True to the way we travel, I really wanted our first trip to India to be a balance of must-see sights and unique experiences. That’s why when I stumbled upon a safari property in India’s Bandhavgarh’s National Park – Samode Safari Lodge – I immediately wanted to tack it on the end of our journey. At first, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to fit it in our India Itinerary. For one, it’s a pretty remote location and requires a full day of travel. Our original itinerary also followed a natural progression through India’s golden triangle and up towards Rajasthan in the west. It wasn’t clear if we could add a tiger safari within the time frame we had.
Luckily, we had a last minute change of plans while in India and we took that as a sign to make it work. I booked us a flight from Udaipur airport via Mumbai, arriving in Umaria. Though I had seen photos of Samode Safari Lodge, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived.
We landed at the airport and our driver from the hotel (included in our stay) picked us up with a basket of snacks and a handwritten welcome letter for our 3 hour drive to the property in Bandhavgarh National Park. The drive to the hotel is absolutely amazing. We passed through little villages, farmers herding goats, women carrying local produce, kids playing on the side of the road, and an energy that’s hard to describe in words. You just have to experience it. Of course – that’s how I felt arriving to the Samode property as well.
There’s something so serene and magical about staying in the wilderness, with all the creature comforts. On arrival we were given fresh juice and shown a map of the area, while our guide ran through our schedule of safari drives. Samode Safari Lodge feels like stepping into your very own storybook; there are artifacts in each room, alongside beautiful hardcover books about the history of India’s national parks and photos of tigers taken just outside the grounds. I couldn’t wait to get going for our first safari drive the next day.
As a guest of the hotel, you get to choose what time you’d like to eat dinner each night. The catch is — you never know where you’ll be dining! At 7:00 that evening we were escorted to our first dinner on the property by lamplight. It was only us and one other person that night, so we arrived to a deck with our own private table overlooking the treetops. I had my first taste of the food and absolutely lost it! Fresh Indian food with the most amazing spices, buttery chicken and local red wine. This was only the beginning – each night topped the last.
The next day we slept in since our drive wasn’t until the late afternoon. Waking up in our room was incredible. The window that faces the jungle in our bedroom is designed to look like there’s no glass — your very own peephole into the jungle. There’s a bathtub inside with a mural painted by local artists, looking out into a courtyard with another tub for soaking under the stars. We spent that morning exploring the property and reading on our deck.
At 2pm we met our guide for our first private safari trip. Jacob has been fortunate enough to go on a couple safaris in Africa, but this was my first ever safari. Our guide walked us through the route we’d take and as we were hopping in the jeep, he received a message that there was a tiger sighting nearby. Off we went.
Seeing a tiger right away is not common. They’re reclusive animals, and unlike safaris in Africa, the wilderness in India provides lots of bush cover so they can be hard to spot. Our guide set our expectations but was also cautiously optimistic. I was ecstatic. It must’ve been 10 minutes after entering the reserve that we pulled over and saw our very first tiger! A female tigress, lounging in the bush a short distance away from our car.
We spent the next hour watching her. I couldn’t get enough. Our guide provided binoculars and let us borrow his camera to get some photos (we unfortunately didn’t have the right lens with us on this trip). Turns out, he has photographed tigers here for National Geographic. We couldn’t have asked for better company. The sun finally started to go down so we turned around and left, passing some spotted deer, monkeys, and elephants on the way out.
We spent the next few days lounging around the property and going on drives. We were absolutely stuffed throughout this stay — I can’t stress enough how incredible the food is! Fresh salads for lunch followed by wild caught fish and chicken with mushrooms, homemade pastries and meringues topped with pomegranate seeds and fresh mango puree. I was in heaven! I shared on my Instagram at the start of this trip that I recently learned I can’t have gluten or dairy, and they had no problem accommodating my diet. Most nights I ordered seconds of the dessert because I couldn’t help myself.
On our last night we had our favorite dinner yet — a table set up in the middle of the jungle, underneath a 300-year-old tree lit by candles. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe we were leaving the next day and that our last three weeks in India were ending.
Don’t miss Samode Safari Lodge if you want a unique experience in the wilderness of India. I can’t recommend it enough – it was one of my all-time favorite stays. They also have properties in and around Jaipur – Samode Haveli (which we also stayed at and loved), as well as Samode Palace and Samode Bagh (which we now want to stay at!).
Our entire trip to India was filled with non-stop surprises. As our guide said — it’s really a country of extremes! Extreme personalities, weather, landscapes…that’s why capping off a wonderful but crazy few weeks with this experience was the most special way to leave India. This safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I already want to go back.