Forsyth Lodge makes every effort to tread as lightly as possible on the ecosystem. We make exciting encounters with nature possible for our guests through sustainable tourism. Our conservation model is based on active involvement and motivation from locals and people relocated from tribal villages. We spread awareness, provide sustainable means of livelihood and enable them to take on the onus of protection and conservation. Together, we help give back to our environment and the community.
These efforts are reflected in the care with which our buildings are constructed, how we manage and recycle water, and the manner in which we find better alternatives to existing technology. Our 12 mud cottages and the lodge building are constructed with cob, husk and cow dung, and minimal use of concrete, by local villagers. The mud walls regulate temperature better, reducing the use of air conditioning and heaters.
We encourage our guests to walk in the park and the buffer zones and use non-motorized safaris like canoes to reduce the dependency on vehicles.
Our concern is reflected in the responsible practices we employ to aid the return of the jungle in the property and surrounding areas. We have managed to tackle two obstacles to the regeneration of the forest: the lack of plant diversity and an “invasion” by aggressively spreading Lantana. We replace the Lantana with a diversity of indigenous trees, shrubs and climbers every monsoon. This ongoing project is carried out in consultation with ecology and reforestation experts to help restore the natural habitat. We invite our guests to plant trees in the property and at the local school, allowing them to feel connected to the region. All the trees are indigenous species that keep the local forest’s Eco diversity intact.
As the forest slowly and steadily returns to the area, we do everything in our capacity to welcome it with open arms. Our property uses wild fencing by and large, rather than wire or electrified fencing, to ensure the unhindered movement of species across their preferred routes. Most of our 44 acres are undeveloped, allowing the natural ecosystem to flourish, and it is not uncommon for us to walk past shy spotted deer or catch sight of a few wild boar! Over several years, we’ve planted a careful distribution of indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses, ensuring adequate shelter within the lodge area for small mammals. We’ve dug several waterholes across the property to ensure that these species have reliably safe access to water.
Grey Water Recycling
We recycle our water through efficient and eco-friendly systems. Grey water from the cottages passes through filtration pits into lily ponds. A reed bed system filters grey water from our kitchens.
Our vegetable and food waste are used in composting along with dry leaves collected from inside the property. The leaf litter is used as a top layer for the garden to help retain moisture and leach organic nutrients as the dead leaf is broken down. The compost enriches our garden soil and helps us produce the freshest herbs and vegetables in our small kitchen garden.
Garbage is segregated into paper, plastic, glass, metal and foil and sent to the nearby village for recycling and sold to the local kabadiwala.
Forsyth Lodge works on the principle that efforts to preserve wildlife and valuable habitats can succeed only with active participation of the surrounding communities.
Benefitting Local Communities
Most of our staff is hired locally from neighbouring and relocated tribal villages. They have been carefully trained to work to international standards. Women from the nearby villages come in to cook for our guests once a week – an initiative begun to equip them with great catering skills that could be put to use in the future. They also work with us to create macramé bags and plant holders, another initiative begun to help them develop new skills.
At Forsyth, we do our utmost to encourage local entrepreneurship and create revenue streams through tourism for the villagers. To further this initiative we’ve tied up with a local taxi service from Sarangpur village for all cab transfers from Bhopal Airport, as well as for short hops. We continue to seed other forms of local entrepreneurship by sourcing many of our needs through local contacts.
Community and Conservation
Mindful of the fact that laws protecting habitats can take away livelihoods and pitchfork people into confrontation with policies, we have partnered with the forest department in training fishermen to work the boats and canoes, and in training villagers to become trackers. We have created a system of rewards for locals who reliably report wildlife activity in the buffer zone. We share the information about sightings with the Forest Department, and enlist locals to help track animals and inform us of any wood cutting, poaching, trapping or illegal activity.
Conservation and working with the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department is key to what we do. Our naturalists participate and help organise a Bird Survey in Satpura in conjunction with the Forest Department, a few other lodges and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Pachmarhi Station. We help with department initiatives like maintaining waterholes in the buffer zone and promotion of non-motorised wildlife activities like walking and canoe safaris. We assist the Forest Department with guide training, etiquettes on sightings, guest handling, conduct on walking trails etc.
Mudflat conservation is important when the river runs dry before the nesting season starts in February. We hire locals boys to keep a round-the-clock watch on cattle, dogs and people venturing too close to the even more vulnerable nesting grounds on the mudflats completely exposed without the natural barrier of the river.
Organic Produce Pilot Project
We have set-up a an organic garden where we grow a range of crops: four types of lettuce, 2 types of basil, 4 varieties of tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, corn, spinach and a range of herbs and edible flowers. At present the new garden supplies to the lodge, but moving forward we aim to use it as a teaching space and resource for local farmers. With this model garden, we can showcase organic farming best practices: composting; companion planting; mulching, a diverse variety of nutrient dense crops, provide livelihood opportunities to small-scale farmers, create a source and market for organic produce and educate farmers about the benefits of eating fresh, nutrient-rich, organic produce. Part of the produce from our garden also goes into sending lunches and snacks to the local school, lovingly called ‘jungle chaat’.
Our vision is to create a holistic model for conservancy both in terms of preserving the natural habitat for the wildlife in the area and building the means to enhance rather than take from it. We want to make sure that the locals don’t need to infringe upon the forest area as they can be well sustained without it.
As in most of rural India, the villages in the area have an orthodox mindset towards working women. We’re making efforts to change this by employing women at the lodge.
The ‘village lunch’ served to our guests is local cuisine completely prepared by the women, cooked on a traditional wood and cow dung fire.
Farming is a natural skillset among these women and we are working with them to teach organic farming techniques that can help create a revenue stream selling vegetables and greens to local lodges and the forest department. We are also teaching them macramé knotting techniques to help rejuvenate skills which have been lost over time. They have started with a few designs for plant hangers and bags which are marketed to guests and some shops across cities. We are also experimenting with creating dyes from the local trees (bougainvillea and palash) for colour.
The women manage the upkeep of the premises and even take care of the mud cottages after the rains and during the season with lipai.
Supporting the Government School
Additional support is given to the Forest Department for its school contact program, “Anubhuti” which includes children from rural schools being taken into the national parks and being taught about the ecosystem, the flora and the fauna. We believe in inculcating a sense of awareness and responsibility towards the environment at an early age. With this as the foundation, we have begun a Nature Club in the school where our naturalists educate the village children about local species and help them share our enthusiasm for wildlife. We augment this effort through nature walks and little trips to the park.
We support the Government school in Sarangpur village in several other ways. With the contribution of our guests, we have been able to implement several improvements in the school infrastructure.
Over the years we have helped source essentials like tables, books, benches, clothing and more. Our naturalists have come forward to sponsor the pay of a substitute teacher — an arrangement that helped solve staffing problems at the time and employ a qualified local.
Forsyth Lodge is a member of Travel Operators for Tigers India (TOFT) which is a campaign to create a strongly responsible ethic in the conduct of wildlife tourism so that the benefits of tourism are harnessed for conservation and the negatives are minimised. TOFT operates an eco-audit certification programme called the PUG audit and Forsyth has been rated as OUTSTANDING – the highest rating.