A notable thing is taking place around the globe: Communities and conservation entrepreneurs are creating private nature reserves, from coral lagoons in Asia to sanctuaries in the Americas. Travellers to Africa will find private wildlife reserves near national parks. Case in point: South Africa’s Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which manages 6,178 acres of reclaimed habitat, including native fynbos shrubland harbouring sunbirds. Two hours southeast of Cape Town, Grootbos—a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World—was a mosaic of abandoned farms and degraded lands when Michael Lutzeyer laid eyes on it in 1991. “Here was one of Earth’s rarest ecosystems, what botanists call the Cape Floral Kingdom, with no protection,” says the Cape Town native. “My wife and I pulled together what cash we could to conserve it ourselves.” Today Grootbos employs villagers and funds such community programs as a horticulture college offering job training for unemployed youth. It joins a worldwide trend of private reserves that are producing conservation success stories, a good thing for our natural world—and us travellers.
Listed below, are a crop of eco-resorts in India, nestled inside private reserves.
Run by ex-fighter pilot and tea planter Steve Lal and his wife Parvati, Jilling Estate is adored by hikers who frequent the Kumaon. It covers about 50 acres of oak and rhododendron (pictured) forests, and has only four cottages. Peak experiences include morning views of the snow-cloaked Nanda Devi mountain and bonfire evenings in the company of the lovely owners. Getting to Jilling is a bit of a hike: It’s a two-kilometre uphill walk from the closest roadhead, but ponies can be organised if required (jilling.net; 97587 55704, 94123 83348; doubles from ₹5,000, including all meals).
Encompassing 450 acres of the Chorla Ghats, Wildernest secures a crucial wildlife corridor connecting Goa’s Mhadei and Bhimgad wildlife sanctuaries. All cottages have spectacular views, some of the roaring Dudhsagar waterfalls, others of langur families monkeying around in the trees outside. Accompany the eco-resort’s enthusiastic naturalists on walks around the property for sightings of unusual birds, colourful lizards, and if luck is with you, the gorgeous Malabar pit viper (pictured). Wildernest’s other perks include a swimming pool with serene valley views, and a kitchen that serves top-notch Goan food (0832-3266911; www.wildernest-goa.com; doubles from ₹5,900, includes food and activities).
Kipling near Kanha National Park is run by the Wrights, a family of conservationists that have dedicated their lives to protecting the tiger and the forests it inhabits. The nine-acre camp has 15 rooms, and is surrounded by 15 acres of wild forest. All cottages are made with local materials, solar energy is used as much as possible, and sewage is filtered using natural materials. But what keeps guests returning is the warm service, outrageous tiger tales, and bath time with Tara, the camp’s rescued elephant (www.kiplingcamp.com; 07649-277218; for bookings call 011-65196377; doubles from ₹24,000).
About 20 kilometres from the bustle of Kodaikanal, Elephant Valley sprawls over 100 acres of the Palani Hills. A nature reserve, organic farm and—most importantly— an elephant migration corridor, Elephant Valley puts the pachyderms and the region’s thriving biodiversity first. Each of the 20 bungalows has rejuvenating views: of the Shola forests, and occasionally, the elephants that continue to use this route (duneecogroup.com/our-hotels/elephant-valley; 78670 04398; for bookings call 41326 56351; doubles from ₹3,300).
Mojo’s simple, no-frills rooms are surrounded by dense jungle that resounds with bird call in the day and the drone of cicadas by night. It is home to the Malabar gliding tree frog (pictured), jewel beetles, flamboyant caterpillars, and owners Sujata and Anurag Goel. Sujata is a botanist, Anurag a microbiologist, and Mojo is their 20-acre forest farm in Coorg, where they grow cardamom, coffee, black pepper, and kokum. Their philosophy: Nurture the natural rainforest ecosystem and the produce will flourish. Their cook makes a mean Coorgi pork curry. (www.rainforestours.com; 94801 04640; doubles from ₹2,000, including breakfast).
Appeared in the March 2016 issue as “Power to the People”.