Taj Safari’s Banjaar Tola Resort
Kanha National Park
By Neelima Agrawal
Hot summer days of mid-June. The first rain showers had soaked the parched earth, and washed the dust off of the trees and air. The ponds and puddles were half full already. Not exactly the recommended condition if one is heading out to the wilds in search of big game, the tigers and bears and wild boars. But here we were, driving up to the Taj Safari’s Banjaar Tola Resort at Kanha National Park, 210 kms from Jabalpur’s Dumna Airport, a tad weary from our journey from Delhi. Awaiting us was the most refreshing and touching reception ever.
Past the log boom barrier at the entrance of the resort, down the one kilometre dirt road, turning left at the fork, the tented canopy of the resort sprang into view behind trees. And lined up outside in the parking lot, were eleven or twelve men with their hands in the air, waving frantically.
“Are they telling us to go back?” A brief second of alarm, quickly quelled, as it turned out to be the Grand Signature Welcome of the Banjaar Tola resort! Everyone, from the Manager to the Chef, all there personally, immediately introduced to us, along with the personal valet assigned to us. The effect was electric and heart-warming, like a home-coming, a welcome from another dimension than the customary lemonade and damp towel on arrival, which we were still clutching. In our three day stay, it was remarkable to note, that the entire team came out to wave us off as we departed on our safari rides, and welcomed us back in the same fashion when we returned, even if twice a day.
As I always say, the most valuable element that defines the luxury hospitality experience is the human touch, the personalised service, the emotional quotient, far more than the trappings and fittings.
Of course, the Banjaar Tola was high on that too – the fittings and trappings. Located on the banks of the Banjaar River, each of the nine suits in the west wing cluster (as many in the east cluster) are luxury tents on stilts providing a spacious, comfortable and elegant accommodation with complete privacy. The large tents are made of wood, bamboo, canvas, a roomy main area with a large double bed, side tables hewed from wood and on coasters for convenient portability, a large lounger filled with cushions to sink in and read all those half-read books, and all the other trappings of a luxury retreat. The bed faces large glass sliding doors that open on to a deck overhanging the river and looking out at the woods. The dressing area is equally large, all wood, bamboo, sliding doors, open bathing zones, closets, twin wash-basins, a porcelain tub to soak in, set beside a glass window with a view to the river and the lush greenery. Air-conditioned and well lit with several lamps, tasteful display of local art, books, pure cotton bathing robes, ethnic block prints, absence of plastics, a cloth Choupad (Indian Ludo like game played with shells) provided with instructions – a lot of thought has gone into designing the interiors. The privacy of the guest is ensured, to the extent that a dumb-waiter window beside the door takes care of the room service orders to be delivered without visible interactions with the staff if so desired. This is a cocoon of tranquillity to lose oneself in amidst nature, and escape from the crush of city life. The absence of television, telephone network and Wi-Fi connections in the suits, makes the isolation complete.
Yet, there is never a lonely moment once in the main lounge or open deck of the reception area. Someone from the Taj team, manager, naturalists, guides, valets, Chef, anyone, will always join in with easy friendly banter, quietly enquire about comforts, chat about the weather, offer endless cups of tea or coffee with crunchy cookies. The Chef makes sure about personal tastes and preference, cooking up a banquet with a range of most amazing dishes. In no time, it felt like family, providing a high level of comfort. This compels me to share the experience of another family of five, three generations, staying at the resort while we were there. The gentleman wanted to celebrate his wife’s birthday belatedly. The Chef baked a beautiful cake. The team joined in and hatched a plan to give the lucky lady a surprise. She was informed about a python sighting on the grounds. The entire team joined into the play-acting with the family, and after some excitement and misses, she found this cake in the bushes, with her name on it. A happy memory for a lifetime!
The resort organises Jungle Safaris twice a day. Banjaar Tola’s team of well-trained naturalists makes the experience worthwhile. Mr Narayan, or Nara was our jungle coach, guide, encyclopedia of information, buddy et al, for the two safaris and the nature walk in the woods. Starting out at 5 AM, the morning caffeine fix of Tea and Coffee, hot porridge on a coal stove, fresh home-made cookies, and it is time to explore the Kanha jungles with Nara, in the specially designed open top Tata jeeps. He takes care of everything, cold water, check, binoculars, check, raincoats check, a fancy picnic breakfast basket in the woods, check, park guide, check. The three and a half hour drive, chasing deer, wild boars, Gaur bison, antelopes, Barasinga or golden deer, tiger pug marks and news of sightings, is interrupted only by a break for breakfast. This was a class act. Nothing was missing from the menu, if we were at the restaurant itself at the resort, including the table cloth and the choice of tea or coffee.
Nara informs us about Taj Safaris conservation model that is adopted from other such initiatives, i.e. Care for Wildlife, Care for People, and Care for Land. To facilitate easy uninterrupted migration of the animals and other creatures of the woods, including rodents, snakes, porcupine, pangolin, across the acres, Banjaar Tola property is not fenced and the tents are housed on stilts. Care is taken to not interfere with the natural habitat. Nearly 60% of the employees at Taj Banjaar Tola are from the local Baiga tribal community, who were displaced from the Kanha resorts core areas. They are handpicked and trained at the different Taj resorts. The Baiga have a keen understanding of the animal behaviour and the forest. The walkways and roads within the resort is kept free of artificial cladding like tiles and tar.
We came back enriched with a tome of information. Like did you know that the termite-proof, water proof wood of the mighty Sal tree is easily decimated by a species of beetle called the Sal Bora, and that the poop of the Tiger gives clues to his last dinner – a golden dear in this case. Our walking tour of the woods next day, ended with a surprise picnic breakfast set up underneath the huge old Jamun tree, where the team specially drove out with the grub and hid the jeep behind the bushes to catch us unawares. Such fun! This is the rare element, which puts Taj Safari Resort on top of the game.
Where –Kanha National Park, Manjitola Mukki Tehsil Baihar Balaghat, Baihar, Madhya Pradesh 484661
How to get there–By Air to Nagpur, Jabalpur or Raipur, followed by a 3-4 hour drive.
Best Season –
For Bird Watching November to March;
For Tiger sighting March to May
Park is closed from 30th June to 15th October