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In the heart of a Sal forest

Nestled amidst the pristine forest of Kanha National Park is Anirudh and Sheema Mukherjee’s home – the Salban Homestay. Architects Meghana Kulkarni and Pooja Chaphalkar of M+P Architects, made a conscious effort to create the homestay as an extension of the forest by creating minimum disturbance to the surrounding ecosystem.

Kanha National Park, cuddled in the Maikal range of Satpuras in Madhya Pradesh, once has been the source of inspiration for Rudyard Kipling for his outstanding creation – ‘The Jungle Book’. The landscapes and the surrounding luxurious meadows along with the wooded strands and the dense maroons of forests offer magnanimous sightseeing experiences for the nature lovers. Making the land more beautiful and adorable, the crystal-clear streams amidst the dense jungle cleanses the surroundings and makes the wildlife unrivalled.

When Anirudh, a wildlife consultant who runs a wildlife travel company called Earthcamps and Sheema who is an editor with Lonely Planet and an avid traveller herself decided to build a home cum homestay in this vivacious land that forms the central Indian highlands, they opted for one that blends into the forest and the surroundings. Both Sheema and Anirudh are interested in Indian regional and international cuisines and have also written books on food. Growing their own food, and making their own Mahua alcohol was one of the many objectives of their shift to the village of Baherakhar. The couple’s love for nature and absolute commitment for wildlife conservation is evident in the way the project is designed – as a home and not as a resort. Hence the involvement with the surroundings formed an integral part of the daily life, just like it is for tribals from the village of Baherakhar.

Set in the boundary of the enchanting forest, Salban, the homestay’s name itself is inspired by its location – ‘in the heart of a Sal forest’. Salban is located towards the Mukki gate of the buffer zone of the Kanha National Park and shares a common boundary with the core zone of the Park. A water body belonging to the village of Baherakhar often attracted predatory animals. Hence a boundary was demarcated by a chain-link fence by the forest department. This boundary could have created a notion that the forest is beyond. But the architects created the homestay as an extension of the forest.

The beauty of the location is the esoteric surrounding complimented with the local architecture of mud houses with tiled roof and no concrete or cement in sight. Anirudh and Sheema wanted their home to have this ambience which seamlessly blended into the forest as well as with the village surroundings. And thus, this became the brief to architects Meghana and Pooja. The architects followed by the brief, went for a totally eco-friendly structure. A suitable bungalow with a quirky colonial flavour, large covered verandahs on a tight budget using all the locally available material, expertise and labour.

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