We chose The Mahua Kothi – A Taj Safari resort at Bandhavgarh national park this year, for our family vacation, a rather unusual choice. We had never been to a safari.
I arrived a day earlier than everyone else.
After a long four-hour ride in a rustic jeep amidst this magnificent national park, famous for its large population of Tigers, I finally arrived at the Mahua Kothi. As the orange flames of the setting sun smiled upon the Kothi, I could see kutiyas surrounded by the beautiful Mahua trees.
I was welcomed at the gate the traditional Taj way, with salaam, garland and a chandan tika. My kutiya had a private courtyard attached to it, with traditional stone flooring, mud walls, roof tiles built out of hand-made pottery. The walls had bamboo binds and were painted in tribal art. Nothing like I had experienced before.
It felt like my safari had already begun!
8 pm – PM Modi announces countrywide lockdown to combat COVID 19 starting that midnight. I panicked to reach out to my family amidst the poor network. Soon it dawned upon me, they won’t be able to join me. Confused and tired, all I wanted was to close my eyes for some time.
My eyes opened to the most beautiful symphony; the sound of the forest singing me awake the next morning. I turned over with a smile to check my phone, but it had no reception. I decided to get myself some breakfast.
As I walked out, I realised everything looked different – The staff were wearing costumes.
I found my way up to the dining room. A huge feast was laid out. I walked in, ready to dig in to all the delicacies, when I noticed everyone was dressed like the royal families of the past, as if they came right out of a history book.
The Taj breakfast justified it’s royalty. My palette exploded with flavours of mint, spices, curry, buttermilk, and I ended up eating more than I normally would.
Strangely enough, I realized all of us were guests to someone very important… But who?
A young man dressed in white enters the room, adorning jewels in his attire, accompanied by a beautiful lady. He exuded a strong persona but had humility in his eyes. He walked in with pride and following the couple was a large, fully grown WHITE TIGER.
Announcement – “Make way for Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa”
Maharaja- “My friends my queen and I, welcome you to Bandhavgarh once again this year. We are ecstatic that
you made time for our annual ritual. Baghels have ruled Bandhavgarh for centuries. This forest has been our pride, but my forefathers had failed to realise the true treasure of the forest. It is the wild that keeps the forest alive. We welcome you this year 1950, not to hunt but to observe the beauty of the wild tigers of Bandhavgarh and understand the relationship that we share with them. We believe we can coexist, come join us in a safari to see the forest through our eyes. Hope you enjoy your stay.”
Did the Maharaja say 1950?
Had Taj organized a theme play?
It was early morning and the jeeps were out. We were following the tiger trails into the dense forest, I could hear foxes, rutting deer, screeching owls, ruffles here and there. I saw deers, wild buffaloes, monkeys and bears but no tigers yet.
We stopped to grab a snack on the way. Spread out on top of our jeeps in the most royal way possible. Food ranging from kachoris, samosa, sandwiches & fruits, it was surreal – being surrounded by such majestic beauty and amazing company, made me forget about the vacation I thought I came to have.
It was almost sunset and no tiger in sight. We decided to turn back when the driver suddenly stopped. He asked us to remain quiet and stay low. I reached out for my binoculars & turned the way he pointed at – three cubs and two large tigers, one white and the other golden, relaxing under the shade of a Mahua tree like true royalty. Witnessing this beautiful scene reminded me of what the Maharaja said about the wild being the true treasure of Bandhavgarh. I slowly took out the camera I found, Braun Paxette and clicked a picture.
Days turned into months. I enjoyed this life, slowly losing touch with my reality. I had fallen in love with the forest, the food, the people, Mahua Kothi, the royal family and especially the tigers. The picture I clicked was adored by all and was hung on the wall to add to the Raja’s legacy.
The guests were returning, there was a glorious celebration. The ballroom was opened, the kutiyas were adorned with flowers. I did not know of tomorrow, but I chose to live in the moment. The Maharaja joined us. The tribal were called to perform. There was food, wine and merrymaking until we bid each other goodbye.
I rubbed my eyes and woke up. Unbelievingly, I looked around only to realize it was all a dream. I proceeded towards the lobby to figure out a way to get back home, amidst the lockdown. While crossing the main corridor, I spotted a picture on the wall – A family of tigers My eyes widened; feet trembled, and I ran up close to it. It was the same picture I took in my dream.
The manager came up to me. “Ma’am please don’t touch it”, he said and explained that it was from 1950, clicked by one of Maharaja’s elite guests who were the first tourists of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Safari. The Maharaja in contrary to his forefathers loved wildlife and wanted to preserve it. He donated this land to the government in 1968, to turn it into a national park.
“Would you like to take a safari?”, he asked………[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]