Singinawa Jungle Lodge (Protector of the Sacred Forest)
My visit to Singinawa Jungle Lodge fuelled my passion to discover this unique relationship between tourism and conservation. I met with Dr. Latika Nath Rana, a petite lady with captivating big brown eyes and her husband, Nanda SJB Rana, a friendly man with an imposing build. Both wildlife enthusiasts heeded their passion for the wild and eventually led them to cross paths. Latika is a wildlife biologist and the first woman to be awarded a doctorate on tiger conservation and management from the University of Oxford. She is also fondly dubbed as the “Tiger Princess” being married to Nanda who hails from the Royal Rana family of Nepal. Nanda is a tiger photography expert and film producer having worked for notable organizations such as National Geographic, BBC and Discovery Channel.
Both knew that they had a strong role in the fight to save tigers. With their wealth of knowledge on tigers and Nanda’s love for hospitality, they bought an initial piece of land just outside of the buffer zone bordering a local town named Bayar. It was evident that the main reason tourists visited Kanha is for the wildlife, more specifically for the tiger. The pair knew all too well that the fight to save tigers is not a single minded quest; instead it required tourists to be educated, locals to sense pride, government to buck up and private enterprises to take on the role as catalysts. Hence the inception of ‘Singinawa’, which takes its meaning from a Sherpa term, the “Protector of the Sacred Forest”.
Nanda understands the need and importance of embracing the local community, “if we start something, it needs to make a difference to the people around it”. They hired over 350 local people for the construction of Singinawa. For 10 months, a small community was formed as local men shared craftsmen skills, exchange stories of wildlife encounters, and shared life together. Many of them stayed on to be part of the Singinawa family.
The construction of Singinawa Lodge was no easy feat with many minute considerations to take into account in order to lessen the impact on the environment. Details such as land use, building material, waste management, energy source and water management and wildlife management were part of the equation. A sustainable property was the only kind of property that Latika was willing to build, stating, “If I as a conservationist and wildlife biologist set a place and don’t think about conserving it, who will? It is a responsibility I owe”.
Today, Singinawa provides affordable and comfortable living with a grand main house and 12 individual cottages dotted around the 55 acre land. The once degraded land choked by lantana has now been restored and it is home to two resident leopards, chital, wild dog and wild boar.
Every structure is designed and built around existing trees and a great evidence of that is upon entering the main house with a lofty tree at our welcome. The interiors of the main house are decorated with heavy wooden furniture and leather bound chairs giving the impression of castle, perhaps influenced by Nanda’s upbringing of living in palaces most of this childhood. The grandeur of this building is further enhanced by the magnificent photos of tigers set in bold frames, all taken by Nanda who is notably the only photographer who has documented six generations of tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park just six hours away.
On wintry nights, the cosy fireplace in the library makes for a perfect seating for stories. The double walls provide adequate insulation in the winter and perfect cooling in the summer. A natural air cooling system channels hot air out and cool air in eliminating the need for air conditioning in the main hall. And where possible, without the disturbance of langurs and macaques, solar panels have been fitted to provide energy for external lighting.
As conservationists at heart, it wasn’t enough just to set up a lodge for wildlife enthusiasts or holiday makers. Latika and Nanda thought up innovative ways to raise money for conservation and community development projects. Last year, Latika rallied a group of well-known artists from all over the world for a 10-day retreat the lodge. Surrounded by incredible wildlife, great food and organic inspiration, the artists produced passion-laden paintings that were later auctioned to raise funds for tiger conservation projects such as the building of watering holes for tigers in Kanha.
In 2008, the Singinawa Foundation was established with a steady flow of funds coming from the Spa at Singinawa. Guests who pay to be pampered at the Spa are contributing to the wellbeing of the villagers around the lodge. Through monies raised, medical camps are organized and critically ill villagers are being sent to hospitals that they could never afford to pay.
The need never stops and as long as operators like Singinawa continues to thrive, protected areas are a little safer, wildlife can continue to flourish and local communities will grow in their sense of pride and belonging that they too are “Protectors of the Sacred Forest”.