Jungle Stay: Treehouses and Grasslands for the Soul in Satpura

A room of one’s own—atop a Mahua tree—at Denwa Backwater Escape in Madhya Pradesh.  
Denwa Backwater Escape Satpura Madhya Pradesh
Denwa Backwater Escape has all the creature comforts, like a swimming pool, spacious rooms and a library, but it is all done up in woody tones to mimic the Satpura jungle. Photo Courtesy: Pugdundee Safaris/Denwa Backwater Escape

On the boat ride along the backwaters of the Tawa Dam, five companions and I have eyes only for the stretch of teak trees. Strung along the banks of the Denwa river, they seem aflame in their golden autumn foliage. I am in Madhai, a reserve forest at the entrance of the jungles of Satpura. The river shines in the afternoon sun. The hum of the boat, the soft clicks of camera lenses, and the sight of egrets marching along the bank slow down time.

After 45 minutes, the cottages of Denwa Backwater Escape come into view. Spread across 10 acres of forested land, Denwa provides all the creature comforts, but its heart is rooted in the wild. It has eight cottages overlooking the grasslands but I have opted for one of its two tree houses. It sits atop a mahua tree and brims with special touches—a four-poster bed; desks and chairs of distressed wood; locally sourced masks and artwork on the walls; the room key dangling from a little wooden horse; an ash tray shaped like a tiger’s paw; and a doorknob hewn from a bark. There’s a lounge area too, its size rivalled only by the roomy bathroom kitted with a bathtub and awash with natural light.

Denwa Backwater Escape Satpura Madhya Pradesh

Denwa Backwater Escape’s main draw is the seclusion it affords guests, like in the treehouses. Photo Courtesy: Pugdundee Safaris/Denwa Backwater Escape

Most nooks in Denwa are a nod to the jungle—in the river-facing dining area, I observe the different wildlife sketches on the walls, and the ceramic crockery I have chai in bears delicate leaf motifs. If I yearn for a different view of the area, I only have to change my seat. Before dusk I return to my tree house to watch the sunset. Only the long, elevated balcony gives me that surreal view of the vermilions and blues that light the grasslands and the Pachmarhi hills in the distance.

In addition to jeep safaris into Satpura Tiger Reserve, guests at Denwa can opt for a boat ride on the Denwa River, where hundreds of water birds go about their morning rituals. I spot river lapwing and wood sandpiper breakfast on beetles, bugs, and weeds. A male river tern dutifully deposits a fish by his mate’s side. Black winged stilt plunge into the river for a bath and begin grooming each other later. Some grey herons sit as still as sculptures. There are raucous bird cries everywhere, yet this place is as tranquil as it can get.

Essentials

Denwa Backwater Escape lies in the Madhai region in southern Madhya Pradesh, and is a 10-min drive from Satpura Tiger Reserve (www.denwabackwaterescape.com; cottage doubles from Rs18,000; tree house doubles from Rs21,000). The closest airport is in Bhopal (170 km/4 hr northwest). Itarsi railway station (70 km/2 hr west) is well-connected to major cities.

  • Kareena Gianani is Senior Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.

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