Lunch is laid out in the shade of a sprawling mahua tree. The food—hot dal, cauliflower, and bhindi sabzi—is delicious. But, I’m distracted by the flurry of activity around me. Behind me, a red-plumed jungle fowl struts about in the mud. The lush canopy of sal, jamun, and mahua is full of squawks. I glance up to spot black-headed orioles and jungle babblers. Metres from where I sit a herd of chital pass through the grounds.
Such activity is par for the course at Kipling Camp, set smack-bang in Kanha National Park’s buffer zone. With no fence separating it from the forest, the wooded, 25-acre property blends seamlessly into the jungle. The residents of the forest are at home in this space, and as a lucky visitor, I get to observe forest life from close quarters. I sit by the watering hole at one end of the camp, where the resident brown ducks kick up a racket at my arrival. A herd of deer stop for a drink on the opposite bank. Chatting with the local staff about their encounters with animals, I hear stories of how camera traps have often captured leopards and tigers passing through the property.
The greatest luxury of a wildlife holiday is to fit unobtrusively into the rhythm of the forest. Set up by the Wrights—a reputed family of conservationists—Kipling Camp offers exactly that sort of low-impact, yet highly immersive experience.
The cosy cottages scattered through the foliage are modelled on local village homes, with mud and lime walls, wood columns, and earthen-tiled roofs.
The naturally cool interiors have cheery rugs and colourful Indian-print furnishings. I’m tempted to lie on the hammock outside with a book, but I want to make the most of the forest’s daylight hours.
Walking through the grounds amidst the helpfully labelled trees, under shimmering spider webs, I take the forested path to the Banjar River with camp naturalist, Rahim. He is a fount of knowledge, pointing out hard-to-spot birds like the racket-tailed drongo, and yellow-footed green pigeon. Every afternoon, Tara, a rescued elephant who has been with the Kipling family since 1989—goes down to the river for a bath. The subject of elephant safaris in national parks has been extremely controversial in recent years. Observing Tara ambling through the forest, snacking on leaves, and frolicking in the water is a good way to observe a gentle pachyderm from close quarters, without impinging on her space.
As dusk settles, I step into the Shamiana, the warm, common space and dining area, to admire gorgeous paintings by Ram Kumar Shyam, a Gond artist from Patangarh village. He visits the camp often, with a selection of his work, so that interested guests can purchase local art straight from an artist.
Before dinner, we head down the forested path to the camp’s farmhouse. Under a full moon, within a clearing in the forest, an elaborately dressed troupe of Baiga men and women perform catchy folk songs and dances. The group functions as a cooperative that conservationist and owner of Kipling Camp, Belinda Wright, helped set up. The troupe sings about the monsoon and the harvest, bedecked with metal anklets, flowers in their hair, and unique instruments like the wooden thiski.
The Gond and Baiga tribes of Central India are an integral part of the forest’s landscape. Sharing their art and culture with visitors is an additional source of livelihood for the farming communities. At Kipling Camp, both aspects of the forest’s tapestry—wildlife and local community culture—are woven into a guest’s experience. For me, it is precisely this sort of immersive involvement that adds immense value to a wilderness getaway.
Getting there: Kipling Camp is located 10 minutes from the Kisli Gate of Kanha National Park. The closest airport is at Jabalpur (175 km/4 hrs).
Address: Morcha Village, P.O. Kisli – Kanha National Park, District Mandla, Madhya Pradesh 481768
Open: Oct 16 – May 15
Tel: +91 76492 77218
Tariff: Doubles ₹16,600 including meals, village visits, nature walks; plus taxes. Shared safaris cost ₹5,500 per jeep (seats 5); taxes, park entry, and guide charges extra.
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