I am a person full of contradictions. While I enjoy being at home, my mind travels to far off places, and while I am travelling, I am constantly searching for that cosy nook of warmth and privacy. I usually choose to not know many details of any particular travel destination as, a) I don’t usually travel alone, and, b) there is an element of surprise I want to keep, for future thought, amazement and luxury. Till now, it is this second element, which has kept alive much of the thrills of travelling – the quotient of the unknown and the joy of discovery, notwithstanding that of the self as well.
One such perfect getaway was to Kanha National Park, and to, more interestingly, Kanha Earth Lodge. The change from the concrete-and-stress jungle of Kolkata to the quietness of solitude and wilderness of Kanha was a little too rapid for us, perhaps. We raced out of our beds at the wee hours of 3 in the morning, boarded a flight to Raipur at 5.30 am and reached Swami Vivekananda Airport before 7 in the morning, when the small city was still quiescent in slumber in the warmth of a Saturday sunshine. A quick breakfast at the Raipur Circuit House and then we started on a five hour journey to Kanha, by road. The landscape changed gradually from the neatly manicured greens to the red earth and wild vegetation, to the cultivated lands and then more and more rural countryside punctuated by long shifts of just plain highway roads. We passed into Madhya Pradesh from Chattisgarh, with two checkposts armed by security personnel. The mercury outside soared and singed – this was not the humid summer of Bengal, this was dry warm air, which burnt as soon as it touched – but we were closely insulated in our air-conditioned comfort of car interiors. Our banter alternated with almost everything under the sun – domesticity, stress at work, children’s tantrums, fate of the country, politicians, Bollywood songs, our impending trip, the stay – there were villages and sharp turns before we took a bend towards a nook – Kanha Earth Lodge.
We were immediately greeted with smiles and ushered in to the air conditioned foyer and served iced-tea in wine glasses.
Lunch was ready, we were told, and we could just about freshen up in our rooms, as the hour was fast running by. It was a huge dining room, where we sat at a gigantic table like one big happy family. Being served a hot meal, without having to worry about serving others, their portions, children’s tantrums, et al is a rare luxury for a woman, and I simply floated and basked in all the pampering! It was a pure Indian fare with rice and hot chapatis, fresh from the oven. Daal, vegetables and chicken: everything, we were told, were homegrown in the adjacent kitchen garden. We were absolutely fascinated. The ice-cream too, was a home-made beetroot one!
Looking forward to the next menu was a fascinating pastime, as the Lodge never repeated any of its cuisine. One could relax at the expansive foyer in the evening, with one’s favourite drink and couple it with a platter of kababs, watch a docu film, or just browse through a most delightful collection of books, or one could just enjoy quiet talk with one’s partner.
We celebrated Earth hour on 1st of April, when electric lights were switched off and candles and diyas were lit up, with a bright moon above and a bonfire dinner arranged on the fringes of the property. It was breathtaking, to say the least!
The cottages were self-sufficient, eco-friendly suites that had a rustic, tapovan look, but with all modern amenities. Large, roomy, aesthetically decorated, the cottages were each adorned with a balcony, that spelt out relaxation as loudly and cosily as it could.
Take this tree, for instance, a human in form that stood wide at the entrance.
The staff of the Lodge reached out to its tourists in more ways than one. They went an extra mile to provide us with warm and fresh breakfasts even during our safaris and ensured thirst-free rides with bottles of cool limbu–paani! This is surely one jungle ride I shall remember for many years to come!
Our stay lasted for only three nights, but Kanha has etched itself deep in our consciousness. One keeps on looking for apt metaphors to perpetuate memories: in images, in literature, in paintings, and in photographs. Home has many shades and perspectives to it. One of the things I did on reaching Kolkata was to find out my copy of Kipling’s The Jungle Books – somewhere I wanted to compare notes.