April 1, 2020
Treat 3: the wildlife reserves of Madhya Pradesh and Sarai at Toria.
Just south of the Unesco Temples of Khajuraho on the edge of Panna Tiger Reserve is the owner-run lodge Sarai at Toria. Whilst everyone wants to see a tiger there is so much more to observe and absorb in these rural parts of central India. Here are some extracts from my notes to get you in the mood for a visit.
Sarai at Toria’s atmosphere is one of relaxed, faded rustic charm, and Joanna van Gruisen, who with her biologist husband Raghu set up the lodge some ten years ago, is similarly relaxed and understated in her welcome – a refreshing change from the sometimes almost overwhelming bonhomie of many Indian meet-and-greets!
After lunch in the cottage garden under the shade of a large East Indian ebony we re-group for an afternoon walk to the village. We pass fields of mustard, wheat and barley and cross over dried river beds; we wait for herds of emaciated buffalo driven by eight- or nine-year-old children, including a long-haired girl who wields a stick with gay abandon, to pass us; and we enter the village with its single-storey, white-painted adobe dwellings, their open porches giving onto immaculately swept courtyards.
Children cycle by on very impressive-looking bikes – donated by the government, we are told, so that they can access schools lying farther away. The sun is lowering as we amble back and casts a silvery sheen on seas of wheat.
A guide from the lodge intercepts us and insists we meet a local man who is employed to protect the crops but is renowned far and wide as a bone-setter. We visit his humble dwelling woven out of sticks with its bedroom loft and the piles of offerings he has been given in lieu of payments below.
The next morning on a nature drive we are told that it is highly unlikely that we will see a sloth bear, and yet moments later we spot one in the forest who crosses the road in front of us – a wonderfully shambling, shuffling black creature with a great bare snout. We then drive quickly to a spot where tigers have fairly recently made a kill and in quick succession see two cubs and their mother padding stealthily between clumps of grasses. We spot a jungle cat – and not long afterwards when up on higher ground we see a female leopard quite near us on the verge. All this in the space of an hour!
In the afternoon we go for a boat trip on the Ken River. We trek across the stones of the river bed to a rowing boat where an old boy from the village awaits us. He propels the simple vessel seemingly effortlessly across the water which is as smooth as a mill pond and remarkably clear without the slightest splash or jolt. We weave our way between islands of rocks which are browny-red topped and greyish white below – an indication of the height to which the waters rise after the monsoon.
The islands are covered in vibrant green reed and trees, and the vegetation on the banks looks lush and verdant. Our boatman says nothing except to announce the name of any bird he spots – ‘cormorant’, ‘robin’ – and we drift along in blissful silence. The boatman is expert at spotting a bird and then guiding the boat as close to it as possible without disturbing it, so we have brilliant sightings of kingfisher. A magically calm and soothing outing, miles away from the noise of the roads and heat of the forest.
There are a number of other special small properties where one can stay on a journey through the wildlife reserves of Panna, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Satpura.
Pictures courtesy of Jack Merlin (Unsplash), Jay Patel (Unsplash), Syna (Unsplash) & Sarai Toria.
NB prices shown were current at the time of writing the newsletter and are not necessarily current now.
Please ask for an updated quote.
- Newsflash: first American guests to Tanzania since March 2020
- A Sense of Place – AFRICA NEEDS YOU
- Escape to Italy?
- Covid: the road still to be travelled.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 3): Tiger reserves.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 2): Khajuraho.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 1): Lucknow.
- A Sense of Place – Engaged people may save the planet
- A word on lions and a trio of treats
- A Sense of Place – India’s most holy city
- A wealth of wilderness walks in Namibia
- Travel snippets from Miles
- A trio of treats on the green island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago
- A Sense of Place – THE INSIDE TRACK on Cape Town guiding
- A Sense of Place – Migrations of people and beasts: East Africa
- A Sense of Place – An era of revolution and global alliances
- A Sense of Place – A walk on the wild side
- A Sense of Place – The ghost ingredient is back
- A Sense of Place – Liuwa Plains and Kafue National Parks – Zambia
- A Sense of Place – Literati in the Pink City, the Capital of Rajasthan
- A Sense of Place – A Tamil town still connected to Europe, Art Deco architecture, and temple antiquity in Southern India.
- A Sense of Place – Dreamy aquamarine sea and stunning safari with the Makuleke people
- A Sense of Place – A trio of lovely ladies in Hyderabad
- A Sense of Place – Entamanu, the wishing tree and walking with the Hadza tribe.
- We get you to places that others don’t… St Helena, Gt Zimbabwe ruins and Papua new Guinea
- A Sense of Place – Walking in the hippie hills of the Himalayas
- A Sense of Place – The Okavango: the river that never finds the sea
- A Sense of Place – The Great Rift Valley, Laikipia, Samburu warriors and Maasai Olympics.
- A Sense of Place – Escape the world in the Namib Desert
- Africa is a massive continent: a collection of 55 countries
- A Sense of Place – Zambezi Watery Wilderness
- A Sense of Place – Burma: the road beyond Mandalay
- Lake Malawi – Would you rather pay for the advertising or the experience?
- From shoe-shine boy to tourist guide in Ethiopia
- A Sense of Place – Ladakh, the Himalayas
- Dhow sailing, Lions are back in Malawi, Self-drive in Namibia
- Sacred rivers and forts, India
- Piranhas, sting rays, caimans – and still people go into the River Negro!
- Kerala, Southern India – God’s own country
- South Africa: Crucible of the rainbow nation
- Madagascar: croissants and lemurs
- Argentina vs Africa on wildlife drama
- Uganda – Gorillas and Gardens
- Mozambique & Kenya: immigration official on holiday
- Mozambique: Gorongosa and reconciliation in the bush
- Zimbabwe is ready for Tourists again
- Serengeti ecosystem and unbeatable savannah
- Lamu: crab complaining
- Kenya: circumcision
- Zambia: Ellie rescue
- Africans: always smiling
- French sketch
- Kenya: the best hosts
- First visit to Africa 1986
- Namibia, Namib Rand, Skeleton Coast and the ultimate flying safari
- A few gems off the beaten track: Fanjove Island, Tanzania; The Singular Hotel, Patagonia and Isla Palenque, Panama.
- Elephant relocation, quad bike expedition and new Sossusvlei reserve
- Templed out in Tamil Nadu and elephant refuge in Jaipur
- Kenyan sanctuary and family run camp in Zambia
- Australia: Arkaba, Tasmania and Lord Howe Island
- Australia: in the outback and off the beaten track
- India: heavenly Himalayan hideaways, Botswana: fun safari for children and Argentina: hidden homestay in a mountain desert
- Limpopo retreat, Serengeti spectacle and adventure on the Zambezi
- Value for money in Kenya and the trail less travelled in Peru
- Lions in danger, free nights and a new coastal gem
- G and T on demand, hidden beach, micro-light and sleeping on a dam
- Off the beaten track