I tend to fall in love with almost every place I visit and always yearn to go back. Cities have their own vibe but if I’m being completely honest, one of my happiest places in the world is when I’m sitting on the last bench in an open jeep in the middle of a jungle eagerly waiting to come across any, many and every jungle creature. If you were to ask me what kind of holiday you should take, I will always advocate a safari vacation and preferably one in the heart of Madhya Pradesh in India.
India has plenty of safari spots and I still have many to tick off my list but the real adventure lies in central India. A lesser known fact is that Rudyard Kipling’s famous The Jungle Book which was immortalized on tv and is now a popular record breaking motion picture, was based on one of these jungle in India. It is said that Kipling was inspired by the jungles of Pench and Kanha and parts of Seoni Hills ( a patch that connects both jungles ) and wrote about the animals he saw in the forest, like Ka the snake, Bageera the panther or Balu the Bear and of course, Sher Khan – the majestic tiger everyone yearns to spot.
There are plenty of Safari based resorts and hotels but if you are going to go, and you want to do it in the very best way possible then look no further than the Taj Safaris The Taj group of hotels has a separate group called Taj Safaris that is located in the jungles and goes the extra mile to ensure you have a luxurious stay and will want for nothing other than to never leave. The hotel has very wisely teamed up with the fabulous group AndBeyond who are what I like to call the masters of safari as I had the pleasure of visiting one of their properties in Phinda, South Africa ( Wrote about them as well in my Safari section ).
Keeping in mind good ol Mowgli and that the Taj Safaris is located right in his home, they’ve come up with an exclusive package aptly called The Mowgli Trails and here’s a glimpse of what you can expect on such a trip.
The Resort – Taj Safaris have properties in Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgargh and Panna which are all located in Madhya Pradesh along with a recently launched property in Chitwan, Nepal. This particular package extends only to their properties in Pench and Kanha as that is where the story is set. I had the luxury of visiting their property Banjaar Tola in Kanha and fell in love. The entire property is located in the forest in what is called the Buffer Zone where people are allowed to reside and there are roads where you can drive up and down ( all hotels are in the buffer zone ). However it is strategically located on the banks of the Banjaar river that flows through the property and acts as a border for what is called the Core Zone where the animals roam and by law you are prohibited to enter. Which means I can walk along the river bank on the side where the hotel is but am forbidden to cross. Believe me, it is a rare luxury to be able to walk in any part of the jungle. We’re told that the animals do come to the stream for a drink and on some occasions guests have spotted a tiger or leopard in the distance.
The rooms are breathtakingly luxurious and are fully equipped with everything you might possibly need right from a torch, mosquito repellent, plenty of water and most importantly a stunning view.
The Safari – It might seem like an obvious choice that if you come on a trip to this part of the world then you will go on safari. Sadly it isn’t as obvious or as exciting to everyone and I know plenty of folks that just take the time to enjoy their trip doing nothing and lazing and have no interest in visiting the jungle. However, for me personally, there is nothing more exhilarating than being on safari. I have a huge problem trying to wake up in the morning but when I’m on safari I’m up bright and early with new found enthusiasm. It’s a different kind of high to pile into a jeep and creep out even before the sun rises and then of course to line up outside the main gate for your entry. Then you enter the jungle at the crack of dawn and watch the forest awake. In the afternoons it is blisteringly hot but you see the jungle all bright and vibrant under the harsh sun and then come evening time when it gets cooler as you’re about to leave, you watch the day turn and the forest settle into bed. The time spent tracking pug marks, trying to gage how fresh they are or where they went, listening to animals call our in alarm or distress wondering if it’s a big cat they saw or something else. Spotting hundreds of different types of birds, plenty of deer right from Sambhar Deer, the more common Spotted Deer and what Kanha is famous for – The Barasingha Deer. Going on safari is a thrill and it’s the closest you’ll get to understanding Mowgli and his friends.
The Village Lunch Experience – While the room and the safari is a given on any of their trips, the local exposure isn’t. What you’ll experience is a exclusive lunch cooked by the chefs using only local ingredients, special and might I add painstakingly tedious dishes all cooked and served to you inside a local villager’s home. A hearty meal eaten in an incredibly naturally cool hut with a view to spare.
The Epic Bathroom and Scrub – This might sound incredibly odd but for me, it’s all about the bathroom. This one at Banjaar Tola is faaaaar from disappointing. It’s spacious, with a wonderful open shower ( well as open as you can get without a baboon coming up close while you’re naked or soaped up ) and a beautiful tub. For me the highlight other than the fact that it’s stunning was their unique hair care products, honey orange scented soaps and their special ‘ junglee’ scrub inspired by the book. I can’t remember the exact concoction but it was besan ( gram flour) chickpeas, turmeric and some other magical ingredients. Perfect for a when you really need that post safari scrub.
The Fact That I’m In The Damn Core Zone – Let’s be honest. There is nothing and I really mean nothing more exciting than knowing you are as close to wild animals as is legally possible. The entire resort is in the jungle and would you be surprised to know that it isn’t gated or fenced at all. This allows for any animal to roam freely and really gives you a true sense of a jungle experience. It’s also fabulous to turn off your lights at night while you’re tucked in bed and listen to the jungle. Sometimes my heart skips a beat thinking Sher Khan is patiently waiting for all the noisy humans to go to sleep so he can peacefully walk about and at any moment could actually be right outside my door. That’s the beauty of the jungle, as absurd as it might sound, it is also extremely possible. You just have to believe a little.
The Naturalist and Safari – I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people that dedicate their lives to understanding the jungle. All naturalists are highly skilled and passionate people but the ones at Taj Safari are a different kind of special. The thrill of a safari and the guys that help you understand the animals and give you a boatload of information are your naturalists. Yes you also have a forest appointed guide that helps and they’re fabulous as well but the guys at Taj really know how to show you a good time. A huge HUGE shout out to Nara, Shree and my darling Nikita. I had the pleasure of riding with a female naturalist for the very first time and she was wonderful. Take my advice, learn from your naturalists, ask questions and understand the jungle and the animals.
The Jungle – The highlight of any such trip will always be the jungle. I’ve been on safari in South Africa and that is a different experience all together because the jungle and the animals differ. When in India, each park is different from one another and each one special in its own way. I know people only want to see a tiger and I myself despite having seen them up close and on more than one occasion am always eager to see him as well. However, the jungle offers plenty more if only you will be receptive enough to accept it. As strange as it might sound, the jungle teaches you patience, gives you a sense of calm and serenity and makes you realise there is plenty more to life than just you and the little bubble you live in.
Take a walk on the wild side, as scared or skeptical as you might be, I can assure you that if you’re open to trying a new experience then the Mowgli Trails will not disappoint you. Hopefully they will make a safari lover out of you.
Disclaimer : I was invited by Taj Safaris to experience their Mowgli Trails package but every single thought and opinion is purely my own. If you are interested in the package you can check their website or get in touch with me.