Meet the Host: Joanna and Raghu, Sarai at Toria

A popular feature of many tours of India are safaris or visiting the country’s many tiger and wildlife parks.

But there’s more to India’s environment than just animal spotting. For a more immersive experience, we like to introduce you to the passionate people working in the industry to protect and promote India’s natural beauty.

Two of these people are Joanna and Raghu, the husband and wife owners of Sarai at Toria, near Khajuraho in North India. Located on the banks of the beautiful River Ken, amid agricultural land in unspoilt countryside, this eco-friendly lodge comprises eight spacious, independent cottages with verandahs and private courtyards. The cottages are constructed using traditional techniques and local materials.

Hosts Joanna and Raghu are renowned conservationists, creating the perfect complement to a safari in nearby Panna National Park or a village walk in the surrounding area. Dr. Raghu Chundawat was born in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. He is a conservation biologist whose main work has been on snow leopards and tiger. Joanna Van Gruisen is a wildlife photographer, writer and conservationist.

But what can you expect if you stay there with them? Let’s find out a bit more from them:

Where did your passion for conservation come from?

Joanna: I grew up in the U.K. countryside under a “waste not, want not” tutelage. This developed and coalesced into a love for nature and an understanding of the damage we are doing to the planet.
Raghu: From family – my father was in the forest services and had managed many of the wildlife reserves. From him I developed my interest in wildlife conservation.

How did Sarai at Toria come about?
Raghu wanted a retirement plan to keep him away from Delhi! And we felt we had unfinished work in the Panna area where Raghu had spent nearly ten years studying the tiger until the authorities rescinded the research permission and the tigers were all poached. Conservation work with the local communities was the next step and the Sarai at Toria was conceived as part of this plan.

What can guests expect from their stay at Sarai at Toria?
Our guests can expect high comfort in a stunning and natural setting. They can expect warm hospitality and care from all the staff and probably that they will overeat! They may also be surprised by the number of different activities available to do from here.

You’re proclaimed foodies, what are your favourite dishes that you like to share with guests?
There are so many yummy dishes from Raghu’s family recipes, it is hard to choose favourites. I love the sweet/sour lentils with fried coconut slices and peanuts – as do many of our guests. But I also love our homemade vegetable soups and in season our homegrown green salads are the best. We have so many good desserts – it is hard to choose a favourite – but the hot lemon pudding is wonderfully light and delicious!

A stay at Sarai at Toria can be included in our suggested Wildlife of Madhya Pradesh itinerary or be part of a custom made wildlife themed journey.

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