful oasis on a 35-acre heritage plantation surrounded by the Chambal ravinesMela Kothi

In the land of the infamous dacoits, Mela Kothi, built in the late 1890s as a camp office for a bi-annual cattle fair in Jarar, fell into disrepair by the 1990s. Rai Saheb Suraj Pal Singh's great-grandson Ram Pratap Singh restored the estate as Chambal Safari Lodge, a peaceful oasis with 13 eco-friendly rooms on a 35-acre heritage plantation. Surrounded by the Chambal Ravines, the lodge is near the National Chambal Sanctuary (NCS), a protected area since 1979. The tri-state NCS, spanning 400 km of the Chambal River and 1235 sq. km of ravines, safeguards Gharials, Marsh Crocodiles, turtles, Smooth-coated Otters, and the Gangetic River Dolphin. The sanctuary is also a haven for over 330 bird species, including the Indian Skimmer. Boat safaris are rewarding to observe the endangered gharials basking in the sun or if lucky, one may even spot the playful dolphins.

Tariff: INR 15000 doubles

Contact: +91 99970 66002 chambalsafari.com

Denwa Backwater Escapes, Satpura National Park

A boat safari while staying at Denwa Backwater Escapes is an exhilarating activity
A boat safari while staying at Denwa Backwater Escapes is an exhilarating activityPugdundee Safaris

Satpura National Park is one of the upcoming big cat tourism hubs with the jungle gradually bouncing back with it's tiger population. Denwa Backwater Escape, at the edge of the park and the Tawa reservoir, is set in an area with restored mixed forest, and has resident chital, wild boar, jungle cats, mongoose and civets, and is an excellent habitat for birds, butterflies and dragonflies. With the beautiful Tawa reservoir in the neighbourhood, a part of the Denwa river available for boat safaris, on private boat owned by Denwa providing ambience and expertise, this is a very complete wilderness experience. Take it all in by foot, boat, jeep or merely by sitting in the comfortable verandas, watching butterflies in the grass. 

Tariff: INR 18,000 per person per night on twin share, open from October 16 to June 30, located 180km/3.5 hours from Bhopal. Bookings on denwabackwaterescape.com

Wolf Tracking, Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary

Go wolf tracking in Spiti Valley
Go wolf tracking in Spiti Valley

We go on about the charismatic tiger but there's something awfully special about wolves in India, you know Experts are shaking their heads over the exact lumping of species, but our Himalayan wolf, classified as a subspecies of Canis lupus, is the most ancient of its kind, with a lineage going back 800,000 years. Spiti Ecosphere carries out a range of activities in the Spiti region, and among their most thrilling operations is a tour to track this rare canid. So set out to spot the shanku in the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, learn about its complex, strained relationship with the local communities and pitch in to conserve this critically endangered species. 

Information: Spiti Ecosphere (01906-222652, spitiecosphere.com) runs flexible, customisable tours to track the Himalayan wolf. Rates are approx. INR 2,000 a day but vary according to itinerary and group size.

Nanda Devi Homestays, Nanda Devi National Park

Mesmerizing view of Nanda devi from Kuari pass hiking trail near Auli, Uttrakhand
Mesmerizing view of Nanda devi from Kuari pass hiking trail near Auli, Uttrakhand

Ecologically sustainable wildlife tourism is best done by local communities and the homestays run by Mountain Shepherds in the villages of Lata and Tolma in the Dhauli Ganga valley in Garhwal are one of the best. Abutting the wild and pristine Nanda Devi National Park, Mountain Shepherds is an offshoot of the Nanda Devi Campaign for cultural survival and livelihoods spearheaded by the Marcha Bhotia community of this valley. You stay in small but comfortable traditional village homes, and enjoy some delicious local cuisine prepared by your hosts. The organisation even arranges for treks in the deodar and birch forests of the national park with local guides who know the local flora and fauna like the back of their hands. 

Tariff: The homestays come for INR 800 per day for a double, inclusive of all meals. Trekking charges are extra. 

Contact: Sunil Kainthola, 9719316777, bhotiya@gmail.com, mountainshepherds.com

Muddyboots, Western Ghats

Muddyboots offers trails like the Secrets Of Demon Mountain in Wayanad
Muddyboots offers trails like the Secrets Of Demon Mountain in WayanadMuddyboots.in

Some of the most beautiful nature and wildlife spots also sometimes seem inaccessible. Muddy Boots, launched in 2009, is a travel company with a focus on opening up offbeat adventure trails in northern Kerala, Coorg and the Nilgiris. Among their various hiking and cycling trails is a trek to Chembra, Wayanad's highest peak at 2,100m. The walk takes you through a combination of scenic rainforest, Shola forest and grasslands before giving way to breathtaking views at the top. Or you could choose a six-hour walking safari through the buffer zone of the sheltered Tholpetti Wildlife Sanctuary, adjoining Nagarhole National Park where you can expect to see elephants, deer, bison, wild dogs, a rich variety of birds, and maybe even tiger or leopard if it's your lucky day. Vacations range from one day to three weeks and more, with accommodation offered in local homestays.

Stay: Muddy Boots has its own accommodation - Pranavam - set in 150 acres of spice and coffee plantations in Wayanad (pranavamhomestays.com). 

Tariff: INR 1,250 onwards per person 

Contact: 9544201249, muddyboots.in

Elephant Valley, Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu

Deluxe houses at Elephant Valley are serene getaways in itself
Deluxe houses at Elephant Valley are serene getaways in itselfDune Group

When Elephant Valley opened in 2003, it was supposed to be an agricultural project - about growing organic vegetables, reviving an abandoned coffee estate, preserving traditional methods of farming. Then people came to look and wanted to stay a bit. So they built a cottage. And then another one. And now there are 24. The rooms, each of them unique, are gorgeous structures, constructed from local material and salvaged doors and windows. Stay in the latest "Kerala House" or in Gangavar, by the river. For lookout, you have the scenic Western Ghats and a centuries-old elephant migration route. Go trekking or horse riding in the 100-acre property, and eat their delicious, fresh-off-the-farm meals. 

Tariff: Starts from INR 3,500 doubles. More information on their website

Getting There: Located in Tamil Nadu's Palani Hills, Elephant Valley is 22km from Kodaikanal and 120km/3hrs from Madurai by road.

Rainforest Retreat, Mojo Plantation, Coorg

Enjoy spectacular views from Rainforest Retreat
Enjoy spectacular views from Rainforest RetreatRainforest Retreat

Every single thing about Rainforest Retreat is about being harmoniously in line with nature. Scientists Sujata and Anurag Goel wanted to develop sustainable methods of agriculture, conduct research and create a model sustainable farm. They did all that, set up an NGO called WAPRED and added a wonderful self-sustaining eco-lodge to cater to environmentally conscious travellers. So set in the middle of an organic spice plantation are these guesthouses, where you shouldn't expect electricity, phones or television. What you do get though is a ringside view of the Western Ghats - this is one of the finest birding and trekking spots in the belt. Your hot water is solar heated, your food cooked with gobar gas - you'll find it all very natural. 

Tariff: Rainforest Retreat (from Rs 2,000, double 08272-265638/6, rainforestours.com)

Getting There: Located 10km from Madikeri town in Kodagu, Karnataka.

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