In our quest to explore one of the tiger reserves in the country, we head to Pench National Park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP). In a neighbourhood of the wild, we are looking for a dose of city comfort, and land up at Kohka Wilderness Camp, an eco-resort in the area.
It’s more green than bricks all around. A row of bamboo trees is sheltering the front yard, allowing only a few rays of the bright sun to come in. It is rather hot in MP, but the nature rich resort is bringing in the desired coolness.
Complementing the greenery is the rustic and rudimentary styled setting of the resort, which on the inside has been prepped to offer some handcrafted and even luxurious comforts to the guests.
On the wooden tables in the dining hall lay ethnic mats, which are exuding a cozy, home-like vibe. The porches at the front and at the back, just like a house’s veranda, are completing that sense of space.
Inside all rooms, there are bamboo furnishings to praise, and the best of mattress to sink in at the end of a day. The cottages in the resort are all designed to give the desired dose of city comfort mixed in right proportion with a setting of wilderness.
Shourabh Ghosh and Sanjay Nagar, co-founders of the resort are welcoming and interactive in their demeanour. They feel more like friends than hosts, making Kohka Wilderness Camp akin to a home away from home.
Kohka Wilderness Camp is about three kilometres from Turia- the main entry gate of the national park, making the resort an obvious choice for many wildlife geeks coming to Pench.
Ghosh and Nagar, apparent wildlife enthusiasts, add to the pros by sharing their knowledge on wildlife and the national park, thus also helping guests optimise their visit into the wild.
‘‘Although it is not possible to familiarise oneself entirely with the jungle in three-four days of stay, when guests comes here, we do send them back with peace of mind, by at least introducing them to the wilderness,’’ says Ghosh, who also helps his guests in planning the safaris.
“One of the best parts about our stay at the resort is the personal touch. Even before we arrived here, they helped us with the booking of our safari tickets and other things,” says Neetu Saluja, a banker from Kolkata and our fellow guest at the resort. “The food is definitely the other highlight. I am always looking forward to the next meal,” adds Saif Saluja, her spouse, as the couple savour their meal.
Always a plateful
There is bhindi (okra), daal (lentils), bengun (aubergine), paneer (cottage cheese), and chicken curry, all served alongside rice and roti (chapatti). There is also a plate of salad, with the veggies being all farm fresh and subtly sweet, unlike in flavour from the ones we get in cities.
“We grow a lot of vegetables in the property itself; and they are all organic. Since we cannot grow all types here and in enough quantities, we source them from the local farmers, who also practice organic farming,” says Ghosh, whose wife lives with him on the property; and prepares the menu and supervises the kitchen for the daily buffets. “There is no al-a-carte menu here but we do try and prepare anything that our guests ask for,” adds Ghosh. Alongside meals, one can also sample and relish the various aachaar (pickles), the bottles of which are also up for sale alongside other pretty handmade trinkets at the resort.
The meals all end with sweet servings, which have apparently given a sweeter tooth to everyone at the resort. “This is one of the best shahi tukda (a royal Mughlai dessert) I’ve ever had, says Babita Belliappa, another guest at the resort.
Out and about
Other than safaris, one can choose to go for nature walks around the resort. Ghosh also helps guests book a guide, who can educate you about the flora and fauna in the surroundings. Subhash Gadekar, our guide familiarises us with the use of the popular local tree of mahua, whose flowers are used to make a local booze and the tendu tree, whose leaves are used to make bidi (Indian smokes). He also helps me identify the strangler fig tree or the killer tea, which is known for its pattern of growth upon host trees that often results in the host’s death. As you try and find these unique flora on the ground, don’t forget to look up and spot unique birds such as the plum head, black durango or the yellow footed green pigeon. If you miss something you can always ask your guide again, may be over a cup of tea which the resort organises by lake Kohka at the end of the walk; and if a nature walk is not your idea of being out and about, you can simply go custard apple picking by the roads or just take a dip in the pool at the resort.
For our article on Pench National Park, read our November-December issue of India&You magazine.
Picture credits- Priyankar Bhargava