Banjaar Tola is Taj Safaris luxury camp at the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The property is close to the Mukhi Gate. This was my second trip to Banjaar Tola but after a gap of eight years. In 2009 I was a wide eyed blogger, by 2017 it takes a lot to make my eyes pop out!
Banjaar Tola now contains two camps each having 9 luxury tents. Tents is a misnomer actually, once inside you are surrounded by luxury. Both the camps have their own dining areas. In good weather one can sit outside. Indoor seating with air conditioning is also available. There is a swimming pool within the camp too.
There is a cozy bedroom with a luxurious bathroom complete with a bath tub at your disposal. The amenities in the bathroom are Forest Essentials.
The room has glass doors that opens up to a balcony facing the Banjaar River. The river gets reduced to a trickle in June, not all rooms are river facing though. In June particularly after a few showers the trees are teeming with fireflies. It feels like Christmas at Kanha in June with the trees all lit up. I like to sleep with curtains open and I would fall asleep to dancing fireflies in the huge tree next to my balcony.
Banjaar Tola serves excellent food. I enjoyed my tea after morning and evening safaris.
Like Mahua Kothi, They also set up breakfast in the jungle. I loved their soups, both cold and hot, on both my trips. They grow a lot of vegetables within the camp.
The Naturalists and the Staff
I find the Taj camps special because of their naturalists and staff. They have a keen interest in wildlife and it is easy to get caught up in their enthusiasm. I knew Sangita from my previous trip to Baghvan at Pench. I met Nara, Yadu, Partha and others for the first time. The camp manager Mr. Amit Kumar regaled us with his stories about snakes. He must be born under a lucky star given the number of times he caught deadly snakes without knowing what he was doing!
Kanha National Park
Kanha is a beautiful forest, it is a pleasure to go on a drive there. On my first morning I went for a jungle walk. It is quite an experience to walk on foot inside the jungle. There are specific zones where walking is allowed. On a jeep safari no one is allowed to get down in the middle of the jungle other than in designated areas. On foot I do not wish to see any big game. However, I enjoyed stopping to click the butterflies, moths and the like on foot.
Jungle Safari in the Rains
On the evening safari it rained! That was a first for me, doing a safari in a poncho and still getting wet! There were times when I felt miserable with the rain. But a field full of deer lifted my spirits.
And then it happened, we chanced on an adult male tiger right by the road. He went about his business without a care in the world, we simply did not exist for him, which is how it should be. After all who wants the attention of an adult male tiger? After the long and close tiger sighting we completely forgot the rain! We were so charged that our ponchos came off. The rains had dwindled anyway.
The hot soup tasted extra nice that night.
The next morning we went on a safari again, we spotted a Malabar Pied Hornbill. Even though the jungle was alive with warning calls but no big cats made an appearance.
I was starting my long journey back to civilization where I had WiFi signals but no tigers. I love going to the jungle and if it is with Taj Safaris, the trip is extra special.
I was curious how the Banjaar Tola lodge would look after 8 years! It looked as luxurious as it did when it was brand new! I wonder how they manage to maintain it so well!
PS. I was invited by the Taj Safaris on this trip!
I am a fan of Taj Safaris ever since my first trip to Banjar Tola in 2009. I have visited their Baghvan and Mahua Kothi Lodges too. And I can happily recommend them all if you are looking for luxury. But this post is specifically about Mahua Kothi at Bandhavgarh National Park.
The Mahua Kothi Lodge has just 12 suites and one main building which serves as the dining area and lounge. Then there is jungle literally at your footsteps. Each room is decorated with the local theme. The huts are designed such that you have complete privacy. The bath amenities are Forest Essentials. There is a bath tub in the bathroom in the middle of the jungle.
There is a small swimming pool within the property under huge banyan trees. I spotted a paradise flycatcher right by the pool. Indeed a lot of bird watching happens within the property premises itself.
The food is good at the lodge; the chefs can cook a delightful even in that remote jungle. I enjoyed both the Indian and Chinese food for lunch and dinner. However, I love their breakfast spread which they serve in the middle of the morning safari. I doubly love their surprise high tea in middle of nowhere!
Being in a jungle means early mornings. Getting at 4.30 am becomes a little more bearable because of the Masala Chai that comes with the wake up call!
Their bush dinner arrangements are a sight to behold! It is just so damn difficult to photograph in the low light though!
For me, what sets Taj Safaris apart is their dedicated team of naturalists. They happily engage with you, irrespective of your level of knowledge about the forest and all the things that live within. These young men and women are at home in jungle away from a decent restaurant (other than their own hotel’s food) or a movie theater. And this is the life they chose out of their own free will! When we press them they say they know no other life, cities bore them after a few days!
At Mahua Kothi they talked a lot about successful Gaur migration from Kanha to Bandhavgarh during my stay. But it was only when I watched the documentary that the enormity of the task dawned on me!
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
The park yielded a few tiger sightings to me the second trip! On my first trip in 2013 it refused to give me even a glimpse of the tail of that elusive cat!
On our very first morning safari, we had a partial glimpse of a cub sitting in a nala. We all were waiting that he may decide to get out of his sleepy mood and move! While we were waiting, suddenly the mother decided to make an appearance and went out for a walk. She must have been around all the time and yet before she decided to reveal herself no one managed to get a glimpse, such are they at camouflage!
As much as I enjoy watching tigers, I do like the small things of the mighty jungle, a bird here, a reptile there with wild boars, deer and dogs, all moving along, going about their business. I enjoy the jungle more because I don’t have a tiger fixation.
Within the Bandhavgarh National Park there is an ancient water tank and statue of Shesh Shaiya. It is a must visit place after your safari.
Taj Safaris is one place that I can afford only as a blogger. However if you are looking for understated luxury you need to look no further.
PS. If you are going on your first Tiger Safaris you may like to read this.
PPS. I was invited by Taj Safaris on this trip!
If you are looking for luxury you are going to love the Taj Safaris lodges. I have now stayed at two of them, Banjar Tola and Bahgvan. They have two more at Panna and Bandhavgarh. Taj Safaris has a tie up African firm &Beyond. Together they create sheer magic. When I visited Banjar Tola I said it and I will say it again after coming back from Baghvan- Taj is beyond luxury. Luxury can be copied but it is the warmth of its employees that completely sets it apart. Both my trips have been on invitation.
Baghvan has 12 cottages. When I asked them if they are identical I was told in features yes but not otherwise as each cottage had to be built according to the space available for it. My cottage (#9) was smack in the middle of trees. In spite of having a beautiful room I spent far too much time outdoors. My cottage (and all other too) had a machan attached to it. It was my favorite haunt.
There was a divan placed in the center of the machan that the good folks at Baghvan can convert into a bed with curtains drawn. I gave it a try on my last night. But as I had an early morning flight from Nagpur I had a wake up call at 2.15 am. I could not settle on the machan and went back to sleep in my cozy room.
As you can see the room was beautifully done. I liked the Ganesha made out of towels. I removed it carefully to a chair. The next morning after I left for the safari, the staff shifted it to the windowsill. I think the only waking hours I spent the room were for drinking tea that came with the morning wake up call! Otherwise as soon as I would have some time I would run to the machan!
Now the bathroom was another story. The luggage area was in the large bathroom. There were two showers, one indoor and another outdoor. A staff from the lodge was comparing it with Banjar Tola and lamenting the fact that they have a bathtub where as Bhagvan doesn’t. I thought it is better to be without a bathtub inside the jungle. I didn’t mind it one bit. I had the outdoor shower. Now I have been lucky to stand beneath a waterfall but it was another kind of fun to stand beneath a shower outdoors with hot water to boot.
To give you a better idea about Baghvan, I captured a video. It is a cell phone video but you can still see how beautiful the place is!
Baghvan by Taj Safaris at Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh
The only thing I have not mentioned till now is food. Do remember that all the supplies have to be sourced either from far away places like Mumbai or locally. If you like fresh food you would love the stuff they make from their own garden. Both at Baghvan and Banjar Tola they believe in feeding you till you start bursting at seams.
If you are looking for luxury in your jungle lodges look no further than Taj Safaris.
For this one post I am going to turn into a show off and you have to bear with me. You see, I waited across six national parks to sight a tiger/tigress. I have been to Dudhwa, Rajaji National Park, Jim Corbett, Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh before. Initially I was patient. I knew tigers can’t be produced at will. Jim Corbett was a college trip. After the safari one of my students came running and showed me a video footage. I said to him in disbelief that he downloaded it from Youtube. He told me in earnest that he saw the tiger. Then came other students with pictures and videos. They saw it in the same area as we were, where as I did not. That is how lucky I was with tigers, but lions were a different story. The same was the case with Kanha. Others saw it, I did not.
So when I was invited by Taj Safaris to visit their lodge Baghvan at Pench, I did not know what to expect tiger wise. I have been to their Banjar Tola Lodge at Kanha and I was sure what to expect of the lodge. Taj lodges are sheer luxury. If you are willing to pay the price and looking for luxury, look no further. My cottage (and all others) at Pench had an observation deck of its own! It also had an outdoor shower. But more about the lodge in a later post.
I took an evening safari on the day I arrived. It was the usual story, many birds, wild boars, deer but no tigers. In the evening I was cribbing to someone that in all my life I have not seen a single tiger. One of the naturalists told me to be patient and not to expect it. A couple Demmark told me, “So what if you have not seen the tiger, maybe the tiger has seen you.” I replied that after 6 national parks my patience was running thin. I still knew that it could not be produced at will, but I wanted to see one and soon. Little did I know that wish was about to come true.
I had a 5.15 am wake up call for the morning safari. I was really tired that morning. The previous morning I woke up at 3.00 am to catch an early morning flight to Nagpur. Two early mornings in a row do not make me happy. At Taj Safaris they serve you tea in the room before morning safaris. I thought I heard a knock on my door but could not figure it out exactly the first time. The knock persisted. When I got up a young staff member was there with my tea.
All of us, Suraja, Pari, Harsh and I were on time. Ramesh (our naturalist) drove us out. The air was cool and crisp. There was a short wait at the park gate. Motiram ji the park naturalist also joined us. Ramesh casually remarked, “We will try to see the tiger, we are not going to stop for other things unless it is something really special.” We went around for more than an hour without much luck. And then without a warning, it suddenly changed.
No, this was not the first look I got. But I told you I am going to be a show off in this post! As I said before, when I saw it first, I saw its vanishing tail. A jeep full of school children were ahead of us. They had seen the tiger tail and all. They waved their cell phones at us. I told Ramesh that after all I saw the tiger! I was happy just to see its vanishing tail. But he and Motilal ji had other ideas.
Even before the vanishing tail sighting they were excited about the pug marks and the calls they were getting. After the first fleeting sighting they decided to go a little ahead saying she usually crossed from a particular place. I was not hopeful at all. After waiting for a few minutes there was a commotion. Jeeps started coughing to life, there were voices everywhere- woh raha, woh raha (it is there). And then I saw her, walking towards us. We were the third jeep in the row. I could still see her so clearly. After a few seconds Ramesh decided to get out of the queue to give tigress the space to cross. She walked away regally in front of our jeep with hardly a side glance at us! Which was good as well.
They say tigers are creatures of habit. And the naturalists know them. After the tigress vanished a second time into the jungle all the jeeps headed in a particular direction. They thought she may cross the road at another junction! In a while all the jeeps were parked waiting patiently for her royal appearance.
Of course the naturalists sighted her before anyone of us could. This time she crossed right in front of my jeep. Friends have asked me if I was scared. I was quite excited I have to say. I remembered to click pictures and make a video. In my excitement I forgot to get scared. I do remember Pari clicking my picture after the first full sighting, saying he needed to record my tiger grin. I have to ask for that picture to see how I looked! After the tigress crossed into the jungle again the jeeps moved a little ahead to wait for another possible crossing. We were waiting next to a water body and Motiram ji told us she would almost certainly not get into the cold water.
In a while he was frantically pointing to all of us the tigress crossing through the water! The trouble was that apart from Ramesh none of us could spot it. It went on for a while Motiram ji excitedly trying to show us the tigress in the water and we not being able to spot it. Then I too saw it. It was a speck even with my full zoom which is a puny 300 mm. I have cropped the picture heavily to get this faint scene. I clicked for the first 3 seconds and then saw it with my eyes for the last 2 seconds and then it vanished in the bushes again. But the day is never going to vanish from my memory!