Out of India: 5 Safari Camps to Visit Now
By Cosmo Brockway
We are deeply susceptible to the joys of safari life here at Ampersand – some of our most treasured moments have been under the vast starry sky listening to the sounds of the jungle at night with a peg of whisky and glowing fire. To quote the late Karen Blixen who shared our love of bush life: 'Everything that you see is made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility'. India, while less well-known internationally than Africa as a safari destination, can boast natural parks and camps filled with bountiful game and memorable scenery – imbued with a uniquely Indian flavour. From the magnificent tigers of North India's Ranthambore Park to the one-horned rhinos of Assam's UNESCO World Heritage Kaziranga National Park, the diversity and beauty of wildlife ensures an unforgettable experience and tales to tell around the campfire after a long day’s exploring. We have chosen five of the most fabulous safari experiences across India to explore:
Sher Bagh, Ranthambore National Park
Reminiscent of the golden era of colonial safari camps, Sher Bagh is an intimate 12-tented retreat on a private estate, three km from the entrance to Ranthambore National Park. Soak up the romantic atmosphere of the luxurious tents, designed for the Maharaja of Jodhpur, with their teak campaign furniture and green marble and sandstone sunken showers. Praised by Tatler Magazine as 'the big cat's whiskers', Sher Bagh is tiger heaven and guests can even enjoy a delightful tiger-themed tea in between exhilarating game drives. Communal drinks create a convivial atmosphere to swap anecdotes while the food is delicious and organic sourced from the local garden. The sparkly-eyed and turbaned Rajput staff are charming and nothing is too much trouble here. You will dream of returning.
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Once the hunting ground of the exotic Maharajas of Cooch Behar who rode on mighty elephants, the wetlands of Assam in Eastern India are a haven of spectacular animal life and pleasingly untrammelled by tourism. Kaziranga National Park sprawls over 430 km of pristine and scenic landscape. Explore the savannah grassland, the verdant fertile plains of the holy Brahmaputra River, as well as evergreen and swamp forest singing with life. A haven for the Great Indian one-horned rhinos, whose numbers have significantly increased from just 12 to over 1,500 in the last 70 years thanks to protection efforts. Declared a tiger reserve in 2006, the park also boasts leopards, Indian elephants and 300 bird species. Off the beaten track and worth every minute of the journey.
Aman-i-Khas, Ranthambore National Park
The discerning devotees of worldwide hotel group Aman flock to this glorious outpost, open from April to October, deep in Ranthambore National Park. ‘Aman’ is the Sanskrit word for peace and ‘Khas’ translates as exceptional or noble. This Mughal-style tented camp lives up to every letter of its name. A four-hour train journey (or thrilling helicopter ride) from Delhi, Aman-i-Khas sets the nomad style bar high. From the 24/7 private butler service to the 1,000 sq/ft 'suite' tents, this is safari living on a grand scale with a warm heart. Engaging with the local staff is rewarded by beaming smiles and perhaps a local song or two. There is also traditional live music and dancing in the evenings with a candlelit dinner. We love the 'stepwell' pool and the nearby ruined fort dating back to AD 922 which guests can explore. Soothe tired muscles with a hot stone massage in the serene spa tent and let the unique spirit of the place envelop you.
Banjaar Tola, Kanha National Park
The chance to experience an elephant-back safari is just one of the highlights at Taj-owned Banjaar Tola. Stretched across a 90-acre private estate overlooking Kanha National Park and aimed at protecting tigers and their ecosystems, this all-suite camp offers a lavish retreat in the heart of prime cat country. The indulgent tents have floating verandas perched on the banks of a tranquil river teaming with life. The morning drives at dawn (preceded by 'bed-tea' served through a butler's hatch) reveal vast sal forests, verdant green meadows and blossoming trees. This backdrop, which inspired Kipling’s The Jungle Book, is home to leopards, sloth bears, jackals and the rare tiny Chevrotains or mouse-deer alongside a fascinating bird population and over 1,000 species of flowering plants.
Samode Safari Camp, Bandhavgarh National Park
Devoted to leaving footprints as light as air, Samode Safari Camp is sustainably minded in every detail including solar energy and rain harvesting. They also have a charity to practically help the local village. Each of the family-owned group’s properties from Samode Palace to Samode Haveli are deeply special. The safari camp is no exception. Based in Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh National Park, which claims the highest density of tigers in the world, this sophisticated camp is set deep in excellent wildlife-spotting country including panthers and wolves. The park, measuring 450 km was once the private game reserve of the Maharajas of Rewa who reared Moban, the famous captive white tiger. Thanks to huge conservation efforts, the habitat is now home to 25 species of mammals, 10 times that amount of birds and even 80 species of butterflies. Guide Yadunath Seth enthrals with his tales of animal adventures and deep knowledge. At the camp itself, be transported to a Tuscan village in the jungle with eco-friendly villas built ‘without a scar to a tree’ from hand-moulded bricks and clay. Each sports atmospheric open and covered bathrooms and private terraces with unbeatable views. The dining and sitting rooms are raised on stilts and connected by wooden walkways lending a treehouse feel. Enjoy chilled cucumber and mint soup with a Gin and Tonic – the food here is hand-picked, organic and varies daily. In the spirit of old game hunts, the communal fire-side drinks are a jolly affair with guests leaving as firm friends – a bush dinner is a must! Do visit the adjoining villages of Mardari and Gohori and see first-hand the work done by the camp-run charitable trust including restoration of the ancient village temples.
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