Reni Pani is a 'true' jungle lodge - a far cry from the much established ones - albeit in a better way
By: Anoothi Vishal
Posted on: October 10, 2010
Reni Pani is a ‘true’ jungle lodge - a far cry from the much established ones - albeit in a better way.
Are you a wildlife enthusiast but despairing of the way most wildlife safaris and lodges are run in India? Unlike holidays in the savannahs of Africa where you may have had some amazing spottings together with a luxe holiday to remember, most wildlife ‘sanctuaries’ in India can be fairly dismal. Not only is much of our prized fauna threatened but overt commercialization of these wildlife parks has meant that the crowd that troops in each peak season remains blissfully insensitive to the local environ – at least in most cases. Loud blaring music, excitable children, tacky ‘resorts’ which sometimes even host loud wedding bashes (!) if not downright ill-treatment of the animals can actually depress you on your safari holiday in India. But not at Reni Pani.
A new luxury lodge on the outskirts of the relatively untrammeled Satpura Tiger Reserve, Reni Pani gets its charming name from a nearby village with reni being some kinds of berries that grow locally here. The lodge is in the form of cottages, each set apart far enough from the other and yet part of a cohesive whole, so that administering the entire set up doesn’t get too difficult. With the experience of running Bhopal’s stellar Jehan Numa Palace Hotel, Faiz and Aly, the two young men who have set up the place with their parents, have managed to create a unique environ which is at once rooted in the local context, and yet constitutes a luxury experience in its own right.
This is an eco-chic holiday alright: The cottages, for instance, are all furnished by materials available locally. They are made out of commercial plantation wood and not a single tree was felled in this area adjoining the protected Satpura Tiger Reserve for construction activities. In fact, local villagers and craftsmen were employed to do up the entire place - right from the village potter (for bath bric-a-bac) to the carpenters and masons.
As children, Faiz and Aly would come to this part of the forest, just a few hours drive from their home in Bhopal, to camp out. Their father, an avid jungle enthusiast, instilled his love for animals and flora and fauna into his sons. They would camp out in the open, learning to co-exist with the wilderness and cope with the demands of this very different world. Aly, a budding naturalist, is almost as good as any professional when it comes to spotting the many different kinds of birds that exist here. As he takes you on a jeep safari in the reserve, he will often point out spot pug marks or make you listen to the most distant alarm calls of all. At any rate, the brothers perhaps did the right thing when they decided to chuck their corporate jobs to set up this jungle lodge. The inspiration came from a visit to Kenya. And they were determined to give the same quality of experience even back home in this jungle in Madhya Pradesh.
Reni Pani is a pointer to how private enterprise can aid conservation activities, largely the preserve of government in India. It is totally different from the commercial hotels and cottages that have sprung up in other forest areas where picnic-ers, without any regard for nature, throng every vacation. Where weddings and parties can be fixed if you know the right people and where, in fact, sightings are often engineered by luring the beasts with underhand means - potentially risky situations both for animal and mankind.
At the lodge, facilities include the services of a personal butler who will accompany you each time to the lodgings to ensure complete safety - for never are we allowed to forget that despite fencing and human habitation, this is very much a forest area. Anything - a big cat or smaller hare or sundry creepy crawlies may call even at your cottage! However, none do, though I was told to flash the torchlight from my room in case of any emergency in the night. An old-fashioned watchman sitting under a peepal tree in the night would always be on call.
The lodges being totally eco-friendly, there are no water-depleting bathtubs. There is an open air shower instead. There are no televisions or music systems (playing loud music is in fact discouraged) and there are no telephones either. So don’t expect ‘room service’ of the hotel kind. Instead, fixed meals are provided and the menu is home-style, using locally available fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, dinner or tea can be arranged in clearings or by a picturesque waterfront - though these do involve considerable effort on part of the staff, something we urban people must not forget. I had cocktails one evening under a totally darkened, no-moon sky by the light of old-fashioned lanterns hung from trees, sitting on roughly hewn benches and boulders. It was a surreal experience and one that is to be cherished.
For the safari, we began early in the morning, accompanied by Edgar, the resident naturalist and Aly. The powerful jeeps took us soon to the water’s edge. We crossed over in a boat and arrived at the Satpura Tiger Reserve. Our drive through the jungle was a leisurely one and there were blackbucks, rare butterflies and birds (that we have never seen in our cities), hare, monkeys and gore a plenty. Alas, the big cat remained elusive. But we were happy.
Sometimes, if they like you enough, Aly and Faiz will arrange a dinner for you in a forest clearing. Or even under the peepal tree in the vicinity of the cottages. Twinkling diyas are placed all around, making for a charming alfresco setting. They can also set up deliciously old-style high teas right next to the water body in the village, from where you can stare at the peace and quiet of the mountains. These are difficult to set up given the demands of the jungle but if you do get to enjoy them, these are moments of solitude that you may cherish for ever - far from the maddening cities.