One with the Jungle: Kanha Earth Lodge
After our awesome Bandhavgarh trip, we headed for Kanha which was around a 4-5 hour drive. The day before, we heard that they had really good tiger sighting opportunities in Kanha and that made us even more eager to go!
We arrived late in the evening, which was good time considering we left Bandhavgarh after the morning safari trip. Like in the other lodges, Kanha Earth Lodge gave us an outstanding presentation upon our arrival, orienting us on what to expect for the day.
Kanha National Park
Just like Bandhavgarh, Kanha is divided into multiple sections. There are 4 zones in all, and we were lucky because the nearest gate to Kanha Earth Lodge is the main gate. This means we have easy access to all 4 zones, unlike the other gates.
Kanha is a vast area, but just like the other National Parks in India only around 20% of the jungle is open for exploration. The rest are just for the animals (as it should be). And wildlife here is really expansive! Kanha National Park is known largely for the Barasingha or swamp deer. You can only find this massive species here. It is a beautiful creature, and it also gives really loud alarm calls. In fact, it was the alarm call of this deer (aided by a few langurs) that finally gave us our best tiger sighting for this trip!
A Safari Diary (or, How I Met Neelam the Tigress, and a leopard)
Kanha gave us such memorable experiences that I vividly remember the events of our stay. Of course, the highlight of the stay was some of the best tiger sightings we’ve ever had! I remember our astonishment when we finally spotted Neelam, Kanha’s resident tigress, along with her cubs one morning. They moved along slowly and almost lazily, but not without grace. They felt so secure in this sanctuary. Were they here all along? Why have we seen them only now? I guess there’s really no way you can rush nature — she shares her secrets with us at such unexpected times.
That started out as a quiet morning (comparatively), and aside from the tiger, wildlife sightings weren’t that much. We saw a gaur (an Indian bison), and a barasingha deer. The latter can only be found here. It was a tiring escapade, but it was fun enjoying the views and learning more about the jungles. I realized during the jeep safari that even if you are just sitting there you can get sore and exhausted! That, plus you’re continuously battling the cold or the heat. Remember to get dressed according to what season you go in.
Back to the story, the quiet morning was broken by alarm calls — they were not sporadic, but constant. Something was happening. We gathered at the area where the guide thought we should wait, based on his knowledge. We sat there for some time, around 20 minutes. The alarm calls started, stopped, and started again. It was this time when I learned I had already adapted to the calls of different animals, and can now distinguish between monkeys hooping and their alarm calls, the calls of the various deers (sambar, spotted, and barasingha), and more. It was really a cool knowledge! Our guides explained that langurs and deers had a rather symbiotic relationship, since monkeys can see high up on trees and deers have a really good sense of smell. They use these advantages to warn each other, and are thus often seen in company of one another.
At the 20 minute mark, most of the guests were ready to give up and move on. After all, it was past breakfast time — me, I had skipped dinner the night before since I wanted to hit the sack early. I realize now that was a bad idea, and I was duped into not eating dinner since we had been fed during the night’s presentation.
Our guide remained optimistic, and said we should be patient. He was sure the tiger was there! We realized that we have the option of not waiting at all, and it could happen that we become impatient and miss the much-awaited view. So we braved it out and sat for some time — and then we had the most magnificent sighting ever!
Neelam literally walked directly across me, so majestic and regal that it inspired nothing but awe. We were lucky there were only 4-5 jeeps in the area then. They had all moved to give the tigress space to cross the distance. She walked perfectly, from us to her destination, without even batting an eye. It was a heart-pumping, hair-raising experience! The tiger was SO close to us!
Then our guide said Neelam will be walking to a direction towards another path. He asked us to sit down as we were going to move quickly, trying to guess her direction. That’s what’s awesome about being a naturalist — he knew exactly where to position us.
We got to the other side, and something even more amazing happened. Neelam started growling for her cubs, and the cubs (all three of them) started responding. This meant, according to our guide, that Neelam made a kill and she was calling the cubs to come and eat. We saw all three cubs walking slowly towards their mother. We had the best position — no vehicles in front of us, for a perfect view as nature’s show unfolded.
The first two cubs crossed, and Neelam picked them up to cross with them. Around this time, the alarm calls from the other animals had caused more jeeps to come to our location. The third cub, named Charger, started putting on a show for us. Apparently, he was the grumpy one (hence the name), and despite constant exposure to the tourists he hasn’t tamed down one bit. This could be scary for a first-timer, but the guide kept telling us not to panic and to stay still. We were at a considerable distance, after all, so we didn’t have to worry (not much, at least). Finally, Charger crossed the path and reunited with his family for meal time. By this time, I had forgotten about my own meal time — I was just so happy to see what just transpired.
By now, it was too late to have breakfast in the park (sorry, my tummy). Aashu asked us instead if we would like to have breakfast back at the Lodge. The group had to exit the park at a specific time, or the Lodge will be fined by the authorities. We were deep in the forest at that time, and it would take us around 45 minutes to get to the gates. Of course, it was all fine by us. We were all too happy with what we’ve seen. This was when I realized we had almost entirely missed it — if we had given up after sitting there for 20 minutes, we would have gone home without the beautiful memory. Patience really is a virtue. Trust, too, since the guides knew exactly what was there and when. All three of the Pugdundee jeeps witnessed the full Neelam encounter. That’s how good their naturalists are!
But the day was not yet over, and after some much-needed rest we went off again in the afternoon with Sanjay. We’re entering a different part of the park, one that is more dense and hilly. We were told that such terrain is best for leopards. That’s saying something, since we were told that leopards are the ghosts of the jungle — very shy, and rarely seen. After Neelam, though, we were craving for more.
We drove again in quiet for an hour and a half when we heard an alarm call. The green was already dense around us, but the guide was already trying to guess the path the leopard would take! We stayed where we were for a while, but the jungle was too deep and we can’t see anything. Our guide was sure the leopard was there, since there were fresh track marks on the road.
After a few minutes, another alarm call was heard in a different area. The guides followed their gut feeling and had us on the go. All three Pugdundee Safari jeeps were there again, with a considerable distance from each other. All the vehicles travelled in different directions depending on the instinct of the naturalist on board, but we always manage to converge when calls like these were made.
We stayed there again for some time, and we heard the naturalists making plans about informing each other when they spot something. The wait lasted another 10 minutes when, lo and behold, the ghost of the jungle walked right into our midst! The leopard walked boldly into the field, with hardly a care in the world, just as confident and bold as Neelam was.
His show went on for a good five minutes. He walked, stopped, and just stayed there. By this time there were only around five jeeps around, and we all got a good view. Sanjay told us that the leopards aren’t usually this bold, and that we were very lucky. We were told that the first alarm call was probably that of a female, one that is in heat. This was the reason the male was so bold, trying to track down a potential mate.
Wow, two sightings a day — talk about a rare encounter! We recognized our luck, though, as not every group has this chance. It’s still all about probability. Later in the day, we bumped into the other jeep safaris who had heard the same alarm calls but were waiting on the other side of the bend. The alarm calls were so loud that they were led there. It was just sheer luck (and expertise born of experience, on the part of our guides) that led us waiting at the right place at the right time!
This is the sort of experience that made it much better than any zoo. The animals were left to be in their natural devices, doing things they would naturally do. Anyone who disrupts the flow of nature faces jail time. This makes for a really amazing opportunity.
Such was our really exciting day at Kanha, a day that I will definitely remember for a long, long, time. I still remember how the three Pugdundee guides talked happily on our way back, spacing the vehicles so that the guests don’t get any more sand and dust on them. As if we would care much, after what we’ve seen!
See, this is the whole package you get from Pugdundee Safari. A great lodge, great guides, and priceless encounters. Compare that with the other lodges around. I remember when Neelam’s cubs were crossing, there were other guides who were screaming at each other instead of talking quietly. This wasn’t pleasant, not for us or for the animals. Some of us even told them to hush! Some people just don’t have the same skill, knowledge, or respect for nature Maybe they got excited, yes. I heard Pugdundee seeks to remedy this by having their own training course, training other guides on what to do and how to behave. This is a really good initiative, and shows just how much care Pugdundee has for the jungle ecosystem.
As guests, we also benefited not just with the sightings but also with the knowledge we learned from the naturalists. We were more relaxed as a group, we understood what was going on, and we felt confident we were really in tune with the jungle instead of being merely spectators.
WHERE I STAYED
Lots of Earth love
If the name “Kings Lodge” conjures images of regal spaces, “Earth Lodge” would make one think of earthy tones and simple fixtures. Well, there’s a lot of earthiness and hominess in the Earth Lodge, but it’s far from sparse. The whole area has a modern yet rustic vibe.
The Lodge itself is a collection of 12 bungalows (in two rows of 6), all open-fronted and fitted with large verandas that showcase the rugged landscape surrounding it. These verandas were wide enough that one night we decided to just grab some drinks and chill in one while waiting for dinner! Sometimes you’d even see langurs from here, but it’s totally safe. It’s a safari after all, located in a 16-acre expanse, just along Kanha’s buffer zone. All of the cottages also boasted off indigenous architecture, really immersing you into the locale instead of the cookie-cutter lodges we are so used to seeing elsewhere.
The real magic of the lodge is how it marries earth-friendly features with modern convenience. The lodge is built largely with recycled materials, such as waste wood. The stones are also locally sourced. And yet, the bungalows had en suite bathrooms that would shame many hotels. The spaces were wide, and it felt more like a receiving area with a bedroom. Several local and international awards stand as a testament to the Lodge’s design. Of course, the nature-friendly items of the previous lodge were not amiss. There was coffee, tea, organic toiletries, towels, and of course a closet for our luggage.
As mentioned, the theme is more of modern rustic. The clean lines are broken only by the natural textures of the building materials, and the muted earth tones of brown and gray are highlighted by orange accents that simulate the colors of fire. This gives an overall feeling of comfort, like that of a warm hearth. Just like Kings Lodge, there were high ceilings and large windows that let in a lot of natural light and air circulation. It’s more than beautiful, it was comfortable and decidedly first class.
Welcome area. Located in the main building, this is where we were briefed about the Lodge and the upcoming activities. This is also where we were first impressed about the Lodge’s architecture!
Garden Kitchen. Like the other Lodges, Kanha Earth Lodge has its own garden that supplies most of the ingredients for the multi-cuisine meals served.
Swimming pool. There’s an infinity pool that merges with the magical view of Kanha’s forests.
Nature Trail. They are still building it by the time we went there, but when completed this would let guests explore the lush setting of the park without leaving the Lodge’s premises.
The whole Lodge shies away from plastics, like all Pugdundee Safari properties. Because of this, there are water refilling stations across the property. They also give you metal water bottles that can be refilled and used throughout the journey.
Food from the heart
As we sat chatting with each other, the staff constantly did rounds offering hot delicacies. They keep serving until you actually tell them you’re done, and even after that they continue waiting on you!
But it’s hard to be “done”. The food is delicious, and we kept coming back for more. I personally felt that I gained so much each time I stayed in a Pugdundee Lodge. Expect to keep eating, as they serve you various courses. When you leave for or arrive from an activity, they serve drinks, cookies, breads, and various treats. For the meals, they had soup, main course, and dessert. And the dessert was wow! It was in Kanha that I had banoffee pie with caramel sugar, which left me wanting more. I remembered I was quite tired that day, and I said I wasn’t going to eat — yet the meals were just too good to miss.
What to pack
I didn’t actually think I would need a coat, but in keeping with my colorful personality I packed a bright yellow one. When it came time to use it, our guide Harpreet told me it’s best not to use it since the color could irritate the animals. I had no choice, since it turned out the days then were super cold! Good thing they had their own blankets on the jeep, which had muted colors. This is an object lesson for those who love bright stuff — yellow isn’t so good on a safari.
Expect it to be dusty, so you may need a hanky with you. When the sun comes up, a cap and scarf would also be advisable.
I know a huge number of us would take pics and post them on FB and IG in short notice, but this particular lodge does not have WiFi in the lobby. Since we’re in a remote area of the jungle, it’s very understandable that some areas have spotty reception. The rooms do have WiFi, though, so you could brave the sometimes-here-sometimes-not connection if you really want to browse or upload. But then, you could just go offline all the way and relish the jungle experience. Still, the Internet here is just good enough for those who need to send messages every now and then.
Getting to Kanha Earth Lodge
We were able to easily get to Kanha from Bandhavgarh, but if you want to get to Kanha directly you can also do so. The Lodge is about 5 miles from Kanha’s Mocha village. These 5 miles trek through a forested road with great views. Head for the Mukki gate at the other end of the road, which is one of the reserve’s entrances.
If you’re coming in by plane you can hop off at the Jabalpur airport and take the land route to Kanha, which is approximately 4 hours. The flight from Delhi to Jabalpur is also about 4 hours, so it’s not for the impatient. Just know that at the end of this journey, what you will find is definitely worth it.
Pugdundee Safari is just flawless when it comes to bringing value for its guests. Every bit of the experience is well-curated, well-paced, and well-executed. This is why I — and legions of other satisfied customers — love supporting the company over those who simply value tourism for its commercial sake. I am happy to have done this Safari with a company who values just that.
I am so happy that Adventure Travel Trade Association allowed me this opportunity to experience this. Honestly, it’s been my first event with them but apart from exposing me to more companies who promote sustainable tourism, the community itself is very inspiring . Pushes me to learn and do more.
Are you up for going to a Safari? Tell me what you think?