Known as India’s ‘Tiger State’, Madhya Pradesh is home to some of India’s most famous tiger reserves. I was lucky to tour several of them during a recent visit with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and among my most memorable experiences – aside from spotting a few tigers! – was bedding down at Forsyth Lodge. Named for Captain James Forsyth, one of the first Europeans to explore and fall in love with the wilderness area now known as Satpura National Park, Forsyth lodge isn’t just a luxurious base for exploring the nearby tiger reserve, but a conscious business committed to conservation and empowering the local community.
Built in the traditional mud-and-dung style, the lodge’s 12 cottage-style rooms offer 21st-century comfort. Mine had a rooftop bed where you can choose to sleep under the stars, which I would have loved to do if it wasn’t so chilly. Stylishly furnished with local textiles, the main bedroom was incredibly comfortable though. I also loved the enormous rain shower in the bathroom, and the hot water bottle placed in my bed at night was a nice touch.
With guests tending to congregate on the lodge’s rooftop terrace after game drives for sundowners and stargazing, the vibe is intimate and sociable. Safari story-swapping continues at the communal dining table downstairs,before guests turn in for the night, or migrate back up to the bar.
They’ve thought of everything at Forsyth, from the hot water bottles to the fresh juice and fragrant towels served upon returning from safari drives. I loved how the lodge naturalists took a really active role at the lodge, sharing sundowners and meals with guests after safaris. Housekeeping was also top-notch.
Due to the lodge’s isolation, meals are all-inclusive. With produce sourced as locally as possible, most meals consist of a range of delicious Indian-style dishes, with all dietary requirements catered to. While in theory it’s nice to be waited on, I admit I found the conga line of servers doling out each individual dish (rather than just allowing us to serve ourselves) unnecessarily disruptive to the mealtime conversation. I experienced this at several other lodges in MP, so I guess it’s just the way things are done.
Tea, coffee and cake is served in the early mornings before safari drives, followed by a hearty tiffin picnic breakfast during the excursion. If you’re sleeping in, you can order eggs as you like ’em in the dining room. Once a week, local women cook a tasty, ultra-traditional lunch for guests. Dinners are occasionally served outside by candlelight.
The small but well-stocked bar on the upper floor of the lodge spills out onto a roof terrace with a fire pit and plenty of seating – the perfect spot to sip a gin and tonic. If you take up the offer of trying the local liquor, be warned it’s very strong.
There isn’t one. But there’s a lovely pool surrounded by pink bougainvillea.
Jeep safaris in Satpura National Park led by passionate naturalists depart from the lodge at 5.30am and 3.30pm daily (a local guide will also accompany you from the park entrance). With only 12 jeeps allowed in the park at one time, booking well ahead is advised. Morning drives held in the park’s core zone offer the best chances of spotting an elusive tiger, leopard or sloth bear along with several deer species, langur, jungle cats, gaur, owls and more, though an evening drive in the buffer zone can be similarly rewarding. In fact, the only tiger I spotted in Satpura was during a night drive.
Walking safaris in the buffer zone and canoe safaris on the reservoir that borders the core zone of the park are also available, but while both offer a nice change of scenery, the wildlife spotting doesn’t compare to that on a jeep safari. Camping in the buffer zone, on the other hand, is an activity offered by the lodge that sounds incredible.
Post-safari, activities are limited to lounging around the pool and hanging out the bar, which suited me just fine. If interacting with locals is your jam, chat to the lodge staff, most of whom are locals themselves.
The lodge’s commitment to sustainability is pretty impressive. From an environmental perspective, Forsyth eschews single-use plastics, recycles grey water (along with lodge waste), and has been working closely with reforestation experts to restore the natural habitat surrounding the lodge, which is located on reclaimed land. A member of Travel Operators For Tigers (TOFT), a collective of operators dedicated to responsible and sustainable tiger tourism, Forsyth Lodge also grows some of its own produce, with the rest sourced as locally as possible.
Working on the principle that efforts to preserve vulnerable habitats can succeed only with the participation of locals, the lodge provides economic empowerment to locals in a variety of ways, from training locals in beekeeping to improve the quality of their crops to employing local women to manage the upkeep of the lodge. Lodge naturalists also run a nature club for local children.
Among India’s more accessible safari lodges, Forsyth lodge is 200km south of Bhopal airport (about four hours by car), just a few minutes drive from the reservoir where small boats ferry visitors across to the core zone of the park for jeep drives. The lodge can arrange transfers to and from Bhopal, as well as rail stations including Itsari, Sohagpur, Pipariya and Hoshangabad.
The important stuff
Free wi-fi? Brace yourself: there’s no wi-fi, or reliable mobile phone reception. Due to the crappy signal three’s no card machine, so you’ll need to bring cash for incidentals and tips.
Meals included? Yes
Room service? No
Luggage storage? Yes
Child-friendly? Yes, and the lodge runs a great Junior Ranger program for little guests.