I clambered up a rickety wooden ladder and perched myself on the howdah. My legs dangled from an equally rickety platform onto the elephant’s massive body. The mahout tweaked the elephants head just behind his ears, using his toes to steer his charge into the thick sal forest. I don’t know if this was the Forest of the Night that William Blake had in mind, but it was full of shadows and dappled light. Strangely silent in the mid-morning heat.
We moved purposefully through the trees, the branches brushing against my legs. The elephant veered off his course and the mahout shouted and pointed to the ground. No more ten metres in front of us a tiger peered through the undergrowth. As my eyes adjusted to the camouflage I realised there was a mother and three sub-adult cubs all lying close to each other in the shade. She was big, magnificent, and my heart was pounding. She looked at the elephant and the elephant looked back. There seemed to be some kind of mutual respect, no animosity.
She was so calm she didn’t even bother to move. It was an unforgettable sight, that tiger tiger burning bright!
The Samode Safari Lodge is a great place to stay if you’re visiting India’s fabulous tiger reserves. It’s got all the style of an upmarket African safari lodge but of course with beautiful Indian decor. It’s just outside Bandhavgarh National Park in India’s central state Madhya Pradesh, and this is the very best area to see tigers.
The Samode Safari Lodge is the latest addition to a wonderful collection of stylish and sophisticated properties run by the descendents of the royal family of Samode. Their greatest showpiece is the Samode Palace near Jaipur. It’s been painstakingly restored to preserve the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan. If you’ve ever dreamed of a trip to India staying in a royal palace then this is the place to go. The first time I went there I just had lunch in the grounds, but I was blown away by the grandeur of the place and the personal service. It’s so nice to see them take this level of service out to the wilderness at Bandhavgarh.