A Riverside Retreat
The Sarai at Toria is located on the western bank of the Ken river and is close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Khajuraho and Panna National Park. Khajuraho (30 minutes from Sarai at Toria) is home to several Hindu and Jain temples, built when the Chandela dynasty ruled this region. The temples are adorned with intricately adorned statues that reflect the ideals of Hinduism and are a major attraction. The deciduous forest of Panna National Park is spread just over 540 square kilometres, home to a diverse wildlife, and the Madla entrance is just about 2 kilometers from Sarai at Toria. It is an ideal getaway for Ajaygarh and Kalinjar as well.
The Sarai at Toria is not designed as a hotel but it is not a homestay in the usual meaning of that term, rather it takes many of the best features of both. In creating the Sarai at Toria extra effort has been made to keep it as environmentally and culturally appropriate as possible. This permeates...
Know Your Host
As with most of the RARE hotels, is important to introduce the inspired couple behind Sarai at Toria. Dr. Raghu Chundawat, one of the world’s leading tiger biologists and his wife Joanna Van Gruisen, wildlife photographer, writer and conservationist.
Sarai at Toria is a small experiential hotel built with a great balance of detail, design and ecological perspective where the cottages seem to merge naturally with the forest cover behind and the high grass in front. The beautifully designed mud cottages are fashioned on local village houses with the aim to inspire villagers to see the advantages of local architecture. Set in 11 acres of stunning land features, Sarai offers many dining choices like breakfast by the river, lunch under the spreading Ficus tree and dinner by candle light under a star-lit sky. The open stone, wood and tile-canopied pavilion overlooking the river doubles as a lounge and dining space. Affording different views with strategically placed hammocks, day beds and benches, nature lovers will find plenty to do.
Traditional mud cottage constructions are inspired by local architecture with thick mud walls and roofs made of tin and grass. Inside, the rooms are large, high, well-lit and cool while the attached bathrooms almost as large as the room itself have smooth mineral oxide-finished floors. Solid, uncomplicated furniture with extra-comfortable mattress and warm-as-a-glove duvet, furnishings of Indian fabrics, all requisite amenities in place, make inviting living spaces. While the sit-out that allows you to bask in the late winter sun or watch the fire flies at night will be your favourite place to curl up with a book or just snooze.
Four independent classic cottages stand to one side with spacious well-appointed rooms designed in a way that precludes the need for energy heating and cooling. High ceilings and thick mud walls keep them cool in the warmer months and warm at colder times. While outside temperatures may change by 10–15 degrees, inside the difference will only be one or two degrees throughout. The rest of the four cottages have upstairs mezzanine spaces connected in pairs with a machan, of which two overlook the flowering grass and river in front while the other two overlook the forest behind. The staircase leads to a child’s bed and make it ideal for an extended family or friends travelling together. There is space to accommodate an extra bed on the ground floor and smaller cots for younger children can be provided.
All meals and drinks are served in the pavilion, home recipes that are Raghu’s favourites. Breads, croissants and pastries freshly baked in the well equipped kitchen. The cuisine is a combination of regional local with Continental and plenty of salads from home grown ingredients.
Besides safaris into the Panna National park and a visit to the World Heritage Site of the temples of Khajuraho, there is a carefully explored list of excursions that ensure interesting visits. A walk from Rajgarh, an imposing castle a short drive from Sarai to Taparian village through lovely farms and plantation of Ber (Zizyphus mauritiana) a fruit indigenous to India and Malaysia nicknamed as the ‘poor man’s apple’ and trips to the Ajaygarh fort. The grassland, forest and riverine habitats attract a great variety of birds. Stroll around the property, along the river-side or walk down hedge-lined paths through agricultural fields to nearby Toria village. Birders will be delighted by the diversity wherever they go. There is much to explore in this region while on a 2-3 nights visit, excursions may be accompanied by naturalist guides trained by Raghu and Joanna.
Sarai at Toria is ideal for the history buff with Khajuraho, Ajaygarh and Kalinjar accessible from here. The Panna National Park is perfect for the wildlife lover. It is ideal for families, especially to introduce children to nature with large open spaces and opportunities to chase butterflies and spot various birds.
Sarai is closed from mid-April to the end of September.
Both Joanna and Raghu have lived and worked in this region for nearly 20 years. After completing a 10-year study on the ecology of the tiger in the Panna Tiger Reserve, both were keen to expand the project into conservation activities with the surrounding communities; and provide an economic base to live in the area as well as eventually fund the various projects they envisioned. Thus The Sarai at Toria came about.
No Single Use Plastic: From the beginning, they eschewed the plastic bottle and installed the four-stage, state of the art, RO system in view to reassure guests on the quality of the drinking water. All kinds of other plastic is discouraged and they work down the supply chain to reduce as much as possible. The bathroom amenities are plastic free.
Safe Garbage Disposal: Being close to a water body and wildlife, there is an enhanced vision to generate less garbage. Composting is in place and garbage is segregated and disposed carefully if generated.
Water Conservation: Water is recycled as grey water. Clean up drives are regularly conducted by the riverside and the team continues to clean up little bits even while on walks.
Energy Efficiency: Located in the beautiful countryside, they created the communal areas as an open pavilion thus doing away with isolating closed air-conditioned rooms. For years the Sarai was entirely off the grid with power being generated by a 10kw solar power unit and now are upgraded and part of Madhya Pradesh’s net-metering system.
Nature and Biological Diversity Conservation: The Sarai at Toria is a beautiful example how coexisting with nature sensitively is possible. The tall grass that is part of this region is allowed to grow in abundance while endemic flora continue to thrive. Both Raghu and Joanna continue their work in conservation through Sarai.
Local Community Engagement: In 2008 Raghu and Joanna decided to return to Madhya Pradesh to continue work with the communities around the Panna Tiger Reserve. They designed and built Sarai at Toria to enable them to do so. The staff is from the local community, so along with providing guests a wonderful service, they share their knowledge of the surrounding area and customs. This benefits the local economy and helps bring development to an agricultural area that has few employment opportunities.
Light Footprint Tourism: Opening in 2010 with four rooms, they expanded to eight rooms and intend to remain this size so as to give guests a personalized experience and keep a lighter footprint. Since both are from environmental backgrounds, their aim was to create a property with as low a carbon footprint as possible. They minimised cement and steel, preferring local materials of mud, stone, wood and grass, creating supremely elegant and comfortable spaces without the excess often associated with ‘luxury’.
Menus are designed as far as possible on the availability of organic and local produce, buying vegetables daily from surrounding markets and growing their own salads and herbs. Breads, biscuits, croissants and cakes are baked in house and organic flour sourced locally is used.
Sensitive Destination Discovery: All experiences and activities are centred around the Sarai.
Heritage Preservation: The logic behind building The Sarai at Toria the way it is to blend in with the surroundings and use the local style of architecture and materials. This allows a comfort level to the staff who see it as familiar. Local recipes are also served keeping the cuisine of the region alive.
Human Touch: The Sarai at Toria also engages with its neighbouring village and supports the local school there; and are initiating a larger scale project on environmental education in ten schools situated in the tiger habitats that surround the Panna Tiger Reserve. They support many local non-profit organisations and guests are encouraged to visit the various initiatives. They also run the Baavan Trust that continues to support the local communities.
The RARE Sustainability Quotient is a self-audit tool that is used by our hotel partners to measure, document and assess their planet and people friendly practices and is based on the RARE Touchstones.
by MarijkeSh on 02/11/2024
Last year we we visited Serai at Toria as a couple and this year we decided to bring the family, 6 adults and 2 young children. We were made very welcome and had a great time. We saw all the...
by MikeyJP17 on 02/06/2024
Really enjoyed our stay. The staff are very welcoming and friendly, the location is spectacular with its view over the river, beautiful grounds and access to the Panna Tiger Reserve, excellent...
by mznw3 on 02/05/2024
This is one of the loveliest places we have stayed in India on our many trips, with the kindest and most efficient staff, the most beautiful cottages, the most gorgeous and accessible surroundings...