Christine Smith review 24 Nov 2014
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
The two most exciting aspects of my Tiger Tour package at Kanha National Park were; viewing a large male tiger for over half an hour in the wilderness, and the tremendously lucky spotting of a pack of wild dogs (my guide mentioned that the dogs had not been seen at all last year). Additionally I added about a gazillion birds to my life list and spotted almost every mammal for which the park is famous. My guide Uday Patel is a fabulous naturalist and tracker, he just really made the trip! He shared not only animal lore but discussed many, many aspects of Indian cultures, traditions and society.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
Both the tour company and the wonderful boutique hotel are owned by the same person. Though I had booked my six day tour in mid June and had been assured that my lodging would be at a certain boutique hotel, and was notified after my deposit was received that I was fully booked and confirmed, just several weeks before I was scheduled to fly to India to begin a month-long journey, I was notified by Neelesh, owner of both the tour company and lodge, that there was a problem with my second night scheduled at the hotel due to another group who “extended their stay in Kanha” and I was advised that I would have to “shift” for that night to a different lodge. At that point I was thinking ‘so what am I, chopped liver?!’ and thinking that this was a bit of bait and switch. Had I received this notice earlier I would have cancelled the entire tour and re-booked elsewhere, but it was so close to the time of my departure for India that I did not think anything else would still available, didn’t have a lot of time left to check around and also suspected that I would not get my trip deposit back. So swallowing hard, I figured ‘well it’s only one of my four planned weeks in India, so if it turns out badly at least it will not wreck my entire trip’. In the end, although I was “shifted” to another hotel, a cheaper , 3-star establishment as opposed to the more expensive 5-star original, for the second night of my stay with no reduction in my overall tour cost, after that inconvenience my stay at the boutique hotel was delightful.
Other than the booking problem at the first hotel, I did feel quite well taken care of. Pre-trip, all of my emails were answered promptly. Neelesh gave me very good advice in suggesting that I limit my safari to just Kanha to maximize my chances of seeing tigers rather than trying to safari in two parks, that advise was spot on! He also made the arrangements for my overnight train ride from Varanasi to Jabalpur where I was picked up by my guide and driven to Kanha, that reservation in itself was a godsend since it seemed almost impossible to figure out how to book a train by myself (even my travel agent did not want to touch that one!) I was also very relieved when my guide met me at the door of my train carriage upon arrival in Jabalpur and very thankful that he led me back to my booked berth for my return trip to Delhi (train stations are really big and confusing.) Staying at Courtyard House was living in the lap of luxury. The staff were incredibly attentive, the rooms are attractive and very spacious, and the hotel itself seemingly based upon Vaastu Shstra principles is beautifully designed and struck me as a modified Manduva Logili type of courtyard house built to be suitable for extended family. Indeed in staying at Courtyard House I felt as if I were the guest of an aristocratic family. I loved having meals in various locales on the property; lunch poolside overlooking the beautiful infinity pool that merged into the wilderness, a breakfast on the second floor balcony overlooking the buffer zone, and dinners on the terrace or in the beautiful formal dining room among the other lodge guests. The meals by the way were simply outstanding!
The biggest tip for scheduling a trip to Kanha National Park is that according to my guide, the best time for tiger spotting is late January and early February since at that time the foliage is less thick, the water holes are drying up and prey animals are congregating in greater numbers around the remaining water making easier to locate the tigers.
It was also very helpful to be given a variety of methods for paying the trip balance other than wiring money directly to an account of a person and business that I did not really know. After asking, Neelesh gave me the options of paying the balance in U.S. cash upon arrival, or with travelers checks, or by PayPal if I was willing to add the amount PayPal would charge him to process it (about $87 additional.)
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
This vacation benefited local people in that the jeep (gypsy) driver was a local, as were the hotel staff and the mandatory park guides assigned to your gypsy each time you enter the park. As far as environmental impacts, I assume that all of the food served in the hotel is locally sourced and the hotel itself is quite small and blends beautifully into the environment. One thing I would urge Courtyard House to do is to install a water filtration system somewhere in the house instead of continuously handing out plastic bottles of water, especially since I doubt that the area has any way to recycle those plastic bottles. And last but not least, bringing tourist dollars into a National Park where tigers and other animals are protected is always a good thing.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
It’s a bit hard for me to rate this vacation; on one hand this experience was way more than I had expected, and my ultimate desire of spending as much time as possible exploring Kanha National Park was fully met and tremendously augmented by Uday Patel, the hotel’s wonderful naturalist guide, but on the other hand it was quite disconcerting to be bumped for a night after receiving a confirmed reservation and abandoned in another establishment for my second night. Honoring a confirmed reservation is just such a basic expectation for both the hotel and tour businesses, that I remain a bit surprised. I have travelled on six continents and never had this type of problem before. For this reason and this reason alone, I would actually hesitate to recommend this trip to a friend and probably will go with a different company myself when I return for another adventure in India.
Read the operator's response here:
First of all thanks for the wonderful honest review about your stay. Secondly please accept our gratitude for being generous, we know the shifting caused you anguish but believe us, you continued to be our honored guest all the time while you stayed at Kanha. You gratefully accommodated us during extraordinaire circumstance for which we are extremely grateful. Please except our apologies for any inconvenience caused.
The house has a limited accommodation and we wish to keep it that way for positive guest experience. Our guests are never chopped liver but sometimes we are bound by circumstances and look forward to guest for support for which we are extremely grateful to you and thank you wholeheartedly.
We do not go against guest wishes especially in case of confirmed bookings - you can be assured of that.
I hope you continue to enjoy our hospitality. The whole staff and our naturalist guide Uday await you. We welcome you back wholeheartedly for more tiger safaris and birding at Kanha National Park.
We once again regret for the inconvenience caused.
Thanking you sincerely