Travel can help make a long-term and tangible difference through sustainable and responsible investment in nature, wildlife, and communities. My colleague Anthea calls it “travelling with a heart”.
With our growing desire and need to protect and nurture our planet, many of us are making conscious changes to the way we live, buy, and consume things. From avoiding the use of single-use plastic to switching to renewable energy, the winds of change have begun to blow fast and wide.
Although there are many fantastic ways to offset our carbon footprint whilst travelling sustainably, slow travel involving natural modes such as walking, cycling and riding, and using eco-consciously run hotels and camps remain the most sustainable, harmonious and rewarding solutions.
The thrill of a riding adventure is unmatched, as horses can take you well beyond the well-trodden trails, where cycles and walking cannot. In India, two of my favourite regions for a horse-riding safari are Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, both festooned with gorgeous landscapes and distinctive cultures.
The owners of Castle Bijaipur – a centuries-old fort of the Udaipur State, are one of Rajasthan’s renowned equestrian families. The stables of Bijaipur have a special bloodline of famed Marwari horses. Elegant, powerful and compact, these horses are a joy to ride and they are specially schooled to ride in western and central India in rugged desert and riverine rocky terrains, so that they have the ability to understand granite sliding rock faces and loose laterite tracks.
Using these horses, exceptionally guided, bespoke riding safaris can be organised with rides lasting anything from four to eight hours a day, with breaks for bird watching, village walks and a picnic lunch along the way. In the evenings you stay either at small local lodges or hotels, or in a custom-made mobile tented camp set up just for you.
One of my favourite routes in Rajasthan is travelling through the southern fringes of the Aravelli Hills – a region famed for high plains and plateau, forests of juniper, untouched rural villages, lakes and ancient temples. You begin your expedition in the historic town of Chittorgarh – home of India’s largest fort complex, which is truly a sight to behold!
After an expert-led tour of the 7th-century fort, you start riding making your way to Castle Bijaipur for your first overnight halt. Although fairly rustic in nature, this 16th-century royal residence offers a most authentic Mewari experience with a very warm hospitality and delicious food.
Over the next five days, you will explore the Eastern Highlands, riding through amazingly diverse terrains and utterly off-the-beaten-track places such as the Bassi Sanctuary, Nahargarh, deserted village of Bhagwanpura, Dorai flatlands and dam, Pangarh, and Lake Kama Kirta.
Besides incredible landscapes, the highlights along the way include the region’s unique wildlife including antelopes, wild boar, hyena, jackal, blue bulls, wild cats and panthers; remote villages; Hindu temple ruins dating back to 5th century AD; as well as a Bhill tribe settlement located in an area that is famous for its opium cultivation and Mahua trees.
At the end of the thrilling safari, you can spend a few days in Udaipur, also known as the ‘City of Lakes’, where you can stay at one of India’s most iconic and luxurious heritage hotels – Taj Lake Palace Hotel located in a marvelous setting in the middle of Lake Picchola.
Relax, enjoy the spa, learn yoga, indulge in some of the finest dining experiences, or immerse yourself in the city’s beautiful architecture, traditional crafts and bustling bazaars, Udaipur will take you back in time to an era of royal grandeur, pomp and pageantry more than anywhere else in India. The stunning view of the illuminated City Palace complex at night from Taj Lake Palace’s rooftop restaurant is one of my most cherished views ever.
In Madhya Pradesh in Central India, your adventure begins in the historic town of Khajuraho, following in the footsteps of Captain T. S. Burt. Accompanied by a local historian, you explore the majestic temples renowned for their erotic sculptures based on the ancient Indian text of Kamasutra.
This area is completely different to Rajasthan and over the next six days, you ride along the pristine Ken River and discover the region around the famous Panna Tiger Reserve, visiting the ancient forts of Ajaigarh and Kalinjar.
You will spend the time taking jeep safaris in the jungle in search of tigers and other wildlife, taking non-motorised boat rides on the river for bird watching and fishing, and indulging in an extraordinary star gazing experience at a zero-electricity camp. You will also meet local forest dwelling tribes and learn how they cook.
Your stay near Panna Tiger Reserve is arranged at an intimate and charming lodge called Sarai at Toria, which is owned and managed by Dr Raghu Chundawat – one of India’s leading wildlife academics and conservation biologists, and his wife Joanna Van Gruisen – a renowned wildlife photographer, film maker, writer and conservationist.
Located on the banks of the river Ken, the lodge offers an incredibly serene wilderness experience and is entirely focused on conservation and sustainability. Raghu and Joanna have founded a nor-for-profit organisation called Baavan to enhance tiger conservation efforts in and around Panna Tiger Reserve.
They are actively engaged with the local communities to create a tiger-friendly neighbourhood around the tiger reserve through nature conservation-based education programmes for village schools, conservation and volunteer tourism, as well as generation of alternative employment opportunities for the locals, so that they don’t remain dependent on the forest as their primary source of income and sustenance.
During your stay at Sarai at Toria, you will have an opportunity to get involved in Baavan’s ongoing initiatives for a deeper understanding of wildlife and tiger conservation efforts, and the vital role of responsible tourism towards ensuring long-term success.
The itinerary and length of the rides in both the regions can be tailored to your needs, and you can even have a massage therapist travel with you to help relax your muscles after a day of riding, pure bliss!
If you would like more information about bespoke holidays to India exploring by walking, cycling or horse-riding, please do feel free to contact us! Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images and video used by kind courtesy of Bijaipur Horse Safaris and Sarai at Toria.