People of the Forest

Sara, from our India Team, recently saw another side to Central India on a village walk into Kanha National Park, whilst staying at Banjaar Tola

Whilst touring the national parks of Central India to check out the lodges and game experience for Scott Dunn guests, I discovered a surprisingly interesting non-safari excursion. A village walk into the surrounding countryside of Kanha National Park. It’s the perfect activity to do on Wednesday afternoons when the park is closed, or even to stretch ones legs after all those hours spent in a gypsy jeep, tracking wildlife!

The countryside is particularly picturesque – its fertile soil supports rich crops of paddy and wheat and the farming hamlets are prosperous, with mud cottages painted in bright blues or greens and decorated with embossed motifs, and topped with heavy terracotta-tiled roofs sagging under its own weight.  The fields are farmed in traditional ways; husband and wife teams operate a bullock-powered plough and sew seeds together, and colourful saried ladies bend in contortionist positions to scythe the stalks.

The area is also tribal, the predominant tribes being Gond & Baiga. The Gond are hard working and can be seen herding their cattle, tending wide-reaching fields or guarding their crops over night from the unwanted attentions of wild boar by sheltering in elevated platforms that punctuate the landscape. The Baiga favour a subsistence livelihood and so, there is a more concentrated farming activity around their hamlet.

We were welcomed into a Baiga family household, headed by the village elder. Their home was pristine inside, compartmentalised into sitting, bedroom and kitchen rooms, with a loft space for grain storage. It was quite dark with small windows to retain the heat in the winter and cool in the summer, Madhya Pradesh enjoys extremes in climate! The house was filled with cooking aromas as well as the sweet fermenting smell of Mahua in vats, the local home brew is made from the flowers of the Mahua tree. The family was proud to show us around as well as being intrigued by strange foreigners.

This village walk is one example of how tiger conservation has given opportunities to local communities, with lodges paying them per visit. The tribes were originally relocated from inside the national park in the 70’s, with financial compensation as well as allocated new land just outside the park. They were responsible for vast forest clearings where they previously cultivated land inside, these areas have now reverted back to meadows, and these beautiful grasslands fringed with white elephant grass seed tufts are unique to Kanha.

Other benefits I saw were local employment in the lodges and park; either as Lodge staff, visiting performers of tribal dance; or tribal artwork vendors. Finally by the park’s rangers and nature spotters accompanying lodge naturalists and guests on game drives, another pair of eyes is always welcome!

These ties between the park and surrounding communities add an additional cultural dimension to the wildlife experience for tourists and will also help ensure tigers are around in the future to be viewed in the wild. Local communities are also the eyes and ears behind poaching attempts and often volunteer to join nightly forest patrols with park rangers.

For more information on the experiences found in Kanha National Park, visit our website or call one of our Consultants on 020 8682 5055.

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