Minutes from Kanha National Park’s Mukki Gate, I walk amidst clouds of orange, black, and yellow dancing butterflies. At Singinawa Jungle Lodge’s butterfly habitat, school science textbooks come alive when I observe the butterfly’s lifecycle from close quarters. Pranad Patil, naturalist at the lodge, points out larvae, pupae, and different varieties of colourful butterflies on citrus and milkweed host plants.
Set in 110 acres of native grassland and dense forest, on the edge of Kanha National Park’s buffer zone, and bordered by the Tannaur River, the lodge is a destination unto itself. Shimmering spider webs stretch between the branches of the sal, jamun, and mahua trees. Langurs leap amidst the canopy. Branches extend into the balcony of the upper-level dining hall. During lunch, I’m engaged in a stare-off with a young primate: He snacks on jamun, while I eat chicken curry and hot rotis. Naturally, I’m the first to break eye contact.
Twelve luxurious stone cottages and two bungalows, named after Kanha’s native creatures, lie concealed within the foliage. My room, named Sloth Bear, is peppered with thoughtful little touches: copper water bottles to cut down on plastic; large totes to carry on safari to avoid dirtying your own bags; torches to navigate the forested paths, that are minimally-lit by solar lights at night; stacks of essential reading on the region’s wildlife and on Gond art.
To prepare for an afternoon safari, I sit out on the porch with a cup of tea and a copy of Wildlife of Central India: Photographic field guide, co-authored by Surya Ramachandran and David Raju, one of the five excellent in-house naturalists at the lodge. I use it to identify a striking black-and-white ashy-crowned sparrow-lark perched on a branch.
The focus on regional art is heartening. In the evening, I settle in the cosy lounge of the main building. A bar occupies one corner. Bright sofas and armchairs fill the space and bookshelves line the wall. The most striking features are the intricate Gond art murals covering the walls.
Living on the periphery of the forest, Central India’s Gond and Baiga tribes share an innate familiarity with the wild. Their culture is an intrinsic part of the forest’s tapestry. At the Kanha Museum of Life and Art, housed within the lodge’s grounds, I browse through a large display of stunning regional Gond and Baiga art. I finally get a chance to see the work of famous Gond artists like Durga Bai and Jangarh Singh Shyam, featuring motifs of nature and the wild.
In stark contrast to the colourful Gond paintings, the Baiga works are in black and white. Mangla Bai’s art features a tattooed Baiga woman. Reading the accompanying note, I’m fascinated to learn that the artist and her mother are tattoo artists for the Baiga community.
Under the aegis of the Singinawa Conservation Foundation, the lodge aims to create an immersive and holistic wilderness getaway for guests. Experiences include Baiga tribal dance performances, village visits to learn about the local communities, nature walks and birding with in-house naturalists. Guests can also visit the village school and contribute books and stationery.
Singinawa is a little microcosm of Kanha. It’s a space where amidst all the luxury, I learn about tribal art, local customs, the region’s smallest creatures, and native flora, all within the lodge’s grounds.
Getting there: The closest airports to Singinawa are at Jabalpur (180 km/4 hrs) and Nagpur (260 km/5.5 hrs). The closest railhead is at Gondia Junction (120 km/3 hrs).
Singinawa Jungle Lodge
Address: Village Kohka, Tehsil Baihar, near Mukki Gate, Kanha National Park
Tel: 0124 4908610
Tariff: Doubles from ₹20,000 per night inclusive of all meals and taxes. Safaris cost ₹5,500 per jeep.
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