Chambal Safari Lodge – Mela Kothi
National Chambal Sanctuary, India
Transformation of a 19th century heritage property into an eco-enterprise – a hub for nature and cultural heritage restoration
Mela Kothi – Chambal Safari Lodge is a shining example of how a heritage property can be transformed into a thriving eco-enterprise which is helping to restore and protect the natural and cultural heritage of a previously little-known area. Conservationists Ram Pratap Singh and Anu Dhillon have lovingly restored their 19th century family inheritance. Its surrounding 35 acres near the National Chambal Sanctuary have been transformed into a thriving habitat of woodland, pasture and water bodies. 198 species of birds, mammals and reptiles can now be spotted in and around the property.
Two International Bird Festivals in 2015 and 2016 hosted at the lodge with over 200 experts from 29 countries in 2016 have put the Chambal Valley firmly on the international conservation map to help secure its continuing protection. The lodge’s Chambal Conservation Foundation is playing an active role in providing intelligence on wildlife and protecting the gharial population, a critically endangered species.
Birdwatching activities at Mela Kothi
Guests benefit from the lodge’s nature expertise with comprehensive checklists of birds, mammals and reptiles to look out for and guided nature walks, river, jeep and camel safaris. The lodge’s team is also playing an active role in educating schoolchildren and the local community about nature and wildlife. Its annual Wildlife Conservation Week has attracted close to 20,000 children from Agra and nearby rural schools since 2004.
Mela Kothi’s enterprising efforts don’t stop there. Its Foundation was instrumental in getting nearby Holipura declared a heritage village. It played a key role in initiating the restoration of the Ater Fort and has developed a Heritage Management Plan for Bateshwar, a pilgrimate site, to help the sustainable development of this historic site.
Nearby Holipura declared a heritage village with guided tours opening up new livelihood opportunities for local people.
A range of new businesses and livelihood opportunities for local communities have been catalysed with their support including dhabas (eateries), homestays and guided tours. Camel safaris are operated with the help of local camel-owners, marginal farmers who formerly used their camels for ferrying illegally felled timber. The lodge is also part of an innovative 207 km bicycle highway launched in 2016 as a tourism and social outreach project connecting 92 remote villages. A further enterprise initiative is under development for the community using local waste products (rags, paper and agricultural waste) to manufacture handmade paper and generate clean power. Most of the lodge’s 32 staff are local, three of them female.
LED or CFL bulbs throughout the property and star rated appliances are used to minimize energy. The purchase of local produce is a priority to reduce carbon footprint and support local enterprise. Water conservation measures are in place to complement the lodge’s rainwater harvesting, natural pathways and planting with indigenous trees and shrubs which help to replenish ground water.
Putting birdlife on the international map and protecting gharials, a critically endangered species on IUCN’s Red List