Tanhau, A Passion Project

‘Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire’
Every life has one such opportunity to identify its defining purpose,
to explore the meaning beyond mere existence.’

Sunando Sen is an investment banker by profession but a conservationist by heart and the owner of Tanhau Homestay overlooking the Corbett Tiger Reserve. I met Sunando about 10 years back when he helped my friends and I get a booking at the guest house in Dhikala, inside Corbett Tiger Reserve. I was truly impressed by this man and his dedication to wildlife. There wasn’t a single driver or guide that didn’t know him and there wasn’t a single tiger that he didn’t know! No one could share his customised jeep, that would be loaded with his ammunition (camera gear) well ahead of time and he would be the first to enter the gates, be it on super chilly winter mornings or in the scorching, humid summer. There was so much to learn from him and it was a pleasure to have him around. They say company rubs off, and that trip became a turning point in my life, getting me addicted to and therefore, more involved with nature.

After our trip, Sunando volunteered to give my friends and I a quick tour of Tanhau, his passion project, located on a hilltop at an altitude of 4200 feet, hidden in a dense jungle, overlooking the Corbett Tiger Reserve in the village of Bhatoli, Uttarakhand. An isolated, peaceful and pristine homestay that’s been awarded the title of Best Homestay in India (Silver Cat) in the Indian Responsible Tourism Awards 2020, conducted by the Outlook Traveller. With just three rooms to offer, the place is simple, sustainable, with minimal carbon foot printing, enveloped in a jungle, and even bringing you some surprise visitors from the wild, if you’re lucky. Also, you may have to share your room with the original inhabitants of the place without a complaint - the insects, reptiles and amphibians. It’s definitely not a place for the weak hearted or people looking for a luxury stay.

I had politely passed the opportunity that day, as it was a long drive back home, a decision I regret till date. I have been trying to plan a trip to Tanhau ever since, but it’s almost like it was jinxed and something or the other would come up and I had to cancel. A few years back a close friend visited the place and wouldn’t stop raving about the place and its owner, and my itch to visit aggravated! Was God testing my patience!? Well my time finally came after a 10 year itch in mid-Sep in 2023, when a road trip with friends was planned to this sanctuary, a comfortable 6 hour long drive. We were greeted by Subhash in a safari jeep at one of the intersection as soon as we crossed the Dhikala gate in Ramnagar and were guided up a hill on a kacha road. We parked our car 4km before the resort and shifted the luggage and ourselves into the jeep with Subhash, and started a climb that was as exciting as it was scary. It was a narrow, rough, uncemented path, barely enough for a single vehicle to pass and had a valley on one side! The only good part was the spectacular, almost divine landscapes, the meandering Kosi River and the many layers of mountains trapping the clouds in its arms, giving us the most magnificent views and photographs.

In Tanhau, there is so much you can do, like walk in the prime tiger habitats, go for treks, safaris, bird watching, fishing, setting up cameras traps, star gazing, camping in the wild, meeting the villagers, driving to the river or just disconnecting from the world to reconnect and rediscover your inner self. That’s exactly what we did during our stay, as in the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders”. It was wonderful to be finally visiting the property and being in Sunando’s cherished company listening to his fascinating and spine chilling stories of being in this isolated yet divine place. Sunando has a delightful pack of dogs, big and ferocious yet extremely well trained. He takes them for a walk twice a day, while setting up camera traps around the periphery of the property, trying to document the movement of wildlife. On the night camera, he has captured elephants, leopards, wild boars, porcupines, martins and few other animals apart from the regular visits by different tigers and sometimes their cubs too! It’s been over a decade that he’s been staying here, his knowledge of the wild is incomparable and he has an unlimited supply of enthralling, yet thought-provoking experiences to share.

Sunando leads a life people only wish for but don’t have the heart to plunge into. Trust me, it’s not easy to sustain a place like Tanhau, especially looking at the strict sustainability fundamentals he follows. I do wish someday he finds someone who can convince him to pen down his stories, experiences and struggles to share with the world, not for monetary gain but instead, to spread his knowledge and wisdom to inspire and ignite the spark of the many others like him, who are simply waiting for their catalyst to show them their path.


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