I don’t say this lightly. Bagh Villas l Kanha is possibly among the few superbly executed and designed wildlife lodges in Central India forests today. Lia and Akhilesh perfectly captain this forest lodge with a spa, located towards the Mukki side. It’s there for you to see – the perfect combination of gentleness, care, creativity and detailing along with an almost military precision in service and training. It is one of those lodges where the host / couple build onwards and upwards of the owners’ vision.
A labour that was as much a learning for them as it seems like their joy now, the way Bagh Villas l Kanha looks and operates today is Akhilesh and Lia’s work of eight years. The result is a lush green cover of native trees, grass, arching bamboo and creepers around and between a central meandering water body and an active pond. Beautifully crafted tents and a two-bedroom suite with en-suite bathrooms, all with a wide private deck look out to water bodies. The interiors are comfortable, roomy with hand crafted furniture, interesting art, fine fabrics, and floor rugs you would love to walk on.
It is the details that would enchant you…. A line of books on birds, butterflies and Kanha forests, a detailed file in a neat handmade folder, cold water in glass bottles and a few at room temperature, plug points on both sides of the bed, possibly one of the best made beds I have seen in a long time, neat side folds tight over the pillows at the head, without a wrinkle in sight!! And then there is a tiny flower. On the roll of a towel, on the Origami toilet paper roll, at the corner of a book, on the side of the tray that brought in my morning cup of hot aromatic coffee, on the welcome letter…. a tiny flower, a hint of the nature around you.
There is solar power and water in glass bottles, composting and kitchen garden (where I tasted the sweetest peas), sewage treatment plant (in progress) and the community gainfully employed. Young men and women from nearby villages walking smart and confident, trained in service and housekeeping along with naturalists to decode the forests for you. The main building with the reception, spa, restaurant, and shop that shows up at the end of a short drive from the gate welcomes you. Bikes are parked on the side and helmets suggesting your days’ activity line up on the window. It is here you will sit in a dining room overlooking the pool that seems to empty into the main water body.
The F&B and Spa is clearly Lia’s domain from talking to the chickens to growing peas, basil, bok choy, herbs, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, aubergines and making fabulous cheese served with delicious homemade bread and looking into the multiple cuisines served here. She aces it! As a Tamilian I must admit to eating perfectly steamed idlis and crispy dosas served with chutneys and sambhar of the right consistency, spice, and flavour.
And now for the best part, the Spa at Bagh Villas operated with girls from the village trained by Lia, is probably the best in a forest lodge so far. The masseuse who spent over an hour coaxing my stiff muscles from all the driving did not miss a step as she effectively used the fragrant essential oil to ease my body and numb my brains.
Perfect for armchair naturalists and wildlife lovers alike, Bagh Villas l Kanha is a brilliant retreat base for those who believe that rejuvenation of the mind and body is natural in the pure ‘prana’ of the forest where there is also water.
Kanha is one of my favourite parks and through years of promoting lodges here, I have lived many days around its generous Sal forests and famous meadows. And this time cycling through villages leading from Bagh Vilas, I am reminded how beautiful the villages were, their mud houses painted green or blue and some that stop you in your track with their earthy terracotta beauty. Clean front yards were inviting where clothes on the line fluttered and shiny bronze utensils winked to catch the sun. Chickens and puppies, women, men, and children lived their day, unhurried. Mohan, the naturalist from Bagh Villas who guided me on my tentative cycle ride was a connected young man – one who can remember that his father sang out for winds to come and help separate the grain must carry the load of his responsibility for mother earth. He did and that is what makes him a superb naturalist for me.
Captain (Akhilesh Nair) as I have begun to call him, meanwhile stopped to talk to people around, a greeting to the village doctor, calling to the lone lady herding her few cows, promising clothes to few other and squatting to taste fresh Mahua being distilled for a celebration at his friend home, who also was the headman of the village.
It was a perfect Sunday morning. Days like this and I fall in love with what I do again!!