The approach road to Kanha Earth Lodge passes through lush sal forest. Even before we reached the resort, a jackal crossed our path and stared at us for a moment before disappearing into the jungle. It was a fitting preview of the wild experience that was in store for us over the next few days.
Early mornings at the lodge were busy. We scrambled out of bed at 4 a.m. to reach the forest gate for a safari and found the staff prepping the jeep with blankets and breakfast. A light winter mist sat over the grasslands and we strained to hear calls that might lead us to a tiger. The cat was nowhere to be seen, but we did encounter another group of jackals.
Soon, sunshine dappled the forest with orange. Little birds basked in the warmth as the last dewdrops trickled down the leaves. From a distance, we spotted a herd of barasingha: Kanha is one of the few places in the world where you can still find them.
The safaris—about five hours in the morning and three in the afternoon—can get exhausting. As an alternative, the resort also organises short village and nature walks. If you’d like to take a break, amble by the river over a bush lunch, or relax by the swimming pool under the shade of mahua trees.
One of the special experiences at the lodge is a “sundowner” on a hill close by; an easy 30-minute hike rewarded by grand views of the dense forest. On our way up, we lost our way in the thicket, but still managed to reach the top in no time. Sitting on the rocks, we sipped hot tea, watching the simultaneous rise of the moon and the setting of the red sun. Walking back by the light of the stars, we worked up an appetite for the sumptuous dinner that awaited us.
Situated in the Katia buffer zone of the national park, about 15 kilometres away from the Kisli zone forest gate, the lodge is far from the many resorts that populate Madhya Pradesh’s sanctuaries. For someone like me, who enjoys being surrounded by the quiet of a forest, this was perfect. But this also meant we had to account for 30 minutes of extra time to make the backbreaking ride to the Kisli gate.
The luxury property includes 12 Gond architecture-inspired cottages set within 16 acres of wilderness. The cottages wear an earthy look aided by the generous use of local stone and wood, most of it sourced from abandoned railway sleepers (perpendicular support boards for the tracks). The cottages have been built around existing trees to avoid disturbing the vegetation, and each one lies under the shade of a mahua tree to protect it from the searing daytime heat. Skylights and kerosene lanterns minimise the need for electrical lighting and this merges into the wild ambience.
The raised veranda opens up into the forest and is a nice place to settle down with a book on a lazy afternoon. Short mud trails from each of the cottages lead to the reception area and the dining hall. At night, these trails are lit by beautiful lanterns, mirroring the starry skies above. The dining hall and the seating area next to the fireplace come alive in the evenings when guests from around the world compare stories about their luck with the tiger. I may not have seen any big cats in the three days that I spent there, but long after I left Kanha, I could still hear them roar.
Appeared in the April 2014 issue as “Where The Wild Things Are”.
Updated in January 2017.
Kanha National Park is 176 km from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and 270 km from Nagpur, Maharashtra. There are regular flights and trains to both these cities. Kanha Earth Lodge is a five-hour drive from Nagpur (Mandla, Madhya Pradesh; +91124-4222657, 88006 37711, www.kanhaearthlodge.com; doubles from ₹18,000 including meals). Safaris are priced at ₹7,500 per jeep that accommodates six guests.
Neelima Vallangi is an itinerant freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys purposefully getting lost in the mountains and going to faraway corners where Google Maps fail. She tweets as @i_wanderingsoul.