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Incredible Lodges that Inspired Me – KIPLING CAMP, KANHA


Kipling Camp in Kanha holds a very special place in my heart, even though I have spent very little time there (of which I am not too proud). The camp is dear to me not only because it is a remarkable place for a wildlife holiday but also because of Belinda Wright and her family who have dedicated their lives to conservation and wildlife.


Since a young age, I was excited about reading stories about jungles be it about tracking

man-eaters encounters with rouge elephants or just about wilderness experiences. All of them got my imagination running wild. Whenever possible I would try visit the places mentioned in these books. As I grew, so did my passion for wildlife. I would try and get my hands on any piece of information I could find on the subject. In fact, the only news that really interested me in the newspaper or the news channel was when a case of poaching or some unique animal encounters were being covered (there was no animal planet or discovery to showcase wildlife documentaries at the time). That’s when I first heard of Belinda Wright and her fight against wildlife crimes by getting valuable information about the tiger trade, trade routes and poaching activities taking place all over the country to the forest department and other concerned government offices. This really intrigued me and got me searching for books written by her. The only one I could find was “Through the Tiger’s Eyes – A Chronicle of India’s Wildlife”. This was around 1999.


In 2014 I joined RARE India – a representation company that promotes and markets wonderful and unique properties with a story that were owner-driven. As a part of my job profile, I had to market Kipling Camp in Kanha National Park. Kipling is one of the oldest lodges in Kanha and is owned and managed by Anne & Belinda Wright. From the time I realized I would be promoting Belinda’s lodge I couldn’t wait to meet her and see the place that she called home.


Although this trip was in 2014 it was very special for me. The area that is today Kipling Camp was acquired by the Wright family in the late 1970s – at the time it was agricultural land. The area was then allowed to grow wild and today the camp is practically inside a completely forested area adjoining the buffer zone forest. I entered the camp to be greeted by Tara, Belinda’s pet elephant who had just returned from her daily bath in the nearby Banjar River. Belinda along with Ivan De Klee, the new manager at the lodge, were both there to welcome me. With the sun going down I was given a quick tour of the camp and we all settled outside the “Shamiana” – a lounge, a library, a dining area and a bar all in one. The camp was filled with the sound of birds all settling down for the evening and a small herd of Chital deer made its way to the waterhole just behind the cottage. Belinda spoke about the lodge, its history and the recent experiences during the monsoons and it was surreal– I was finally at Kipling

Camp!


The evening became more interesting when an old friend of Belinda’s came to visit from Bandhavgarh. His name was Aditya Patankar. This got me even more excited as Aditya was the one who had helped Mark Shand acquire Tara, who used to be a begging elephant in Orissa. As the story goes Mark then rode her across the country and wrote a bestseller called “Travels on My Elephant”. After his book, he wanted to sell Tara so visited Sonepur. At Sonepur, Mark set up his tent with a Union Jack fluttering outside. Dressed in a dhoti, he prepared to sell Tara to the highest bidder. He received a number of offers as Tara was a particularly docile creature who stood out among the many difficult elephants that were for sale. Anne and Belinda were visiting Sonepur at the time. Mark was delighted to see them and rather impulsively decided to gift Tara to them so that she would have a happy home at Kipling Camp, rather than continue life as a working elephant. The evening was spent with Aditya regaling us with his hilarious adventures with Mark and Tara. Till now I had been reading most of these stories in books and it was definitely a high sitting across the table with people who actually lived the adventure – most certainly an evening to remember!


My experience at Kipling Camp was as unique as the camp itself. Unlike most Luxury Wilderness Lodges opening up around the country Kipling offered a truly different experience focusing on wilderness rather than on adding swimming pools and spas. The camp has the charm of forest bungalows and rest houses from the colonial days and definitely makes you feel like you have travelled back in time. All staff with the exception of Ivan and a small team of volunteers belong to the region. They have been working at Kipling Camp for decades. They were all very polite, helpful, and always carried an infectious smile and truly looked happy to be part of the Kipling camp family. Since the dates of my trip were planned around a travel mart that took place in Bhopal it was all very last minute, and I had not booked any safaris. This was great as it gave me a chance to explore the camp and the areas around it.


I started my day early with a bird walk in the adjoining buffer area accompanied by Ivan and our guide for the walk, Raheem. Raheem had grown up with the Kipling Camp family and knows the area and the jungles surrounding the camp. He is an exceptional birder sometimes tracking and identifying birds just by their calls. We walked across a fire line into the buffer forest, it was not until then did I realize that the fire line and the buffer forest literally started at the boundary of the last cottage. I walked through the tall trees searching for birds that inhabited this beautiful forest. The early morning sunlight filtered through the leaves reflecting off spider webs that were between every other tree. Even though these were large webs spun by giant wood spiders you would definitely not see them and walk into them if it wasn’t for these small rays of sunlight. Just as I was trying to get the remains of a web off my face, I stumbled over what I initially thought was a log, when I looked down, I was amazed to see the scattered bones of recent tiger/ leopard kills. Raheem must have seen the surprised look on my face for he broke into a smile and said “This area is regularly visited by tigers and leopards and was a great place for the tiger to hunt when the chital herds came to the camp waterhole for a drink in the evening. The movement is less these days as the lantana has been cut”. Nature walks in the buffer forest usually mean a lot of birding maybe a few scattered deer but nothing more, but walking through what I would like to call a ‘boneyard’ definitely got my pulse racing.


In the afternoon since I did not have any safaris I walked with the mahout and Tara to the Banjar River not too far away for Tara’s bath. This was through a forested area and not over roads and tarmac. Tara is a special elephant and is not used for rides. One can walk with her and in the presence of the mahout interact with her but not ride her. Elephants are wonderful animals, and these interactions can be incredible, but you would not have enjoyed something more enjoyable than getting into the water with them for a bath. She is playful and enjoys the weightlessness that she feels when she is in the river, and you should definitely expect her to completely soak you 😊.



The next morning, I was to leave after breakfast and thought what would be better than enjoying breakfast outside overlooking the wonderful waterbody on the campgrounds where Belinda’s ducks were enjoying the morning sun with their chicks. The slanting winter light was just starting to hit the waterbody after filtering through the tall Sal trees. I was so engrossed in the wonderful meal that was put in front of me that I almost missed the ruckus the ducks were making – on looking up I realized that they were flapping their wings hysterically to drive away a leopard that had crept up to the edge of the pond trying to pick a quick meal. Unfortunately, the photographer in me got the better of me and I ran to my room to grab my camera and by the time I got back, the leopard was gone.


I think it is these unexpected experience in the wild that makes the experience all the more exciting, but this would not have been possible in a big fancy resort as the wildlife would have been driven away by all the noise and numerous staff members maintaining a manicured resort rather than the property being one with the forest. We today are so fixated on our creature comforts that we forget why we are there in this space in the first place. Personally, Kipling Camp is a comfortable lodge offering an incredible experience. Unfortunately (being in the travel trade), I have seen demand for such properties decline as lodges with features like air conditioning, swimming pools and spas are getting preference and these wonderful spaces with incredible experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime are getting lost in the shadows.


For me, If it was not for such incredible lodge owners and the wonderful spaces that they have created I might not have learnt so much about the wilderness or the etiquette to view them. This series of blogs of mine is largely to speak to the readers about some of these incredible experiential stays to bring their story to those who might not know about them and my personal experiences at these properties.


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