Denwa Backwater Escape was magical. This is the first hotel review that I’m struggling with. (And if you’ve seen some of the places we’ve stayed at, you’ll understand the significance of such a claim). On a Safari trip in India where the stay takes an absolute backseat to animal spotting and nature trails, Denwa Backwater Escape managed to leave me speechless. The thing is, there aren’t physical characteristics of design or amenities to write home about (well there are, but that’s not what stands out). The experience of a stay at Denwa Backwater Escape is far more visceral than that.
It’s located in a relatively untouched countryside as far as the National Parks of India go. Satpura is a raw expanse of Sal forest fed by the various waters that run into and past it. Teeming with wildlife, as opposed to tourists, this is a land that still belongs to the earth. Settled on the very edge of it, a short drive from the Madhai gate to the park, Denwa Backwater Escape is a luxury lodge that respectfully gives centre stage to nature.
We arrived after a long drive through rugged country roads and were instantly welcomed with a languid lunch at the main building. The dining room sat above the office, and was tastefully decorated to suit its stature as a hunting lodge. A large dining table spanned the length of the room, with a fireplace at one end and a buffet counter at the other. What fascinated me the most though, were a series of vintage style sketches of the fauna of the region. Deer, Blackbuck, Jackal and Mongoose peered at us from the walls. But life at Denwa isn’t meant to be lived indoors. We relinquished our spot in the cool air conditioning and stepped out onto the verandah at the back. Shaded by a roof, protected by the trees, it still allowed the whistling winds from the backwaters ahead to encircle us playfully. Settling down here for the afternoon, watching various creatures collect at the watering hole, listening to birds and trying to spot them hidden in the trees was the kind of rare privilege that stays with you forever. By nightfall, hors d’oeuvres to accompany our drinks, a delicious dinner (I loved the local food the most) were brought out by the most delightful wait staff, ever a smile on their faces.
The villas at Denwa Backwater Escape are meant not to escape into, but to allow the elements in. A gigantic feature window let us watch over the land from our bed. A terrace that we barely used would have been perfect for a breakfast or dinner with a view. A beautiful deck allowed us to empty our minds and listen to nothing but our own breathing rendered melodious by birdsong. I settled into the large and comfortable leather deck chair, splaying my arms across the rests, tossing my head back and watching the rain advancing from the Panchmarhi hills in the distance. It was like watching layer after layer gradually disappearing behind a loud white veil as the rains reached me. Within, the rooms were elegant. Touches of the colonial jungle aesthetic like leather strapped valises for bedside tables and desks, faux antlers, and warm upholstery put me in the safari frame of mind. The large walk in closet and bath was simple and outdoorsy with wood fittings.
Every room at every Pugdundee Safaris property comes kitted out with a animal/ bird checklist. Armed with that, and a fabulous presentation by the passionate in-house naturalists we were all set to discover the beauteous gems of the jungle. Offering a range of safari options that included a boat safari, walking safari, elephant safari and more, there was no dearth of ways to enjoy and explore Satpura National Park’s core and buffer zones. We began with a night safari the day we arrived, spotting the Indian Hare, Nightjar, an unidentified owl and what would be the first of several herds of Chital (spotted deer). With a spotter flashing a light from the passenger seat, we were thrilled to unearth the dark jungle’s secrets after sunset. The next day, we set out on two safaris; one at sunrise, the other at sunset. To enter the core area of the park, we had to cross the river on a short 5 minute boat ride. Seeing the water buffaloes scoffing at us as they paddled across was delightful. Being my first ever safari experience in India, I was thrilled by the long and varied list of creatures we spotted. Chital (spotted deer), Sambar (Deer), Langur (Monkey), Gaur (Indian Bison), Sloth Bear, Wild Boar, Nilgai (Blue Bull) and the elusive Leopard among the mammals. We also spotted a couple of snakes and Monitor Lizards. The White Crested Eagle, Weaver Birds, Common and Pied Kingfishers, Peacocks, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Lapwing, Indian Pita, Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Ducks, Cormorants, Cranes, Storks, Indian Roller, Black Hatted Golden Oriole, and lots of other birds flew around us.
Through each of these safaris, the talented and hard working naturalists (specifically Raju and Anurag) would keep their eyes and ears peeled for signs of animals (on the ground, in the trees, in the distance) and for questions from us. They usually had all the answers, and were only too happy to be given a chance to talk on their favourite topic. Stopping halfway at a designated clearing, they’d whip out a complete picnic with tablecloth et all, so we could refuel before continuing on. We’d always return so exhilarated and always have something to chatter on about.
I never thought of myself as much of an outdoorsy person, but a place like Denwa Backwater Escape makes it so easy to let go of your city airs and give in to the raw elements, enjoying them like you never thought you would. If you’re intrigued, check out our First Timer’s Guide to Safaris in India and we’re pretty sure you’ll be thinking of us from this sweet spot in Satpura.
This post was made possible by Pugdundee Safaris. Opinions, as always are our own.