The driver made a sharp right as our jeep swerved to the left in calf-high mud. My mind jumps back to reality and I remember that I’m not caught up in traffic on Western Express Highway anymore.
I’m in a Mahindra Major Jeep, off-roading in slushy mud in the middle of a forest in Bhopal. The air smells like an earthy perfume – fresh from the rain, with floral, wooden tones that’s instantly calming.
Within the last two hours, I’d been picked up at Raja Bhoj Airport by Marvyn Paul, the second generation owner of Ratapani Range Retreat and have had a delicious breakfast with his wonderful aunt at her residence close to the airport. The family-run homestay I’ll be staying at is located about an hour and a half away from her home in the main city of Bhopal.
In fact, it’s located in the middle of a forest in an area called Sultanpur, not a place well known for tourism – yet astoundingly beautiful.
As Lakhan, the driver pulls up to the resort, we’re greeted by Badri, the cook and Neeraj, the hotel manager and as my bags are sent to my room, I’m taken on a tour of the quaint little homestay.
Ratapani Range Retreat is, in every sense of the word, a hideaway! Being in the buffer zone of the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, it is rich in both flora and fauna and low on mobile network. Within minutes of reaching the property, I was already mesmerized by a purple polka dotted butterfly and the sounds of a peacocks loud calls.
The heart of the property is a large Mediterranean-styled courtyard that’s simple and summery. Flanked on both sides by white-washed cement arched windows and doors, this acts as a place for guests to mingle and dine out, if they wish to. Occasionally, a tribal dance troupe is called from the village to entertain and dance with guests to spice up an evening.
One of my favourite spots in the retreat was the restaurant beside the courtyard. Since I visited in the monsoons, I immensely enjoyed watching the rain pour down while being protected behind the restaurant’s glass façade. A large cooler kept the temperature comfortable, but with frequent power cuts, its life was cut short, time and again, making me feel a little too hot for comfort. However, the restaurant’s comfy interiors, with sofas, bookshelves and a music system makes for a soothing “chill-zone,” in Marvyn’s words.
I later learn a little about how the little homestay operates. Being so far away from the airport and railway station, adventurous guests can drive their way to the resort or choose to be picked up. Guests can also choose from a list of activities they’d like to perform – from visiting the nearby world heritage sites of Sanchi and Bhimbetka to kayaking in a nearby lake.
Ratapani Range Retreat believe in using local produce, grown in their property or bought within a 10 km radius and have plans to go entirely solar powered in the future. And I have to say…their staff is the most trustworthy bunch I’ve ever seen, who go out of their way to make guests feel at home.
RRR consists of 5 rooms – each the size of a little cottage. In the large balcony is a picnic table and pastel orange couch overlooking the forest. It was from this very spot that I blogged, read magazines and generally daydreamed from whenever I was in the property.
As you walk into the bedroom, you’re greeted by a fireplace and wood on one end, and a massive double bed on the other. The room has ample storage space, a large cooler that would come handy in the sweltering summer and a charming little wooden desk.
A door leads in towards a small powder room with a large mirror and further on into an enormous bathroom. The best part is a glass door that leads outside, revealing an open-to-the-sky shower! Not something you see every day!
Since it’s in the middle of the jungle, you can expect to find a bug, lizard or both in your room on any given day. However, if you keep your door closed in the evening, you’ll successfully keep mosquitos out.
The bedroom (and bed, in particular) was so comfortable and I loved being woken up by the sunlight streaming through the window! While the bathroom wasn’t anything special, it could have done with better lighting. Basic amenities like towels and soap is provided.
The type of cuisine served at Ratapani Resort is lovingly called “Badri-style.” Badri, with his ever-smiling countenance would happily ask me what I’d like to eat every day, offering countless delicious sounding options. From the usual daal, rice, and vegetables to snacks like pakoras, fried fish and chicken, he churns out fantastic, homely food in the open kitchen behind the restaurant. His meals are complete with dessert at the end – rasgullas, halwa, and countless varieties of kheer when he got to know I had a soft spot for it!
The folks at RRR offer tours in an SUV to famous sights around the homestay and pack lunches for the day (complete with soft drinks and drinking water) so one doesn’t have to hunt for places to eat at. On one of the days, we stopped to relish some chicken kheema, parathas and… ahem, kheer… at the side of a river. If you’ve gone on a picnic before, you’ll agree that food tastes so much better out in the wilderness.
Badri didn’t spare the chance to overfeed us at breakfast, either. Simple fare like bread/toast and jam, poha and omletes always tasted like they were made with love. If you ever go there, do try out their filter coffee!
Ratapani Range Retreat doesn’t serve alcohol, but aren’t against the concept of BYOB. Yes, you can “bring your own booze” to sip with your meal at the restaurant or at the picnic table outside your room.
Carry bug spray/mosquito repellent. While you won’t need them in your room, you may need to spray some on if you want to sit outdoors in the evening.
It isn’t wheelchair accessible or very suitable for the elderly. Also, you may not want to take your pets along (in case they wander off into the sanctuary full of wild cats)
Visit in the monsoons when the jungle is thriving, streams are flowing and animals + birds come out to play. The area is extremely hot and arid in the summer and with the power cuts in the area, it wouldn’t make for a pleasant holiday.
THINGS THAT CAN BE IMPROVED
It’s easy to trip over stairs and rocks, especially in the dark. Some white paint or glow-in-the dark marks on stairs and edges would help make the resort safer.
I looooved my stay here – the warm people, the much needed break from honking cars and annoying phone calls, the call of nature… bliss!
I highly recommend you guys try it out for a weekend! You can book your stay at Ratapani Range Retreat here.
Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures in Bhopal! In the meanwhile, check out one of my latest posts on Phoebe’s Farm, Mumbai
Bye for now!
Disclaimer – My stay was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own.