Dhiplu River Lodge, came highly recommended. By the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. As with each time we’ve gone on safari, it takes a bit of an effort to adjust our luxury expectations of a wilderness lodge in India, keeping in mind the remote location and that it’s open to the elements. But so far, we’d been lucky to have been pleasantly surprised every single time, and I didn’t want to ruin that lucky streak. When I found out that this was where royalty chose to stay on their visit to Kaziranga, it was all the credibility we needed. We knew we’d found the perfect base from where to experience the natural wonderland that is Kaziranga in Assam, India.
Our 5 hour drive from the airport in Guwahati had us exhausted by the time we turned off the busy highway, and drove through an elegant but unmarked bamboo gate. Suddenly, the ambience changed. For one, everything was lush. We’d been instantly enveloped in a world thick with trees, grass, bushes, birds and insects. Warm, welcoming smiles at the reception accompanied a tray of much needed cold towels and a rather unusual choice for a welcome drink- chilled glasses of pomegranate juice.
We were lead down a pretty bamboo walkway over the farmland to a row of villas, where ours was the first at the end. A pretty countryside plaque on the villa confirmed my suspicions, this was indeed the very room Will and Kate had stayed in. Naturally we were to expect something extraordinary. Turning in, we ascended a set of wooden stairs to our verandah, and discovered the extraordinary. The view. But we didn’t linger, because, well, more on that later. We stepped through the double glass doors into a luxurious wooded hut. Bamboo beams supporting the roof, a wooded floor with rugs featuring the famous local handicrafts, rattan chairs and sofas, it was spacious and inviting, with a touch of style. The bed was among the largest we’ve ever slept on. A writing desk against the far wall, a stocked refrigerator cabinet with a tea and coffee station in the corner, this room was certainly large. The first thing that struck me about the bath area, was its clever construction. Built to give the feeling of being at one with the elements, but actually being well sealed off from them. The glass shower cabinet had a pebble-strewn area outside, keeping it hidden from plain view at eye level, but open to the sky and treetops with a bamboo screen.
After settling in, we stepped out and settled down on the wicker chaises on the verandah. The verandah looked out onto the river. The quiet, lazy Diphlu sat about 15 feet away. It was teeming with life, we caught a glimpse of Adjutant storks and Herons treading through shallow waters, while young fishermen squatted on their slim bamboo rafts, setting out their nets for the night. We looked up and saw flocks of cormorants, flying in neat formations, to their roosting tree across the river. Darkness crept in rather suddenly, and it wasn’t long before we couldn’t see anything anymore. It was only 5:30 pm.
Sitting on the verandah, staring out into the pitch dark, we wondered if our eyes were playing tricks on us. We’d see little stars twinkling where we knew trees sat, obstructing our view of the sky. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we realised they were fireflies. Blinking with force as they drifted around in the air, accompanied by an orchestra of frogs, cicadas and crickets as well as the odd night-bird, it was quite the experience, knowing that we had no idea what was out there, and that under the veil of darkness, there were all sorts of wondrous creatures, moving about with abandon. That night, we slept like babies. A fantastic combination of exhaustion from the long journey, clean air, and nothing but the sounds of nature.
The Morning After
The thing about Assam is, quite frankly it should be in another time zone. We’d set an alarm for 5am, but Charles bolted out of bed even earlier. (I secretly think he was probably even more excited than I was, but he’ll never admit it). He pulled back the curtains and I drowsily looked up from my pillow. It was broad daylight! Nursing hot cups of coffee, we padded onto the verandah and settled down for a proper, slow, ease-into-the-morning kind of wake-up ritual.
Breakfast was served at the Machan at 6:30 since we were leave on safari at 7:30. Seeing that we had a good hour, even the waitstaff served out breakfast at a leisurely pace, letting us enjoy the morning view from the Machan. We devoured some fresh fruit as a Kingfisher swooped to the water’s surface and caught the tiny Muwa fish, leaving little concentric ripples in the water. We sipped on some Assam Tea, watching a noisy Rufus Tree Pie flitting from branch to branch.
The Safari Drives
We’re no strangers to the forest; I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the National Parks of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, while Charles has spent some time in the jungles of South India. We know our way around the safari experience. In fact, the one thing we know is, that you never know what to expect. No two safaris are ever the same. So we went with an open mind. And we were pleasantly surprised. The jeeps owned by Diphlu River Lodge were among the better ones we’ve seen, and the naturalist and driver too. Bumoni, our naturalist and Babu our driver were both storehouses of so much information about the forests and all the living things within it. They even went beyond the safari when they discovered how much I was looking forward to spotting a Gibbon, driving us to a certain point on the highway where they were known to frequent. The lodge isn’t too far away from the Central gate and is very close to the West zone gate, so it’s a fantastic point from where to go on a Kaziranga Safari. Naturally, we don’t want to give away too many spoilers, so we’ll leave the safari details for another story.
Evenings at the machan create the perfect ambience for us to go over the day’s events. We’d sit, in a very hunting lodge-like ambiance, surrounded by books about the animals and nature of Kaziranga, in the dim light of the lanterns. Nursing a stiff drink or two, it wouldn’t be long before the day would catch up with us, and famished, we’d walk into the dining hall and surrender to the fawning hospitality of the servers. With innocent smiles, they’d dish out generous portions of continental, local or Chinese fare (whichever was on the menu for that meal). Of all the interesting dishes that we were tasting for the first time, the most incredible flavours we discovered were the pickles. A slightly sweet banana pickle with a mildly hot afterburn, a super spicy green chilli pickle in ground mustard sauce that felt like an inferno in my mouth; had these unfortunately home-made pickles been available for sale, I know Charles would have bought the entire lot!
Even beyond the naturalist and driver, we were treated wonderfully by the polite and efficient staff at the lodge. All of them seemed to have a deep connection to the region and a passion for the entire nature/safari experience. They left no stone unturned, and some of them were wonderful to converse with, since they had such fascinating stories to tell.
The Diphlu River Lodge offers several activities and choice of them as a part of the package as well as some extras if you so please. We preferred to return to the jungle every single moment we could, so we skipped what I’m certain would have been a wonderful cruise and dolphin safari on the Bramhaputra river.
We discovered that we could indeed enjoy our time in the lap of nature without giving up on some quintessential luxuries, while having a wonderful time in the North East of India thanks to the Diphlu River Lodge, and here’s hoping we return there soon.
This post was made possible by the Diphlu River Lodge. Opinions as always, are our own.