Madhya Pradesh: The Land of Queens and The King of the Jungle
Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India is home to culture, heritage and wildlife sanctuaries lesser known to travellers. Home to the Satpura Tiger Reserve that houses not just the Big Cat but also Leopards, Wild Boars, Sloth Bears, The Giant Indian Squirrel, the Black Buck (ahem!) and a plethora of birds (A true heaven for birders!).
I spent a week travelling through the Satpura Tiger Reserve, starting in the heart of Madhya Pradesh - Bhopal.
The best way to do this is -
Day 1: Land in Bhopal, check in to Jehan Numa Retreat. 1 night at Jehan Numa Retreat to relax and slide into holiday mode.
Day 2: Take a 3-hour Drive to Reni Pani Jungle Lodge. Spend at least 2 nights at Reni Pani.
Day 4: Take a 3-hour Drive to Bori Lodge by the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary. 2 nights is good.
Day 6: Drive back to Jehan Numa Retreat. 1 night at Jehan Numa to enjoy the retreat one last time.
Day 7: Sayonara!
I stayed at the Jehan Numa properties in Bhopal, Satpura and Bori. Let me tell you a little about the Jehan Numa Hotels so you get a fair idea of the kind of hospitality to expect.
Jehan Numa Hotels is an experience represented by the eloquent and unique influence of the Begums of Bhopal. Dynamic and charismatic women who ruled the princely state, the four Begums in many ways redefined Bhopali tradition with its combined Muslim and Maratha heritage. A progressive and cosmopolitan culture took root under the peaceful rule of the Begums, a sophisticated and courteous tradition that even today, will define your experience at Jehan Numa.
Jehan Numa Retreat
I checked into this 28-room retreat bang in the middle of the city. Spread across 12.5 acres, Jehan Numa Retreat is a quiet getaway with open spaces and ample greenery, that pours in from the bordering Van Vihar Urban National Park. The retreat is an instant wind-down with spacious rooms accompanied by sit-outs and open air dining spaces. What I thoroughly enjoyed was a Farm to Fork meal at the Green House Bistro. Most of the produce is grown at their vegetable garden adjoining this conservatory-esque cafe.
The reception is open-air and serene, unlike any other hotel lobby. A good spot to tuck into a plush couch with a book, a cup of tea (or maybe a cocktail!) and watch the sky change colour as the sun begins to set. One of their exclusive experiences includes a Special Dining Experience called “Under the Babool Tree”- a menu prepared from the Lost Recipes of Central India. Candles lit under a Babool tree canopy, the chef curates a special menu and demonstrates one signature dish for you. The Junglee Maas (a dish popularly shared with Rajasthani cuisine) is prepared by the Chef - live! while you indulge in the multiple smaller courses.
On my return at the end of the journey, a whole new dining experience was curated - the Bush TV experience. At a separate clearing on the property, an outdoor movie experience had been set up. This is a delight for nature + documentary lovers. A couple of beautifully shot documentaries are clubbed with your dining experience. The food is modern and is a chef’s take on contemporary Indian cuisine.
Along with outdoor yoga, an open-to-sky spa, the property also offers nature walks, heritage drives and cycling to Van Vihar.
Food Recommendations: The Junglee Maas, Bitter gourd salad, Galouti Kebab and Mutton Biryani.
Room rates: Premium – INR 12,000 + GST / Luxury – INR 14,000 + GST including breakfast. Open all year round
Reni Pani Jungle Lodge
After a good night’s sleep in the palatial beds of the retreat, I headed for the jungle. A comfortable 3-hour drive to Jehan Numa’s Reni Pani Jungle Lodge located in Satpura National Park. A conservation and wildlife-focussed lodge, this is nothing like a traditional jungle lodge. Fitted with all the amenities of a 5-star hotel, the lodge houses 12 cottages and 4 tents. I checked into a cottage not too far from the dining room (Obviously! Considering they don’t offer room service for your own safety. There is that possibility of wild animals joining you for supper.). The cottage is well lit with natural light and has an open air shower.
The library is studded with all kinds of books on wildlife and is the ideal spot for an afternoon cuppa. Erwin, the GM is a true nature lover and has been a part of the Lodge since its inception. His tales and experiences shine a light on the nightlife (pun intended!) of Satpura.
What’s unique about the Satpura Tiger Reserve, unlike most of the national parks, is that it offers open-jeep Night Safaris and that’s what I was here for! The Night Safari begins at 5pm and as you enter the realms of the forest, daylight gives way to the night and the whole safari experience transforms into something I have never experienced before. The forest at night speaks with a different kind of silence. Every chirp, every flight, every rustle is distinct. We spotted a Sloth Bear with a cub on its back walking towards a watering hole, a leopard lolling in the grass and a large variety of wild boar, sambar deer and birds. Back to the lodge by 9pm and ready for a simple Indian dinner. I followed this up with an early morning Safari the next day and snuck one more Night Safari in, with leopard sightings on each trip.
The morning safari was clubbed with a picnic breakfast in the park which would be one of the most beautiful memories of my trip to Reni Pani.
On my last night at Reni Pani, I was driven to a secluded spot on the property (that apparently leopards frequent), a walk guided by floor lamps for pre-dinner cocktails by the pool and dinner under the Neem tree. The perfect goodbye!
You can also sign up for a Jungle Walk, Natur, birding and village walks, watch a Wildlife documentary and experience Overnight Camping in fair weather.
Take Away: Picnic Breakfast in the park.
Room rates: Cottages – INR 30,000 + GST / Luxury Tent – INR 40,000 + GST including all meals. Open from October to June.
The Bohri Lodge
I took a 3.5-hour drive to the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary which lies at the south of the National Park. Nestled amidst 7.5 acres of farmland, Bori is a stark contrast to Reni Pani. Clean, minimalistic and almost industrial like are the 8 luxury rooms, well spread out, an open central courtyard connecting to the dining room and the lounge along with a poolside restaurant perfect for that pre-dinner cocktail.
My biggest take away was a drive into the forest which unlike the Tiger Reserve is arid and dry (peak of summer you see) where sunset cocktails await you. I was just in time for the Mahua flowering season, a flower that blooms only in the summer and is the most prized possession of local villagers and elephants! You see, the Mahua flower is intoxicating other than having many medicinal properties. The first flush is devoured by elephants who then find themselves lolling around, high on the Mahia. Whatever remains is fermented by the locals to make a local liquor which made its way to me in the form of a Mahua Martini!
The Bori Wildlife Sanctuary is more ‘Lion King’ style with vast plains, open grasslands and logs of large tree trunks stretching their roots up to the sky. Must say, I’ve been pretty lucky on this trip as on the last safari, I spotted a tigress with her 3 cubs (from a distance).
Take Away: The kind and extremely hospitable staff and sunset drinks!
Room rates: Luxury Room –INR 30,000 + GST including all meals. Open from October to June.
Contact: +91 75 5266 1100 | +91 75 5423 5100
Photo Credit: Joy Manavath
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