I live to travel. It’s what keeps me alive. “Everywhere” is most definitely on my list and I’m always keen to try new things in pursuit of those unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime travel memories. I have to admit though, boarding a plane to India … to go camping … in wintertime … had me uncharacteristically apprehensive.
India always had pride of place on my never-ending bucket list, yet hearing united travellers describe it as an overwhelming assault on the senses that you either love or hate definitely had my mind full of curiosity and what-if’s. However, looking back now on my 11 adventure-filled and sensory-overloaded days spent in incredible India, I am pleased to report that I am 100% the former and not the latter. I loved India and will most definitely return, hopefully sooner than later.
I was fortunate to join a small group of friendly, adventurous and like-minded travellers on our extraordinary 11‑day India Mobile Camping Small Group Journey through some of Central India’s lesser known, yet equally remarkable, attractions and hidden gems. This was not your typical first-time trip to India; it was so much better.
If you’re not an avid camper, the thought of ‘camping’ through India can be daunting, but rest assured, this is by no means camping in the traditional sense nor did we ever even come close to roughing it. Unbelievably inspiring and impactful, this journey contains all of the essential ingredients that make it an educational, immersive, transformative and life-changing adventure of the soul. It will change the way you see India, and indeed the world.
If you’re not convinced, here are 10 reasons to love luxury camping in India.
1. Worry-free travel
Arriving in some of India’s largest cities that are forever abuzz with heaving crowds, tense traffic and non-stop noise can be intimidating and overwhelming to say the least. Thankfully this isn’t an issue for &Beyond guests, as our 100-strong experienced team of guides and travel experts ensure that every detail of the journey is looked after seamlessly and safely.
Not once did we ever have to worry about where we had to be or when. Our guides were always on hand to direct, assist, translate, carry luggage and chauffeur us to each destination and usher us quickly and flawlessly through any form of queues. From porters, meet and greet staff and drivers, to professional guides and camp staff, we were in their expert hands and our entire group felt 100% safe, well briefed and courteously and informatively guided from A to B to C. Every last detail was looked after and all we had to do was relax, explore and take in the beautiful chaos.
That being said, it’s crucial to add that although we were always looked after in the most luxurious way, we never felt disconnected from the experience nor the place. We still had the wonderful opportunity to interact with the local people and get a true sense of the country and its vibrant, hospitable and proud people. We enjoyed afternoon walks with a local farmer, dinner with local landowners, lunch with UNESCO World Heritage Site guides and so on. All of these personal encounters definitely set this trip apart from the rest.
2. Blissfully remote
For 11 action-packed days, we were whisked off to some truly remote, and (definitely for me) previously unheard of destinations. Each off-the-beaten-path campsite and local attraction was carefully selected to give a real taste of India and its rich cultural heritage, unique wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes, while at the same time pleasantly removing us from the manic, tourist-trodden path to the more mainstream attractions.
In a country that is home to a mind-boggling population well over a billion people, the fact that we were able to enjoy peaceful picnic lunches amidst ancient ruins with not another person in sight and toast the sunset overlooking unpopulated vistas as far as the eye could see was a welcome and most unexpected surprise.
We had behind-the-scenes access to some wonderfully obscure and fascinatingly insightful places, not to mention campsites that were located far from the hustle and bustle. In fact, one morning we woke up to find a leopard pug mark right behind our tent on the edge of a eucalyptus forest, and we weren’t even in a wildlife park. We also discovered some tiger scat while hiking around an old fort. India is full of extraordinary surprises.
3. Travel with purpose
Today’s travellers seek to travel with purpose. Gone are the days of gold taps and white-glove service. Nowadays luxury travel is comfortable, pampering and soul-enriching, but at the same time, it gives back. In addition to luxury (both physical and natural), travellers are rewarded with meaningful immersion, personal transformation and a uniquely tailormade adventure that, at the risk of sounding cliché, really does change their lives on a mental, physical and spiritual level.
Our India mobile camping adventure is an equal mix of grand bucket list ticks and subtle ‘pay it forward’ moments that let us know that our travel was indeed making a difference, not only to us, but also to India’s land, wildlife and people on some level, be it big or small.
Care of the Land: we stayed in leave-no-trace campsites, and although they were luxurious and complete with comfortable beds, hot bucket showers and ensuite toilets, they are also designed to leave little to no footprint. The pristine landscapes that became our home for a few days remained pristine once our mobile camp was packed up and transported to its next equally breathtaking location. We also explored off-the-beaten-path protected wilderness areas, where park fees contribute to the conservation of that precious land and the protection of its wild inhabitants.
Care of the Wildlife: not only did we witness some of India’s most iconic wildlife, from the mighty tiger and elusive leopard, to the loveable sloth bear and the extremely rare dhole (Indian wild dog), but we also met renowned conservation biologist Dr Raghu Chundawat and his wife Joanna, a conservationist and former wildlife documentary filmmaker. We had the privilege of watching their insightful documentary, Tigers of the Emerald Forest, a gripping tale of their decade-long tiger research project in Panna National Park, which was followed by a casual Q&A session with them around the fire.
Care of the People: the picturesque campsites on this journey are leased from local farmers and business people, ensuring a steady income and sustainable business. The stylish décor, as well as the food, are also sourced locally, as much as possible. And throughout the journey, we had the opportunity to interact personally with local people who were always fiercely proud to share their traditions and way of life with us, thereby promoting preservation of culture.
4. Every place has a story
Just as the routing and the remote destinations were carefully selected by our experts to give an authentic and all-encompassing taste of India, so too were the activities and journey highlights. We explored countless ancient ruins, crumbling forts, protected wildlife areas and tiger reserves, triumphant palaces, breathtaking temples, spellbinding UNESCO World Heritage Sites and totally unexpected cenotaphs that were hidden within busy streets. Each site was just as captivating and hauntingly beautiful as the last, each in its own way, and each imbued with gripping, often tragic history.
5. Real-life Jungle Book
In addition to the cultural sightseeing and storytelling that reveals the area’s dramatic history, this journey offers an equal balance of jungle safaris in some of central India’s lesser known, lesser frequented parks.
It’s a well-known fact that Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel, The Jungle Book, was inspired by the wildlife-rich tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh in central India (Pench to be exact), so this adventure had us stepping right into the real-life Jungle Book itself. We meandered through the many different habitats, from towering teak trees and tall clusters of bamboo, to rocky outcrops and crystal clear rivers. All the while conscious of the fact that we were in fact in tiger territory.
Everyone in our group managed to witness the elusive predator in all its striped glory, except for two of us. But being one of those two, I can honestly say that the misty sunrises, dense forests and iconic Indian wildlife that I’d never seen before had me wanting far more time in the jungle. Read all about our experience here.
6. Flavours of India
I could write an entire blog on the food we devoured. Every meal on this journey was irresistible, so you can expect to gain a few kilograms. Leave the diet at home and try everything. Whether you’re a vegan or a meat-lover or somewhere in between, the moreish menus cater for everyone and there’s no guilt in having seconds (or thirds).
From elaborate multiple-course meals at ancient palaces and peaceful private picnics amidst collapsed ruins, to hearty eats in trendy city eateries, plentiful and wholesome lunches with local families and tasty hors d’oeuvres around a blazing campfire, food is a celebration in India. Flavourful curry, creamy paneer, melt-in-your-mouth naan, aromatic rice, steamed momo, classic dal, crispy poppadoms, and bite-sized pakoras and chutneys bursting with flavour … you get the picture. I still dream about the delicious dishes we savoured in India. And the fact that the majority of them were lovingly and expertly prepared on a simple camp stove in the middle of nowhere is testament to the sheer importance and ultimate enjoyment of food within the Indian culture.
Sadly, none of us actually took photos of the food, which is strange given the Instagram-obsessed world we live in. But actually, it just further proves that the meals were so enticing and the company so entertaining that we were all too focused to stop and take foodie pics. And isn’t that the way it should be?!
7. Far from the madding crowd
The exclusivity of this journey is its overarching appeal — currently it is the only one of its kind in India. With a global movement towards small group travel that focuses on a specific tailormade experience that is both meaningful and impactful, this adventure takes that blossoming trend to the next level.
We travelled during off-peak season (early December), which already meant fewer crowds and more bearable temperatures. Most importantly, we stayed in completely private and off-the-beaten-track campsites that had been carefully selected not only for their natural luxury and unique setting, but also for their intentional distance from mainstream tourism. This journey ventures where there is little to no tourist footprint, allowing a truly exclusive and memorable experience.
The campsite views were always impressive, the atmosphere serene and knowing that each site had been leased from nearby farmers or landowners meant that we were providing a steady and sustainable income for local families.
As for the wildlife parks, we had them (almost) all to ourselves, which, in India, is unheard of. The 900 km2 Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary (Kuno National Park), which was actually established in 1981 as a possible satellite site for the Asiatic lion reintroduction project, is about as wild as it gets. For three days we had absolutely no connectivity with the outside world and did not see a single other vehicle. The wildlife remains completely unhabituated, so although tracking them is more of a challenge, the reward is knowing that you in the midst of true, uninhabited wilderness.
8. A million times better than any guide book
Your journey is only as good as your guide and we were fortunate to be guided by one of India’s most renowned and knowledgeable guides, Hashim Tyabji. With an impressive 40 years of experience under his belt, Hashim is one of the co-owners of this mobile camping operation and although he doesn’t typically guide the journey himself, we were fortunate to spend our 11 days with him.
Hashim is a walking encyclopaedia of fascinating facts about everything from culture, history and architecture, to wildlife, geography and current events. A celebrated naturalist, published author and expert on pretty much everything to do with the Subcontinent, not only is Hashim well-connected and widely respected in the industry, he is also an engaging storyteller with a wicked sense of humour.
And you know what they say, your vibe attracts your tribe. The fact that Hashim has personally mentored each carefully-selected member of his team, it is evident from the get-go that they all echo his professionalism, passion, enthusiasm and dedication to guest delight, safety and making a meaningful difference to our planet’s land, wildlife and people. They afforded us insider knowledge and spoiled us with warm Indian hospitality. So much so that I cried when we said goodbye to our newfound Indian friends.
9. Unexpected friendships
Every new friend is a new adventure and this journey brings together like-minded travellers. Each day, we shared once in a lifetime experiences, toasted the sunset around a blazing campfire and laughed long into the night as we feasted on mouth-watering (diet-destroying) Indian meals. We made friends for life and I’m sure several of our paths will cross again, despite all residing on different continents.
10. Let life surprise you
I shan’t go into detail here, otherwise I’ll ruin the surprise, but suffice it to say that this is not unlike any other &Beyond adventure in terms of those signature spoils and unexpected little surprises. They are our forte and they really do make this meaningful journey all the more special.