Tired after a long drive from Maihar, the sight of the forest at Bandhavgarh National Park’s quiet Dhamokar Gate is instantly refreshing. At Samode Safari Lodge, I was greeted by the affable Anshuman and Priyam—head naturalist and hostess. We ascend the stairs of the main lodge building, and step out onto a wooden deck, built into the branches of a sprawling jamun tree. My weariness turned to wonder as I am instantly transported to Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree.
In this tree house setting we have a light continental lunch, choosing to sit indoors in the glass-and-wood-enclosed dining hall, overlooking dense branches full of parakeets and squawking babblers. A wall full of colourful Gond art catches my attention. Priyam says they are the work of famous Gond artist Durga Bai.
Local design is a recurring theme at the lodge. Tribal paintings, locally woven bamboo hats, ceramics from Art Ichol, and wildlife photographs, hang above the two fireplaces at the lodge’s luxurious lounge and bar.
On a walk through Mardhari Village with knowledgeable naturalist Anshuman Shah, I see where the lodge draws its architectural inspiration from. Local features incorporated into the lodge’s 12 individual villas include mud-finished walls, mud relief flowers and animals, earthen tiled sloping roofs, and wood columns.
Mustard-and-brick-toned cottages are scattered within the lodge’s 22-acre property, which is flush with tall grasses, thickets of bamboo, and sal and arjuna trees. They are cocoons of comfort and style. My favourite design element is the intricate Gond art mural occupying a whole wall of the bathroom of my expansive villa. The bathroom itself is the size of a Mumbai apartment, with a fireside tub, dressing area, and a romantic outdoor section.
I grab a book on Bandhavgarh from my living room, make a cuppa using the pod-coffee machine, and settle into the comfy charpai on the forest-facing, outdoor sit-out. The book lies untouched as I watch little birds, and marvel at the child-sized termite mounds.
Less than a fifth of the property’s total area has been constructed upon, and the grounds thrive as a natural part of the forest. On an early morning game drive, our first sighting is a bright-eyed sambar, happily feeding within the lodge’s grounds.
Modelled on African game lodges, Samode adopts a holistic approach to the wilderness holiday, inviting travellers to engage with the forest’s communities and lesser-known stories.
Sitting by the fireside one evening, the hosts tell me about the Gond and Baiga people in the area—many of whom are employed at the lodge. It is fascinating to learn about life on the periphery of the forest, and chat with passionate naturalists about the park’s smaller species.
During idle moments at the lodge, I find myself gravitating to the well-stocked library, perusing books on fascinating Gond art, and a favourite: Bittu Sahgal’s Bandhavgarh Inheritance.
At dawn, guests and the three naturalists assemble at the interpretation room, where naturalist Abhimanyu Singh gives us an overview of the park’s layout, habitats, and our route for the day. On the game drive through the park’s buffer zone, Anshuman and the third naturalist, Vijaybhan Singh, bring the forest alive with their thorough knowledge. I also learn about the forest’s history, the spiders, birds, and trees of this Central Indian heartland. Breakfast in the park is a lavish continental affair, with sandwiches, cupcakes, fruit, and French press coffee.
In this pristine wilderness, cell phone network is sketchy. One night, in an attempt to connect with the outside world, I head to the outer deck. Waving my phone above my head in an ungraceful attempt to get reception, I glance into the jamun canopy. Pinpricks of gold hover overhead. Watching fireflies dance, I forget completely the world I so desperately wanted to connect with.
Getting There: The airport closest to Samode Safari Lodge is at Jabalpur (225 km/4 hrs). The nearest railhead is at Umaria (35 km/40 min). The lodge is located near the Dhamokar gate of Bandhavgarh National Park in Mardhari Village.
Samode Safari Lodge
Address: Village Mardhari, Post Dhamokar District Umaria -484661, Madhya Pradesh
Open: Oct 1- Jun 15
Tel: +91 76532 80579
Tariff: Doubles ₹66,550 including meals, drinks, and two safaris; plus taxes.
Visit Madhya Pradesh Tourism