Fresh air, verdant surroundings, rustic yet plush tented suites, floating verandahs
overlooking a sun-kissed river running through the property, sounds of silence
interspersed with the chirrup of birds and the occasional murmur of animals,
all literally within kissing distance of the core of the Kanha National Park…
is what best describes Banjaar Tola in Madhya Pradesh (MP) in central India.
Banjaar Tola is one of the four safari lodges operated and managed by Taj
Safaris, a joint venture between Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and &Beyond,
a leading ecotourism company that operates some of Africa’s most exotic
lodges and safaris. Taj Safaris launched its first safari lodge in November
2006 with Mahua Kothi near Bandhavgarh National Park in MP, followed by Baghvan
near Pench National Park, Pashan Garh close to Panna, and Banjaar Tola at Kanha.
Banjaar Tola is ideally located on the banks of the Banjaar River. Kanha National
Park, one of the largest national parks in the country, spread over 1,945 sq
km and prime tiger wilderness, lay on the opposite side. Nestled amidst sylvan
surroundings, the lodge has a refreshing, warm and earthy look and feel to it.
The 90-acre property is divided into the west and east camp. Each camp has nine,
well-appointed, tented suites. The property has been designed with the conscious
aim of protecting the environment and the need to be in sync with natural surroundings.
No trees were cut while constructing the camps. All four Taj Safari lodges in
MP operate on a sustainable eco-tourism model, with a light eco footprint and
a focus on wildlife conservation and community development.
Banjar Tola experience captured through photographs
The tents are built on raised structures to allow for natural undergrowth and
drainage. Designed using pressed bamboo wall panels and natural bamboo floors,
the air-conditioned, tented rooms are beautifully furnished using locally crafted
furniture, Bastar artworks and well-crafted bell metal figurines, which adds
to the rustic ambience of the place.
Most interesting is the butler’s hatch through which the room service
order can be discreetly slipped in without disturbing guests.
The rooms have the most spectacular 120-degree view of lush green vegetation.
The soft gurgling of the river meandering below the floating deck soothes the
senses while chattering monkeys, graceful egrets, deep-throated drongoes and
herds of deer often keep guests company through the day.
The twice-daily safari drives into the thick jungles of the Kanha National Park
are the highlight of the visit. Guests have a hot cup of tea and some nutritious
porridge before they board the specially customised and spacious Tata Motors
4x4 safari vehicles. One can also go for wildlife sightings in Kanha by choosing
the more daring option of riding on an elephant’s back.
What makes the safari trip more interesting is the information imparted by
the guides and naturalists Rajnish Pradhan, Durgesh Kumar and others. Keenly
alert to the varied animal and bird calls of the forest, they are able to identify
what the diverse sounds mean – calls of alarm, mating, etc. They are very
knowledgeable and share interesting trivia about the habitat and eating habits
of the wildlife. The dedicated group of naturalists at Banjaar Tola are selected
after a rigorous training programme conducted by veterans in the field from
the &Beyond team.
For a city-dweller, the early morning drive into the Kanha National Park is
a rejuvenating experience, particularly after rains when one gets the heady
smell of fresh damp earth. The forest has a variety of trees – the endlessly
tall sal trees, the flame of the forest, the crocodile bark trees, the evergreen
jamun and mango trees as well as bamboo thickets among many others. Visitors
can see herbivorous animals like the deer and the Indian bison (gaur) grazing
on vast areas of the grasslands. They can also enjoy a picnic breakfast at one
of the government forest camps intermittently located within the jungle.
It is quite an amazing sight to see gaurs – the largest bovines in the
world – up close. Taj Safaris, along with &Beyondand the government
of Madhya Pradesh, has started a gaur relocation project as part of a wildlife
conservation programme. They have successfully managed to relocate some of them
to the Bandhavgarh National Park to help increase their numbers. A similar project
is on the anvil to relocate the rare barasingha deer found in Kanha.
The forest teems with many animals – the graceful sambar, the strutting
chital, playful wild dogs, skittish jackals, elegant peacocks, raucous monkeys
and cute Little Grebes (the smallest ducks in the world). You may be fortunate
to also sight beautiful and rare birds like the yellow-beaked Malabar hornbill,
and of course have prized sightings of a tiger or a leopard!
On returning from safaris, guests are greeted by the Taj staff with a two-hand
wave, cold towels and a refreshing drink of lime juice.
Lunch is generally served in the indoor dining room away from the dry afternoon
heat, but the place really livens up in the evenings when cocktails and dinner
are served in the common sitting area or in the open on the adjoining deck under
the sparkling night sky. On some nights, guests enjoy a ‘bush meal’
near the swimming pool. The team of naturalists join the guests every evening
for cocktails to share and exchange notes about the day’s safari experience.
The salads are delicious and fresh and are prepared from the vegetables and
herbs grown in the organic kitchen garden at Banjaar Tola. At dinner, the menu
is more elaborate and dishes are prepared in the regional or local style with
a contemporary twist. The chefs interact with guests to find out their preferences,
making mealtimes a more personal experience.
So, for those who wish to experience the great outdoors in the arms of luxury,
Banjaar Tola, the eco-friendly safari lodge from Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces,
is the ideal destination for getting up close and personal with nature.