Wildlife Stay: Bagh Tola, Bandhavgarh National Park

Swapping tiger tales over cocktails under the night sky.  
Bagh Tola Bandhavgarh Hotel
Bagh Tola has 6 tents and 2 rooms that can each accommodate a family of 4. Photo: Pradeep Wasunkar

Wildlife photography enthusiasts, fired by their passion for creating one-of-a-kind pictures, probably have no trouble jumping out of bed at 4.30 a.m. I, on the other hand, rise rather reluctantly from my snuggly bed when the call of a deer punctures the silence of the dark. I roll up the blinds and press my nose to the window mesh of my tent, but all I see is a silvery mist settled on a bed of tall grass. I hear a rustle shortly after, as a lone sambar trots across the property, then a langur pipes in with its alarm call. A tiger is on the prowl. And it is close. What luck if I get to see one without leaving the comfort of my cosy room.

It is not impossible. Bagh Tola is spread across 30 acres of private reserve on the fringe of the Damokhar Buffer Zone of Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Just the previous evening, we were told that a French couple who had elected to sleep in, rather than go for the morning safari had woken up to find jackals on the veranda of their tent. “The animals were gnawing on the leg of an antelope stolen from a nearby tiger kill,” shared Pradeep Wasunkar, an ex-army man and photography enthusiast, who is now part of the resort staff. At dusk, over cocktails at the camp’s central gazebo, he entertained us with a host of stories. It was Wasunkar who taught us to recognise the alarm calls of animals, telling us how the striped cats of Bandhavgarh are drawn to a watering hole on the property. He pointed out pug marks on the path leading from the lake to the woods, and fresh tiger faeces near a bush, with a furry pelt—likely the remains of an antelope—sticking out. Another staff member, who lives in a village nearby, jumped in to testify that a tiger had indeed made a kill that evening: The cat had been spotted by a few cyclists on the road leading from Bagh Tola to the Baiga village.

Bagh Tola Tiger Bandhavgarh Wildlife

Striped cats of Bandhavgarh are drawn to a watering hole on the property. Photo: Pradeep Wasunkar

Morning and evening safaris at Bandhavgarh are the highlight of our stay. The tiger eludes us but we get a glimpse of a bear and our trips are peppered with interesting stories, thanks to Wasunkar, who is a font of information on the local wildlife. Afternoons are reserved for long massages in the comfort of my room (these require a day’s notice) and come evening, we assemble on the veranda near the dining hall to sip on chilled margaritas while a million stars stare down at us from the inky night sky. Though our party comprises just four people, dinner is a rather elaborate affair, prepared by Chef Robin from Kolkata who serves lip-smacking north Indian, Chinese, and Continental fare. The meal is a fitting end to days filled with activity. Bagh Tola serves up all the thrills of a vacation in the wild, plus the comforts of a luxury hotel—it’s a wonder the tiger hasn’t checked in.

Appeared in the October 2015 issue as “Margarita Sunsets”.

All accommodations have comfortable beds, a desk, and an airconditioner/heater. Photo: Pradeep Wasunkar

The Guide

Accommodation Bagh Tola has 6 tents (doubles) and 2 rooms that can each accommodate a family of 4. All accommodations have comfortable beds, a desk, and an airconditioner/ heater. (www.baghtola.com; 98200 09988; doubles ₹10,000 Apr-Jun and Oct-Nov; doubles ₹12,000 Dec-Mar, including meals; safaris ₹7,000 for four.)

Getting There Bagh Tola is in Parasi village, Umaria district, in northeast Madhya Pradesh, a 243 km/5-hr drive from Khajuraho. The closest airport is at Jabalpur, a 2.5-hour drive away. The Jabalpur-Ambikapur Express connects Jabalpur to Umaria, 37 km away from Bandavgarh, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday (2.15 p.m. departure; 3-hour journey).

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    Anjana is a freelance journalist and an author of children's books. Passionate about world cultures and cuisines, she also enjoys hiking and diving with her daughters.

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