Wildlife Stay: Safari Thrills and Forest Quiet at Kipling Camp in Kanha

Plus, bonfire evenings and bath time with Tara, the resident elephant.  
Tara Kipling Camp Madhya Pradesh
Tara, the resident elephant, was given to the camp by writer Mark Shand, who immortalized her in his book “Travels on my Elephant”. Photo courtesy Kipling Camp

Flushed from the cold wind, and thrilled after the many animal sightings during a morning safari in Kanha National Park, my husband and I plonked ourselves in cane chairs covered with bright, floral cushions. Sunlight filtered through the broad leaves of a mahua tree, throwing dappled patterns on the mud floor.

We were sitting outside the Shamiana, the dining room and common space of Kipling Camp, a property located in the buffer zone near Kanha’s Kisli gate. As we waited for steaming mugs of coffee to arrive, I watched pairs of yellow butterflies dance in tight spirals. The strands of a gigantic spider’s web, woven between two branches of a tree, glistened in the mid-morning sun. All around us, we could hear birds hidden in the thick canopies of over 30 different varieties of trees that grow on the 25-acre property. There was a racket-tailed drongo—easy to identify by its long distinctive tail—which can imitate the calls of nearly ten other kinds of birds. The black-headed oriole was also easy to spot, its bright yellow feathers standing out amidst the green as it hopped from branch to branch.

From the Shamiana, two paths snake out, lined by white painted rocks that reflect moonlight at night, guiding guests to their cottages without the need for a torch. Cottages are set away from one another and surrounded by trees, giving each a sense of privacy. Hammocks are invitingly slung nearby. From the outside, the cottages look just like the ones we spotted in villages en route to Kipling Camp, with whitewashed walls and sloping tiled roofs. Inside, the stone floor was cool, and wooden beams lined the high ceiling. On the walls, were framed Gond and Warli paintings, and infographics about local trees.

Kipling Camp Madhya Pradesh

There are no boundary walls at Kipling Camp. Lying in a hammock in the late evening, it is possible to see deer sauntering through the property. Photo courtesy Kipling Camp

At one end of the property is a watering hole, the domain of a noisy flock of brown and white ducks during most of the day. During early mornings and late evenings, deer and other small animals drop by too. Some of the rooms have sit-outs from where guests can keep watch for these visitors.

The camp’s owner, Belinda Wright, grew up visiting Kanha often with her parents Bob and Anne Wright who started it in 1982. She has strong ties with the local community, with whom she works to resolve the man-animal conflicts that are common here on the fringes of the jungle. She also helps locals find alternative sources of livelihood. All the camp’s permanent staff is from neighbouring villages. On some evenings she organises a bonfire at the camp’s farmhouse a short distance away. There is also a cheery dance performance by members of the area’s Baiga tribe in the flickering light of lamps.

Meals at the Shamiana—a mix of continental and Indian menus—are usually preceded by a drink at BARasingha, a pun that made me giggle as I ordered a gin and tonic. Drink in hand I surveyed the photos lining the walls, blurred black-and-whites of tigers, leopards, and herds of deer, caught on the camera traps placed around the property. In the library, I found a copy of Pradip Krishen’s Jungle Trees of Central India, a book that made a whole other side of the forest come alive for me over the next few days.

The camp organises a host of activities that allow guests a peek into local culture. These include a day-long tour of four forts in the surrounding area; high tea among the fields; watching the cattle come home at sun down; and a village visit on market day. Guests can also accompany Tara, the camp’s adorable elephant, on her daily two-kilometre walk to a nearby stream and help the mahout bathe her. However, I found that my favourite thing to do during my stay was to sit quietly in a pretty spot, and try to blend into the surroundings, so I could soak in the feeling of being surrounded by a forest. It left me with a great sense of calm.

Appeared in the March 2017 issue as “Welcome To The Jungle”.

Though rustic on the outside, cottages at the camp have cosy interiors with wooden beams and bright furnishings. Photo courtesy Kipling Camp

The Guide

Accommodation The camp has 11 rooms in six cottages. The tiled roofs make them look like local homes, but there the similarities end. Inside, the cottages exude comfort with four-poster beds, bright paintings and rugs, and a selection of teas and cookies for a cuppa. Meals are a mix of local and continental, to appeal to all kinds of travellers. Don’t miss having a drink at BARasingha (Morcha Village, Kisli, Kanha National Park; 07649-277 218; www.kiplingcamp.com; doubles from ₹18,600, includes all meals; safaris ₹7,500).

Getting there Kipling Camp is 177 km/4 hr southeast of Jabalpur, the nearest major airport with daily connections to Delhi and Mumbai. Guests from other cities can also fly into Nagpur (260 km/5.5 hr) and Raipur (240 km/5.5 hr). Jabalpur is also the nearest major rail head. The camp can organise transport from the airport (₹4,500).

  • Neha Dara is a travel writer and editor. She is happiest trotting off the beaten path, trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving in Andaman & Nicobar, or exploring local markets in small towns. She tweets as @nehadara.

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