Local delights at Khamba village.
When you travel here, keep a day or two to simply enjoy the lodges. Taj Baghvan’s open rooftop machan (spend a night here so you can go to sleep hearing the night birds call and wake up to the playful chatter of langurs) and large wooden decks overlook a shady nallah (where at night you might even spot Collarwali taking a stroll). The outdoor shower is a wonderful and romantic idea for moonlit nights. The Mowgli Trail goes on to Kanha, and while you may do each segment one trip at a time, it’s perhaps best enjoyed in its entirety.
KIPLING’S REAL JUNGLE
The River Waingunga winds and twists its way through the Satpura range, just as in the Mowgli stories; and the village of Khanhiwara, where Mowgli’s foster-mother took refuge, is a real village on the Seoni-Mandla road.
But go looking for Mowgli’s other haunts, the Council Rock, where his brothers, the wolves, used to meet; the Peace Pool, where all the animals came in times of drought, his own village; and you might stumble on something interesting. In 1960, an American writer went on this trail anxious to track these places down. She started by going to the little Seoni Club, where she found on a wall an old map, showing all the landmarks of the Jungle Books, and even bordered by photographs of them. When she enquired about its origin, she was directed to a missionary who was an old resident of Seoni. From him she learnt that the map had been made by a former British Forest officer, who had taken great pains to work out distances and positions from indications in the Mowgli stories, and had identified, as he thought, all these spots.
But, alas, when he sent the result of his labours to Kipling, who was then still living, he received a reply (as her informant remembered it): “I should be the last to deny the accuracy of your geography, but in fact I never went to Seoni.”
Are then the Waingunga and Seoni just names planted on an imaginary landscape, and the jungle a generalised picture of the Indian jungle? It seems not. For though Kipling never saw Seoni himself, he had a pretty good second-hand knowledge of it.
According to the missionary, Kipling’s reply to the maker of the map continued: “I got it all from Sterndale’s Gazetteer.”
Sterndale, who was a district officer in the mid-19th century, wrote a book called Seeonee, or Camp Life on the Satpura Range (1877), based on his own residence in Seoni from 1857-64. Purporting to recount the experiences of a couple of British district officers, one an experienced shikari and the other a greenhorn straight from England, it gives a vivid picture of Seoni as a wild, tiger infested country at about the time of the Mutiny (1857). Perhaps this explains why Kipling chose this setting rather than a forest of the North which he knew at first hand.