Just off the Tala main road, busy with jeeps and tourist bustle, Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge is a pocket of calm. Bushels of lemongrass line the path to my cottage, their fragrance piercing the air. Slender bamboo branches form a canopy over the path. Trees on the property are helpfully labelled—jamun, peepal, banyan—their branches abuzz with birdsong. I settle into my cosy cottage, and immediately throw open the floor-to-ceiling glass door leading to a ground-level sit-out, facing clumps of bamboo and a tangle of trees. A pair of yellow butterflies dances within the bamboo clusters. The hanging tail of a racket-tailed drongo twitches in the wind.
The locally abundant bamboo is a recurrent theme in the lodge’s decor. When I ask about the woven lampshades and bamboo wastebaskets in my cottage, camp naturalist and all-round knowledgeable host Simran offers to take me to Tala village, where it’s all made. Here, I see local families weave the native bamboo into baskets, thatched roofs, and a variety of other crafts. “All of our material is sourced locally,” Simran tells me.
Rooms are modern, but have a rustic charm about them, with sloping baked-earth roofs, dhurries, colourful furnishings, and tribal art. All cottages look out onto sun-dappled gardens or clumps of trees. While newer cottages are made of cement, some older cottages have mud-coated walls, in keeping with local village architecture.
I wander through the grounds, trees gradually giving way to a field of tall wild grass, where barbecues are often hosted under starlight. The local staff tell me stories of how animals like chital, and sometimes even big cats, frequent this meadow, a stone’s throw from the forest. Lanterns line the paths, and several mud and thatch structures offer cosy nooks for sitting within the foliage.
It is evident that the lodge takes particular care to have a minimal impact on the environment and function responsibly. Set up by the Sankhalas, a celebrated family of conservationists, the lodge’s roots lie in eco-conscious practices. Kailash Sankhala was Founding Director of Project Tiger—the ambitious project spearheaded in the ‘70s to protect the striped cat. His son, conservationist Pradeep Sankhala, established responsibly run lodges in Bandhavgarh and Kanha. The lodges are currently run by Pradeep’s son, Amit, who is committed to the forest’s conservation, and maintains a sustainable, immersive approach.
Lunch is a hearty, home-style affair of aloo gobi, chicken curry, bhindi, and dal. Meals are served at the lodge’s cosy common space and dining hall, with bamboo blinds, sal-wood columns, a thatched roof, a well-stocked bookshelf, and cheery pictures. Simran is a storehouse of interesting tales, naming Bandhavgarh’s tigers, and talking of their antics like they are old friends. He takes a special interest in leopards, and of all his stories, I’m particularly fascinated by his passionate accounts of this most stealthy and elusive of cats.
After lunch, I head up to the open terrace and stretch out on a charpai under the sun. In the winter, breakfast is often laid out on the sunny terrace. Many evenings, the lodge hosts a Baiga folk music and dance performance around a bonfire. On clear nights, the roof is a perfect spot for stargazing. If not for the forest full of wonders just beyond the gates, you’d never want to leave.
Getting there: The closest airport to Bandhavgarh is at Jabalpur (200 km/4 hrs). The nearest railway station is at Umaria (35 km/40 minutes). The lodge is located near the Tala Gate of Bandhavgarh National Park.
Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge
Address: Tala Gate, Bandhavgarh National Park
Dates: Oct 1- Jun 15
Tariff: Doubles ₹8,500 per night, includes all meals and taxes. Shared safaris cost ₹6,000 per jeep (seats six).
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