Opened in October, the brand new Waghoba Eco Lodge is just two hours drive from the Nagpur airport, but manages to feel like a world away. This unassuming addition to Pugdundee Safaris is set in 7-acres of land and sits on the edge of the buffer zone of Tadoba National Park. Wildlife and adventure lovers are sure to be spoilt for choice at this jungle eco-lodge as there's not a bad seat in the house: breakfast is served amidst sprawling mountain views; the private sit-out offers close encounters with white-bellied drongo or the Indian paradise flycatcher, while the lounge area offers gorgeous views of the grass fringed pond.
The 14 luxury cottages at the Waghoba Eco Lodge are dedicated to sustainability and are constructed using handmade Adobe bricks made of the local soil. “Initially, when we began construction, we had to cordon off certain areas, so as to not disturb the wildlife around here. We built a fence around the centre of the lodge, the southern and the northern side. We didn’t want to disturb the biodiversity of those areas frequented by wildlife. This ensured that we built only in the areas we had to and left the rest untouched. During the construction, we would regularly see nilgai, wild boar, deer, and other herbivores come looking for water. So we built a small pond in the centre for the animals to drink from. The lodge itself is built using adobe bricks made from locally available soil. The bricks were not burnt to avoid pollution and most of the walls have been left unplastered. The idea was to leave things as bare as possible with minimal intervention,” says Anurag Tamhankar, Director, Biome Solutions, the architectural firm behind the construction.
Ensuring sustainable practices in every design element, the eco-lodge features vaulted ceilings made from handmade conical tiles, a water treatment plant to recycle and reuse water, coolers rather than AC in the dining room, and common areas, and a farm to table approach to food and sourcing. “Tadoba is amongst the hottest places in the world. But by using a sustainable construction style, we have managed to reduce the ambient temperature of the lodge by 6-7 degrees. This has also led to a significant reduction in our energy consumption, reduced our carbon footprint while ensuring our guests a seamless and fine experience,” said Manav Khanduja, Director, Pugdundee Safaris. Ensuring that the property is plastic-free, on arrival, they offer a steel water flask and a reusable mask with a set of paws embroidered on it.
Eco cottages at Waghoba lodge
Waghoba’s eco-cottages blend seamlessly into the brown landscape and are designed to draw the outside in. Large floor-to-ceiling glass doors positioned strategically in front of the bed make bird watching a breeze while still being plonked on the bed. Eschewing traditional safari-style lodges, Waghoba is all about clean lines and modern design: Think exposed brick walls, raw concrete lampshades, teakwood furniture, linen blinds, and black and white sketches of wildlife. Bath areas are spacious and decked out with a sunroof and towering ficus plants. But one of the true joys of this place is simply lounging on the Kota stoned verandas. Built for quiet contemplation, the grassland is at times so close, that it almost reaches out to tickle your face. Between the nature walks, birding, safaris, and spending some leisure time, I hardly found time for the swimming pool which is a gorgeous piece of construction. I stayed in cottage no 4 that was close enough to walk to the restaurant and the lounge, but still very private.
Meals at Waghoba are an elaborate affair. Gleaming brass plates and katoris are laden with local delicacies such as dahi mutton, subtly flavoured patodi rassa (steamed gram flour dumplings in a spicy gravy), thalipeeth, jowari bhakri and santra barfi. Pastas, grilled chicken, and other continental dishes too are part of the menu made with local produce.
The Safari experience
You could probably judge a safari lodge not by the sheets but by the stories you take away once you leave. By that measure, if you do one safari in your life, it should be here. The exhilaration of cruising in a rugged, open-top jeep on a dirt road, a few feet from dozens of graceful deer searching for leaves, the sounds of other unknown animals in the distance is something only a safari can entail.
Waghoba Eco Lodge is only 15-20 minutes drive away from the Khutwanda gate. The Moharli gate is 40 minutes from the lodge. We enter through the Khutwanda gate and the 20 minutes drive to the forest is no less beautiful, dotted as it is with cotton fields and sleepy villages. The scenery inside the forest changes every few kilometres—thickly clad hills give way to a serene lake that flows into grassy meadows and into the teak and bamboo belts.
Hanuman langurs bounce off the trees even as a deceivingly sleepy crocodile lazes around. A pack of Nilgais (a large antelope that almost looks like a horse), chausingha (the four-horned antelope) and sambar deer keep grazing while occasionally peeking out at us from the tall grass.
Wrapped in monastic silence, we wait and hope for the jungle to tip us off with the alarm call of a prey animal. In the backseat, Mayuresh Joshi the in-house naturalist from Waghoba Eco lodge studies the jungle floor for fresh tracks left behind by the colossal cats. And though I had scant luck spotting the striped cat on this trip (I had a close encounter with tigress Maya - Tadoba’s iconic inhabitant on my previous visits), the chance to spend time in the sun and come face to face with storybook animals left me breathless. When I return to the lodge, with proof of the encounters safely buried in the memory card of my camera, the staff is waiting for me with a glass of chilled nimbu pani and a hot towel.
As the sun goes down, I cross the lantern-lit pathway to the lounge to catch a wildlife documentary. The room is awash with guests animatedly going through their jungle experiences. And that’s the thrill of a safari vacation. The unpredictability coupled with hope. Hope that I will catch Maya, the tigress, one more time sprawled on the road licking and playing with her cubs and occasionally throwing us a piercing, hypnotic gaze before walking away into the wilderness.
1. Eco Lodge drive is two hours from Nagpur Airport
2. The Chandrapura train station is 50 Km away.
3. Best time to visit is throughout the year (core zone is open from Oct to Jun & buffer zone is open year-round).
4. Proof of identification is required before you can enter the park.
5. Tariff: Rs 15,000 for a night with all meals and taxes. Safari charges start from Rs 7000 onwards for an exclusive jeep. Tel: 011-40146400