There’s a lot of Africa in Mustafa Desai. His wildlife resort on the fringes of Velavadar National Park in the Kathiawad region of Gujarat is inspired by safari holidays in Africa.
Desai, the owner of Blackbuck Lodge, is better known as Mickey Desai. Blackbuck Lodge has no visible boundaries separating its cluster of cottages from the Savannah wilderness of the national park, with water bodies and rustic walls that make it look like an African resort.
“I had seen bush estates in South Africa but there were few places in India that offered a close experience to nature and wildlife. We bought several acres of open land along the borders of Velavadar National Park, which has an astonishing variety of birds and high density of mammals like antelope, wolf and hyena, but no resort. Its topography is like the African Savannah, with vast expanses of short and medium-sized tropical grasslands broken by scrub and trees. Therefore, I followed my inspiration from African lodges when designing the resort,” Desai says.
They allowed the Savannah grasses to take over and create a wilderness. “We took only a small footprint from the acres we own for the accommodations. Since wildlife began to move through the grasslands, we created water bodies to attract them,’’ Desai explains. “The flagship of Velavadar is the blackbuck, or Indian antelope. This is the best park in India to see this species.”
Blackbucks, the endangered wolf and blue bulls frequent the grasses around the cottages and waterside and wetland birds can be seen at the water body.
Blackbuck Lodge opened with a few rooms in 2011 and has grown to 14 rooms. Drivers and spotters at the lodge have been trained by experienced naturalists.
“Guests come here to look for birds like Stolizka’s bushchat. In the monsoon, when the park is closed, it becomes the breeding ground for the endangered Lesser Florican and the Saras crane. The park is a paradise for birdwatchers, so the guides and spotters need to be able to identify them,” says Desai.
The resort has a distinct African feel to it, with alfresco showers, washing machines, dish washers, etc. He says that though it was not easy to build in this area where there are few workers, he got good support from government authorities.
What’s so special about Blackbuck Lodge that sets it apart from others? “Enchanting dinners under the moonlight in the wilderness are my most memorable experiences of African holidays,” he says. “Guests get to a site near a water body in time for sunset, and then the dinner begins with barbecued starters continuing to a buffet under the stars. Guests love these bush dinners. A pool, a tented spa and a permanent barbecue area are on the anvil.”
While Desai also runs a travel agency, he plans to open more resorts. “I have started work on Aamara Lodge, a resort between Udaipur and Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. We plan to open it in early-2017,” he says.