Reviews by Carolyn Caldicott
SARAI AT TORIA, PANNA, MADHYA PRADESH
This intimate eco- lodge has been loving designed to blend with, rather than fight its special setting. Hidden among swathes of tall wild grass, it sits on the banks of the wide, boulder-strewn river Ken.
Spacious cottages are built in local style, with thick mud walls that cool in the heat of the day and insulate on chilly nights. A canny wood-fire device keeps water piping hot, and bathroom products are natural and handmade.
Homestyle cooking is a delight, with old family recipes (river caught fish curry in an aromatic spiced sauce, dal with toasted coconut and cashew), enjoyed in the leafy shade or on the verandah of the open-sided lodge, covered with clambering scented flowers.
Panna, one of India's most beautiful wildlife parks, with a healthy population of leopards, is right on the doorstep, and the 11th century temple complex at Khajaraho, famed for its erotic carvings, only half an hour drive away.
And if you're too chilled for a road trip, just take an idyllic boat ride on the river with coloured kingfishers and owls for company.
Sarai at Toria, Road to Panna-Khajaraho, Madhya Pradesh 471101, +91 98 11 281452
Doubles £158, including all meals and on site activities.
THE BISON , NAGAHOLE, KARNATAKA
India has been waiting a long time for a safari lodge like The Bison, for affordable and stylish luxury in the jungles of the south.
Nagahole may not have the tiger numbers of some other Indian wildlife parks, but leopard sightings are common and this the best place in India to see large herds of wild elephant and gaur (Indian bison).
The Bison's seven luxury tents, plus two Machan (elevated watchtower) suites raised on wooden stilts, are ranged along the shore of the Kabini backwaters, and connected to the main lodge and a separate, two bedroomed cottage suite by gang-blank walkways.
All the rooms have polished hardwood floors, four-poster beds with mosquito nets, spacious attached bathrooms and verandas with lake views.
Game viewing can be by boat or jeep and even, on occasions, from your bed, if a herd of elephant stroll past.
The all-inclusive food is excellent regional dishes, the 'jungly maas' marinated lamb curry is particularly good, as are breakfasts of masala dosas and steaming hot chai after early morning game drives.
The Bison Resort, Gundathur Village, Kabini,Nagahole, Karnataka
91 80 412 78708. Doubles from around £120, full board
SAMODE SAFARI LODGE, BANDHAVGARH, MADHYA PRADESH
If tigers are on your bucket list, Bandhavgarh National park is the place to see them. For style, comfort and plenty of va va voom, you can't beat the luxe Samode Safari Lodge, and with two game drives per day, you are almost guaranteed a tiger sighting.
The lodge has a tree house feel to it, the vast lounge and dining platforms are linked by walkways among the trees.
Roaring fires and chai are a welcome sight in the early hours before the morning game drive, and you can catch up on sleep later, poolside, in the heat of the day.
After a top notch barbecue buffet lunch (tandoori prawns and masala chicken), you will be ready for the next bumpy ride.
Villas are sumptuous, with decadent bathrooms to wash away the heat and dust of the day, before cocktails (superbly spiced bloody Marys) around the campfire, and dinner in a different secret location every night.
Sleep comes easily in the comfort of the big four poster bed.
Samode Safari Lodge, Village Mardari, Tehsil Manpur, District Umaria- 484661, Madhya Pradesh, +91 76 53 2080579
Doubles around £265 pp, per night, including two game drives with a trained naturalist, all park fees, laundry, all meals, tea and coffee.
BAGVAN TAJ SAFARI LODGE. PENCH, MADHYA PADESH
Bagvan is where you go for house-party style right on the doorstep of the entrance to Pench National park.
The inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, Pench is less well known that other game parks, making it a joy of a wildlife experience.
Interiors are an eclectic mix of Indian vintage finds and one-off modern pieces, the kitchen is always open, with jars of homemade cookies and drinks, where you can watch the chef barbecue baby sweetcorn smeared with hot ghee as a mid afternoon snack.
At night the outdoor lounge is transformed with a myriad of butter lamps for pre-dinner drinks, where guests swap stories of the day's sightings of long-tailed langwa, jungle cats, peacocks and, if you are really lucky, tiger.
Every villa has the luxury of a machan, a day bed viewing platform perched high above the trees, and at night, if you wish, it can be transformed into an outdoor bedroom open to the sounds of the jungle.
Baghvan Taj Safari Lodge, Village Avarghani, District Seon, Madyha Pradesh, + 91 76 95 232829,
Doubles from £232 pp, per night, including two game drives, all park fees, naturalist, all meals, soft drinks, house wine, local spirits and beer and laundry.
JAWAI LEOPARD CAMP, ARAVALLI HILLS, RAJASTHAN
Jawai Leopard Camp has the unique advantage of not being reliant on a national park for wildlife experiences.
Free from the usual restrictions of opening times and rules about keeping to designated routes, you can go on dawn and dusk drives in open-top safari jeeps, but also guided walks, mountain biking and night drives in the natural wilderness.
The eight, colonial-style tented suites - white canvas on platforms of black slate - have huge, Indian-railway style tin trunks with red velvet linings to stash all your stuff, and contemporary, chrome-framed beds swathed in mosquito nets, so you can leave the tent flaps open to the star-filled desert night.
Leopards and langur monkeys share the spectacular landscape of weathered granite koppies (small hills), ancient cave temples, sweeping fields of bright yellow mustard plants, and winding rivers beds,.
Look out for the semi nomadic Rabari herdsmen, sporting deep red turbans and particularly fine moustaches.
Jawai Leopard Camp, Aravalli Hills, Rajasthan, +91 11 4165 5052
From £250 pp, per night, including twice daily game drives, all meals, soft drinks, house wine, local spirits and beer and laundry.