Taj CC Africa: Tiger Lodges. For Gourmet magazine

Would you pay a $1000 to spot a tiger? The Taj Group is betting you would. The India-based luxury hotel chain has tied up with CC Africa to establish 10 wilderness lodges throughout India. Four are already open.

The facilities are first-class. 12 cottages each with a private courtyard, open shower and best of all, air conditioning. 5 staff per guest ensures that requests are fulfilled almost before they are vocalized. The ethnic chic décor harks back to a time and place that is the stuff of dreams: hand-plastered mud walls, rough-hewn beam ceilings, ceramic roof tiles and furnishings in burnt umber and sienna that reflect the landscape. The welcome hut features an open kitchen with touches of rustic nostalgia. Guests can watch butter being churned and masalas being ground. Fresh lime sodas, chilled homemade cocktails and house wines are free and available on demand.

Now this is all very well and I would happily fork out wads of cash just for the never-ending supply of the fragrant Taj toiletries made using local herbs like verbena, vetiver and rose. But a $1000 a day? Per person? The Aman group’s rates are in the realm of the fantastic but even they charge four-figures per room per night. Staying at the Taj will cost a couple at least $2000 per night; plus 50% more per child if you come en famille. The Taj’s rationale is of course that they offer a world-class experience in the remotest of locales. They have to airlift food, have a helicopter on call for medical evacuation, preserve wildlife….you get the picture.

The lodge’s rhythms are familiar to wildlife enthusiasts. Wake up at dawn (or dusk); hot coffee or tea and then the game drive with a naturalist and ranger, either on a jeep or atop an elephant. These elephant safaris actually work. For some strange reason, people spot more wildlife atop an elephant than when revving through the bush in a jeep.

The food is scrumptious and so it should be for…I say it again….a thousand a pop. Meals are cooked slowly over charcoal fires or inside a mud-pit the better to coax out the aromas, my dear. Thankfully, these aren’t gimmicks. Most meals in rural India are still cooked this way and impart and wonderful flavor to the meat and vegetables, rendering them tender yet fresh and flavorful.

There is no denying it. These lodges make for a memorable vacation. It ain’t Africa but it is close. You will see hordes of elephants, spotted deer, wild guar, bison, and yes, tigers. These jungles are a bird-watcher’s paradise with thousands of colorful tropical birds that parrot and peacock for the cameras. If you like Indian food, these lodges offer a taste of India that is unique and rare.

I just wish they had included the air transfers in the price.