Change is an essential facet of life, which is simpler and healthier if chosen consciously with positive thought. As a documentary photographer I am constantly surrounded by change and movement to discover and shoot new stories indistinct spaces, and even though all the travel sounds rosy and is thrilling, there are so many decisions and evaluations to make to really excel in an independent job like that -arranging project grants, managing constant deadlines while in remote areas, sorting never ending travel bookings, and sometimes even taking 35-hour bus journeys to distant towns. Last year, I was on the road for over 10 months while covering dramatic human spaces across the world, from migrants in Greece to shamanic Hmong tribes of Vietnam. The solo task of compiling the travels and interactions with people who most times don’t understand English and my publisher constantly pushing me to create more for my upcoming book is all great, but after all these months all I really wanted was to make some time for me, and reconnect to my roots,to avoid creative exhaustion and decision fatigue.
A close friend suggested a holiday to me, which first sounded absurd since I was already travelling a lot, but the idea of a relaxed space and natural retreat, where time slows down, was exactly what I needed. I stumbled upon PlushEscapes and its inspiring team, and after a brief call they understood my need and offered me a variety of options. I chose to live in a National Park, and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, because of its remoteness and flamboyant biota, especially the tigers. While PlushEscape’s team had way too many options and choices to offer, considering the team’s experience, for the first time I decided to let go of control and asked them if it was possible to have a surprise itinerary that I didn’t know of, and after a short pause,they said yes!
I left Delhi on a sunny afternoon, and after a 14-hour train journey the quaint town of Almara welcomed me with its surprising cleanliness, exotic flowers on the side, and a cheery chauffeur to drive me to my hotel. After driving in the silent village for over 40 minutes, we entered the National Park in Bandhavgarh and could spot deer already.
I love surprises, and had not been this excited in a very long time, and this was another level of curiosity since I had very little idea about what awaited me. The wooden gates opened to an exceptionally enormous and green property that boasted its name as Tree House Hideaway, which prominently consisted of only 4 sustainable tree houses that were built on the principles of wabi-sabi and were truly connected to nature. Since it was literally within the forest, it had an assortment of exotic birds flying within the dense green estate. Further, the manager and the homey team at Tree House Hideaway explained a few quintessential aspects about the space and my food preferences over uplifting watermelon juice, and guided me to my tree house, where the pristinely welcoming climax awaited me – the sheer size and beauty of the house
What I saw was a colossal spacious home made of the finest wood with glorious beds, a grand bath, study table, a few books, and all major things I would need in the coming days, arranged and meticulously designed with modern precision, on a lush tendu tree. From the chosen textiles to the wooden safe, every single object boasted an unaltered precision of details in the interior, and unlike ‘just another luxury experience’; this one was sustainable to its core. And right when I thought this was it, I saw the massive balcony overlooking the endless forest where you can spot a variety of birds and hear distant growls of the tigers. This place was a dream within the fragile wilderness of Bandhavgarh and helped me adjust to the relaxed ‘Bandhavgarh Standard Time’ after a small nap.
PlushEscapes’ hospitality expertise and Pugdundee Safari’s incomparable access was instrumental in planning my stay, and kept as a surprise as per my wishes. After a 3-course lunch at the Tree House’s cafeteria and bar alongside a BBC documentary about the tigers of Bandhavgarh, the safari team guided me to the incredible forest to explore the wilderness. Our naturist and jungle guide, Mr. Chaubey, was possibly the best thing to happen to my forest enlightenment. The man knows the depths of the forest as much as the animals do, and is very aware of its flora and fauna. Mr. Chaubey is a candid personality, who was very aware of our needs while exploring the wild side of the country. He went out of the way and drove us to uninhabited secret spots of the forest and the village. I had occasional sightings of jackals, Indian gazelle foxes, four-horned antelopes, and nilgai (blue bull).
These slow, yet rich events filled the days at the Tree House. PlushEscapes and the property’s planning included numerous secret venues, full of surprises, including a breakfast of cheese omelets, facing a beautiful pond filled with numerous water lilies. My evening routine was filled with going for intense bicycle runs, stopping by in Tala market to hang with fellow travellers and hearing their stories.
My favourite day in the estate was when it started to rain in the morning, and I decided to have breakfast in my room, and never leave the tree house at all.
That day me and my friend simply spent the whole day listening to SigurRós, and creating a lot of paintings, sorting my personal photos and silently reading in the tree house’s cosy corners. It was that day when I truly felt far away from my city, its noise and the idea of simply doing nothing was instilled, creating a wonderful energy.
After a few lovely days at the Tree House, I was moved to King’s Lodge, which was another retreat in another zone of the national park for different kinds of sightings in the forest. This property was a totally different experience. With lush meals set in organic gardens, and sipping on wine surrounded by oil lanterns in the middle of extravagant greens, I felt pretty pampered.
The estate is a whooping 33 acre zone of lushness, and there are numerous avenues of finding relaxation and peace, like a library with numerous photo books and DVDs, to sit back and chill, a swimming pool and of course a great kitchen that produces the finest meals available in town. The sightings from the safari were totally different and the vibe helped me understand the amount of diversity that the jungle had to offer, with various other birds in major areas of Tala and Magdhi. Since it started to rain again in my last few days there, I took it at as an opportunity to explore the nearby villages as I cycled and stayed in rural homes and interacted with the lovely people there.
My favourite part of the days here were my hot water baths after a long day and as always, my comfort and safety was taken care of very well so I could not stress about various other things but simply focus on the good things that Bandhavgarh had to offer.
As a whole, in only some time over a week, I realized how important it is to step out of routinely habits and take the road less travelled, to simply feed your wanderlust and make up for all the hard work. My travel experience that ranges to over 26 countries around the world, states that it’s the locals that really know how and what to do in the city you travel to. In an aridly remote area like Bandhavgarh, my travel would not have been half as delightful and hassle-free if it wasn’t for the team at PlushEscapes and Pugdundee that got together to truly take good care of my interaction with that space. Big thanks again to everyone for making it one of my finest adventures in a long time, can’t wait for my next trip with everyone already!