Shergarh Tented Camp
Not far from Singinawa is another remarkable story of change makers who have steered away from mass tourism to create a unique kind of travel with a focus on nature and people.
The making of Shergarh Tented Camp is a story that tugs at heartstrings. It is a story of love and passion resulting in a concoction of wildlife hospitality. Jehan Bhujwala grew up in the metropolitan city of Bombay having only the concrete jungle as his playground. He furthered his studies in geology and mastered in it but soon realized an insatiable longing to live life in the wild. He purchased a 21-acre land on the fringe of the buffer zone adjacent to Kanha National Park in 2001 whilst working at Kipling Camp, the first camp built near Mukki gate. In 2002 Katie, a British girl from a village close to Bath in the United Kingdom was so drawn to India after an extended backpacking trip that she decided to find a job at the same camp, and love struck.
At that time, Jehan was living in a tiny mud house on his property and had already started conceptualizing the idea of a tented camp. With extra hands and a like-minded partner, ideas soon evolved into reality and Jehan and Katie began building the camp. “This was not going to be any ordinary camp. With Jehan’s experience as a naturalist and my insight on travels after much destination hopping during my backpacking years, we both decide that this camp will honour and respect the environment and people living around,” explained Katie.
They adopted villages around the vicinity, hired local communities to help build the camp and fostered impeccable relationships with the villagers. “For many villagers, tourism was a foreign and new concept to them, especially when Shergarh Tented Camp was one first few properties established near Mukki gate. Today, they are like family.” said Katie. “We have incorporated local skills and techniques into the lodge as much as possible, such as their dry-stone masonry and mud-plasterwork, and have used local carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians.”
Due to poor knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices, the 21 acre land was completely degraded and overused. Katie explained that the entire land space was filled with invasive and chocking eucalyptus trees, biodiversity was close to barrenness and the land was starved. The pair spent many months and years regenerating the land, chopping down eucalyptus for construction and firewood in the winters. Indigenous trees were reintroduced to the land and the beautiful waterbed that sits in the middle of the land continued to feed the trees.
We walked past the waterbed to reach our tents, and much to our delight, we saw egrets, commorants, kingfishers and bee- eaters basking in the water. Katie tells us that jackals and wild boars frequently roam the area and just at the entrance amongst the patch of tall green meadows, a jungle cat has made that his home. Katie recollects an incident when the name Shergarh meaning “Home of the Tiger” resonated. “In November 2008, a 5-year old male tiger strayed from the core forest and took refuge from (in?) the surrounding paddy fields”.
Camp in Comfort
As we ambled into the vicinity of Shergarh Tented camp in Kanha, we were expecting high A-framed tents, foldable camp beds, make shift toilets and simple skinny mattresses, but what we found at Shergargh was a haven of comfort and simplicity. The rugged looking canvas tent is tied securely on concrete A-frame structure with a sturdy roof made of handmade clay roof tiles. The tents are incredibly roomy inside with a large king sized bed, bedside tables and a spacious permanent toilet, shower and open closet area. Just outside the tent, a few plush cushion mattresses and deck chairs are cleverly positioned to great views of the lake and the open skies as we watch the stars emerge at night.
The tents take on names of indigenous trees in India such as Tulsi (Indian basil), Aam (mango), Jamun (blackberry), Imli (tamarind), Mahua and Neem. Many of these trees were re-planted around the property in their effort to revive the degraded land.
Moving away from a tiger-centric approach
While it’s easy to take on a tiger-centric approach as tiger sightings are almost a daily affair, the couple knew that that would not do justice to the rich diversity in Kanha. Instead they have expanded their list of activities to include village visits, walking hikes and bike tours.
In October 2011, Shergarh will be offering bespoke bike tours from half day tours to 3-day tours. These cycle ‘tolla’ tours (tolla meaning village) will take guests off the beaten track from Kanha through villages and obscure towns to Pench National Park (approximately 200km) or Bandhavgargh National Park (approximately 250km). Exploring the Madhya Pradesh region on two wheels opens a new spectrum of experience for guests giving them a chance to interact with locals, savour chai at roadside stalls, weave through tall paddy fields and stay with local communities. For a more rustic camping experience, guests have the option of camping out in the open and cooking meals over fire and charcoal.
Whether it is a lodge or a tented camp, conscious travellers are now looking for more than just a comfortable place to stay. I found myself searching for operators who are committed to preserving the destination and operators that can offer authentic experiences crafted through their commitment and understanding of the destination and the surrounding people. At Kanha, I found two champion operators who are investing time and resources to preserve the very thing that tourists come to Kanha for, a genuine ‘Jungle Book’ experience.
- By Air: Nagpur is the nearest airport to Kanha National Park. Other airports include Raipur and Jabalpur. These airports are all connected to major cities in India.
- By Train: Jabalpur is a convenient rail route to head towards Kanha National Park.
- By Road: Kanha National Park is well connected with major roads from Jabalpur (175kms), Nagpur (266kms) and Raipur (219kms). Kanha also has a good network of roads connecting to surrounding national parks such as Bandhavgarh, Pench, Panna, Achanakmar and Phen National Park.
- Best time to visit: The peak season for Kanha National Park visits is the winter season, from October to February. During the summer months from March to June, tiger sightings are at its best as the grasslands dries up making it easier to spot wild animals. The park is closed from mid-June to October during the monsoon season.