Best travel portal on the web featuring best travel sites, travel packages, travel guides, travel tips, weekly travel newsletter, travel webcams, and much more!
February 11, 2009

Home * Travel Deals * Website of the Week

Webcams * Travel News

WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    India Tiger Safari

HOUSE KEEPING: Remember when you click on the pictures in "Where's Johnny Jet," they will open up in another window. Just click the "x"(close) in each picture to get back to the newsletter. This should alleviate complaints about closing Johnny Jet. Thanks again for your support, and remember: If you book trips on the web, please go through (It will save you money).

Join Our Mailing List

Web Resources

Printable Version of Full Newsletter.

REMINDER: Come on by the L.A. Times Travel & Adventure Show this weekend and say hi! I'm speaking both days: Saturday, February 14 and Sunday, February 15. L.A. Times Travel & Adventure Show details.

Namaste from Pench National Forest! We are just wrapping up our incredible trip to India and what better way than by going on a tiger safari for our second to last stop? As I wrote last week, I didn't even know India had safaris and getting here was an adventure in itself. It turns out Central India is the best place in the world to spot tigers in their natural habitat and thanks to the posh African safari company andBEYOND (formerly called CC Africa), visitors can now stay in a plush game reserve while out in the wild and that's just what we're doing! To top it off, this is the very area that inspired Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. How cool is that?! Mowgli, here we come!

From the moment we pulled up to the Baghvan Pench Jungle Lodge, I knew we were in for a treat. Anytime a slew of workers are waiting for you with welcome drinks and cold, scented towels, you know it's got to be good. The greeting reminded me of Fiji where high-end resorts sing songs to arriving and departing guests.

The Baghvan Pench Jungle lodge is situated just five minutes from the entrance of Pench National Park. India has strict national park rules so no lodges are allowed to be built inside its borders. However, this lodge is as close as it gets since the other accommodations (mostly budget) are miles away. There are some fences but they don't always work so basically, the lodge is in the park. We were told that tigers, leopards, deer and other wildlife have been spotted roaming freely around the property. Exciting isn't it? Not!

The Baghvan Lodge has 12 secluded suites; six on each side of the main house and all a good distance from one another to ensure privacy so nobody would hear passing guests' yelps of fear. The rooms don't have televisions or Internet access but they do have a phone. If you want to stay connected, there's a media room with a large flat screen TV, hundreds of channels, a DVD player and a laptop free to use 24/7 with satellite Internet. To download my Outlook e-mail, I would disconnect the cord and plug it into my computer. It was slow at times but at least they had it and it was free. FYI: I have a T-Mobile Blackberry and cell service came in and out so I could download emails. AirTel seemed to be the best service provider available.

When Natalie and I pulled up at the lodge, we were already freaked out that two city folks like us were going to be out in the jungle. Those sentiments quadrupled after seeing the resort's warning sign. It clearly states that under no circumstances is a guest to walk around the lodge at night unless accompanied by security. And, it warned, venomous snakes and some dangerous insects are to be found everywhere in and around the lodge. YIKES! Also, signs said that the lodge accepts no responsibility whatsoever for injury, death, loss or damage. Gulp. Natalie and I looked at each other, thinking, What the heck did we sign up for? This is supposed to be relaxing?! I was about to think up an excuse to get out of this and just make our way on to our last scheduled stop in India; Mumbai. But, I didn't think I could take that harrowing drive back.

We were escorted to the main house, which is like a thoughtfully designed home with a comfortable living room, communal dining room table and kitchen with an eclectic 1950s refrigerator. There are also several patios surrounding the main house but the main one at the entrance is where guests register, get a run down of the lodge and formally meet their butler. That's right: The service here is so top-notch that each suite has a butler available 24/7. Natalie and I were both hoping that his duties also included sleeping on our pullout sofa to protect us if necessary but sadly, they didn't.

Our butler was named Desu . Desu is the sweetest, most soft-spoken Nepalese man you could ever imagine. He might also be one of the bravest. Of course, with my mad, paranoid obsession with snakes and other poisonous creatures, I looked like a complete wuss to him and the rest of the staff. But I didn't care as long as nothing bit me. Desu's job was to walk us to and from our suite at night, armed with just a flashlight on an unlit narrow, worn path to keep us away from the wildlife. This "worst job in the world" includes moving any snakes (cobras) out of a guest's pathway.

Thank goodness we were there during the dry season since Desu informed us snakes only come out of their holes when it rains. He also said that they've never found them in any of the suites. Even if he was lying, that was just what I needed to hear so I could get even a little bit of sleep. The first night after dinner, he was walking us back to the room, with us acting as his shadow, practically stepping on the heels of his shoes. When there was a loud rustle in the bushes just a few feet away, Desu stopped and slowly shined the flashlight around. We didn't see anything and he said very calmly, "Oh, it was probably just a deer". I was thinking: Why are we standing here? Why the heck aren't you carrying a gun, a laser taser, a machete or something besides a torch?! If I were Desu, I would be dressed in full body armor and would be carrying at least a machine gun and possibly a flame thrower.

What's crazy is that Desu and the other staff walk to and from their hidden quarters all by themselves at all times of the night in all weather conditions. And you know the paths to their rooms can't be as well groomed as the guests' and ours was nothing special. Besides protecting guests from Shere Khan and Kaa, mostly their duties are to greet you each time you arrive back from game drives with either lemon water (essentially lemonade -- the best you've ever had!) or a hot concoction of ginger, honey and lemon, serve all the meals and be a human wake up call by bringing juice/tea/coffee/hot cocoa and biscuits to your doorstep each morning at your requested time. What a great way to wake up instead of to some annoying and jarring noise.

When Desu opened our bedroom door for the first time, we both exhaled a huge sigh of relief. The bedroom wasn't open air and the windows were all shut and sealed. Praise the Lord that the room was bug-free and it had all the luxuries of home like heat and air conditioning. The room featured a warm Indian-style interior and there was a small working desk to write notes. There was the couch that Desu didn't sleep on and a big ol' comfortable and cozy bed in which I'm happy to report I slept like a baby. There were plenty of small details too that made this place unforgettable. On cold nights, we came back to our room to find hot water bottles under the covers for us. What a thoughtful touch and a great (and simple) thing to do at home.

The 12 suites are the size of a small house and come with a lot more than just a bedroom. When I looked around the room, I saw only one door, which led to the back deck with a private sit-out and a rocking love seat . There didn't appear to be a door to a closet or, more importantly, a bathroom. What the heck? Where's the bathroom? It turns out, it was down a long, covered (but still exposed to the elements) wooden hallway . Seriously, if the architect had showed us his plans before it was built, I might have slapped upside his head! What the heck was he smoking when he designed this place? I would have said, "You want me to walk a good 30 feet outside to the bathroom in the middle of the night in the middle of the jungle?! What is this? Some kind of Indian Candid Camera"? Of course, the bathroom alone could be featured in a glossy design magazine as it is beautiful and was built strictly for nature lovers in mind. But for city slickers, it's the equivalent of an outhouse in the 1800s.

I gotta be honest: when you wake up in the middle of the night with nature calling, you really debate if it's worth the trek outside or not. I lay in bed and did my best psyching myself out for as long as I could but it only delayed the inevitable. In fact, it did two things: kept me awake longer and actually toughened me up because when the pain eventually grew so bad, I didn't even care if there was a streak of tigers, a bed of snakes or a scourge of mosquitoes waiting out there for me because I was going. The bedroom doors don't have knobs or locks -- just latches on the inside and out and each time I opened it to the outside -- it was completely silent. No horns, no highway noise, nothing manmade. Just an occasional chirp from the crickets, tree frogs and the sound of the occasional moth or other large bug bouncing into the glass windows. Sometimes I'd also hear the faint alarm call from either a monkey or a deer.

Fortunately, the hallway has plenty of lights and the outdoor trek really wasn't bad after the maiden voyage. The bathroom has two sinks and two showers (one indoor and one out ... like I'm going to use the outdoor shower at night! I don't think so.) But it was invigorating during the day and they both provide decent water pressure and hot water, though the shower takes about two minutes to warm up. In addition, the bathroom comes equipped with necessities like bottled water (it's not advised that you drink or brush your teeth with tap water in India), bug repellent and a flashlight.

The flashlights are essential for when the lights go out on the property, which they did a few times but only for five seconds or so until the backup generators kicked in. The first time it happened, I almost had a coronary as I was sitting on the loo around 3am. In that nanosecond, I debated if I should scream for Desu or cry myself to sleep on the bathroom floor. But after a while it created a sense of excitement and was kind of fun. FYI: The bathroom is where the closets are located and you can leave your laundry to be washed free of charge.

Being out in the jungle, Natalie and I were prepared for bugs and mosquitoes. However, we went against our doctors' orders and didn't take the prescribed malaria pills when we found out it was the dry season. We still wore plenty of bug spray and I even wore an Insect Shield Repellent Apparel shirt and wristband each day. I saw maybe 15 mosquitoes the whole time and the rooms were all pretty bug-free except for the occasional escapee, probably from the night maid leaving the door open. We still acted like a pair of vigilantes before turning the lights out each night, searching the room and hunting them down. As a secondary precaution, we also kept the overhead fan on which keeps them away Ė they can't fly in the wind. FYI: The entire trip I didn't get one bite. Natalie wasn't as obsessed and got bit once -- in the bathroom.

Above the bathroom is what they call a machan, an open rooftop or covered platform thatís billed as a place for romantic sleep-outs. I donít think so. At first, I thought it should be used in an episode of Fear Factor. But after spending some time up there, it turned out to be a really nice haven. Thereís a roof and curtains and a day bed, which can be made up into the same bed as in your room. My outlook changed after taking an unplanned nap up there while reading a copy of The Jungle Book, which the lodge keeps bedside -- another nice touch. Even if it was warm out though, I definitely wouldnít have slept out there the first couple of nights but possibly on the third. It must be an amazing experience being out in the middle of nowhere, where thereís no light pollution and the sky is miraculously bright and filled with stars, planets and galaxies. The machan is also where the resortís masseuse gives their treatments, which are not as high priced as in the United States. A 30-minute treatment is included in everyoneís stay Ė I had a head massage.

Like most guests, we arrived in time for a late lunch but before we ate or went to the room we took a quick tour of the resort. Thereís a tranquil pool with plenty of chaises longue, the most reasonably priced gift shop around and thatís about it. Itís pretty rustic but you are out in the jungle here to relax, get in touch with yourself, loved ones and nature. What else could you ask for? If you say good food, this place does not disappoint.

The lodge is all-inclusive so that means all the game drives, accommodations, meals and drinks are included in the price (prices begin at $349 per person a day). They feed you well here and all meals are Indian influenced like chicken tikka or curry. But itís not like the Indian food you get back home. Itís much lighter, flavorful and tastier. The first course of every lunch and dinner is soup. In the four days I was there I sampled a variety of delicious soups like: tomato coriander (cilantro); green pea, lentil and cumin; and roasted pumpkin, ginger and carrot. All were delicious. The moment we finished eating, Desu would time it perfectly and always be there carrying a large tray with the next course. No matter where we were dining on the property, one of the chefs would be following him so he could explain exactly what we heíd prepared, which always consisted of four dishes (at least one vegetable, rice and meat dish) accompanied by different flavors of naan bread, chutney and pickles. BTW: When you first arrive, they ask you what your likes and dislikes are and I never had one meal that I didnít like Ö and Iím a picky eater.

This lodge might be the one place in India where itís okay to eat salads and not worry about getting sick. And boy were the salads good. The food is simple and Desu was like an artist, dishing out the servings one spoonful at a time, turning our empty white plates into a colorful palette of food. Our lunch venue was almost always somewhere different from one of the four decks or pool area. Most dinners were in the main dining room at a large communal table with the other guests. Only three other couples were in house and they hailed from South Africa and San Francisco. Dinner followed sundown cocktails. Guests can eat privately, even in their room if they like, which one night we did. Desu set up a table so romantically on the back deck it should have been featured on Oprah. Rose petals and candles were scattered all around and two charcoal fires kept us warm in the chilly night air. It was surreal as we enjoyed the romantic setting, listening to wildlife and each silently praying they didnít make us their prey.

Guests definitely donít go home hungry because thereís food everywhere. In the morning safari vehicle, thereís fruit, muffins, cookies and drinks and when you return from the evening drive they have afternoon tea with all kinds of snacks and goodies waiting. Breakfast takes place after the morning safari which is a full blown breakfast with all the comfort foods from home plus Indian delicacies like kathi rolls stuffed with chicken or vegetables, or homemade pancakes with potato, paneer and cauliflower called paranthas. More often than not we had breakfast with David, our safari guide who was full of interesting stories and facts.

What brings everyone to this lodge and part of the world are the game drives. Most guests go on both the morning (6:30am to 10:30am) and evening drives which leave at 3pm and return by 6pm. The open-air safari jeeps are the same as in Africa except they donít have a spotter seat on the hood. In the winter mornings, itís freezing so bring your scarf, sweater, winter jacket, hat and gloves, all of which youíll want, even though they supply blankets and hot water bottles. I recommend dressing in layers because after the first two hours, as the sun rises, it gets warmer. The opposite is true during the evening drives.

To get to the entrance of the park, itís literally a four- to five-minute drive down a dirt road from the lodge. Pench National Park is open to visitors between the hours cited above and closed during the months of July, August and September. The park has an area of 750 square kilometers (466 square miles) and 292 square kilometers (181 square miles) are open to tourists. The park takes it name from the Pench River, which runs through it. The topography ranges from hills, valleys and forests (lots of teak trees interspersed with bamboo and shrub species). Obviously, the park is rich in wildlife. Some of its animals include antelope, badgers, chital, fox, gaur, hyena, jackals, monkeys (macaque, langur) muntjac, nilgai, peacocks, porcupines, sambal, sloth bears, wild dogs and wild pigs. But everyone comes here to spot the elusive tigers and leopards. Itís also a birders paradise with over 200 species of birds. In two drives one of the birders staying at the lodge said she spotted 54 different types. Impressive.

Every time we entered the park we needed to pick up an official park ranger Ė the driver tips him (100 rupees = $2 USD) at the end and you only have to pay an entrance fee if you are driving your own car. The lodge arranges everything else. The lodge has multiple safari vehicles and when the hotel is not filled to capacity, they arrange for private tours, which they did for us. That meant we could go back whenever we wanted but seldom did we go home early. I had no idea how exciting and difficult it is to track tigers until this trip. I didnít think it was going to be so hard but unlike in South Africa, drivers arenít allowed to use radios to alert colleagues where the animals are. Instead, they rely on old-fashioned techniques like tracking paw prints, listening to the alarm calls of the spotted deer and monkeys and sharing information while driving past other guides.

We saw a ton of deer (thereís over 10,000-15,000 in the park), monkeys and peacocks. But unfortunately, we didnít see a tiger or leopard. One of the other groups saw a leopard but since the grass was really high and thereís plenty of water this time of year, it makes it difficult. The best time to spot them is in the warmer months (March, April and May) when thereís not a lot of foliage for them to hide behind and itís so hot they just hang out at the watering hole. David, who was such a joy to be around since he clearly loved what he does for a living, said the park has around seven to 10 tigers plus 10 cubs in the tourist zone. In total, there are between 32 and 35. He didnít say how many leopards there are but he did tell us that you usually spot tigers in the morning and the leopards at night.

The highlight would have been spotting a tiger while riding an elephant. Thatís because the government has two elephants, which they trained to track tigers. If they find one, one elephant will stay with the tiger while the other goes back to the main road to pick up visitors, four at a time. This is crucial since visitors arenít allowed out of their cars except by the elephants, their headquarters or by the lake. Cars also arenít allowed to go off-roading, which is why they require a ranger to accompany each automobile. Unfortunately, even the elephants couldnít track the tigers on this trip.

-The back of the safari vehicle is the bumpiest, but offers better views since itís higher.
-I thought it would be mostly Westerners on safari but the majority were Indians Ė and their cars were packed.
-Going on a tiger safari is like looking for Easter eggs or lost golf balls but the prize is bigger and definitely worth the wait.
-When itís cloudy, itís warmer.
-Monkeys and deer are friends; they alert each other of prey and the monkeys pull food off the trees for the deer to eat.

Iím bummed I didnít get to see a tiger or a leopard but andBEYOND just opened two new properties and the pictures of it look insane -- I canít wait to go back. This area was nothing like Iíd imagined Ė it wasnít as colorful as the Disney pictorial of The Jungle Book but it was an incredibly beautiful and eye-opening experience. I grew as a person on this trip. I walked in a scared city boy and left with my pants a bit tighter. Donít tell Desu but by the third day, I was walking back and forth by myself to and from my room, even in the dark.

Here's a four-minute Johnny Jet video of this trip to central India (click ďwatch in high qualityĒ below the video player on the right). We also have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on YouTube, too.

Natalie and I ended up staying at the lodge an extra day because our next destination was Mumbai and while we were there, the unthinkable happened: Indiaís 9/11. One of the scariest parts was the fact that we had a reservation at the Taj Palace where scores of people were killed. The staff at the lodge could not have been any more accommodating and left it up to us to decide if we should go on to Mumbai and continue with our around-the-world-trip or go back to the States the way weíd come Ė via Europe. Join me next week to find out what we decided to do.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


L.A. Times Show

Flight To Nagpur


Resort Car


Drive To Lodge


The Country


Mowgli Land


Baghvan Lodge


Warm Welcome


Warning Sign


The Main House




Serving Lunch


Walk To Room


Our Room




Back Deck


Path To Bathroom




Bathroom Closest


Indoor Shower


Outdoor Shower




Day Bed


Jungle Book


Early Morning Tea


Romantic Dinners


Dinner On Deck


Here Comes Lunch


Lunch Time


Afternoon Tea






David, Our Guide


Pench National Park


Looking For Tigers




Spotted Deer


Lots of Birds


Tiger Paw Print


A Tiger We Didn't See


A Leopard We Didn't See


Bon Voyage


Next Week


  • I just wanted to say that you have so much going on for yourself and that I admire you. I also think it is wonderful how you have a page set up about your mother. It touched me as I read through the personal thoughts of love to and for her. Next I want to say that you are very, very attractive and have such beautiful eyes. Lastly, I'd like to know how I might be able to stay in contact with you? Roberta V - Winter Park, FL

  • I enjoyed your Taj article. I loved the Taj. How come you didnít mention the Black Taj Mahal? The guy who built the Taj, for his wife, also started building a Black version of the Taj across the river, for himself, very romantic. Only problem was that he bankrupted the country in the process. He was tossed in a tower for the rest of his life as a result. His sentence, to stare out a window at the Taj and his beloved wife, and at the unfinished Black Taj, where he would never rest, knowing that he would never lie with his wife again. Matt W Ė Seattle, WA

  • AWESOME WEBSITE!!! I work in a large Casino and travel across or around the country on the average of only once or twice a year. But every time I do, I ALWAYS VISIT YOUR WEBSITE FIRST. I am a technical supervisor, and have somewhat of an inquisitive mind and "researching" is a way of life for me. I truly do enjoy surfing thru and finding everything from airport maps to even the width in inches of the seats that I will be sitting in. Today, I was back in the Finance Offices of the Casino requisitioning (paying for) a trip that I took to Boca Raton, Florida a couple weeks ago. The head of finance complimented me on finding round trip tickets from Omaha to Ft. Lauderdale for only $217.00!! It was all done here on!! Once again, thank you, AND KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!! Joe Ė Omaha, NE

  • Iíve been ďwithĒ you on your trips for a very long time. Each one has been interesting and fun-filled! G.C. Ė San Diego

  • RE: HALF MOON BAY: Super Ėloved the details and definitely made me want to visit this area and hotel; thank you. Gemma H Ė Canada

  • Thank you so much for the information. You are definitely a contributor to the human race. Your Mom would be so proud of you. Love and hugs, Kay D Ė Norwalk, CT

  • Salute Johnny, Salute to your mother love, today I have read your whole page, it's great. God Bless You! Sourabh S - New York, NY

  • Like you, I have always dreamed about visiting the Taj Mahal, but unfortunately my dream will not materialize for many reasons. I had hoped to live the experience through your eyes and words but I must have missed something in your reports. Last week, at least I thought it was, you were going to Agra and now this week you've been there. Did I miss a trip report? I was looking forward to a lengthy discussion and lots of those great pictures that you usually show. Speaking of pictures, why don't we see more of Natalie or are you not willing to share her with your following?? :~) Keep up the great travels and keep the words and pictures coming. Stay safe and keep smiling (and cajoling!). Burt S. - New Jersey REPLY: You mustíve missed the ďNext PageĒ buttons at the bottom of last weekís newsletter. Johnny wrote a long detailed story about the Taj Mahal. Hereís the link.

  • *** Buy Your Johnny Jet T-Shirts/Hats

    *Please note that we reserve the right to post excerpts, perhaps edited, from your message on the Johnny Jet website and newsletter. We will not use your full name without your express permission. If you'd rather not have your message posted on the website or newsletter, just say so and it won't be.

This Newsletter is sent by permission only. If you wish to subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription at any time, please login HERE. If you have any questions or suggestions please send message addressed to

Join Our Mailing List
Johnny Jet

Natalie Bahadur
About JohnnyPublicityNewsletter ArchiveMy MomPhotogalleryContact Us
Johnny's BookBlogBookmark Us BannersSuggestions