The 2.5-hour drive from Katni Railway Station to Kings Lodge in Bandhavgarh National Park was full of anticipation and excitement. It was the first time I was in Madhya Pradesh and the eagerness comes as a natural precursor to a new journey.
I reached in the darkness of the night and my first impression of Kings Lodge was their warm hospitality. Sure, the earthy decor is a successful distraction but the attentive staffers supersede it all.
The two following days were spent in jungle safaris and getting acquainted with the impeccable properties of Pugdundee Safaris. As a prominent and trusted name in the business of jungle lodges, they spoil their guests with luxuries of the spa, swimming pool, books on wildlife and ample of open spaces.
However, what I loved about Pugdundee was their attention to detail. Whether it was the artwork in the common spaces (most done by the local tribes) or the packed meals during the safaris, they leave no room for discomfort. During our morning and evening safaris, the breakfast and evening tea, respectively, were packed and served at designated, permitted pockets within the forest. The food was varied, wholesome and sufficient. We also got delicious chocolate muffins!
As all travels, my experience in Bandhavgarh also introduced me to new aspects of the place, people and life.
The camera connects us
During my short visit to Rancha, a small village about a kilometre from Kings Lodge, a large number of villagers only spoke to me because I had a camera! It broke the ice and I grabbed the opportunity to chat with them on the pretext of taking their photos (which I did, of course).
Recycled wood is inescapably charming
While Pugdundee and conservation go hand-in-hand, it was commendable to know that most of the wood furnishings in Kings Lodge has been made from recycled wooden logs. These include the rustic tables, unique lights, chairs and wooden artefacts, amongst others.
Forests are therapeutic
Tala, zone 1 of the national park, is magnificent. The tall Sal forests, the brown earth rising to the sun and the isolated caves makes it an ideal green paradise.
A good naturalist can save the day
Even in a forest as substantial as Bandhavgarh, the experience can deter if the naturalist is not as instinctive. I would have missed the Grey Hornbill and the Oriental Honey Buzzard (both lifers) if not for Karan, my naturalist that day.
Treehouses are spectacular living spaces…
But a little frightening at night. Treehouse Hideaway, true to its name, has five rooms perched on five separate trees and named respectively i.e. Peepal, Tendu, Mahua, Palash and Banyan. But I must admit, waking up to the morning light through the leaves, with the birds’ chirp, will be right out of a fantasy story.
The Gond tribals have glowing smiles
Apart from being evidently shy, the Gond tribals of central India are popular for their traditional songs and dance. In the cultural performance they put together for us, I realised how most of them were hesitant to make eye contact. While I did eventually speak to a few others (at Kings Lodge and Rancha), a larger percentage of them continued to hide their words behind their infectious smiles.
Goals are not ultimate
Bandhavgarh is equivalent to the sighting of the Royal Bengal Tiger and there is enough and more pressure around this experience. This is so overpowering that often we miss the opportunity to enjoy a complete jungle safari, in one of the richest habitat and bio-diverse forests of the country.
Empathy makes a difference
When I was on my way to the Nagpur Airport, Pugdundee had packed a small box of everything yummy for my breakfast en route. This kind of clairvoyance is not only admirable but also worth inculcating.
Read: Realising Tiger Dreams
What are your lessons from the wild?
Note: I was invited by Pugdundee Safaris and as always, it did not influence my review.