Images of children climbing up into tree-houses in the summer months chatting away till the yawn of the sun, blankets laid on wooden floors as they watch the stars and web of constellations – this was a vivid image, one I watched on television and remained etched in my memory. But this kind of childhood was far beyond reach having grown up in urban landscapes. The only trees left to climb are concrete jungles with flights of stairs.
Hence the thought of retreating to an actual tree-house was a sublime idea, a childhood dream waiting to be fulfilled. Treehouse Hideaway is an exclusive safari experience in Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India. This jungle throve is also a prime area for spotting the maharajah of the forest – the Bengal Tiger. Sitting on 21 acres of land the hideaway has five exclusive tree houses built on the five largest trees in this area; the Mahua, Pepal, Sal, Tendu and Palash trees. Privacy is guaranteed as each tree house offers fantastic views of the forest and some even overlooking the rolling Vindhyan mountain range.
During the construction of each unit, the owners were mindful to keep as much land untouched as possible often clearing nothing more than pathways for easy access. Recycled wood from railway tracks and fallen timber were used to construct the treehouse matching each piece into a jigsaw puzzle of natural architecture. The tree house is spacious with an open balcony that is accessible from the bedroom or bathroom, a comfortable sitting area, writing desk and a huge inviting four poster king-size bed. Interior designs are intentionally organic with splashes of earthy hues and photos of wildlife to remind you that nature is really in your backyard.
Spotting tigers is the major highlight for most visiting into this area. The Bandhavgarh National Park authorities recently put a restriction to the number of jeeps entering the park and pre-determined the routes for each vehicle. Although an inconvenience for naturalists and guides to guarantee tiger sightings, this ban has greatly helped lessen the level of human activity and impact in the park. Jeeps no longer crowd in huge numbers just to catch glimpse of a tiger, instead jeeps are evenly assigned to various routes avoiding congestion.
The Ghost Forest
In the summer when the sun is sweltering hot, the morning safaris are a pleasant welcome. Departing at 5.45am in the crack of dawn, our jeep enters the forest through pathways of eerie dry spindly bamboo branches. The feeling was as if entering a ghost forest keeping us at the edge of our seats. The cool dawn breeze swivels in the hair. But within 500m the sight changes as bright green leaves of Sal trees emerged in the background of brown hues. Young shoots just beginning to form giving life to the jungle, otherwise quite bare. I was told that after the monsoon between October to December, the forest transforms into a blanket of lush green foliage.
We soon caught sight of some jungle ‘commoners’ – the spotted deer, barking deer, sambar deer, wild boar, langur and macaque. These animals have grown accustomed to jeeps and gawking visitors as they go about their daily activity. At watering holes, birds are abundant with a mix of endemic and migratory birds. The eye catching ones include the Indian long billed vulture, Grey hornbill, the beautiful Green Bee Eater, the grand Indian roller and the stern looking Lesser Adjutant Stork. Bandhavgarh National Park is home to more than 22 species of mammals and 250 species of birds.
Along the dirt roads, we noticed a gigantic silhouette, unlike any other mammal found in this area. As we approached the silhouette emerged into a grey bodied Asian Elephant with a man on it. A mahout, that’s what they call it. Obviously not belonging to this forest, elephants are used by park guides to spot tigers travelling at a very slow speed with little noise and interference. Once the mahout spots the tiger, he alerts the gate post and reports are churned out every morning and evening in preparation for the next safari ride.
Wildlife has its way of protecting itself; Vinod our naturalist tells us that in spotting tigers his sense of sight, smell and sound are completely focused on picking up different signals from nature. Barking deers would make short alarm barks whilst monkeys with screech and deer huddle together at the sight of the terrifying predator. Langurs and deer have a symbiotic relationship, the langur also called the ‘eye of the forest’ spots for predators from high and lofty trees whilst the deer with their keen sense of smell sniff their way out of danger. It is a common sight to see langurs and deer lounging together – for obvious reason, safety and survival.
Tree House Comforts
Returning to the treehouse after more than three hours of wildlife spotting, the staffs at tree house really looks into the needs of the guests, providing fresh cool towels to freshen up and refreshing lime juice for the dry throat. A generous spread of cereal, toasts, eggs, potato cakes and juices are served. Meals at the Tree House Hideaway are always generous but never too heavy, with a great mix of Indian flavours and organic greens bought from the local markets and a small portion from the resident veggie patch.
In the summer, pretty much the entire afternoon is spent relaxing at the tree house. The temperature rises to uncomfortable levels and the air is dry and arid. But the tree house remains a welcoming treat. Walking up the dainty stairs of my tree house, a family of langurs greet me as I watched them play among my great and grand Mahua tree house. A childhood dream fulfilled.
- By Air: Fly from Delhi, Agra or Varanasi to Khajuraho and drive (7-8 hours) to Tala park entrance at Bandhavgarh. Nearest airport from the park is Khajuraho. From the airport to the park, you will need road transfer.
- By Rail: Nearest railway station is Umaria after Katni railway station, from there it is about 2 hours to the park. Alternatively, take the overnight train from Delhi to Umaria and drive (30 minutes) to the park.
- Best time to visit: The peak season for Kanha National Park visits is the winter season, from October to February. During the summer months from March to June, tiger sightings are at its best as the grasslands dries up making it easier to spot wild animals. The park is closed from July to September during the monsoon season.
For more information on Treehouse Hideaway, visit http://www.treehousehideaway.com