The people behind The Sarai at Toria

Raghu-Joanna Raghu-Joanna

The Sarai at Toria is the vision of a husband and wife partnership with a passion for wildlife and conservation.

Born in Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Raghu Chundawat is a conservation biologist whose main studies have been on snow leopards and tigers. His pioneering ten-year research on tigers took place in the Panna Tiger Reserve and has been immortalised in the BBC Natural World documentary, "Tigers of the Emerald Forest”.

Joanna Van Gruisen is from the U.K. but she has lived in the sub-continent for over thirty years. She is a wildlife photographer, writer and conservationist.

Our aim is to manage the Sarai at Toria in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, providing comfort and indulgence while protecting the natural and the cultural environment.

The Sarai Story

Joanna, an erstwhile wildlife film-maker/photographer and Raghu, a conservation biologist, 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, we were keen to expand the research project into conservation activities with the surrounding community. Our aim in creating the Sarai at Toria was to provide an economic base so that we could live in the area and eventually make enough to fund the various projects we wished to start there. We began building in 2009 and opened the Sarai in October 2010 with 4 rooms. We now have 8 rooms and intend to remain this size so we can give all our guests a personalised experience and to keep a lighter footprint.

Since we both came from a conservation background, our priority was and is to try to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. 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 we made extra effort to keep it as environmentally and culturally appropriate as possible. This permeates not only through the style of the interiors, the use of building materials, the solar power and exterior architectural design, but also through to the service and food.

We are situated in such beautiful rural countryside and we want you to enjoy it to the full: so, rather than enclose you in isolating air-conditioned rooms, we have kept our communal area/sitting and dining as an open baithak (pavilion) and placed it at the best vantage point of the land with lovely views over the grassland and river to the hills beyond.

For the first years we were entirely off grid with our power generated by a 10kw solar power unit. We have now upgraded and are part of Madhya Pradesh’s net-metering system.

From the start we eschewed the plastic bottle but we use the same technology that is used in bottling much of the ‘mineral water’ in India. Our four-stage, state of the art, RO system is installed in view so you can be reassured on the quality of the drinking water. As far as possible our menus are designed on the availability of organic and local produce, buying vegetables daily from surrounding markets and growing our own salads and herbs. At the Sarai at Toria we also bake our own breads, biscuits, croissants and cakes and make sure we use organic flour sourced locally.

Our staff is from the local community, so along with providing you wonderful service, they can share their knowledge of the surrounding area and customs. A main facet of our ethos is to benefit the local economy and help bring development to an agricultural area that has few employment opportunities. The Sarai also engages with its neighbouring village and supports the local school there; we are initiating a larger scale project on environmental education in ten schools situated in the tiger habitats that surround the Panna Tiger Reserve.

Featured Articles

Why I chose India for my last ever long-haul holiday.

How I love, then as now, contrasting city life with rural India. I never saw a tiger on my previous visit, but I did this time, on a game drive in Panna National Park. Fiona Duncan

The Telegraph | Nov 25, 2023

World Tourism Day: 5 Green And Sustainable Stays In India For You

On this World Tourism Day, let us remember that travel can be both enriching and sustainable Outlook Traveller

Outlook Traveller | Sept 26, 2023

Project Tiger: 12 retreats in India to experience luxury and wilderness

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of ‘Project Tiger’ on April 1, bookmark these 12 retreats in India offering luxury and a sure shot chance to spot the jungle cat in the wild. Bindu Gopal Rao

The Telegraph | Apr 01, 2023

Keep track of India's grrrreat success story

Fifty years after the start of Project Tiger, a conservation triumph, Harriet O'Brien goes in search of the big cats whose future is burning bright Harriet O'Brien

The Daily Telegraph | Apr 01, 2023

A strategy to improve tiger viability in India

The biggest success of Project Tiger, which marks 50 years, is the presence of tigers in all habitat types. But serious issues persist, including the urgent need for new approaches beyond the protected areas. Address these so that India can host 10,000 tigers one day Raghu Chundawat, J Van Gruisen

Outlook Traveller | Mar 27, 2023

How duo Raghu and Joanna are giving a unique, non-hotel, experience @ The Sarai at Toria and continue their passion for the conservation of wildlife near Panna Tiger Reserve

We are both from wildlife-related backgrounds. Raghu is a conservation biologist, Joanna was a wildlife filmmaker and photographer. Divya Jain

Yellow Chapter | May 02, 2021

10 Beautiful Eco-resorts in west and central India

Spend time at any one of the numerous alfresco areas, soak up some of nature’s wonders within the grounds, or wander around the surrounding areas. Krupa Joseph

Homegrown | December 31, 2020

Love after Lockdown

While going for a honeymoon may seem like a far-fetched dream, there’s no harm in planning ahead. Here are a few options Kalyani Prasher

Brides Today | June-July 2020

Here’s How These Luxury Safari Properties Are Acing The Conservation Game In India

It is no secret that luxury safari properties in India offer exceptional nature-driven experiences to their guests, but their ancillary conservation initiatives are worth talking about as well. Riaan Jacob George

Travel and Leisure India | September 1, 2020

5 Best Eco Luxury Resorts in India

Reconnect with nature at these 5 pristine locations, in the best eco luxury resorts Aliya Ladhabhoy

Luxebook | September 1, 2020

Why we Venture into the wild

Panna National Park makes for a healing break from the noise and clutter of daily urban life Kalyani Prasher

Travel and Leisure India | 2018

A Responsible Escape by the Banks of the Ken

The Sarai at Toria’s uniquely designed accommodation is situated on a beautiful riverside site, close to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh by Karen Faye D'Souza Karen Faye D'souza

Outlook Traveller | July 7, 2018

In the Heart of India Discovering Bundhelkhand

A rare experience in the heart of India Natascha Shah

TLF Magazine | April-May 2017

Green India

Stanley Moss discovers that ecotourism need not be the ego-driven affair that it has become in some circles. Keeping it pure, he visits Chhatra Sagar, Sarai at Toria and Samode Safari Village in India Stanley Moss

Lucire | March 1, 2016

Le Madhya Pradesh: Un joyau en Inde Centrale

Un fleuve sacré, de fabuleux temples, des tigres majestueux et une superbe leçon d’amour…hors des sentiers battus, l Madhya Pradesh vous réserve de belle surprise. Alliete de Crozet

Femina French | 2015

Into the Quiet

Sarai at Toria at the Panna National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, is that rare thing - a luxury wildlife getaway with a conscience Amita Bavaskar

Outlook Traveller | January 1, 2011

Eye on the Tiger in India

Wildlife experts have opened a new eco-lodge in India that offers comfort and calm, as well as a chance to spot big cats by Jason Burke Jason Burke

The Guardian | April 11, 2011