here magazine, MARCH 2019
There are certain places—show-stopping hotels, award-winning restaurants, local dive bars, or incomparable vintage shops—that are worth planning your whole trip around. Pench Tree Lodge in Pench National Park, India, is one of those places.
“If you hear a hiss—run,” says our lodge guide with a chortle as his flashlight sweeps across the dark, wooded dirt path we’re navigating. It’s viper mating season here in Pench National Park, and even though I’ve travelled to Madhya Pradesh in Central India precisely for the wildlife, every rustle of the tall grasses that flank our trail gives me goosebumps. Ahead, lanterns prick the inky evening and illuminate the treehouse I’ll be sleeping in—one of only six on the property — camouflaged by a grove of towering, spindly Mahua trees.
Deadly as a viper bite is, I’ve come to Pench Tree Lodge to catch a rare glimpse of a mightier predator: a Bengal tiger. Spread over 758 square kilometres, Pench National Park is one of the world’s largest tiger reserves, and the lodge’s founders, Pugdundee Safaris, work tirelessly to protect the animals and their habitat. Poaching has posed a significant threat to the tiger population for decades, but the advent of international tourism in the park has garnered the attention of the Tourism Board of India and conservation organizations like TOFT (Tour Operators For Tigers), throwing the issue into relief.
Just by virtue of staying at Pench Tree Lodge, travelers are helping conservation efforts. “Now that we have tourists here, it means more eyes on the park, and more eyes on the tigers,” says our Pugdundee Safaris guide and naturalist Chinmay Deshpande. By protecting the tigers, they’re also conserving natural resources like water, and benefiting the local villages by bolstering the economy. Patience is a virtue on a tiger safari, but the slow, quiet anticipation makes the elusive animal’s appearance, weaving through the jungle’s teak trees with a stealthy gait and throaty growl, all the more enchanting.
Why it’s worth the trip:
There aren’t too many places in the world that you’ll leave better off by visiting, but this is one of them. The journey from Delhi is worth every minute you’ll spend observing the park’s magnificent wildlife—including tigers, sloth bears, and leopards—and the jungle they call home. You’ll be helping conservation efforts, but not without the luxury of a four-poster bed, fresh masala chai tea, and rose ice cream.
Rumbling along in an open-air jeep in the predawn darkness on a game drive is just part of the lodge’s magic. Set on 40 acres of forest, guests are treated to guided nature walks where they learn about the local plant life. Organic long-table dinners are plucked straight from the lodge’s Edenic garden. Not to mention afternoon dips in a crystalline outdoor pool, and smoky tangerine sunsets viewed from the treehouses’ leafy balconies. To stay at Pench Tree Lodge is to immerse yourself in one of India’s most wild, remote regions—and a slice of the country’s striking natural beauty worth savoring.
You’ll like it here if…
You’re on the hunt for a remote, off-the-beaten path experience that focuses on sustainability. If being immersed in nature, waking up to the sound of birdsong, and drifting to sleep serenaded by the cry of monkeys sounds like paradise, look no further.
Treehouses start at $265 USD per night, including all meals. A morning safari will run at about $130 USD per Jeep. Package deals available.
Get ready to meet other nature fanatics and regale each other with safari exploits and wildlife stories. The lodge attracts a mix of local travelers and international tourists.
What to bring:
Good hiking boots, binoculars, and a sense of adventure. Plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and don’t forget a hat and warm layers for crisp morning game drives, a swimsuit, and insect repellent.
Borrow a bike from the lodge and cycle through the park along wide paths or single-track trails. You’ll feel closer to nature and get to explore secluded corners of the jungle that a Jeep can’t access. Don’t leave without taking a night hike around the lodge’s grounds, where you’ll have the chance to spot nocturnal animals like civets and owls.
While you’re in the area:
Get to know the local people and head to the Gonde village on the outskirts of the park. Boisterous children and women draped in jewel-tone saris will greet you with a warm curiosity—and most likely invite you into their homes for a steaming cup of chai.