One of Kanha’s best kept secrets, Chitvan Jungle Lodge lets you soak in the rustic wilderness while keeping you snug. Sarita Santoshini loved it.
I alight from a local bus at a small village called Mocha in Madhya Pradesh, looking around for the driver who is supposed to take me to the resort from there. Moments later, he greets me with a grin, quickly launching into a charged-up narrative of his tiger spotting efforts. “There’s a tiger lurking close by,” he breathes. His excitement is contagious.
We are more than 50 km away from the core zone of Kanha National Park, yet already seem to be quite close to it, with the concrete world left far behind. I take it as a sign from the wild, inviting me to hurry up and explore its territory.
I reach Chitvan Jungle Lodge, a sprawling resort that lies nestled between the village of Samnapur and the buffer zone of Kanha, standing out from the wilderness that surrounds it. Spread across 14 acres, the jungle retreat has been thoughtfully conceptualised around the five elements of nature. Prithvi, Akash and Jal are the elements inspiring the design and décor of the 10 suites and 8 standard rooms, the Common Hall is inspired by Vayu, while the huge dining area and kitchen by the fifth element of Agni. I am ushered by the efficient and chirpy Manager, Ashwini Agarwal, into one of the four Prithvi suites, my abode for the next three days. Adorned in shades of green and beige, the walls are lined with framed photographs of predators staring back at me. Vintage mirrors reflect the golden sunbeams streaming in through a glass wall—a perfect space to catch up on both sleep and that half-read novel.
I am informed that I can have lunch either in the high ceiling dining room or in the garden area outside it. I, of course, choose the outdoors. The head chef, Aashish Kumar, spreads out a scrumptious meal made from fresh vegetables that grow in the organic farm surrounding my make-shift dining area. As I quickly indulge in the homely food, Ashwini fills me in about life in Kanha. He set up the resort in 2007, and it was not an easy go—the remote location presented quite a challenge! Today, that is a USP. Guests enjoy the technology-free experience that the resort offers. It helps that the 40 staff members belong to nearby villages, and bring with them a natural friendliness, which keeps guests happy.
It is relaxing enough to spend all your time wandering around the lush property or playing with the resident German Shepherd puppies. But push sleep aside at 5:30 am, brave the cold and get yourself on a jeep. You will be too enticed by the green meadows and clear lakes to want to ride away from the enchanting Kanha National Park. I still feel a thrill running down my spine as I share stories about driving from dawn to dusk across narrow forest roads in search of tigers and leopards, and the moment of complete awe at finally having spotted these predators. If luck, however, keeps you from spotting one, you will still have generous sprinklings of the once-endangered Barasingha, Spotted Deer, Langur, Jungle Babbler and Spotted Dove to capture on your lens.
Do go on a morning nature walk with the naturalist, Sanjay Thakre, pushing your way through dense forest cover, learning about spider webs and animal pug marks on your way. Cycling or walking across the neighbouring village of Samnapur, all the way to Bandha Tola, the main source of water in the area, is another interesting option. The village visit gives you glimpses into the life of the many tribes that reside together in the vicinity of the forest, relying on agriculture and wildlife tourism as their main source of income. These villagers willingly share gripping stories of close tiger encounters but brush away my concerns about safety. The forest has been their lifeline for generations, they say.
In the company of the locals and unspoilt nature in Chitvan, it is easy to lose track of time. Just don’t get too attached to the healing routine there—the one that involves waking up to the sound of bird songs and gazing at the stars before turning off the bed lamps at night. But the memories of the wild that you carry back, will definitely keep you whistling at your desk for a long time.