A jungle safari (or many) is definitely on the top of your list when visiting one of the most beautiful national parks of India – Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh – and it should be so, unquestionably. But while chasing the call of the wild, you’re likely to miss out on the little delights the nearby villages dole out.
While the trend of ‘do it like a local’ isn’t going anywhere, I list down some meaningful experiences to make sure your trip to Kanha is etched in your memory for all the right reasons. And the best part? Your phone doesn’t work at most locations. That’s a sure sign you need to “switch off” from the chaotic city life!
Put up in a Gond-inspired hut
You’re never going to feel like a local if you’re staying in an apartment-style hotel, no matter how luxe the rooms and facilities may be. Instead, put up in a cottage inspired by traditional Gond (Adivasi people of central India) architecture, made using locally available materials such as mud plaster, stone, terracotta tiles and rough-hewn timber beams.
Tucked away in the little tribal hamlet of Narna, these eco-friendly huts boast of furniture made from waste and recycled wood and blend in seamlessly with acres of natural forest around. Kanha Earth Lodge by Pugdundee Safaris borders Kanha’s buffer zone, and makes for an ideal option.
Wake up to the sound of chirping birds, read some wildlife books while lounging in your balcony area, stroll along lantern-lit pathways, relish your dinners under the stars and warm up around bonfires filled with stories of the forests.
Visiting an organic garden to learn all about how your favourite fruits and vegetables grow is always refreshing. Whether it’s gobi, baingan or mini tomatoes, feel the joy of holding them in your hands right before they are plucked and added to your food at Kanha Earth Lodge.
Hit the rural route
There is ample ecstasy in simplicity, and you register this only when you get knee-deep into the lifestyle and culture of rural India. Cycle or walk through the village of Narna which is home to Gond and Baiga tribes of Central India.
A landscape of farmlands and paddy fields peppered with simple mud houses, often painted in white and blue, deep azure skies, free-roaming cattle, friendly children waving at you with a smile every time you pass by, and welcoming sari-clad women performing their daily chores – all these take you far away from commerial tourism, thus bringing you closer to what is termed as “natural luxuries”.
While Baigas live a slightly secluded life, Gond people wouldn’t hesitate to invite you in their little abode and treat you to a guava grown in their backyard or even a complete meal. If an invitation is extended, feel free to break out of the tourist bubble, connect over a heartwarming chat and click a few snaps (of course with their permission!).
Embrace nature in soothing ways
While keeping busy with the daily grind, how often do you get the chance to drive up a river or climb up a hill for an early morning breakfast or a relaxing high tea?Quite rarely.
High tea at the Banjar river, planned by Pugdundee Safaris
But while you’re away from all things urban, why not make the most of it. On a day without a safari, plan a high tea at the Banjar river. Walk along the river, sit by the water, soak your feet and let the nature treat you to an evening you’ll never forget.
Or go for an easy uphill trek in Narna to reach the spot that offers gorgeous views of the sunset and the green wilderness below. Spend some quiet time with yourself or carry a flask of tea or coffee and a few healthy tidbits to nibble on while you soak up the peacefulness around.
Tip: When tripping in wildlife areas, it’s always a better idea to have a local to guide you and pop in interesting insights on the area and its people.
VISIT THE MARKET TO KNOW ALL ABOUT THE BARTER SYSTEM:
A weekly market is held every Friday at Sarekha village and on Wednesdays at Kumadehi village, both of which make interesting visits.
Lal bhaaji aur aloo ki sabzi (red spinach with diced potatoes) is a must-have local delicacy. Savour it with hot phulka rotis for a satisfying meal.