Walking down a narrow path, fringed by bushes and trees, I couldn’t see too far ahead. But the road did lead somewhere – to the most beautiful cosy house welcoming you after what seemed like a very long road journey. A little further ahead, the path leads you to a large courtyard with sofas and chairs strewn around; relief for a tired traveller. The house has a wide verandah running all the way through, reminiscent of a Kerala style house. On one side is a water body and to the right, a large pond, reflecting the lush greenery. It was right out of a novel. It was perfect. I felt like I’d come home.
But let’s go back in time. I met Katie and Jehan Bhujwala in Goa, one of my favorite places to head to when I want to “get away”. In this piece of paradise called Olaulim Backyards created by the delightful Savio and Pirrko Fernandes, over delicious fresh fruits and cashew feni – it didn’t take long to get acquainted with the Bhujwalas and their two adorable kids.
Our conversations led us to discover that they run a jungle camp in Kanha, MP – one destination in India that I’d never visited before. It sounded so beautiful and mysterious, that I knew that I would make a trip sooner than later. And they say that when you really, really want something, the universe colludes… and that’s exactly what happened.
My trip to the wild side
A trip to visit Kanha came up a few months later. Not only was I looking forward to seeing Katie and Jehan again and visiting their labour of love – the Shergarh Tented Camp; I was also looking forward a sighting of the elusive animal… Yes, you guessed it. The tiger. Despite many forays into forests all over, the tiger eluded me.
After a warm welcome, I was shown to the tent where I was to spend the next few days. Though “tent” might give you the wrong impression; this turned out to be way more comfortable than what I’d expected.
Jehan and Katie’s labour of love is warm and inviting and you’ll see their attention to deal everywhere. Including the little resuable bottles filled with creams and shampoos, to the pretty wooden toilet seat, which Katie later tells me was transported all the way from England. You might be far from your city comforts, but you’ll feel completely spoilt. From these small touches, to the warmth of the staff to the really delicious food, you might have to remind yourself you’re in the middle of the forest!
Back to the main house and dining area. It’s a large central place for the guests to mingle and also the perfect setting for those long dinner conversations. The ones where you exchange stories. About the tiger you missed. The jackal that crossed the road in front of you. And the adorable pair of owlets, which stared at you from a hole in the tree.
Into the forest we go
For Jehan, the forest is where he feels most at home. Though originally from Mumbai, he came to Kanha many years ago and loved it so much, he decided to settle down in the area and then took the next step of setting up a place where wildlife lovers could come and enjoy the forest. Katie was travelling through MP and met Jehan – love struck and like they say, the rest is history!
My many forays into the forest were unforgettable and each one filled with interesting sights and sounds. I made trips both in the morning and the evening, to make sure I enjoyed the forest at different times of the day. The safaris are quite long, so go prepared. The morning safaris start early – you need to be out by around 6-7 am in the morning and they last well after 1 pm (you will have lunch in between), while the evening safaris are after lunch.
I enjoyed both equally. The early morning safari as the forest wakes up is definitely not for the late risers. But the rewards of waking up before dawn are plenty. A soft light washes the grasslands, the water bodies, and the mist drifts by slowly. And then the sun begins to make an appearance, a glimmer between the trees, the slanting rays creating a magical scene as it pierces through. These are moments you wish you could wield a brush. Or write poetry. Words don’t seem to be enough.
Slowly, as we edge our way towards the more dense parts we realise that even the animals have started to wake up. Our guide points out a serpent eagle perched on a tree top, a jackal peeping through the grass on the side of the road, barasingha (endemic to this forest) starting their morning rituals and shy sambar looking at you with their big eyes as if questioning our motives.
And this truly is their territory. We’re visitors. We’re the outsiders trying to get a peek into their daily lives. It’s both humbling and awe inspiring. A magical place where animals rule.
A fresh kill. But no tiger.
The evening safari exudes a different mood. You need to cover a certain distance and do it in good time. Today, a few of us are circling the same area – someone spotted a tiger and thinks that they could be headed this way. Around 4-5 jeeps all wait, quietly. A few whispers but otherwise obeying the laws of the jungle.
After around half hour, our guide decides to get onto a different path. As we inch forward, he notices a big mass on the side. Behind the shrubs, beneath a tree is the body of a recently killed sambar. Since it’s a fresh kill, the only possibility is that the tiger is waiting nearby, tired after his effort. We wait for a while – maybe the tiger will appear. But sadly not.
After the excitement of the safaris, I also had the opportunity to head out to the villages on a cycle, thanks to Jehan. Also realized that everyone knows him personally, and he makes sure he greets everyone by name.
Beautiful green fields, dotted with small but neat houses, peaceful village roads and friendly kids all wanting to wave and say hello – the hours just passed by as we came back after our ride. Jehan also organizes multi-day cycling tours for those who might be interested in exploring rural Madhya Pradesh on a cycle. Actually, anything to do in Kanha or the surrounding areas, Jehan is the person to be in touch with.
Along with Katie and Jehan’s two adorable children, they’ve managed to create a warm and wonderful place in the middle of Kanha. If you’re a wildlife/nature lover, don’t even think about it. Just make a trip.
As for me: I can’t quite wait for my next one! I still need to sight that tiger in Kanha.
Address: Village Bahmni, MP
When to go: Shergarh is open from mid-October to mid-May.
Access: By flights from Raipur, Jabalpur and Nagpur and also by trains.
MORE IMAGES: The album on Flickr