JAUNTS INTO THE JUNGLE
WORDS HARDIKA PANCHAL
PHOTOGRAPHS HASHIM BADANI
GREAT FROM Mumbai, New Delhi, Nagpur, Jabalpur
GREAT FOR Wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers
You’re munching on toast slathered with a gooey strawberry jam and sipping on a comfortingly hot masala chai as the sun warms your back, pausing every now and then to gaze out at the watering hole spread out beside you. Something small and hard hits your head, snapping you out of your reverie momentarily, making you rub your head absent-mindedly. A few more thwacks follow, making you want to find the source of this attack. You look up to find a pair of langurs looking down at you innocently, still chomping noiselessly on tiny guavas. At Shergarh Tented Camp, this is quite a normal breakfast routine.
Set at the very edge of Kanha National Park of The Jungle Book fame, the intimate camp has only six tents, so you don’t have too many neighbours (unless you count the cheeky langurs), which means you pretty much have the best spots on the property to yourself very often. And there are quite a few of these to pick from – like the comfy sofas set under a shady clump of clutster fig trees or the verandah of the Main House dotted with fluffy armchairs, more sofas and a snooze-worthy swing.
The Main House functions as the reception area as well as the dining area on chilly days. To one side of the room, a modest bookshelf holds a trove of wildlife books, magazines and novels, making it a place in which you find yourself frequently wandering about.
Being plied with unlimited ginger-lemon-mint tea, hot chocolate and excellent homemade banana cake through the day makes it very hard to stick around in your tent, which is saying something, as it’s very inviting. Each comes with a mud-finished sitout strewn with pillows and mattresses on which to stretch out and read, as you listen to birds chirruping in the wild fig and jamun trees around you.
Another great way of spying on the bird life here is to take a walk on the wild side, quite literally. The camp has friendly, knowledgeable guides who are happy to take you on a nature trail through the jungle. Stroll to the starting point of the Bamhni Nature Trail and set off on a delightfully educational walk. Listen to the evil laugh of the rufous treepie and the steady tap-tap of the incredibly pretty flameback woodpecker. Watch the greater racket-tailed drongo glide between trees and kingfishers perched contentedly upon high branches.
As your wanderings bring you to the Banjaar River, scramble up a small hillock and find two benches fashioned out of logs of wood. Perch yourself there while your guide and his assistant whip out flasks of coffee and cookies as you soak up the silence.
You’ll come to appreciate the silence even more on a jeep safari through the core zone of the park. This has to be the prettiest forest you’ve ever seen, with dirt tracks meandering between sal trees standing tall on a carpet of rust-red leaves and meadows drenched in gold.
As all human habitation was relocated from the core zone many years ago, the only footprints you’ll see belong to the creatures of the forest. But if you visit the relocated villages on the outskirts of the core zone, you’ll notice they’re quite pretty too. A good way to do this is to hop onto one of the cycles at the camp and pedal idly past lush fields to the little villages, where smoke rises from blue houses, outside which poultry, pigs and shiny- haired kids gambol and wave back at you (the kids, not the pigs).
It’s as hard to leave this tranquil setting behind, as it is the camp, which retreats into quietness as night falls – the only thought lingering in your mind is when you will be back.