A JUNGLE ODYSSEY
SINGINAWA needs no introduction to anyone who has been to Kanha national park or has anything to do with wildlife in India. Run successfully in the last two decades by a well-known duo of Latika Nath & Nand Rana, the lodge has played host to a thousands of visitors to this jungle. It always retained its position as the most preferred one year after year and never saw real competition from any other player in the field.
The ownership changed hands recently so it was on my cards to visit and experience it in its new avatar, and eventually the plan worked in June this year. The new owner, Tulika Kedia had a tough job in hand to not only live up to the high standards set by the earlier promoters but to also ensure that the transition was smooth and the loyalists didn’t shy away from using it. She took the challenge in her stride, retained all the staff, hired a few more highly knowledgeable naturalists and continued to do the good work. She not only managed to present the old wine in a new bottle, but also exceeded everyone’s expectations.
The central block that houses the reception desk and dining room on the ground level has this staircase around an old tree that has retained its old world charm with larger than life images of tigers looking at you from all around. Once on the upper deck, on the left side there is a well-stocked bar cum lounge with an excellent collection of coffee table books, artifacts and tribal murals on the walls. This is a place to hang around between the two safaris or for a sun-downer. This also leads to an open-air terrace for outdoor dining under the stars or just to observe birds comfortably from a non-disturbing distance. On the right side there is an old-fashioned yet simple and brightly-lit restaurant, where breakfast & lunch is served. Besides these two options, the lodge has many other areas in the bush for al-fresco and theme dinners- each adding a unique experience to one’s stay here.
The 12 cottages, each named after a mammal reflect wildlife in every possible way. The murals on the walls, the bed cover, the little artifacts all around, the door knobs and even the cookies-platter remind one of his presence in a jungle as it transforms one into another world- a world of peace, serenity, forest, quiet, solitude, tranquility and pure bliss.
I entered the cottage and before i could put down my camera bag, i could not avoid an eye contact with a big image of a tiger on the wall. The B & W tiger adorned the white wall and dominated the room with its strong presence and x ray eyes.
THE PERCH – A four bedroom jungle bungalow is tucked away from the main building and is apt for those who prefer total seclusion from almost everything. This can be privately booked by a group of friends or a large family since it has interconnecting rooms and a private kitchen where a personal chef & butler can pamper the guests. All 4 bedrooms have en suite bathrooms; a shared large private lounge-dining room with its own library, adjacent open courtyards for basking outdoors in the day time and for a cozy private fireplace in the night.
Incidentally, the lodge has an interesting movement of big cats in its complex in the night, often recorded by the camera-traps. In the day time the place abounds for birds, deer and occasional visitors such as Jungle Cat and Jackals.
Traveling alone has its own disadvantages but the crew here never let me feel lonely even for a minute so much so that i returned to my room only after dinner every evening and spent hours just chit-chatting with the full-of-interesting-stories naturalists and other friendly staff. The USP of the lodge is the personal involvement and care by each and every member. They ensure that one of them joins each guest at the meal table. That is the time to connect with them over engrossing jungle lore and animal-encounter stories. Each one of them is so full of trivia that time just flies by and you wish that discussions would continue.
Given my passion for exploring jungles on foot, wherever allowed, i try and walk on as many trails as possible and often find interesting birds to capture and admire. The naturalists here eagerly volunteered to take me around.
On the first walk around the lodge, we walked past the almost-dry river and arrived at a Bats colony, where they can be seen either hanging upside down on trees or diving in the lake to drink water. The light at this time of the day was pretty bad and it was quite tough to capture them given their frequency of coming down and large number. It was still worth sitting there on a rock and observing them for couple of hours. Some of the bats flew with their babies under their wings and made interesting subjects. Highlights of this walk were butterflies, Oriental Turtle Dove, Emerald Dove and of course the bats.
On the way back to the hotel, the walk continued through a rocky terrain, where the hotel staff waited for us to surprise us with cold beverages. This was a welcome move as we had been sweating it out for quite a while and it was very thoughtful of the lodge to come up with this concept of a drink on the rocks, literally.
The second walk the following morning was for birding to BAMHNI NATURE TRAIL, opened recently by the Park authorities. This is supposed to be an excellent one for birders, especially in the winter season. It was pretty hot and mercury was touching 44’c when i attempted it but the forest was dense and there was a lot of bird movement all around.
We heard the call of the colorful Indian Pitta and kept chasing it, till it finally gave in and decided to pose for us, though quite far. Other birds that we spotted were common and white-breasted Kingfishers, Pond Herons, Cormorants, Drongos, Woodpecker, Black Hooded Orioles, Coppersmith Barbet, Rufus Tree Pie to name a few.
Finally, i also had the opportunity to enjoy a brief guided tour of the new in-house and much talked-about TRIBAL MUSEUM, launched just two months ago by Tulika. A few distinguished names have been associated with it for its concept, design and theme. Then it has been curated by none other than Dr. Alka Pande. Responsible for curating several significant and perceptive exhibitions in India and abroad, and giving a name to some of the most upcoming and influential artists, photographers and sculptors, Alka Pande is currently engrossed as the Consultant Arts Advisor and Curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. She also has expertise in art advisory services on art procurement and investment.
Tulika has been extremely successful in combining her two passions i.e. wildlife & tribal art together with lot of dexterity. The Museum will floor anyone with a little interest in Art & Craft for it is full of indigenous art and paintings, sourced from the nearby tribes of Gond and Baiga. The wall at the entrance greets the visitor with a message from her that talks about her interest, passion, love and reason to start this.
A painstaking effort and years of hard work has gone into collecting the art and bringing the artists to the limelight. Each painting on the wall has a little write-up next to it, that briefly explains the art form, its origin and the painter.
Two nights/ three days here were spent like a breeze. I remember vividly how i yearned to stay longer but had two more parks to visit before returning home. So much to explore and so much to learn. The Kanha jungle has something to offer to everyone and the stay at Singinawa supplemented the entire experience.
When it was time to bid adieu to the lodge and its comfortable environs, the staff gathered together to see us off. The chef, the naturalist, guest relations Manager, front office staff and Operations Manager- all work here hand in hand like a family and are always available at one’s beck and call. The ever smiling crew is full of smiles and ready to light up a joke at the drop of a hat. The entire place reeks of enthusiasm, cheer, positive vibes and good times.
Looking forward to be back here soon as it is here that one finds the best wildlife and in the bargain finds himself.
6 June’ 2016