Call it Kipling’s world, call it one of the finest wildlife areas in the world, call it a hub for magnamous sightings; but singularly and in precedence, it shall always be an ideal home for wide ranges of wild creatures; a thriving eco system that harbours the mighty tiger to the most populated Barasingha and the countless species of plants, birds, reptiles and insects;
Only a minuscule area of this vivacious jungle that spans over 1940 Sq Km (of which 940 Sq. Km’s is designated core area) in the central Indian highlands is accessible to the outsiders. The permitted area is further divided in four core zones viz. Kanha, Kisli, Mukki and Sarhi. The Banjar river flows adjacent to one end of the Kanha core zone. Across the river there are two gigantic canopies with a string of smaller canopies by its either side. This is Banjaar Tola, a Taj safaris’ property that is spread over 90 acres of Sal forest interspersed with lakes, streams and grassland in the buffer zone of the Kanha jungle.
The architecture of the lodge is typical to this region, with Bastar bell metal work, Gond artwork and intricate stone carvings that showcase the cultural heritage of the region. The east and the west camps as they are called have their own distinctive lobby areas which are essentially giant lookout platforms with stupendous views of the Banjar river and the Kanha jungle core zone.
We spotted a herd of deer cutting through the current and crossing the river into the property. It was so heartening to see the ones that had crossed patiently waiting and nudging the others to cross.
Oh yes, the animals do come in the property. After all, it is their home and we are the ones staying in it. We frequently came across wild boar and deer roaming the grounds. There have also been sightings of tigers here, albeit very rare; the folks have some entertaining recounts.
Next to the lobby and amidst thick forest is a string of standalone tents. Open the door and it is glamping to a tee; the most striking feature – no TV. We were also advised to keep the doors locked and keep all the food either in the kitchen at the restaurant or in a locked cabinet in the room, else the animals could sneak in the tents and help themselves to a treat. On the other end of the tent were full glass doors that slid open to a neatly decorated gallery. More like a verandah on stilts overlooking the river and the jungle beyond; there were a couple of lounging beds here where you could just unwind or converse.
Speaking of conversations, the wind seemed to have a perpetual dialogue with the trees. The leaves of trees would soothingly rustle as the breeze picked up; the gentle sound of flowing water as it cut through the rocks from the river; the exquisite and distinctive birdsongs together with the calls from the animals of the jungle across, all concocted rhythmic bliss – absolutely surreal.
One of the days we went for a walking safari in the property. Steered by the accompanying naturalist, we delved into the extraordinary world of birds, insects and smaller animals. The eco system, flora, fauna and the diverse terrain that we encountered was so invigorating, especially for the young travellers.
We tracked and spotted very distinctive pug marks of a tiger by a stream; the specialist confirmed it was as of last night.
At dusk, the property was gorgeously lit with oil lamps. They were lighting a camp fire at the lobby, it was starting to get pretty cold; the flashing lights from glowing bellies of the fireflies over the river had started to intensify and become more apparent with every passing minute; just left us speechless.
One evening, after a game drive we were retreating at the lounge; a member of the staff comes to us and says that the guard has spotted a prickle of porcupines and if you are quick and very quiet you may be able to see them. Anxious, we followed him in what we felt was our utmost stealth and when I say stealth I mean Santa’s sleigh with all its bells and whistles; we were led to a wonderfully decorated spot with oil lamps hanging from a huge tree. Under the starry skies, there was a table, a fire next to it and the chef had set up a live kitchen there. The stars were as bright as streetlights in the sky, it was stunning. The kids quickly rushed to the chef and started working with him. All our favourites were on the menu. The lengths these these folks go to know you. Quite amazing…and they have some tall tales to entertain you with.
When we think of Kanha, there is so much recall, impossible to pick one memory that imprinted; a special memory, however, is the way the staff at the lodge used to come out and wave at us with both hands, every time we left the property or came in; every single time with the same warmth. Incredible.
To be concluded…