Wildlife Getaway | Being Jungle Lodged in Kanha National Park

Bagh Villas might be all about tiger sightings, but it's the staff's collegial bonhomie that wins you over.  
Bagh Villas affords keen-eyed birders the opportunity to spot rare species. Photo courtesy: Bagh Villas
Bagh Villas affords keen-eyed birders the opportunity to spot rare species. Photo courtesy: Bagh Villas

It’s just after 6 p.m. and the sun is on its way home, leaving streaks of orange, purple and red, all over the sky.
On this early summer evening, I’ve walked out of my room just to sit by the pool and admire the unstructured forest and man-made lake visible from here. I’ve also come for the crisp dal pakoras, crackling spring rolls, and other yummy treats that inevitably emerge from the kitchen, freshly made, for tea.

We were inside Kanha National Park in the morning, and spotted a tiger, as well as beautiful birds like the white-rumped shama and Malabar pied hornbill, and the rare and endangered red-headed vulture. Spotting the tiger was thrilling, of course, but I was more interested in the birds. Shrikanth Nayak, the resident naturalist and ace birder, knew this, and both he and Rohit Singh, our guide-driver, made sure I saw lots of them.

Kanha is surrounded by hotels, and quite a lot of them are worth one’s time and money. Where Bagh Villas scores over others is in the intimacy of its service. Within a day, everyone from the kitchen staff to the naturalist knew our preferences in food, wildlife spotting and housekeeping.

With just 12 shikar-style tents, you can, if you choose, get together with other guests and make new friends, or retreat to the lake with a book. The aesthetic of Bagh Villas is pleasing: its beige tents are offset by bright pink bougainvillea; their dark wood interiors are softened by bright Jaipuri quilts. The warmth of wood and ethnic prints is balanced by minimal, modern lighting and bathroom fixtures.

But it’s the people who make the hotel special. Besides Shrikanth and Rohit, there’s the couple who runs the place, Akhilesh and Lia. The latter’s food is sensational; she oversees the cooking personally and there’s some-thing different everyday—be it a desi chicken dish, or a delicious roast bird with whole garlic. Bagh Villas is also famous for one of the best spas in Kanha, thanks again to Lia, who has worked in spas in international hotels. Akhilesh chatters away all evening, never letting you get bored; and dinner is always with the entire Bagh Villas family, discussing sightings of the day and the possibilities of tomorrow… just the way nights in a jungle should be.

Essentials

Bagh Villas is near Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The nearest airports from the park are in Nagpur (300 km/6-7 hr), Jabalpur (160 km/4 hr) and Raipur (250 km/5 hr). You can also take the train to either Gondia (145 km/3 hr) or Jabalpur, from where there are regular buses and taxis available to the park. Bagh Villas houses 12 shikar tents in all. (www.baghvillas.com; doubles from Rs16000 including all meals and taxes).

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    Kalyani Prasher is a freelance writer and editor based in Delhi. She was executive editor of India Today's travel magazine till end-2013 when she decided to get out of the office routine for a few months to see what having a life feels like. She never went back.

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