High on ecological values and low on carbon footprints, these lovely lodges promise you a memorable experience and a clear conscience.
As a conscious traveller, who takes into account the ecological impact of every trip, we know that how a hotel rates on the green scale is important to you. And, increasingly, most resorts are well aware of this too. The truly responsible ones really work hard to earn their green badge of honour. And then there are some that coolly take on the title of ‘eco-resort’ after planting a few shrubs on their property! Fortunately, we have hundreds of real eco-resorts in India and many more coming up by the day. There’s a really wide range in terms of budgets, activities on offer, and locations they are in. This is why a list like this can never be exhaustive, although it can certainly be inspiring!
Here’s our pick of some of India’s most beautiful (and responsible) eco-resorts…
The Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge, Tadoba-Andhari
At the Bamboo Forest it’s luxury all the way, but so thoughtful that you can enjoy it guilt-free. Gorgeous lake-side villas, hand-painted murals, the Taruveda Spa, and even a terrace swimming pool. Lavish, yes, but everything’s set off by their efforts towards ecological conservation and community partnerships, which have won them prestigious government awards, like the ‘Jal Mitra’ and ‘Gram Bandhu’. The owners of the Tree House Resorts Group call themselves the ‘Greenovators’. They’ve re-wilded farmland that once cut off animal migratory routes, helped the locals build and operate homestays, and reuse water from their own filtration process that uses reverse osmosis.
We love: Going on safari in India’s first battery-operated, pollution-free safari vehicle called the Eco Ranger. It’s quiet, it’s clean and it is really comfortable!
KAAV Safari Lodge, Kabini
This property on the periphery of the forest has been consciously designed to leave as minimal a footprint on the terrain as possible. Doing away with any grand entry gates, cleverly repurposing an existing structure to build on, using columns instead of walls for the common dining area, the use of regional idioms like Channapatna rings in the common pantry or tree pods as room décor, all makes for an eco-conscious and pleasing space. With interiors that are elegant yet comfortable, rugged yet refined, it is just right for the conscious traveller. KAAV goes beyond low-impact tourism. Working in tandem with local communities they conduct annual plantings of endemic flora to maintain the crucial biodiversity of the area. The luxury resort also uses renewable energy sources wherever possible, with kitchen waste digested in a biogas plant, and the naturally-obtained methane is used for all our cooking, recharging the groundwater tables and engaging a reverse osmosis system that provides potable water at low-energy expenditure.
We love: The unique torch-lit ‘Tiny Safari’, which takes us around the resort grounds to shine the light on various species of spiders, scorpions, and reptiles that live there. And a boat safari along the Kabini River is a must-have experience too.
Grape County, Nashik
Their Sky Suites and Forest Tents have all the amenities but also run as close to nature as possible. Run by Green Spaces, one of Nashik’s most eco-friendly real-estate companies (even their corporate office building was the first certified green building in Nashik thanks to its energy-efficient construction!), this sprawling property has a manmade lake and acres of land. What used to be barren has been made bountiful and beautiful, but using the expertise of environmentalists and horticulturists so that thousands of species of native flora and fauna exist together here, forming a self-sustaining eco-system. They’ve won a five-star rating from The Energy and Resources Institute and awards for their renewable energy utilisation and water management system. Those who want to make this their way of life have the option of purchasing a green home from their Eco Living sections. In the works at Grape County is a biodiversity park, which will help visitors to connect even better and co-exist peacefully with the plants, animals, birds, and insects co-exist peacefully without harming the balance of nature.
We love: The nature trail we did one morning, which introduced us to scores of unique bird and plant species and many stunning vistas.
Baghvan – A Taj Safari, Pench
Each of its sumptuous suites of Baghvan in the Seoni area features two separate buildings linked by a private courtyard and a huge open deck with an open-to-sky shower. The common areas are rich in traditional textiles and motifs. A paleolithic dinner by the rustic pool is one of their unique offerings, along with farm-to-fork fare and the use of the freshest, top-quality local, sustainable ingredients. Besides, the IHCL Group has trained and recruited a lot of locals in responsible guiding through their Taj Safaris Naturalist Training Programme since 2006, giving the young people of the area confidence, access, careers, and pride in their roots.
We love: That each of the suites have their own private machaan, which is the perfect vantage point for birding, reading or day-dreaming when it’s light and easily converted into a breezy bedroom at night.
Binsar Forest Retreat, Binsar
Located about eight km inside the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary at about 7,600 feet above sea level in Uttarakhand, this retreat blends the best of communing with nature and experiencing mountain village life. They have a variety of rooms, some facing the peaks of Trishul or Nandaghunti, some vivid with Rhododendrons when the trees outside are in bloom, and some named after the walnut and chestnut trees that abut them! The Swiss Cottage tents are a fun and comfortable option as well. The Binsar Forest Retreat is simple and rustic and just right for someone with a yen for adventure. Their water comes from a natural mountain spring as well as harvested rainwater. They operate on solar power and candlelight, although the rooms do have a traditional wood-burning ‘bukhari’ for the really cold nights. A place to truly unplug and unwind. No wonder they have had writers’ retreats, yoga yatras, and birders aplenty flocking to them.
We love: Their village stay package where you get to experience living with a local family that has lived in Binsar for generations, eat what they eat and learn how sustainably they live off the land.
Barefoot at Havelock, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Havelock Island probably has some of India’s best beaches. And Barefoot, just 100 metres away from Radhanagar Beach, is incredibly careful to safeguard this gorgeous spot. Right from the start, they planted trees endemic to the island so that the resort would grow in harmony with nature. Their buildings are constructed using renewable, natural resources such as wood (sourced from plantations which have a certified replanting programme), cane, and thatch. They are built on stilts so that they do not interfere with the flow of the runoff after the rains. The sheer number of birds and animals that you can spot at Barefoot stands testament to their commitment. Beach clean-ups and educating guests so they help take plastic waste out of the islands is just one of their many initiatives. Besides using their reverse osmosis plant for drinking and kitchen use, installing water-saving flush cisterns in all bathrooms, they also harvest rainwater and use a perennial spring, leaving the municipal water for their neighbours. They ensure that waste water is treated so it doesn’t pollute the groundwater. Food waste from the restaurants and the kitchen are composted, which then goes into their organic farms as manure for the cultivated crops. They empower the local community in many ways, supporting businesses and suppliers, as well as encouraging conversations.
We love: That their lovely restaurant is a ‘sit-down’ one, that is, one where you are encouraged to go barefoot and sit cross-legged on the cushions to eat. Like all their other buildings, it has a thatched roof and a modern take on indigenous architecture. And of course, all the water activities on offer too, ranging from stand-up paddling to snorkelling and scuba diving.
The Sarai at Toria, Panna
This is a powerful success story of how a couple committed to conservation and wildlife can create a space that treads a very light carbon footprint, offering an eco-sensitive stay with organic, locally sourced food and a team of trained and enthusiastic locals. Conservation biologist Dr Raghu Chundawat has researched wildlife throughout his professional life. His wife Joanna Van Gruisen is a conservationist, as well as being an avid wildlife photographer and writer. They not only have the right credentials but mainly the right attitude that makes The Sarai what it is. They manage the eight rustic-chic rooms and all the activities around the resort in an environmentally, culturally, and socially responsible manner, providing comfort and indulgence while protecting the natural and cultural environment. This permeates not only through the style of the interiors, the use of building materials, the solar power, and exterior architectural design but also through to the service and food. No plastics, organic ingredients, local hires, all of these go a long way in making The Sarai a must-visit for any conscious traveller. They’re also giving back to the community by supporting the local school and initiating a larger scale project on environmental education in 10 schools situated in the tiger habitats that surround the Panna Tiger Reserve.
We love: Zen mornings floating down the Ken river bout of birding from a boat and the easy afternoons spent with a book on their spacious swing.
Sunderban Tiger Camp, the Sunderbans
This eco-friendly resort is located on Dayapur Island, from where you can take boats into the Sundarbans National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its rich biodiversity and home to the largest estuarine mangrove forests in the world. The flagship property of Waxpol Hotels and Resorts, its cottages and huts are made using locally sourced materials and also incorporate elements of the natural surroundings and local traditions. Sunderban Tiger Camp has played a vital role in pioneering sustainable wildlife tourism in the area. Their restaurant utilises locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. They have created awareness of sustainable tourism and conservation amongst the local community. As they receive electricity only for about two hours a day, they have installed solar lights, solar-powered heaters for warm water, and solar-charged batteries for regular use of electronic appliances. The use of solar power reduces the reliance on using wood as a source of energy, which in turn reduces deforestation. It also helps to avoid the use of hydel power in the Sundarbans area as it endangers precious aquatic life. Their rainwater harvesting process has resulted in freshwater being available 24 hours every day. The harvested rainwater is collected in the specially constructed freshwater pond that attracts a variety of birds and animals. The wastewater from all outlets is treated and reused for gardening and other purposes. Not surprisingly, their conservation efforts have been recognised by Tour operators for Tigers (TOFT) and The Responsible Tourism Society Of India.
We love: The exquisite birds and scenery hand-painted by local artists that embellish the room interiors. And the Bonbibi jatra (a colourful dance-theatre performance dedicated to the guardian spirit of the forest) that you can enjoy at the end of the day.
Ahsan Mount Resort, Sonamarg
Find your little patch of paradise between the fast-flowing river Sind and the mountain slopes of Sonamarg, more than 9,000 feet above sea level and a little over four km away from the Thajwas Glacier. The 10 insulated, super-sized luxury tents have everything you need for a proper pamper, but tread lightly in terms of your travel footprint. Glamping in the green environs by this glacier-fed river is sure to satisfy the soul of both, the most inveterate tourist and the conscious traveller.
We love: That you can spend the day in such a pure environment,trekking, glacier walking, trout fishing (responsibly) with a permit and only artificial bait. Or just snoozing on the grassy verge of the river. And then head to their cosy sheesha lounge to unwind in a whole other way.
Cabana Coral Reef, Rameswaram
Right at the Southern tip of India, gleams this gem of a destination. The fishing village called Mandapam is actually between Ramnad and Rameshwaram. The eco-resort in this village is on a pristine beach, and, just like its name suggests, near a coral reef in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. Just a short walk away is the famous Pamban Bridge that connects Rameshwaram to the Indian Peninsula. The cabanas at Cabana Coral Reef have been built using recycled waste from shipping containers, plastic and glass bottles, and natural found objects. The amenities offered at the eco-resort, though basic, are also consciously chosen for having the right sensibilities.
We love: That you can swim or snorkel (bring your own) and even kayak right off the sand and into the azure water around the Southernmost coast of India, visiting Ariyaman beach nearby.
Tips to help you tell the eco-resort heroes from the zeroes…
- Scrutinise their website. Do they have some actual initiatives that help the environment, give back to the community, help conserve water, source sustainably?
- Go through online reviews. And don’t be shy to write to the reviewers to check on the resort’s credentials.
- Read up on awards and ratings. Not all of them are credible. Rely on the ones that are more universally known and backed by an agency that actually does some work in the eco-space.
- Talk to other conscious travellers. It’s not difficult to find like-minded souls. Especially with social media, where you can DM legitimate questions politely and get advice from someone who has actually visited the resort.
- Learn the lingo. Once you know how to speak green, it won’t be tough for you to decipher whether the resort is actually doing good work or not.