By choosing one or two main locations for their holiday, guests have the chance to get to know the people in whose country they are a visitor. Real interaction can take place with time for friendships to develop and for experiences to be shared. We help visitors see India as it is lived by so many Indians yet seen by few foreigners.
Guests have time to learn the lie of the land and the rhythms of everyday life, with visits to pottery and weaving villages, tribal markets and local schools. The countryside is safe and the people friendly and most guests feel confident enough to do a little solitary exploration on foot or by bicycle.
Walks or Cycle rides in the Maikal Hills are a must for those who are able: from easy strolls in the forest to day long walks or rides with overnight stays in villages. The beautiful bike ride from Kanha National Park back to Bhoramdeo with a night or two camping en route is a particularly lovely way to see the landscape.
We hope that all of our guests will spend at least a few days at our Indian base, Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat (BJR). This is a wonderful opportunity to see India at village level. The medieval temple complex of Bhoramdeo is a just a minute’s walk from BJR and the Maikal hills provide a stunning backdrop, home to tigers, bears and leopards, along with a diversity of birds and butterflies. Accommodation is in airy comfortable traditionally built rooms, with ensuite bathrooms and shady verandas overlooking the garden. Your host Sunny will guide you round local villages with his irrepressible ebullience and deep local knowledge.
Kanha National Park is a three-hour drive (or three-day walk) from Bhoramdeo and one of India’s finest sites for viewing tigers. We like our guests to stay at Shergarh Tented Camp, on a quiet edge of the National Park, in room-sized, solid-floored, canvas tents with splendid attached bathrooms and wood-fired water heaters, overlooking a huge pool with dragonflies, frogs and birds. A professional naturalist is on hand for all guests; while expert in finding tigers and leopards he and all at Shergarh are keen to show that, although tourism in National Parks is probably the tiger’s greatest hope for survival, there is more to the forest than big cats.
Panna National Park is situated just south of Khajuraho and its incredible temples. At Panna we have the great good fortune to be able to stay with Raghu Chundawat and Joanna Van Gruisen. Raghu knows Panna rather better than anyone in the world and the story of his time there is worthy of a stay in itself. Raghu and Joanna run the beautiful Sarai at Toria and besides forays into the national park they offer cycle rides and village walks and sunset boat rides on the Phen river.
At the western end of the Satpura range (whose eastern edge begins with Chhattisgarh’s Maikal hills) lies Satpura National Park. Here is Reni Pani, one of the most luxurious of the destinations we use, comprising six individual cottages in forty acres of land managed for wildlife. Recent sightings include leopards and bears, and within the National Park, tigers. Satpura is one of the few National Parks that can be explored on foot, as well as by canoe and boat, while Reni Pani also offers bike rides and night drives.
From Reni Pani it is a three hour drive (via the extraordinary prehistoric cave paintings at Bhimbetka - a World Heritage Site at which you may well be the only visitor) to Bhopal, a fine historic city, with some of the best museums in India. Here is Jehan Numa Retreat, run by the same family as Reni Pani and also adjacent to a nature reserve. Rooms have verandas overlooking vegetable gardens that supply the kitchen, whose food is in the superb Mughlai tradtion.
Up in the North, in charming Landour, the pretty cantonment north of Mussoorie, we offer two week long Hindi courses at Landour Language School. Four private tutorials a day give one a good chance to get a basic sense of the language, or excellent revision if you already have some Hindi that needs brushing up. Charming accommodation is provided at Rokeby Manor with spectacular views of the Doon Valley. There are great walks to be had all around and fabulous birding.
NB All our accommodation-providers employ their staff year-round, despite the tourist season in rural areas only running from October to April. This ensures them a regular income and helps prevent migration to the cities.
Most guests will fly in to Delhi or Mumbai. There are direct flights from London that take about nine hours; prices for direct flights range from £500 - £650 but you may be able to find something cheaper if you don’t mind changing planes in the Middle East. Kolkata, an interesting and enjoyable city, is not served by direct flights from the UK, but good connections are available via the Middle East. We generally recommend an overnight stay in the city of arrival, before flying down to Raipur or Bhopal, which takes an hour or two. We will have someone there to meet you at each airport.
Good, affordable and well-positioned accommodation is hard to find here. Happily, Abode Boutique Hotel is a beautifully designed, centrally located hotel with rooms to suit a range of budgets. It supports a number of ethically-driven businesses: their spa has blind masseurs, the taxi drivers they supply are Muslim women, and the tours they recommend are via a company of whose profits 80% go to charity.
There are many options in this vast city. We favour Colonel’s Retreat for those who want to be in the city. It’s a smart guest house in relatively leafy Defence Colony, with a great rooftop restaurant and just a short walk to the metro. For a gloriously soft, very Anglo, landing or a pampered last night, Tikli Bottom is an out of town home stay. A beautiful Lutyens style bungalow set in lush gardens with kind, old-school, English hosts.