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Tribal rhythms – the sound of music!

Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul – Plato

It is truly alluring to observe how India’s tribal communities add a distinct feather to the very colourful cultural hat that our country adorns. As city inhabitants, while we often struggle to cut chords with our robotic lifestyles, tribal communities effortlessly continue to live in the present. Their awareness of time is related to nature and natural phenomenon. For them, life and art are complementary to each other, which is why I feel that their art is pure and aesthetically pleasing.

Amongst all of the art forms, music and dance are an integral part of India’s artistic heritage and the primary pulse that binds it together is rhythm – a spontaneous expression of joy. From the simple beat of the drum to the complex rhythm of a cultivated art, it is the love of rhythm that creates the sound of music. The folk dances and songs of the peasants, hill folk and our tribal communities are simple yet powerful tools that add a dash of happiness and recreation to their predominantly simple communal life.

Members of the Baiga tribe getting ready for their dance, a practice followed on most nights.

Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are home to several tribal castes, with Gond being the prominent amongst the Baiga, Korba, Abhuj Maria, Bison Horn Maria, Muria, Halbaa, Bhatra and Dhurvaa tribes. A deep connection with nature reflects in the folk songs and dances of forest-dwelling communities of the region. Most of their dances are community-oriented, in which every one, from young to old, takes part and the stories behind their origin are still narrated with truckloads of enthusiasm.  Take the Shaila dance of Madhya Pradesh as an example. The story is that a Gond youth was ambushed by dacoits on his way to his wife’s paternal house, but because of his extraordinary skill in wielding the sword and stick, his attackers could do nothing. In times that followed, that tale changed the traditional fighting style of the Gonds. Out of that, a dance practice emerged, which has rightfully found its place in the rich cultural heritage of India.

The tribal dances performed by the Baiga tribe are performed around a bonfire.

My tryst with the Kanha region goes back to little over two decades but even today the various sounds from the wilderness, with its eternal forms and rhythm never fails to take over my senses. Every year, a buffalo-horn trumpet called hakum, announces the joyful harvest festival and varying types of drums called mandri, kotoloka and kundir take over. It is thus of no surprise that at Singinawa we always curate musical experiences for our guests in conjunction with the natives of the region and the symbolic association of a dance form with the corresponding time of the year.

The rhythmic movements of the Baiga dancers captured with a slow shutter speed.

Visit us in February or March and be ready to immerse yourself in the beats of the Karma dance form that announces the arrival of the spring season (outset of March). Performed by the Gond, Baigas and Oraon tribes, this dance form involves men and women who dress up in bright and colourful clothes and perform this dance around trees. Various musical instruments also accompany the songs sung during the dance. The Baigas from the region are known to perform in elaborate costumes and headgear, with woven grass braids, peacock feather shafts in their hair, and heavy metallic anklets on their feet. Traditional instruments include a drum called mandar and a wooden instrument with knobs called the thiski. The songs the Baigas sing are mostly about the monsoon, the harvest, and nature. Musical nights at Singinawa are all about watching these magical performances around the bonfire, with guests joining in the celebrations. Let me tell you a little secret – often I join my guests with a hope to get the performing steps right – something I have yet not got the hang of, even after countless attempts around the bonfire!!!

Bhagoria dance on the other hand, is performed during the celebration of the Bhagoria Festival around the time of Dussehra. The festival witnesses several traditional folk dances and songs of the Baiga tribe of this region. One of the predominant folk dances is Dadariya. This dance is particularly special as it involves a unique tradition. Men of a marriageable age from the Baiga tribe visit their neighbourhood villages and are welcomed by young girls of that village with songs and Dadariya dance. The girls and boys interact, during which the girls have the chance to choose the man of their choice and marry him. I always encourage my guests to experience this festival as its atmosphere is lively and one is sure to be swept away by the nuances.

Traditional drums used by tribes to render music to their dance performances.

Now that we have got talking, let me take you all on a quick musical tour of the region…

Another form of popular dance form among the Baiga community is Pardhauni. Performed mainly to welcome and entertain the bridegroom’s party, the dance is primarily to convey happiness and the spirit of the auspicious occasion.

Tertali on the other hand is a one of a kind folk dance performed by the Kamar tribe of Madhya Pradesh. Two or three women dance together and start their performance by sitting on the ground. They have small cymbals made out of metal, called manjiras, tied all around their waists and two in each hand. The dance comprises striking the cymbals together according to the rhythm. There is another level to this dance that involves balancing a pot on the head and a sword between the teeth. Watching this dance is definitely a different experience that one must witness.

Gudum Baja is a musical instrument played by the elbows. Popular amongst the Gond tribe, the idea of playing Gudum Baja while performing traditional dance moves has become a distinct tribal dance form in itself. It involves performers carrying different types of folk instruments. The main performers carry percussion instruments, while a single musician plays the clarinet. Their movements are as varied as the musical instruments. When they roll (with their percussion instruments hanging around their neck), they perform double-somersaults with each other interspersed with crawls and aerial jumps. Apart from Gudum Baja, Gonds also sometimes uses other musical instruments for their performance such as Shehnai (clarinet), Manjira (clash cymbals) and Timki (small side drum), which makes this dance form more interesting and exquisite to watch.

Last but not the least, the Saila dance involves multiple movements performed with a stick that is used as a prop in the dance and the artists form a circle and hop around while supporting each other. Saila dance is popular among the Gond tribe and is much-loved for its unique presentation. It is performed to mark the completion of the harvest season and is considered as one of the most engrossing folk dances of Madhya Pradesh.

So next time you plan a visit to this region, grab up the opportunity to join a tribal jig and join the party! Like Elton John once said, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a little while.”

Tulika Kedia
MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Butterflies, and their names

‘What is there in a name?’ ‘A Rose by any other name would still smell the same.’ These might be philosophical statements with profound meaning behind them. But in practical life, naming things most of times becomes mandatory. When you learn the name of something, you immediately associate all characters of the said thing with that name. For instance, you would not imagine the smell of a Rose if I mentioned Marigold to you. The given name also becomes an identity for the thing in question; just like your name is a very important part of your identity. An argument can be made that an animal or a plant is not even aware of the name we have given it, and does not even care for it. But it most definitely has an identity. A sparrow will be a sparrow all its life, and not adopt the identity of a crow ever. That is the sparrow’s identity, and it is important for the sparrow. We call this identity ‘sparrow’. So my argument is that names are important.

We learnt this recently when we undertook a project to make a booklet of the butterflies found in Kanha region. The first task at hand was to create a list, and for this we needed to learn the names. Scientific names given to species are universal. They cannot change no matter what; a particular name will always refer to a specific species or a specific group. But scientific names are usually long, mostly in Latin (a language we don’t understand), sometimes very difficult tongue twisters, and almost always difficult to memorise. That is why easier English names have been coined for many species, which are easier to mention in publications and more convenient to form an association with. It would come as a surprise that the practice of giving English names to organisms started in mid 19th century in India, and with butterflies! (Source: Wikipedia – as stated by Harish Gaonkar of Natural History Museum, London.)

Grass yellow butterflies, such as this Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe), are mostly seen fluttering close to the ground in open, grassy areas.
Bushbrown butterflies, such as this Dark-branded Bushbrown (Mycalesis cf. mineus), also prefer to stay closer to the ground, but in areas with dense and bushy vegetation.

Colourful and beautiful winged insects – is probably the first description that comes to mind when we think of butterflies. So naming butterflies based on their colours is probably the easiest way to go. Names such as ‘grass yellow’ and ‘bushbrown’ are quite self explanatory. These names not only tell you about the butterfly’s colour, but also gives you a hint about what sort of habitat they might prefer. But these are groups of butterflies, and not just a single species. When you dive into deeper details, finer characters can be used to distinguish individual species, and these can be used in the English names too – such as Three-spot Grass Yellow or Dark-branded Bushbrown. But this formula of naming has been used in reverse order as well. Pansies, for example, come in many different colours. So one colour cannot be associated with the entire group. But once a butterfly has been identified to be a pansy, its colour can be used to recognise the species in some cases, e.g. Blue Pansy, Grey Pansy, Yellow Pansy, etc.

Like most other pansy butterflies, the Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya) has bright colours on the upper side of the wings, while the underside of the wings are drab-coloured.
A Large Oakblue (Arhopala amantes) in its usual resting posture, where the wings are closed.
A couple of Large Oakblue males basking in the sun with their wings held open.

Not all butterfly names, with colours mentioned in them, are so obvious though. The Large Oakblue, one of the most common butterflies during the summer time in Kanha, is mostly drab-coloured at first look when seen resting on a leaf. Only when it takes flight or opens its wings to bask in the sun, the shimmering blue colour on the inner side of the wings becomes evident. In fact, an entire family of butterflies, Lycaenidae, has been given the name ‘blues and coppers’, as many species have metallic blue or copper colours on the inner side of the wings. The Large Oakblue belongs to this family. But not all species in the family have this feature, and yet the colour gets mentioned in their English name. The Common Lineblue is an example of this. This tiny butterfly is mostly pale brown in colour on outer and inner side of the wings, and a bit of blue shimmer is visible on the inner wings only in some cases.

A male Common Lineblue (Prosotas nora) showing a hint of blue colouration when the wings are held open.
A Spot Swordtail (Graphium nomius) butterfly, with quite a unique tail-like projection on the hindwings.

Continuing with the use of physical features to name butterflies, features other than the colours have also be used to formulate English names. Striped Tiger – black and orange striped markings, Spot Swordtail – featuring a long, tail-like projection on the rear end, oakleaf – a mimic of leaf, tinsel – metallic shine on the wings, eggfly – egg-shaped markings on the wings, are some of the examples. The Painted Lady has been named so simply due to the fact that it is pretty.

The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) in one gorgeous-looking butterfly.
The Lime Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) belongs to the swallowtail group, despite lacking the tail projection on the hindwings.

Butterflies are also very specific when it comes to choosing a plant to lay their eggs on. Thus, it comes as no surprise, that this behavioural characteristics have also been used to name butterflies. Lime Swallowtail, for example, lays eggs on lime plant. Common Castor lays eggs on Castor plant. Pea Blue prefers Pea plants, and can become a pest in Pea plantations.

Caterpillars of the Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus) are commonly found while opening pea pods.

There are many other examples where the other behavioural traits of a butterfly have been used to name it. Common Evening Brown is mostly seen to be active in the evening, emigrants and wanderers are known to migrate, sailers have been probably named so because of their gliding or sailing flight, and skippers seem to hop or skip from flower to flower while feeding on nectar.

Male Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) is mostly black with an striking band of white spots.
The stichius form of the Common Mormon female. Another form (romulus) has more red markings, while a third form (cyrus) has more white markings compared to this one.

It is when physical features and behavioural traits have not been helpful in naming butterflies, that people have become really creative. How the Common Mormon got its English name is a very interesting story. The male of the Common Mormon comes only in one form, which is mostly black with a row of white spots. But the female of the Common Mormon has three different morphs – mostly black, but with variations of white and red spots.  It can thus be imagined that the male has three different wives. The name ‘mormon’ was thus given as an allusion to Mormon sect in America who used to practice polygamy.

Indian Nawab (Charaxes bharata) – Nawab is a royal title used in South Asia. It is comparable to Maharaja or western titles such as Grand Duke or Viceroy. Not so surprisingly, there butterflies with names such as rajahs, dukes and Viceroy!

But I feel that it was while naming butterflies from the Nymphalidae family that people went crazy. Several Nymphalid butterflies have been named after monarchial or nobility titles or military ranks. Thus the group has rajahs, nawabs, barons, counts, sergeants, and a Commander (among several other similar names). This trait probably started as a way to please some ruler or high ranking military official, but then simply continued as a practice.

Common Sergeant (Athyma perius) – Sergeant is a rank in the military and police force. The word is derived from French language, and means ‘one who serves’.
Commander (Moduza procris) – Commander is a naval and air force rank.

The process of learning these amazing and amusing names for our butterfly booklet was not only a lesson in taxonomy, but also an exploration of literary creativity for me. Butterflies are often blamed to get more attention because of their prettiness, while other smaller creatures are ignored. I personally feel that it is not only because of their beautiful appearance that butterflies draw your attention, but their interesting, and sometimes whimsical names have also contributed in their popularity. Hopefully, species from the other groups of ignored fauna also start getting such entertaining English names sooner or later.

Pranad Patil
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Gond art lends a unique touch to contemporary wardrobe

Very often, the real source of inspiration I have found has been from the world I contain within myself. I believe that everybody has their own little worlds within themselves. We all have a safe-haven within us, where the outside world shuts down and it’s just our universe.

My journey has taught me that the bedrock of creativity is continuity. Through the ebb and flow of its changing nature, new definitions of design emerge. For many creative artists in Indian fashion, travel and art co-exist as pillars of ideation; rightly so considering our country offers a wide canvas for travel that opens up multiple windows to its diverse cultural attires, artists, local architecture and the ephemeral cultural transitions, which a city or a region keeps enveloped within itself. I find it a visual delight to see how young artists are synergising their new-age design aesthetics with the aura of our indigenous art forms and effortlessly merging the two universes into a cohesive one. The heartening aspect of  folk art is that it is indigenous, carrying many histories and journeys that remain unexplored, which adds a unique edge to each conceptual story evolving from this source, that a style guru attempts to explore.

A mythical representation of a Barasingha with tree branches as its antlers. The painting depicts the deep and binding interrelation between the flora and fauna in a jungle – the home of the Gonds. Artist – Jangarh Singh Shyam

The process of tribal art moving into print designs, to evolve back into a tangible art form, is at the heart of many designer’s creative processes, unleashing a unique design finish. Gond is one such art form which has taken a centre stage. India’s Gond tribe are renowned by art aficionados for the vibrant artwork they produce. Gond comes from the Dravidian expression ‘Kond’ which means ‘the green mountain’. While Gond paintings are considered to be predominantly from Madhya Pradesh, it is also quite common in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. In their work animals, plants and scenes from daily life are rendered in a colourful, highly patterned style comparable to the aboriginal art of Australia. But up until the 1980s, Gond tribal art was all but unknown to outsiders, its use limited to interior decoration. Forty years later, it is exhibited in galleries worldwide. Back home in India, one can often see  Gond Art on the walls of homes and streets in Central India. But who would’ve thought we could incorporate it into our fashion?

Another striking Gond piece by young artist Mayank Shyam, who keeps the use of colours to a minimum, as opposed to using lots of colours.

Revival of an intricate art, Gond prints are a delightful innovative touch to have been made open for the urban audiences in India. I can’t help but applaud some of India’s finest millennial designers who have captured the finer nuances and indulged in the tribalesque melee of the Central Indian Gond Art to put some breathtaking creations in place. The Gond people have a belief that viewing a good image begets good luck. It’s almost sacred to them; thus they treat their art form with a feeling of respect and reverence. Mostly inspired by myths, legends or natural surroundings, they also showcase abstract concepts like emotions, dreams and imagination. “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”, remembered as Oscar Wilde’s famous words which tells us a lot about how art resides in every inch of life. This philosophical ideology resonates across the Singinawa Jungle Lodge where time, nature and human evolution coherently weave a drapery of bewitchment at the 1,000 square foot Kanha Museum of Life & Art, co-existing within the estate – singing an epic of the native Gond and Baiga artisans and their labours of love.

Personally, what intrigues me most about this art form is how it depicts the relationship of man with nature, the vivacity of intense vibrant colours and the purity of the raw sketches. If you are someone like me who loves visual depictions on apparels, then you are bound to get swayed away by these designs. In the past few seasons, designers like Divya Sheth, Ankita Choudhary from the label SAAJ by Ankita, Shivan and Narresh and Aartivijay Gupta have brought forth Gond art via collaborations with master craftsmen and artists, to showcase the best in Indian crafts and textiles. The attempt has been to modify Gond paintings in wearable easy comfortable silhouettes. While Shivan and Narresh’s ‘KOI Series’ did incorporate integral elements of Gond Art like decorative motifs, patterns, dots, dashes, lines, and circles in the collection, what made it stand out was how it was played around on delicate organza, ruffles, and flowy fabrics in a variety of hues such as a ‘neel’ or a ‘geru’ giving it a  kaleidoscopic, but still a uniquely beautiful look.

One has to give credit to global influences for promoting and showcasing the beauty of tribal art on clothing and accessories, making these even more sought after. A veteran in the Indian market, Ritu Kumar – the designer, continues to write the revival stories of long-forgotten Indian textiles, techniques and traditional art forms with each passing year and these certainly as a brand would continue to stay relevant for decades to come. This is testament to the adaptability and versatile nature of historic art forms that beckons contemporary renditions time and time again.

So is it okay to deduce that folk art is getting its share of spotlight in Indian fashion? We’ve got to a great start. The past few years have been very textile and weaving heavy with Indian designers heroing the country’s textiles in a big way. As a natural progression, we could expect to see more interest in Indian arts as well, and the fact that some of India’s sought after millennial designers have taken inspiration from folk art bears that out. Their projects are not only putting the spotlight on the craftsmanship, but also on the craftspeople and on their places of origin. By highlighting an important aspect of our heritage, they are making people around them more conscious while also helping the art stay alive. However, folk art has been a reference point for Indian designers over the years – any number of designers have used Kalamkari and Madhubani, but somehow in India it has never been a bigger movement.

So what’s changed now? What makes the current journey exciting is that indigenous art designs being available to a more urban premier market is now a sizeable possibility, but to what extent it takes off would very much be wait and watch.

As a die hard optimist I totally agree with Pluto who once said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work”.

Tulika Kedia
MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Indigenous tattoo art gets a new inning

In one way or the other, knowingly or unknowingly, as social animals we tend to exercise our intrinsic habit of strengthening our position within the larger community to which we belong.

There is enough evidence across cultures worldwide that highlight mankind’s inclination towards creating visual markers like body piercing and tattoos that collectively narrate the stories of the communities those marked bodies belonged to. With time, the culture of visual markers, especially tattoos, progressed from being interpreted to one that began to serve aesthetic purposes; denoting man made symbols of birth status, branding of certain sections of society and social rank, religious and spiritual emblems, protective charms for love and luck, and much more.

With increasing urbanisation, tattooing has gained popularity amongst urban youth as a form of self-expression. However, often I always used to wonder – is there an indigenous story from India that’s still untold? Little did I know that my quest would take me to discover a  goldmine of native tattoo art from the hinterlands of our majestic country!

My close association with Chhattisgarh and interactions with the Baiga tribe in the region sparked an interest, pushing me to deep dive into Godna/Gudna or  Godana art (the  art  of  mark  making  or  tattooing  as  it  is  known  today), that has become synonymous with this indigenous tribe that cuts across the states of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand as well. I was fascinated to discover that unlike modern tattooing (which I feel is largely individualistic), tribal tattoos from the region were rooted in collective memory of its inhabitants – origin myths, local religious beliefs, folklore, ancestor worship, representation of the natural environment and more, carrying a lot more value for the one who wear them and hold a shared language and meaning.

A Baiga woman showing the tattoos on her forehead.

Traditionally, Baiga women made elaborate tattoos on their forehead, arms, legs, back, neck and breasts. For Baigas, the Godna are strongly linked with the beauty of their women. They also believe that tattoos are carried into the afterlife because the ink integrates with the body itself. What’s enchanting is to see how the Baigas have interpreted the various elements of nature through this art. For example, they consider the cow’s eye to be beautiful and enigmatic, hence the ‘cow eye’ tattoo is often depicted on the breasts and the back. Patterns of triangular lines depict mountains and a motif of the sun is tattooed in the middle of the chest. Dots, crosses and circles are the other major shapes that are tattooed in a symmetrical manner between larger and thicker lines. The tattoo on the forehead consists of a symbolic moon shape in the middle and geometric lines continuing above the eyebrows – the placement of this tattoo, in particular, is the mark of being a Baiga.

Baiga tattoos use simple designs to denote culturally important aspects of their lifestyle.

It’s a known fact that the Baigas do not tattoo themselves, but use the services of women, called Badnins, who are essentially tattoo artists, having learnt the art from their mothers and grandmothers. Remarkable isn’t it – how the designs are made entirely from memory or oral history. An ink that is prepared using locally procured items such as ramtila oil and sal gum does the trick! There are a lot of myths and folklore on the origin of the Badnin community. One such folklore narrates the story of creation of the ‘Badi and Badnin’. Lord Indra (the Lord of the universe) was furious with other Gods and refused to shower the earth with rains. Lord Shiva and Parvati got very concerned and requested Naga Baiga and Naga Baigin to persuade Lord Indra to shower rain on earth. Naga Baigin did not possess any ornaments and hence Lord Shiva and Parvati created the Badi and Badnin who were given the task of  decorating the body of the Naga Baigin with tattoos, before she could meet Lord Indra!

In recent years, due to human migration, deforestation and enforcement of the Forest Protection Act, a section of the Baiga tribe have moved out of forest lands to live close to small towns and cities. Consequently, the Baiga women who live closer to the cities do not bear the elaborate traditional tattoos. While they still do have tattoos on their forehead, but instead of the lines and patterns on their arms and legs, they have been seen opting for smaller motifs which seemed to have been an influence of the Gond tribe.

Baiga Godna art pieces at the Kanha Museum of Life and Art. Both the works are done by a mother and daughter duo – work on the left is done by the mother Shanti Bai and work on the right is by the daughter Mangala Bai. The patterns used in the tattoos profess a deeper meaning that is understood within the community.

At Singinawa, we are committed to preserve indegenous art of the region across its various elements through the Kanha Museum of Life and Art. Existing within the estate, this 1,000 square foot museum sings an epic of the native Gond and Baiga artisans and their labors of love. In the year 2016, we began our journey of working in tandem with artists who are attempting to keep alive the dying Godna tattoo art through the medium of paintings. One such artist is Mangala Bai Marawi (daughter  of  Shanti  Devi) who is on a mission to preserve the metaphorical and intricate patterns of Godna, by bringing out the beauty of its numerous forms through her art on canvas. It’s indeed a sight to see. The configuration of  Godna  patterns  on  canvas stretched  across  like a painting lends it a contemporary look and feel, almost  in  the form of a constructivist art piece.

Mangala Bai creating one of her pieces, using ink on paper.

Personally, I feel that this art will see a wider ray of light in times ahead. The interests being shown by tribal women who are committed to improvise the art form by painting ‘Godna’ on fabrics, silk, canvas, wall and doors and various other means, instead of just body painting speaks volume.

Indeed, an array of artists are predicting this art’s future by CREATING IT!!!

Tulika Kedia
MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Flavours at Singinawa – the essence of farm to table

Experiencing a stay in the wilderness is a great way to break away from the hustle and bustle of city life and recharge one’s batteries. A big part of any retreat is what one eats. Singinawa is known for its top notch hospitality services. Harnessing mother nature’s goodness, not just in the lodge’s setup, but also in the food we serve is an integral part of our brand ethos. Food at Singinawa is an exotic journey of flavours that our guests enjoy with birdsong resonating the ambience.

Aakib, our head chef, choosing the freshest of the vegetables from our organic kitchen garden.

Our organic farm is the handiwork of devoted members. A patchwork of leafy lettuce heads, pulpy tomatoes, sparkling radishes and bouncy spinach are a wonder to behold. Our team of chefs, headed by Aakib Ali and Mobin Khan, are equally passionate about using only the choicest produce and dishing out elaborate spreads bursting with wholesome goodness. Our farming technique aims to maximise yield through natural crop rotations to keep weeds and pests down to a manageable level, rather than being trigger happy with chemical sprays.

Salads made with the fresh produce plucked from our kitchen garden are a regular feature in our menus.

The farm-to-table or the farm to fork model of preparing and consuming food has nutritional benefits and is environment-friendly; one which is in sync with the healthy food revolution around the world. Up to the year 1700 or so, traditional forms of agriculture prevailed in India. In general this was sustainable agriculture, producing enough to meet local needs, and using a wide variety of ‘organic’ techniques. These included recycling all organic material, the use of locally-adapted crop strains from a large gene pool, crop rotations and intercropping, incorporating legumes and biological pest control.  Livestock rearing was integrated with crop growing. On a global scale, this concept’s germination can be traced back to the 1960s and ’70s in United States, thanks to the acclaimed chef Alice Waters. She was the first to use produce from local farms at her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, which she opened in 1971. Waters found this produce fresher and more flavourful than the preserved produce used by other restaurants. As Chef Waters found fame, the movement continued to grow steadily towards the end of the 20th century in the US. By the beginning of the 21st century, the concept had started to spread to India and other parts of Asia.

I believe that the farm to table movement is not just about knowing what is on one’s plate but also about understanding what one is consuming and from where the ingredients are being sourced. Above all it also entails knowing whether or not they are being grown in a wholesome and sustainable manner. We grow rocket leaves, basil, beetroot, bitter gourd, brinjal, broccoli, capsicum, chilli, cucumber, dill, leek, lettuce, okra, parsley, carrot, spinach, thyme and tomato, in addition to kodo and kutki – two highly popular local grains (one cannot afford to miss savouring the porridge like kheer prepared using these grains). These local supplies are loaded with nutrients such as vitamins, enzymes, minerals and other micronutrients compared to those from conventional farms. This is because we manage and nourish our organic farms using sustainable practices. Our team relies on developing a healthy, fertile soil to grow a mixture of crops that are bursting with flavor. So our guests can  be rest assured it tastes great too. Not just that, fresh-baked and traditional dishes are made in the wood-fired oven, which uses fire wood obtained from pruning and cleaning the property’s trees.

A live pasta counter setup for lunch in Lair (the indoor dining space), where chef Mobin is using fresh herbs from our kitchen garden to make yummy pastas with sauces of your choice.

Traditional Indian cuisines along with modern and contemporary dishes served at our dining venues provide a satisfying culinary experience to our guests with delightful creations that are made from freshly plucked greens of our in-house vegetable and herb garden. Nature is indeed the inspiration of creativity! A recipe which I put together amidst the wilderness has become a hit with our guests. We prepare a rice dish which is wrapped and steamed in home grown banana leaves. A thick curry paste  filled with the aroma of ground spices and condiments is placed on top of the rice, sealed together and steamed for a scrumptious main course delicacy.

A basket full of fresh vegetables handpicked by the guests for their dinner preparations.

What else is in store for our guests? Our in-house naturalists organise tours of our farm – crushing fragrant basil between fingers or feeling the juicy burst of a cucumber in your mouth is an experience not to be missed. We offer options like ‘pick your own vegetables or fruits’, and give them to the chef to cook. Our guests thoroughly enjoy picking their local food from our farm and be a part of the entire cooking experience. Our team of chefs take a very open approach toward cooking and are always excited to happily learn how to make new things from our guests or teach them their recipes!

A live cooking demo along with the chef, where the guests are learning to make their favourite Indian dishes, using fresh vegetables and spices.

We regularly set up open-air kitchens, where guests can learn to prepare an array of dishes such as garden fresh salad teamed with pasta cooked in farm fresh tomato sauce. How can we forget Mahua, the region’s local brew? The smell of fermenting mahua (Madhuca longifolia) flowers and woodsmoke hanging heavy in the air makes for a perfect DIY session. People come from different places, often with their children, and we explain to them about farming and nature. It is of no surprise that these experiences lend an additional sense of contentment to our guests. Our specially curated barbeque jungle dinner continues to be a hit with our guests. Performance by  Baiga dancers adds to the aura of the night and watching our guests join the dance sessions always makes me emotional! Oh, how I can instantly feel the rhythmic beating of the Baiga drums reverberating in the cool jungle air!!!

To add to all these culinary experiences, guests at Singinawa have the luxury of multiple spots to choose from when it comes to enjoying their thoughtfully sourced meal. Our indoor dining area or a spot under the glistening stars, we offer it all. Bonfire sessions that casts a rosy hue in surrounding sets everything aglow. For those who prefer solitude, sitting next to the windows that frame the grasslands outside makes for a cosy and private setting, from where guests can see small insects and creatures flitting around.

A breakfast setup on the terrace adjoining our dining area Lair, overlooking the adjoining canopy of the forest.

We cannot wait to welcome you all to visit us and experience a culinary journey which would carry you through the very essence of India. Let the feasting begin!

Tulika Kedia
MD, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

The unexpected lizard

Walking around in the morning to see the amazing wildlife that abodes within the Singinawa Jungle Lodge premises is the norm these days. When I start a walk, I always have some expectations. Usually, these include some birds and butterflies.

On one particular morning recently, I had similar expectations in my mind; and I was not disappointed. Several beautiful birds and butterflies made their appearances and I was able to even photograph some of them. All of a sudden, I saw something scurry across the path I was walking on.

Fan-throated Lizard (1 of 1)
Most species of fan-throated lizards prefer rocky and barren habitats. But the one we have in Kanha (and most parts of Central India) is quite at home on the forest floor littered with fallen leaves.

Fan-throated Lizard back (1 of 1)
The beautiful pattern on the lizard’s back breaks its outline and helps it blend in the surroundings.

I immediately realised that it was a lizard, but was not able to recognise which one, as the lizard disappeared into the leaf litter next to the pathway. The grounds of Singinawa are home to some fantastic lizards, including beautiful bent-toed geckos, mysterious agamas and the rarely-encountered fan-throated lizards. Expecting the lizard to be one of these, I began to investigate the immediate surroundings, hoping to find the lizard. The lizard was quite well camouflaged in the leaf litter, and had plenty of places to hide. So it took me some time to find it. To my thrill and surprise, it turned out to be a young fan-throated lizard!

Fan-throated lizards are named so because of the presence of a fan-shaped patch of skin (called dewlap) on the neck of the males. This patch of skin is not usually visible, but during the breeding seasons, males use this as a visual signal to attract females and warn rival males. Some species of fan-throated lizards have brilliantly-coloured dewlaps. But the one present in Kanha has a dewlap mostly lacking any bright colours, except for a small blue line running down from its chin.

Fan-throated Lizard close (1 of 1)
After a little while, the lizard got used to us being around and even posed for us. Notice the pale blue line on the chin.

As it is rare to find this lizard in the Singinawa premises (the last time I had seen one was in the summer of 2017), I called my fellow naturalists to have a look. The lizard became comfortable with our presence in a short while, and was soon moving on the forest floor looking for food in the form small insects. It took the lizard long to catch anything, but it eventually ended up catching a juicy, decent-sized, green-coloured cricket. It very carefully muted down the cricket, avoiding its spiny hind legs.

Fan-throated Lizard with kill and teeth (1 of 1)
The spiny projections on the upper jaw of the lizard can be seen in this photo. These act as teeth and help the lizard get a grip on its prey.

Fan-throated Lizard with kill close (1 of 1)
Although the cricket was not a very big one, the young lizard took a long while to eat it.

By this time, I had spent close to an hour with the amazing lizard, and decided to leave it and continue on my walk. But now I had no expectations in my mind, as the unexpected fan-throated lizard has made my day.

Fan-throated Lizard pose (1 of 1)
Fan-throated lizards are terrestrial reptiles, but will climb up on short shrubs and bushes either to follow their prey or to escape danger.

Sachin Sharma
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Birding with my ears

As I have a habit of getting up early for the safaris, even on days when I don’t have a safari (like nowadays), my sleep still breaks very early in the morning. On some days, this does not bother me much. But on other days this feels like a curse. On one such morning recently, while it was still dark outside, I heard a bird calling at these super-early hours. The familiar ‘brain-fever, brain-fever,…’ calls filled my ears.

This was the Common Hawk-Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius) calling, to invite a suitor to mate with. To remember the calls, sometimes phrases which can be used as sing-alongs with the bird calls are used. Such a phrase is called ‘mnemonic’. The ‘brain-fever, brain-fever,…’ is one of the most familiar mnemonics used to refer to a bird call in India.

Common Hawk-Cuckoo
Because of its peculiar call, the Common Hawk-Cuckoo is called ‘papiha‘ in Hindi.

As dawn breaks and I step outside my room, another familiar call fills my ears. The whistling calls of Puff-throated Babbler (Pellorneum ruficeps) can be best remembered by memorising the mnemonic associated with it, ‘I hate you, I hate you,…’. Once again, on most days this does not bother me. But when the bird selects a perch right outside my window and sings at loud decibels while I’m still in bed, I can’t help but reciprocate with my own ‘I hate you too!’ calls (in my head of course).

Puff-throated Babbler-4
The Puff-throated Babbler is an inconspicuous bird mostly, merging in with the leaf litter while foraging on the forest floor, but can be easily traced while singing.

But not all bird calls can be remembered by using mnemonics. Another common singer during the early hours around my house is the Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis). The sparrow-sized, black and white bird can sing many melodious tunes and can, to a certain extent, mimic other birds too. Thus, assigning a mnemonic to this bird becomes difficult.

When it comes to mimicking other birds though, there is no one better than the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) in these parts. The mimics this drongo does are extremely difficult to tell apart from the sounds of the original birds. Why this bird has this ability, no one knows for sure. One reason could be that the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, which is often seen as a part of mixed hunting flocks (birds of various species moving together as one flock), imitates the sounds of other birds to invite them, and thus initiates the formation of mixed hunting flocks. If this was to be true, then the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo does so for selfish reasons. I have seen the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo imitate the sound of a Changeable Hawk-Eagle when it notices another bird with a morsel in its beak, only to snatch it from the alarmed bird while it’s looking for the non-existent predator.

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo is a great mimic of many bird calls, and some other sounds too.

While we are talking about melodious songsters, there is no one sweeter (in my opinion) than the shy White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) in Kanha. Come summer, males of the species adopt a bolder demeanour and from a conspicuous post sing in their melodious voices to impress a lady. To hear a White-rumped Shama sing its heart out in the wild is definitely an experience not easily forgotten.

White-rumped Shama male-4
It is the male of the White-rumped Shama who sings. Because of the melodious songs, the bird is in high demand as a cage bird.

Not all birds are soothing to the ears though. On occasional afternoons when I try to enjoy a siesta, a flock of Jungle Babblers (Argya striata) has made it a point to create a ruckus with their sharp and irritating sounds right outside my window. Members in a Jungle Babbler flock continually communicate with each other vocally. Their harsh, and sometimes nasal, sounds have a purpose – they warn other members of the flock, who might be busy feeding, of any approaching danger. But one can be less bothered about the purpose for these calls when the afternoon slumber is repeatedly disturbed.

Jungle Babbler
The Jungle Babbler is a social bird, and always found in a flock.

This is the time (March-April) when the resident birds in Kanha start their breeding rituals. This often involves singing to proclaim a territory, attract a mate or warn rivals. Throughout the day, one can hear several birds singing, and sometimes many of them simultaneously. It would be difficult to pick a favourite one. But one sound that I particularly look forward to listening to is that of the Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus). It can be easily identified by remembering the mnemonic ‘One more bottle!’, and in the evening, it is a suggestion that I choose not to ignore.

(You can visit the website https://www.xeno-canto.org to listen to the sounds of the birds I have mentioned here and many other birds too.)

Pranad Patil
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

Traces left behind

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Walking trail at Singinawa Jungle Lodge.

One of the greatest pleasures of going on a nature walk is getting the opportunity to step into the natural world and experiencing the marvels of nature. You must always be aware of the fact that there is all sorts of life around you, whether crouched behind bushes, perched on trees, hiding in their burrows or perhaps some small creatures that might catch your attention.

Take some time to relish and explore your journey through the trails, as there are so many hidden clues you may stumble upon. Hoof marks of deer in search of fresh grass, pug marks of big cats out patrolling its grounds after dusk or possibly different kinds of droppings, are some of the few indicators of these mysterious and elusive creatures. At most times, just these signs will give you a deeper understanding about where and what the animal was up to.

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For instance, a small animal has made this patch of dry Lantana into its makeshift den.

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Camera trap used for capturing images of nocturnal life.

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Sometimes we get lucky. For instance, getting this Indian Crested Porcupine (above) and a Small Indian Civet (below) in one of our camera traps was a lucky.

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Colour of the droppings in the picture above indicate a high amount of calcium intake in the animal’s diet.

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To show the size reference, use objects in your surroundings. For instance, I’ve used a matchstick.

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Pellet-like droppings indicate the presence of ungulates.

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Fallen honeycomb in the middle of the track.

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Nest made by the Red-wattled Lapwing.

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Dismantled termite mounds act as hiding grounds for many smaller predators.

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Rains wash away all the evidences left and create a brand new canvas for fresh tracks.

Once you learn to identify various tracks, signs and sounds around you, you can begin to follow their trails and discover different activities they might be engaging in. From feeding areas to denning or roosting sites, underground shelters and more, you’ll soon discover endless secrets of the wild world!

Namrata Bhandari
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

A colourful delight

India is home to an amazing array of floral diversity. The Central Indian landscape is no exception to this. Although there are many attractive flowers to talk about, I have a personal favourite – the Palash or the Flame of the Forest tree (scientifically known as Butea monosperma).

In the month of March, when usually the Hindu festival of colours Holi occurs, this tree blooms with brilliant orange-coloured flowers. During the blooming season, the tree sheds all its leaves, and only the flowers are present. The large, flame-shaped flowers give the appearance of a tree on fire when seen from afar. Thus the name Flame of the Forest. The flowers are even used as a source of natural orange die, used to make colour which is used for playing Holi.

FOTF Palash (1 of 1)
A bunch of Palash flowers.

The flowers are big and colourful to attract birds, butterflies and other insects, which come to feed on the nectar, but end up pollinating the flowers. Here are some images of birds which have visited the flowering Palash trees in out property recently, including some really rare and special ones.

Crimson Sunbird with FOTF1 (1 of 1)
The Crimson Sunbird is a rarity for Kanha.

FOTF with Chestnut-shouldered Petronia (1 of 1)
A male Yellow-throated Sparrow.

Golden Fronted Leafbird (1 of 1)
A Golden-fronted Leafbird.

FOTF with Jungle Babbler (1 of 1)
A pair of Jungle Babblers, which were part of a larger flock.

FOTF with Oriental White-eye (1 of 1)
An Indian White-eye.

A few butterflies and other insects were also regularly seen visiting the flowers, but given the height of the trees, it was not easy to photograph them.

Sachin Sharma
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge

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