If there is one place to which we rush back time and again, it’s Jungle Retreat, Wayanad. Situated very close to the border of Karnataka and Kerala, it is home to versatile flora and fauna that can enchant anyone with their beauty and conspicuousness. The resort is built on an extension of the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve and truth be told, feels haunting in its closeness to nature. It’s far from the main city and the closest signs of civilization is left behind in the little town of Kutta, the very last leg of Karnataka before we enter Kerala.
Journey to Jungle Retreat
There are a couple ways to get to Jungle Retreat Wayanad. But we always prefer driving because it’s the easiest and perhaps also offers the most scenic route. It’s a 7 hours ride considering that you’d have breakfast on the way and then stop from time to time for bathroom breaks.
Café County on the way
When we set out to go to Jungle Retreat for the second time with my aunt and uncle, bhalomashi and bhalomesho, we already told them that we’ll have a late lunch after reaching the resort around 2.30 pm. So, right before leaving behind the densely populated areas, we stopped by one Café County by the side of the highway in Hunsur. It gave us a much-needed bathroom break and some wonderful hot drinks that soothed our tired souls on that pleasant December afternoon.
The scenic route
The best part about the drive to Jungle Retreat Wayanad from Bangalore is that we have to pass through the Nagarhole forest in order to go there. It’s close to an hour’s time inside the forest with flocks and flocks of deer all around. Monkeys of all shapes and sizes will also throng along the sides of the road through the jungle in the hope of the passengers throwing some food their way. But remember, feeding them is strictly prohibited. So is getting out of your vehicle. But even then, if you’re very lucky, you might be able to spot an elephant or two as well, grazing freely amidst the wild grass until they hear car engines and chatter and hide themselves by moving deeper inside the forest.
We spotted innumerable monkeys and deer of course and this time, we even witnessed a female elephant crossing the road, much to shrieks of excitement from bhalomashi and frantic photographing from bhalomesho. Before we knew it, we had crossed the forest and gone out the other way, moving closer towards our destination. After passing by the last small town in Karnataka called Kutta, we finally begun ascending towards Jungle Retreat which is practically nestled near the foothills of the Brahmagiri range.
At this stage, our networks were barely available and in whatever internet we could access, we quickly downloaded google maps offline because truth be told, Jungle Retreat Wayanad is in the middle of nowhere and hard to find without some help. On this last leg of the journey for about 5 kms, we witnessed many more deer and even an elephant right by the side of the road. But it was only an indication of the excitement filled time we’ll spend there for the next day and a half.
Welcome to Jungle Retreat Wayanad
Once you enter the property of Jungle Retreat, you’ll be greeted by a couple of their ever smiling and extremely courteous staff. We were familiar faces by this trip and so there was probably some extra warmth as well this time around. We arrived on December 26th, which is peak season to say the least. Though we booked almost a month in advance, all the cottages were already reserved and we were compelled to go back to the same villa where we had stayed when we had visited during summer.
But no regrets! Irrespective of where we stayed, the staff graciously ushered us into the property and kept us occupied with welcome drinks (non-alcoholic, of course) as Nachi went inside the reception to check in. The walk to the reception with an adjacent dining space is a bit uphill. So, both my mother and my aunt were happy to get this little break to sit around and relax before going into our rooms. Unfortunately, our driver couldn’t be accommodated inside the property.
There is a parking lot right at the entrance, so our driver insisted that he’ll just stay in the car. But the management refused to oblige. “These streets are full of animals. The other day, our resident tigress Snow White was seen right outside our main gate! We cannot risk anyone living here!” they said. So, our driver was sent to a place near Thirunelli temple where he could rest for as long as we’re here.
The property of Jungle Retreat
Reception and Dining Area
Though the property of Jungle Retreat is huge, only a fraction of it has been turned into accommodation for guests. At least 75% of it is left untouched and wild, in its full glory, to make sure that the animals here feel at home. If you walk uphill from the gate and then go towards the left, there’s a pool and a little petting zoo right above it with some ducks and rabbits. Instead if you move uphill towards the right, you’ll bump into the reception in approx. 50 meters. Right adjacent to it is the dining space where you have to come to have all your meals.
Cottages and Watch Tower
On taking a right from the reception, there’s a huddle of 4 little cottages with some of the best views from their balcony, especially the two in front. Nachi and I plan to come back soon by ourselves and stay in one of those to get a completely immersive experience of the forest without moving an inch from our room. These rooms have a big bed and some of them even have an additional single bed or divan for extra accommodation. So, if you are a party of three, you can easily be accommodated inside one of them! Anyway, if you continue towards the right, you’ll slowly descend a bit again and find your way towards the famous ‘Watch Tower’. This is a tall tower built for guests to quietly sit and observe the wildlife from a vantage point. But more on that later. On the way to the watch tower there is a little place called information centre where you can go and read about the different types of animals found in and around the property.
From the reception if you continue walking straight instead of taking a right, you’ll have to move a bit uphill to find the owner’s bunglow on the left. It’s a villa with multiple rooms and are usually meant for big groups of families and friends. We were just 5, so we got the villa a slope above it. It’s like a spacious country house with three rooms, two bathrooms, two attached balconies and one common sun deck jutting out into the open in order to sit there and chill under the trees. It is beautiful.
But we didn’t have time for beauty right then. We were tired and terribly late for lunch. So, we quickly washed up and rushed to the dining space for a scrumptious meal.
Animal Sighting at the resort
We had already signed up to go for a safari at the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve which was less than 20 kms away from our resort, the next day. So bhalomashi and bhalomesho as well as my mother were waiting for it eagerly so that they could experience more sightings after the initial spotting of deer and monkey on the way to the resort. Little did they know that in a place like Jungle Retreat Wayanad, sightings are everywhere and you don’t need a planned safari to see animals anymore.
View from the sun deck
On the very day of our arrival, we spotted 3 Malabar Giant Squirrels right from the sun deck outside our rooms. It was around 3.30 pm, probably time for their snack and so we witnessed them frolicking around the branches of berry trees and going at those berries for a long, long time. I’m sure they could see us because we were just 10 feet away. But they couldn’t care less. It was their home and it was clear that they wouldn’t let a few strangers make them feel uncomfortable in their own natural habitat.
The next day, a large group of monkeys paid us a visit as well on the very same sun deck. They put up quite a show actually, much to the childlike excitement of Bhalomashi who went out of her way to feed them and swoon over their cuteness. At one point, I literally had to drag her inside the room to stop her from making videos of those notorious monkeys, monkeying around and leaving their faeces all over our balcony. Nachi had brought out his camera as well and we soon realized that the monkeys wouldn’t leave unless we stop photographing them. They were loving the limelight and believe it or not, kept posing for us for a very long time.
The watch tower
The watch tower on the other hand is a whole new ball game altogether. A little away from the cottages, the watch tower has been built right next to a watering hole so that wild animals come out from the forest to drink water, thereby creating quite a view for the guests watching them from the watch tower. The thing about it I love the most is the silence, only to be broken by the chirps of various birds, the alarm calls of deer and mating calls of peacocks. And if you are very, very lucky, the growl of tigers. Well, we have not been lucky enough to spot a tiger at Jungle Retreat yet, but this time, we witnessed a beautiful dance by a peacock. And let me tell you this: Our childhood has been a complete lie. Unlike what many of us were told by our parents/teachers, peacocks do not dance to see dark clouds and herald the rain. They dance to attract mates during the mating season. How about that?
When the night falls
This time around, we got to have very exciting nights in Jungle Retreat Wayanad. While we were on our way to the dining area for dinner, we saw a crowd down a vantage point from where one could get a glimpse of the watering hole within the property. Manu, one of the managers explained to us in a whisper that Snow White, the resident tiger is around and that if we listen closely, we could hear her roar. Bhalomashi claimed to have heard it immediately afterwards but the rest of us couldn’t. I don’t know if it was really there that night. But the presence of a usually loud crowd of 10-15 people, all silently standing in the dark waiting with bated breath for a tiger to roar… well, that has a charm of its own.
Later in the night, Kumar, a caretaker of the place came to call us from our villa because a huge elephant has been spotted inside the property of the resort. I was busy taking a bath and couldn’t go on time. But my family went there along with a lot of other guests crossing some grasslands and a shallow marsh to witness a gigantic elephant standing on the premises, the faint lightning of the night sky reflecting off of its back. Must have been quite a sight. Sigh!
Good food, good mood
Ah, the food of Jungle Retreat, Wayanad! It deserves a post of its own. Its variety, quantity and taste are worth every penny you spend and more. The prices of each meal are in fact, included within the overhead they charge. You can usually order for rice or roti or both which will be served to you piping hot, with one daal, one or two vegetables and a main course (veg/non veg). What I like most about their meals is that they often come with fish fries of various sorts, crunchy, red and delicious. For breakfast as well, you’ll be given a choice of Indian breakfasts (like dosa, idli, puri-sabzi etc.) and continental breakfasts (like cereal, bread, butter, jam, smoothies etc.).
And if you happen to visit during the peak season… well, you’re in for a treat. There will be even more variety of recipes and preparations. This time when we went right after Christmas, they actually tried to make a different kind of chicken every single day. One day, they even made Malabar Chicken Biriyani. Remember, all the food they serve are not limited to each pot they serve us in (though usually that’s more than enough). If you need any extra helping, they’ll immediately serve you more. So, if you are on a diet, it’s probably not the best place to visit on the weekend. Though Bhalomesho recently had a heart surgery and hence was prescribed a limited diet, he couldn’t resist going for those extra calories completely ignoring our unified warnings and requests.
A post on Jungle Retreat wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two people who made our vacation more pleasant and enriching than we had imagined.
The first of course, is Manu, the manager whose pleasant company and enlightening conversations had given us much insight into the life of the fauna when we visited this place for the first time in June. He told us fascinating tales about Snow White and how there are higher chances of her coming out after a drizzle in order to mark back her territory. There are some people who agree to work at remote locations away from mankind if the price is right. Manu doesn’t seem like one of those people. He is genuinely passionate about his job and the way he spoke about snow white, the alarm calls of the deer, the occasional rampage of elephants etc. actually reminded me of a fussy yet indulgent parent who speaks of his/her children with much love and a bit of mock complaint.
Another special mention goes to Kumar, a member of the staff who is especially in charge of the dining arrangements. His humble, ever smiling face makes him the perfect host. You need anything, you just need to holler and he’ll be right there with his quintessential grin and a willingness to help. There’s no provision for individual tips in Jungle Retreat, Wayanad. You need to put all your tips in a box which will perhaps be segregated later. But if there was a provision to tip individually, I would have left Kumar my heart.
How to contact
One of the best ways to get in touch with the people of Jungle Retreat is through emails. I don’t recommend calling them because network there is virtually non existent and so it’s not that easy to get hold of them over a call.
You can pre-choose one of their packages from their website and then mention it in your email to confirm.
The website isn’t the best but it’s good enough to get a basic idea of their packages and costs. If you have any special query feel free to leave them an email and they’ll get back to you. I’ll also strongly recommend you pay as much as you can in advance via online transfer and then carry the rest on your person in cash. There is almost zero connectivity in terms of phone towers in Jungle Retreat Wayanad. So you won’t be able to use Google Pay or online transfer the remaining amount. The nearest ATM is at Thirunelli Temple but there’s no guarantee of it being open, working or even having enough cash.
So, it’s best to be prepared in advance.
We’ll come back again
Jungle Retreat, Wayanad is the real deal. Not only do you feel like a part of nature in this solitary resort far away from civilization, you actually get excellent service and amazing food even in the middle of nowhere. If you are looking for adventure, there are many activities organized by the hotel management that you can enjoy for a nominal price. And if you are like us, lazy and self-reflexive, you could just spend hours sitting on the sun deck or the watch tower, not uttering a single word and taking in the fresh air from all around.
If you love wildlife, you must give this place a shot. You’ll not regret it. On the other hand, if you have any such recommendations for such relatively unknown resorts tucked away in the bosom of nature, please tell us in the comments below. We love traveling and would definitely add it to our never ending bucket list.