It’s golden hour at the Sarai at Toria. The long evening shadows slither into the grass and hiss down to the sparkling river Ken, which is ablush in the slow burn of the setting sun. The early birds swoop past with raucous cries, leaving the skies open to the hoots of the nocturnal ones.
Soon, the pathways between the tall grasses come alight with solar lamps. Pre-dinner, around a fire and under the blazing stars, hosts Raghu Chundawat and Joanna van Gruisen, mingle with the guests. Over a sundowner, they share their sightings and insights of the day, with discussions ranging from a roaring tiger startling a herd of deer to the marvellous intricacies of Khajuraho’s sculptures. Because even though the Sarai at Toria is a destination in itself, its location in the heart of Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region makes it an expedient caravan stop en route to several places of historical and ecological importance nearby.
Spread over nine acres of field and jungle, Sarai is a luxury resort, but don’t expect to find bathtubs with rose petals or infinity pools. Chundawat and van Gruisen, a wildlife scientist-photographer team, who also spent several years working with tigers in neighbouring Panna National Park, have brought their sensibilities to the property. Their keen dedication to ecological matters informed their decision to build their spacious, eco-friendly thatched cottages in compressed mud using the traditional local method.
The interiors of each of these eight pastoral cottages, with private porches and courtyards, have been finished in different rustic oxide shades. The aesthetic detailing, and meticulous attention to comfort and service, ensures both pleasure and repose. Meals are part of the package and are gastronomic delights; the spread ranging from Chundawat’s Malwa family recipes to Joanna’s continental ones.
Walks are aplenty—within the property, by the riverbanks, or through the neighbouring fields to the village of Toria. All routes are a birder’s delights, so if you’d like a guide, many of the local staff members double up as naturalists. The resort also offers a morning or evening boat ride on the Ken.
If you’re looking to explore further afield, Sarai at Toria also organises more offbeat road trips and day visits. Explore the ninth century Ajaygarh Fort and plateau (45 km), or the diverse architectural influences of Panna town, located about half an hour away. You can even choose to hop across the Madhya Pradesh border into Uttar Pradesh to view the fortress-city of Kalinjar (73 km), or spend a soothing picnic day at either the Pandav or Raneh falls close by (doubles ₹19,800, including meals and on-site activities).
Appeared in the December 2013 issue as “Rest Assured”. Updated in January 2017.
Sarai at Toria is located off NH75 in Madhya Pradesh, less than 2km from the entrance to the Panna Tiger Reserve and a short drive from Khajuraho (23 km/20 mins) airport and railway station. Visitors can also take a train to the busy Jhansi junction, 182 km/3.5 hrs away. The resort is open from 1 October to 15 April (0124-2356004/ 9685293130; www.saraiattoria.com).