There are theme resorts and then there are resorts that are practically indistinguishable from the theme. Kanha Earth Lodge is the forest, you realise, as you step into the stone flooring in your cottage and drop your bags on the table fashioned out of a rough-hewn timber stump. The forest springs up all around you, in the muted lighting reminiscent of a foliage-shadowed dusk and the door-less wardrobe hollowed into the wooden wall. Shades of ivory, beige and auburn dominate but the settee in your bedroom with its multi-coloured cushions comes as a vibrant surprise, rather like the sweet invasion of a patch of flowers into a verdant landscape. Its many-hued comfort can be an excellent alternative to the four-poster bed when you settle into your afternoon siesta after a sumptuous meal of dal bukhara, murgh masalan and other decadent Indian delicacies, followed by umpteen glasses of wine at the tastefully done-up bar, where Karan, the proprietor may drop in for a friendly chat. Even if you’re not in the habit of sinking into post-noon slumber, you might just succumb at Kanha Earth Lodge because the reception will give you a wake-up call at no later than 4am for the morning safari.
As you trundle down to the Khisli Gate in a jeep that makes you long for a cowboy hat, the rain-awash air and mahua-scented breeze will slowly nudge you into reluctant wakefulness. Kanha being one of India’s best known tiger habitats, you’ll no doubt have your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the striped beast. But you might not be as prepared for the peacocks perched high up on the ubiquitous sal trees; and the rare and endemic herd of Barasingha (Hard Ground Swamp Deer) sipping from an idyllic moss-ringed pond, in the company of jackals and vultures. You’ll come away from the forest with a new-found respect for binoculars and a deep desire for nourishment, even after the picnic mini-breakfast at a clearing in the forest, complete with tea out of thermos flasks and shiny red apples wrapped in paper.
A welcome party consisting of rolled up hot towels, wide smiles and glasses of cool fruit punch will almost convince you that the lodge missed you as much as you missed its rustic embrace. Breakfast is a lovely affair in the al fresco dining area with a tranquil view of the surrounding 16 acres of forest. Once you’ve partaken of the croissants and rolls to your heart’s content, you can head back to your cottage for a refreshing shower in the spa-inspired bathroom and a leisurely drink at the spacious veranda where you’re literally in the lap of wilderness. What makes Kanha Earth Lodge special is that the luxury comes combined with a green conscience, sourced as it is from recycled wood and local stone and terracotta tiles.
Lunch is served in a vast dining room, where if you’re seated at the head of the table, you can imagine that you’re presiding over the royal meal to follow. The chefs will ply you with endless tureens of steaming hot delicacies and you dare not offend them by giving the cold shoulder to any. This might make it difficult for you to stay awake during the afternoon safari but a tiger or two along the way should help your case. When you return with your camera loaded with photographs of wild boar, crested hawk eagles, chital deer duelling with their antlers and a python lying exhausted with a langur in its grasp, make your way straight to the glorious infinity pool where there is nothing to separate you from the creatures of the forest. If you stay back till the stars come out, you might see them twinkling back at you from the depths of the water.
On your final day here, if you’d rather spend your time with people than the elusive denizens of the forest, go for a guided village walk where you’ll see how elements of the Gond tribe’s architecture have been incorporated into the lodge as well. Don’t be surprised if the village folk ask you to take a picture and send it to them through the naturalists at the lodge. The desire to see oneself captured for posterity unites all of humankind.
Great from: Mumbai, New Delhi
Great for: An unforgettable wildlife holiday or honeymoon
Go during: June, to see the forest flushed with rain or any time from October-June (the park stays shut from July-September)
Closest metro: Nagpur (260km)
Closest city: Jabalpur (170km)
Closest airport: Jabalpur is only a four hour drive away from Kanha Earth Lodge. However, only SpiceJet operates direct flights from Mumbai (return fares from Rs 8500) and Alliance Air and Spice Jet fly directly from New Delhi (return fares from Rs 5200). For more flight and city options, head to Nagpur airport, which is a five hour drive away from the lodge.
Closest railhead: Jabalpur. From Mumbai LTT, the fastest daily train is 12141 RajendraNagar Patna SF Express (leaves LTT 11:35pm, arrives JBP 2:15pm; Rs 1290 Third AC). Take the 12142 RajendraNagar Patna SF Express (leaves JBP 11:10pm, arrives LTT 3:15pm; Rs 1290 Third AC) back to Mumbai. If leaving from Delhi, take the daily 22182 Hazarat Nizamuddin-Jabalpur SF Express (leaves NDLS 5:50pm, arrives JBP 8:20am; Rs 1220 Third AC) and return by 22181 Jabalpur-Hazrat Nizamuddin SF Express (leaves JBP 3pm, arrives NDLS 5:15am; Rs 1220 Third AC).
The lodge will make bookings for safaris on your behalf; so please book your stay sufficiently in advance. I used and liked the pick up and drop service provided by the lodge from Nagpur airport and back.
Where to stay
Kanha Earth Lodge (www.kanhaearthlodge.com): 00-91-124-2970497, 2570404, 2571404; 00-91-08800637711, 00-91-9810253436; firstname.lastname@example.org; Mandla, Madhya Pradesh; Rs 16000 per night for a double room with all meals and no safaris, Rs 27000 for a double room with all meals and safaris. The lodge is located in the buffer zone; a half hour drive from the main park.
What to eat
There is a fixed menu for all meals, consisting of predominantly Indian cuisine. The dishes tend to be a little heavy on the stomach but can be altered according to your taste. High tea in the outdoor dining area and barbeque dinners are worth experiencing.
What to pack
Bright colours and patterns can irritate wild animals; so make sure you pack light coloured clothing in non attention-grabbing prints for the safaris. Also carry a scarf or hat, sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses to protect yourself from the elements during the safaris. Swimming gear is a must to enjoy the infinity pool. Closed shoes are not imperative but definitely advisable during the nature trails and village walks. The lodge will provide you with a torch and blankets and raincoats in cases it gets cold or rainy.
Pick up jungle souvenirs such as T-shirts, keychains and caps at the Kanha National Park shop. A short distance away from the park is Aranyak Art Emporium, where you can lay your hands on tribal-inspired handicrafts and other Indian souvenirs. Kanha Earth Lodge also houses a small eco shop and 25 per cent of its proceeds are donated towards conservation activities.
Clean loo guide
The loo at the national park is not very clean and the queue tends to be very long. So the bushes might be a better option unless you can wait until you reach the lodge!
The in-house naturalists are equipped to deal with minor mishaps. For serious emergencies, head to Government Hospital in Balhar (00-91-7636256344; main road, PO Baihar, Balaghat).
Children might get a little restless unless they love the outdoors. But they can always splash around in the pool or read at the nature library.
Good to know
- Kanha National Park is shut on Wednesday evening; so opt for a nature trail or village walk if staying at the lodge on a Wednesday.
- Make sure you carry the same ID proof that you provided to the lodge for the safari bookings as you will have to present it while entering the gates of the park.
- There is free WiFi in the reception area but the network connectivity in the cottages and other areas of the resort is next to non-existent.