There are some superb jungle lodges in India that provide unforgettable wildlife experiences. Many are dedicated to eco-tourism and conservation. If you're planning on going on safari, the choice of lodge becomes important as the quality of naturalists and transport varies. These lodges are all outstanding in terms of location, services, and activities. Some are well known, while others are off-the-beaten-track.
Jawai Leopard Camp offers the ultimate glamping experience in the untamed Rajasthan desert where leopards roam. This very exclusive and opulent experiential jungle lodge is surrounded by the Aravalli hills, halfway between Jodhpur and Udaipur. What makes it really unique is that the area is not part of a national park, so there are no restrictions. The property has just nine luxury tents in the wilderness. Although, calling them tents doesn't do them justice at all! If you really want to pamper yourself, stay in the royal suite with its own private heated swimming pool. Leopards aren't the only wildlife around. There are more than 170 species of birds and crocodiles. Jeep safaris, cycling, and treks offer the opportunity to see them. Other activities include village excursions, yoga and meditation, and day trips to Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranakpur Jain Temple. Outdoor dining is also a highlight. Imagine eating dinner under the stars in a private granite kopje (outcrop). It's possible!
- Rates: From 58,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Evolve Back (formerly the award-winning Orange County) sits on the edge of Nagahole National Park, surrounded by Karnataka's Kabini River. The philosophy is simple: provide an exquisite vacation and wildlife experience while preserving the nature and culture of the land. Guests are accommodated in 37 spacious huts, with the design inspired by tribal villages. Subtle on the outside but sublime on the inside, they either have their private swimming pool or open-to-the-sky Jacuzzi.
Facilities include reading lounge, Ayurvedic center, family swimming pool, and two gourmet restaurants. Guests can also dine by the riverside or on a candlelit cruise. Experiences offered include boat safaris and jeep safaris in the national park, coracle rides on the Kabini River, guided nature walks and night trails, and Kuruba tribal dances around the campfire. The lodge even has its own resident elephant that you can bathe and feed!
- Rates: From around 30,000 rupees per night, plus tax. Breakfast is included.
An eco-friendly CGH Earth property, Spice Village is also themed on a tribal village. Its thatch-roof cottages are set amid 14 acres of spice trees close to Periyar National Park. The environment is wild! Activities include boat safaris through the national park, forest treks, bird watching, visiting a local tribal village, and Kerala cuisine cooking classes. The property also has an Ayurvedic treatment center and outdoor swimming pool.
- Rates: From around 15,000 rupees per night, plus tax. Breakfast is included.
Named Most Inspirational Eco Lodge of the Year in the 2016 TOFTigers Wildlife Tourism Awards, stunning Singinawa Jungle Lodge showcases the region's unique tribal and arts culture. The lodge is unique because it has its own Museum of Life and Art, dedicated to tribal Gond and Baiga artisans, on the property. It's located on 110 acres of jungle and also undertakes many conservation initiatives. One of the special things about the lodge is that it offers a range of village experiences in addition to jungle safaris so that guests can connect with the local tribes and learn about their lifestyles. It's fascinating to be able to visit tribes in their village during the day and see them dressed up and performing their tribal dance at night. Gond tribal art lessons are also available.
Accommodations are provided in 12 rustic stone and slate cottages, plus a four-bedroom jungle bungalow, and a 2 bedroom jungle bungalow. Facilities include The Meadow spa with Indian and Oriental treatments and The Wallow swimming pool surrounded by nature.
- Rates: From around 16,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Chitvan Jungle Lodge is one of the top places to stay near Kanha National Park, and it's situated super close -- almost within walking distance of Mukki Gate. This secluded lodge is spread over 14 acres and does a wonderful job of blending in with its environment. The owners have converted farmland into a mini-forest with over 100 species of birds and butterflies. Their motto is "Conservation through Tourism" and the focus is on making tourism an alternate economy for the local community.
The idea behind Chitvan is to provide a retreat from worldy life -- with "chitt" being a product of the mind and ego, and "van" meaning forest. Guests can tame their minds among nature. The luxurious cottage accommodations have been named after various elements: Agni (fire), Prithvi (earth), Jal (water), and Akash (ether). All have magnificent views of the forest or farmland. Highlights are open showers, and private sit-outs and terraces. Meals are prepared using organic ingredients grown at the resort. Activities offered include jeep safaris in the national park, birding and butterfly spotting at the lodge, nature walks, tribal dances, bullock cart rides, and market visits.
- Rates: From around 6,500 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Another award-winning eco-lodge, Kanha Earth Lodge is also located near Kanha National Park, on 16 acres of forest in a small tribal hamlet bordering the buffer zone. It's around 30 minutes from the park's main entry gate (Khatia Gate). The lodge successfully blends eco-sensitivity and local village cooperation with a fantastic wilderness experience.
There are 12 independent luxury cottages for guests. Their design has been influenced by traditional Gond tribal architecture and locally available material has been used to build them. What's particularly notable about Kanha Earth Lodge is that it's managed by Pugdundee Safaris. The safaris conducted by this very reputable company really stand out in terms of knowledge and enthusiasm of naturalists, and maintenance and comfort of vehicles.
- Rates: From around 12,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Samode Safari Lodge at Bandhavgarh National Park is part of the Samode Hotels portfolio -- a renowned luxury heritage hotel group from Rajasthan that's in the process of expanding. The group is best known for its magnificent flagship property, the 500-year-old Samode Palace near Jaipur, which opened as a hotel in 1987. A trip to Africa prompted the owners, who are descendants of the royal family of Samode, to create the lodge. Its architecture has been inspired by the colorful villages around it. There are 12 eco-friendly, gorgeously furnished cottages, as well as a dining room, library, recreation room, a fully equipped spa, and swimming pool.
Food is a big focus at Samode properties. At the Samode Safari Lodge, guests are treated to different dishes daily for lunch and dinner so that they can experience a range of cuisines. The dining locations change as well. The lodge's safaris are also highly rated. The lodge has its own jeeps and expert naturalists, which are possibly the best in the area. Wildlife conservation is taken seriously, and guests are shown a thought-provoking documentary about tigers and the problems they face in India.
- Rates: From around 66,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
A Taj property, also at Bandhavgarh National Park, Mahua Kothi derives its name from the Mahua or butter tree. The substantially sized lodge occupies 40 acres of land around 20 minutes from the park entrance. Best defined as rustic luxury, it has two parts: the original kothi (homestead) that's been beautifully renovated and serves as the common space for guests, and newly constructed guest accommodations. The 12 guest huts have been built in central Indian village style, and are accessed through private courtyards with traditional mud floors. The recreated village experience also includes an open kitchen, breakfast displayed on a bullock cart, traditional Indian games, kettles of boiling water on charcoal burners, and bicycles for guest use.
In addition to morning and afternoon jeep safaris, conducted using the lodge's own naturalists and vehicles, guests can also go on guided nature walks, village and school visits, and learn star gazing. Special mahua martinis, made from the tree's flowers, are served in the evenings.
- Rates: From around 35,000 rupees per night, plus tax. Breakfast is included.
You're unlikely to see a tiger at lesser-known Satpura National Park but it's an excellent place to spend time in nature, and Forsyth Lodge is one of the best wildlife lodges to do it at. This lodge is set on 44 acres of reclaimed jungle at the edge of the park. It has 12 independent guest cottages constructed out of cob in an arc around the lodge building, giving them unique vantage points into the landscape The lodge is made out of rammed earth and holds dining areas, a well-appointed library devoted to Indian wildlife, a lounge, several fireplaces, and a bar. There's also an eco-friendly (chlorine-free) swimming pool and telescopes on the terraces for stargazing
Satpura National Park is an inspiring example of a park that doesn't just focus on the usual jeep safaris, although the lodge does offer them both during the day and at night. Other possible activities inside the national park include elephant safaris, canoe safaris, and walking safaris led by the lodge's naturalists. Notably, Satpura is one of two protected forests in India that visitors are allowed to walk through. In addition, the lodge offers an expedition to Pachmarhi plateau, a two-day hike to or from the plateau on the Forsyth Trail, and a three-day introductory course into jungle craft and understanding the wilderness.
- Rates: From around 22,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Reni Pani is another popular option for staying near Satpura National Park. It features 12 luxury cottages with three different locations and designs. Six of the cottages sit along the seasonal stream that runs through the property, four are in the forest, and two are atop a hillock on the property. The forest and hill cottages are built with local material and have private viewing decks and bay windows. The 30 acres of forest that the lodge occupies is blessed with thick trees, a wide meadow, seasonal stream, and watering holes that attract several species of birds and animals. It's pure delight for nature lovers! Bird watching, anthropology expeditions, jeep safaris, elephant safaris, boat safaris, canoeing and nature walks are all offered.
- From around 16,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Sherbagh is a pioneering luxury tented camp situated on a family estate bordering Ranthambore National Park, one of India's top destinations for seeing a tiger. It was founded by a local family who's played an active part in wildlife conservation in the area for more than 40 years. When they bought the estate in the 1980s, it was barren, degraded and devoid of vegetation. With much care and attention, they've grown a healthy forest on it, filled with trees, grasses and other indigenous flora, birds, and animals.
The 12 luxury tents nestled on the property have been designed along the lines of the 1920s safari accommodations popular during the British Raj. Inside, they're decorated with classic colonial furniture. The lodge provides guests with a detailed introduction to Ranthambore, its wildlife, and conservation efforts. It has its own exclusive safari vehicles and teams of wildlife trackers, so you can be assured of the best safari experience. There's also a jungle spa, under the canopy of a holy peepal tree, that offers a range of treatments.
- Rates: From around 46,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.
Off the beaten track, The Blackbuck Lodge has a fabulously secluded position along the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park, near the Gulf of Cambay on Gujarat's west coast. This park was formerly the private grassland and hunting ground of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar. Now, it's protected area for blackbucks (spiral-horned antelopes) to inhabit. And, you can watch them from the privacy of the veranda at the back of your room.
The Blackbuck Lodge occupies 70 acres of untamed land. It has 14 luxury villas for guests, with chic interiors and stylish architecture. The lodge offers safaris into the park and excursions to surrounding tourist destinations.
- Rates: From around 12,000 rupees per night, plus tax. Breakfast included.
Asiatic Lion Lodge opened in 2014 and offers eco-friendly accommodations near Gir National Park, where these lions roam. The lodge is a venture of Terra EcoTourism and the owners (who are keen wildlife photographers) have been in the hospitality industry for the past 20 years. It has a serene location, amongst nature near the village of Haripur, in the western part of the Gir jungle around six kilometers from Sasan Gir village (the entry point to the national park). Apparently, the lodge is the first eco-tourism property in the area.
There are 16 guest cottages, constructed in an environmentally friendly manner. The lodge's Flavors of Forest restaurant serves north Indian and regional Kathiawadi delicacies of Gujarat, cooked with organic ingredients where available. There's also the Forest Cafe, situated adjacent to a seasonal natural water pond. It's got a library with a wide variety of books on wildlife and is a great place to relax. In terms of activities, films on wildlife are shown every evening. Nearly 35 species of rare birds are often sighted in the area next to the lodge, and its naturalist takes guests on guided nature walks and bird watching walks. Other activities such as bicycle riding and visits to a nearby tribal village are possible, along with safaris into the national park.
- Rates: From around 4,000 rupees per night, plus tax. Breakfast is included.
Pench Jungle Camp offers luxury tented and cottage accommodations on 12 acres of forest close to the entrance of Pench National Park. What's particularly notable is that it has its own 38 acre ecological park, bordering the buffer zone of the national park, that's home to a diverse range of wildlife and birds. Guest can explore it on foot or horseback, or by bicycle. The camp has its own naturalists who also conduct birdwatching trips, along with jungle safaris inside the national park. Facilities include lounge and library, swimming pool, and Ayurvedic spa.
- Rates: From around 6,000 rupees per night, plus tax. Breakfast is included.
The Lake Palace is not your usual government owned and operated property -- it's surprisingly special in a number of ways. First, the location. It's on Lake Periyar in the midst of Periyar National Park and is only accessible by a 20 minute boat ride. Second, it was the summer retreat of the kings of Travancore. It's an intimate property with only six guest rooms, built in 1927. The old-world ambiance has been retained. A drawback of this is that the rooms and bathrooms are quite old fashioned, but some may say it's part of the charm! All the rooms offer fantastic views of the lake and jungle, and it's not uncommon to see deer, elephants, and wild buffaloes from them!
Since it's situated inside the park, the Lake Palace has an advantage of offering exclusive nature-based activities from its premises. These include wildlife boat cruises, nature walks, and trekking, bamboo rafting, border hiking, elephant rides, and jungle patrols. Outside the property, additional activities are bullock cart rides, plantation tours, visits to tea factories, and shopping for spices at the local market.
- Rates: From 10,000 rupees per night, plus tax. All meals are included.