A Royal Experience at Kings Lodge Bandhavgarh
I’m back with Pugdundee, and back in Madhya Pradesh for another adventure! Those following my blog would remember that just around 2 months ago, I was at Pench National Park and enjoying Pugdundee’s unique Pench Tree Lodge experience. I was also at Denwa Backwaters, owned by the same company. I remember telling myself that I will be back, as Pugdundee absolutely floored me with their offerings and their level of service. They had sustainable practices, and they really knew how to deliver a five-star experience.
So when Adventure Travel Trade Association invited me for a pre-tour with Pugdundee, I dropped every other plan I had and said “yes” immediately! This time, the destination was Bandhavgarh, a nature-lover’s paradise at the heart of Madhya Pradesh. Kings Lodge Bandhavgarh is a sprawling 14-acre resort located between two hills, all within the confines of the Bandhavgarh National Park.
How to get to Bandhavgarh
To many foreign tourists, Bandhavgarh isn’t a very popular tourist spot. It’s still a hidden gem, especially in this large country where most travelers flock to the big cities. But getting to Bandhavgarh is pretty easy once you’ve gotten to India.
- Take a plane from Delhi to the Jabalpur and Khajuraho airport. This is the nearest airport to Bandhavgarh.
- From here, Jabalpur is a 200 kilometer (4-hour) drive. You can hail a taxi or rent a vehicle.
On your way, expect to get a glimpse of the rich wildlife that Bandhavgarh has to offer. It’s a 400-square kilometer stretch of land, and it won’t be uncommon to see a wild tiger or two in its premises. I tell you, seeing those graceful beasts in the wild is an experience on its own, and beats any experience you’ve had with them in a zoo!
Only the best guides
Before loving the property, I just love the company behind these Bandhavgarh and a few others. Pugdundee hits the nail on something that I think many other tours miss. What good is a wildlife tour if your guide isn’t an expert? Pugdundee naturalists are highly knowledgeable, and we ended up learning so much not just about what we’re seeing at the moment, but also the relationships between each of the mammals, birds, and other creatures we’ve seen. They also taught us about their different alarm calls and behaviors. Because of this, the tour became a really enriching experience.
What’s in a name?
When you have a place named “Kings Lodge”, you’d expect it to be nothing short of grand. And Kings Lodge delivers in that respect. Nestled deep in the forest of Bandhavgarh, Kings Lodge is a collection of 10 cottages spread out over 14 acres of lush land. It was a wild landscape, and you can feel the raw power of nature as you go around. Our guide Happy said that some time back, he was even able to spot tigers and leopards along the buffer zone to the Lodge. I’ve experienced something similar, though not the big cats — there were some wild dogs and jackals along the way, but we didn’t feel worried as the guides were there to keep us safe each step of the way.
The rooms of the Lodge also reflected the regal atmosphere the name invokes. They were spacious enough for comfort, and the rustic theme was a throwback to a time when nobles took vacations in places like this. It’s fitting, too — these lands used to be the hunting ground of the Emperor of Rewa.
The verandas were particularly attractive, showcasing the amazing landscape that was the national park around us. There was a king-sized bed and a sofa in the rooms, and the dining room showcased wooden furniture and a fireplace for a truly royal feel. The windows were wide and refreshing, letting in a lot of air and natural light. This is particularly helpful since the interior was themed in myriad shades of brown. The high ceilings also helped give the Lodge an airy feel despite its grounded colors.
The chairs were also of interest, beautifully carved even if they had simple and practical designs. The rooms’ furniture were arranged in such a way that the floor space was maximized. Decorations were sparse, but tastefully done.
Just like the Pench Tree House, Kanha Earth Lodge and Denwa Backwaters and other lodges that Pugdundee Safari owns, the toiletries and most of the other things here are organic and refillable. There’s no wasteful plastic around, in line with the eco-friendly theme of the company.
Service fit for a King
As I’ve raved about before, Pugdundee’s service is simply impeccable!. It’s the little things that make your stay simply perfect. They proactively ask when you want a wake up call. They’re there to pick you up in the mornings and lead you to the meeting area. They even provide you with a torch. They make sure all facilities are working, right down to the lamps on the path. They also serve all sorts of snacks and beverages whenever you leave for or arrive from any activity.
] I arrived at Kings Lodge in the winter, and I’m the type of person who easily gets cold. Part of the room service accorded to me was turning the heat up and putting a heat bag on my bed! They do this when I leave for dinner. This helped tremendously in getting me a good night’s sleep.
Even if you don’t need anything from them, they’re always helpful, respectful, and ready to serve with a smile. This really impacts the guest experience. They would even greet every time I meet any of them. If anyone asks them for something, they make sure to give it immediately.
Everyday a feast
This is already the third Pugdundee Safari property I’ve been too, and the food was still super good! And it’s not just me, because our tour group included 9 other people and we all enjoyed the feast served. Kings Lodge made it a point to adjust to the specific needs of the guests. For example, one among our group was allergic to gluten, and the Lodge prepared a meal specifically for her. There were also those who were not used to the spicy Indian food, so they turned down the use of spices and made separate spicy sauce and pickles instead for those (like me) who really enjoyed spicy food. It was a great compromise.
Kings Lodge Amenities
Welcome Area. This is where the briefings are made, when guests first arrive to the property.
Swimming pool. This is perfect for the summer, when you take a dip in the clear waters. There’s also a spa where you can get massages and treatments from professionals.
Garden Kitchen. All Pugdundee Safari properties do their best to serve homegrown food. This organic farm is the source for most of the meals they serve during the two-day stay.
Nature Trail. It’s a beautiful wilderness out there, but nature lovers can enjoy the beauty of the earth from within the property. It’s much safer, too!
Recreation area. For those still with energy to burn after the tour activities, there’s a recreation area with board games, table tennis, and more.
View decks. The property also comes with an observation platform (in the guise of a watchtower) that allows guests to have an uninterrupted vista of the beautiful nature all around.
Since this is primarily a wildlife tour, Pugdundee Safari prepared their suite of signature activities for us guests:
- Nightly presentations. Each night was marked with a different presentation.One is about the park itself, which was useful since it sets our expectations on what to expect. They also talked about the animals we will encounter in the park, such as the Chital deer which the park is known for. It’s perfect for first-timers, too! They even test us with questions to see how well we listened.
On other nights, they had different presentations and documentaries. There was one on snakes, which I missed since I was so exhausted and I just wanted to rest before dinner. They also serve snacks and appetizers while you watch.
- Jeep Safari. Of course, the core of the experience! I love how Pugdundee keeps the occupants of the jeeps to a minimum, which puts a premium on comfort. I’ve seen how other jeeps get so crowded with guests. But for us, we went comfortably and complete with a knowledgeable guide, some blankets and heat bags, binoculars, and an awesome breakfast set! Usually for morning safaris, breakfast will be within the park itself.
- Village walks and cycling trips. Of course, guests get the chance to explore the area on foot and on two wheels. Just make sure to heed your guide’s words, and don’t stray from the paths to stay safe.
- Bush Dinner. What better way to experience the wild than to dine in the wild? You will be treated to a cool display of survivalist techniques (not to mention savory dishes) as the guides prepare a bush dinner for the guests.
- Cooking lessons. The park is closed on Wednesdays, so instead of the usual outdoor activities they prepare alternatives. Sometimes these are market visits, but on our turn we had a cooking lesson with a famous chef. This helped us learn more about the wonderful world of local Indian cuisine.
- Elephant safari. This is an optional activity, and I have been told it’s pretty pricey. It cannot be pre-booked, too. But if you want the experience, don’t wait for the last minute. I didn’t really know how to feel about this, since I’m not used to riding elephants. But this is what they use to patrol the park, and they limit it to 3 riders at a time. They stay within a considerable distance, too! Most of the people who did the elephant safari ride managed to spot the elusive tiger from their perch.
- Bird watching. It’s wonderful to see just how much variety of birds one can spot at the park. All you need is to walk around, and you’ll see a cool display of feathery creatures amidst the greeneries!
- Visiting Craft Workshops. If you’ve ever wondered how the locals make their living, or how they produce the items you see around in your stay, this is the perfect place to visit. This way you get the chance to support their local livelihood, too.
Our day at Bandhavgarh went as follows:
5:15AM. Coffee or tea, and snacks before the Morning Safari
5:30AM. Depart for Morning Safari
6:00AM to 8:30AM. Drive around and search for the big cats
8:30AM. Breakfast, then explore the park again
11:00AM. Go back to the Lodge to rest.
2:15PM. Meet for Afternoon Safari
The park guide or naturalist plans different activities for each group, depending on what you want. You can discuss it with them and they’d do their best to accommodate!
When you’re in Bandhavgarh, the most coveted sight would definitely be that of the tiger. But keep your eyes peeled for these other animals that walk around in the park:
- Wild boar
- Spotted deer
- Sambar deer
- Roller bird
- Pitta bird
- Honey buzzard
- Serpent eagle
- Sloth bear
- Hanuman langur
- Rhesus macaque
- … and a lot more!
The park is divided into three zones — Tala, Magadi, and Khatauli (in order of how “premium” the zones are). Each zone offers its own wonders, so stay alert!
Some more tips
- If you can, stay at least 3 days/nights per park you visit. It’s best to experience all that they have to offer, and to have a chance to relax in the middle of activities.
- For the Morning Safari, you have to be out by 5:15 so be up early!
- It’s not just about the tigers (which are not guaranteed anyway). Take time to appreciate the beauty of the rest of the landscape, too.
- Learn about the alarm calls and the various nature-oriented things you may pick up along the way. You may be a city-dweller, but there’s a certain beauty to knowing how to live like the King of the Jungle!
Our two nights at Kings Lodge Bandhavgarh are definitely not enough. One can easily get addicted to a park with this level of service! In the other two lodges we’ve stayed at, we’ve met several people who have come back around 4-5 times already. Surely Pugdundee Safari is doing something right! As a plus, they’re a very earth-friendly company that has sustainable tourism practices. They also do a lot to help the community they live in. These are the companies and lodges I would love to visit again and again.