I step out of my cottage at the Jehan Numa Retreat in Bhopal, and am greeted by rows of cabbage heads peeping from rosette-like leaves. Beside them grow scarlet lilies, carom, and green peas, all neatly labelled. I split a pod and pop the sweet peas into my mouth. Almost everywhere I walk around at Jehan Numa, I end up being near or among some of the 2,500 plants and trees spread across this 12-acre property. My breakfast is served under the canopy of an overhanging jamun tree.
Beneath the comforts and luxuries it offers, Jehan Numa is wild at heart: Much of its land is covered in tawny mulch and it lies at the edge of the leafy Van Vihar National Park, more a zoological park really. It is easy to forget that I am just three kilometres away from Bhopal’s city centre, chock-full of honking two-wheelers. In 15 minutes I can be in the chaotic, colourful bazaars of the old city or in the Nizami food haven of Chatori Galli, where stalls sell biryanis, niharis, and kebabs. A ten-minute drive takes me to one of three museums in the vicinity. I can conveniently explore the nooks and crannies of this historical city, visit old masjids, and fortify myself with cups of the sweet and salty Sulaimani chai.
Inside the resort, time ticks away unhurriedly, at a pace I come to relish. One afternoon, armed with a pickaxe, I plant a bael tree on the grounds. Another evening, I fly kites with the property’s gardeners, Aslam and Rakesh. I try my hand at croquet, a game I had imagined I’d only play if I ended up in the manicured lawns of an English club. Here, the loops, poles, balls, and mallets needed for the game are set up in a small area near a vegetable patch. A couple of metres away, I hear loud splashes followed by squeals—definitely the British couple with two impish boys I met earlier, plunging into the resort’s swimming pool. I see other guests trying their hand at golf, spending languid hours at the spa, or simply taking long walks around the place.
Jehan Numa’s accommodation is in cottages which are arranged in five clusters. Their earthy, rustic exterior belies the modern decor inside the sprawling rooms. What I most look forward to is dusk, when I take book and journal to my private, sheltered sit-out area and read by candlelight. The rustling of banyan trees, fuzzy purple fountain grass, and birdsong are just the company I need.
On my last day, I visit Van Vihar, the adjacent 4.5-square-kilometre park that can be explored by car, bicycle, or on foot. I decide to walk, and soon find myself flanked by Bada Talaab (Upper Lake) on the left. To my right, beyond a pond, I see deer and nilgai roam freely. Carnivores like the tiger, leopard, and hyena are kept in large enclosures. As dusk falls, some picnickers stay behind to watch the sun sink into the lake. I return to the resort, to another kind of quiet, with the winter browns and golds of the jungle etched in my mind.
Appeared in the March 2016 issue as “Wild At Heart”.
Jehan Numa Retreat has 28 rooms in five cottage clusters. The spacious cottages have sloping roofs and private sit-outs overlooking the property’s gardens (96301 48397; www.jehannuma.com/jnr; doubles from ₹12,000, including breakfast).
Jehan Numa Retreat is 18 km/30 min south of Bhopal airport, which has direct daily flights from Delhi and Mumbai. It lies 10 km/20 min southwest of Bhopal railway station, which is well connected to major Indian cities.
is Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns and collecting owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.
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