Step into the real life Jungle Book

Exploring the life of the writer who almost single-handedly conjured the popular image of ‘British India’, we look at the legacy of the Raj in other locations close to his heart: from the magnificent architecture of Mumbai – where he was born in 1865 – to the hill station of Shimla, former summer capital and colonialist playground, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

 

Where to find Kipling’s jungle

We all know Kipling’s jungle. Whether you first encountered it in the pages of his short stories, or found it in Disney’s adaptation, you are no doubt familiar with its steamy layers of leaves, its sun-warmed pools, its ancient temples overrun by monkeys and creeping vines.

It is the living backdrop for a cast of animal characters whose names are as familiar to us as childhood toys – from the sleepy brown sloth bear Baloo to the fearsome tiger Shere Khan; the panther Bagheera, his voice ‘soft as wild honey’, and the quixotic python Kaa. And of course it is home to Mowgli, the orphaned man-cub raised by wolves.

With the possible exception of a resident wolf-boy, the jungle 
so vividly described in Kipling’s fiction does indeed exist – but it was not a place the writer knew himself. Although he spent most of his twenties in India, he never visited the central region where his stories were set, and only began writing them after he had moved to Vermont in 1892. Kipling borrowed his jungle from a fellow Britisher – a district officer who published a contemporary account of his years spent living in the Satpura Range, and enlivened it with his own imagination.

Satpura National Park, in the modern-day state of Madhya Pradesh, derives its name from the same set of sprawling hills. The landscape that surrounds it echoes the one conjured in The Jungle Book – dense forest is edged by small hamlets like Nayapura, where villagers live in simple mud huts, colourful saris hanging from home-made washing lines. Subsistence farmers tend fields of rice and maize, and collect the fruits of the forest to make a little extra money.

Taking the ultimate travel plunge

India packs a lot into a massive space, and you’ll never have time to see it all on one trip. Think about what interests you, what you like doing and how much time you have, and tailor your trip accordingly. Be realistic about how much you can fit in. Rather than trying to see the whole country, you may get more out of your trip if you concentrate on the south of the country, or on the north. However, internal flights are plentiful and inexpensive so you can hop from north to south if you want a taste of both worlds. The itineraries section at the front of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks to India can be a great help, but here are some possible itineraries to get the ball rolling.

The classics: The most popular India tour is the all-time classic Golden Triangle. If time is short this is a fantastic introduction to three of India’s top destinations, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and you can squeeze it into a week if you don’t mind moving every couple of days. Start in Delhi, with sights such as Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort, before hitting Agra and touring the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Then it’s on to Jaipur to explore the Pink City and the fort at Amber, before returning to Delhi’s wonderful bazaars for a final shopping spree before you fly home.

Religious sites: If it’s temples you’re after, you’ll find them everywhere, but in north and central India, you’ll be truly spoiled for choice. There’s the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the erotically carved edifices of Khajuraho, Konark’s rock-carved Sun Temple, and cohorts of exquisitely hewn milk-white-marble Jain temples in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Temples in the south are something else again, with towering, statue-covered gopuram towers; there are stunning examples at Hampi, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Tiruvannamalai, and exquisitely decorated temple caves at Ajanta and Ellora, and Elephanta Island near Mumbai.

Mughal magic: Fans of Islamic architecture will find some spectacular monuments in Delhi, home to the Red Fort, the mosques and minarets of the Qutb Minar complex and Humuyan’s Tomb. Nearby you can revel in more graceful Mughal splendour at Fatehpur Sikri and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, before exploring Rajasthan’s captivating collection of Mughal forts, including Jaisalmer, the very vision of an Arabian Nights desert fortress.

Beaches & waterways: Head south to enjoy India’s finest beaches. Munch bhelpuri (puffed rice, noodles, green mango and a tangy sauce) on Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty beach before drifting south to the sand and sun in Goa. Take your pick of the Goan beaches – Arambol, Vagator, and Palolem are top spots – or try the black sand beaches of Kovalam and Varkala in Kerala, as well as lesser-known, golden sand in the north of the state. Kerala is also famous for its meandering backwaters, where you can hire a houseboat or a canoe and let the world glide gently by. Similarly serene is beautiful Dal lake in Srinagar in Kashmir, where – depending on the security situation –you can watch the mountains rise out of the mist from the walnut windowframe of a traditional wooden houseboat.

Wildlife encounters: Your best chances of spotting a tiger are in the national parks of Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, but there are national reserves all over India where you can track down wildlife as exotic as lions (Sasan Gir, Gujarat), wild asses (Little Rann, Gujarat), one-horned rhinos (Assam) and wild elephants (Wayanad, Kerala), as well as abundant birdlife (Bharatpur, Rajasthan). Not quite wildlife, but certainly wild, are camel treks through the desert from Jaisalmer or Bikaner in Rajasthan.

Exploring the capitals eclectic

Delhi’s onion-layered history is mirrored deliciously in its diverse and dynamic cuisine. Cosmopolitan Delhi-ites crave fine food like plants crave sunshine, and the city’s food scene trots the globe. From tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants to fine dining and quirky cafes, this really is a city with something to please everyone. Here are some eateries in the Indian capital that reflect its eclectic personality.

 

Cafe culture with a twist at Cafe Lota

The leafy cul-de-sac beside the Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan has been reinvented as an indoor-outdoor eatery, and a calm retreat from the city crush. A huge hit with Delhi’s arty set, Cafe Lota (Crafts Museum, Gate No 2, Bhairon Marg) charms with an innovative menu of regional Indian flavours and surprise twists on traditional favourites. Reserving ahead will allow faster access to some of the capital’s tastiest food. Otherwise, you may have a long wait for your crunchy palak patta chaat (spicy spinach salad), apple cinnamon jalebi, or filtered coffee.

 

Continental creations at Le Bistro Du Parc

When Delhi-ites crave European flavours, they head to Le Bistro Du Parc (lebistroduparc.com) in Defence Colony. Capturing just the right Parisian mood, this little piece of La Belle France serves fine French fare, with a live jazz  soundtrack on Wednesdays and Fridays. Tucked into a tree-lined corner of Moolchand Flyover Market, it’s a great, pocket-friendly alternative to the pricey European restaurants in Delhi’s five-star hotels. Oh, and did we mention the food is outstanding?

 

Old city wonders at Lakhori

In earshot of the muezzin’s call from the iconic Jama Masjid, Lakhori (havelidharampura.com/lakhori), is cosily housed inside Haveli Dharampura, a handsomely restored 200-year-old traditional mansion that doubles as an upscale hotel. Hidden away in an atmospheric alley, you’ll find all the street-food that you wistfully passed by as you walked the streets of Old Delhi, served up as high-tea most afternoons. Weekends are reserved for a spot of Mughal-mania, with a heady mix of kebabs, curries, and classical Kathak dances.

 

Fruit flavours at Jain Coffee House

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it neighbourhood haunt for over half a century, the Jain Coffee House is an Old Delhi institution. Inside, an archaic coffee machine coughs, hisses, and streams coffee into Styrofoam cups for a quick pick-me-up, but most are here for the seasonal fruit sandwiches. Imagine soft white bread slathered with fresh butter, jam or marmalade, and topped with cottage cheese and fresh fruit – mango, pineapple, sapodilla, apple, grapes, pomegranate – serving up a burst of flavours and textures.

How to Find Entertaining kids

The trick to family travel in Delhi is escaping the crowds. Try crossing Connaught Place, amid careering traffic, in the heat, whilst gripping the arms of several toddlers, and you might find yourself racing back to the cloistered sanctuary of your hotel room. Relax in the calm confines of a Mughal garden however, and you might see the city in a very different light.

 

A good hotel is worth its weight in Mr Men books

Getting the best out of Delhi with kids in tow requires a certain amount of forward planning. Rather than staying in the busiest districts, life will be infinitely less stressful if you choose one of the quieter corners of South Delhi, where guesthouses and hotels offer a bit more room to breathe. Some even have enclosed gardens. As an added bonus, most of these hotels are also close to Delhi’s surburban district ‘markets’  upscale retail complexes with shops, restaurants and supermarkets selling familiar European and American imports (breakfast cereals, wet-wipes and the like), plus, in many cases, decent kids’ playgrounds. Perhaps the most ideal base for families is the Lutyens Guesthouse, with parrot-filled grounds, sprawling lawns and a swimming pool.

However, if you prefer to stay in the centre, this has the advantage that you’re only a short, entertaining rickshaw hop from many of the sights and places to eat. Palace Heights on Connaught Place is a boutique hotel with a good restaurant and a cosy feel, while at the cheaper end of the scale, Bloom Rooms on Arakashan Road, close to New Delhi train station, is centred around a large sofa filled courtyard, with light, bright rooms, and an on-site pizza restaurant. If you fancy a real escape from the city, Tikli Bottom is ideal, wonderfully set amidst the Aravali hills, with plenty of space, farm animals and a swimming pool.

 

Family feasts in Delhi

When travelling, the default position for many parents is to stick to the familiar, and Delhi has no shortage of fastfood chains and restaurants serving the comforting tastes of home. However, Delhi is also a great place to branch out and delve into the local cuisine. Kids with moderately adventurous palates will find South Indian culinary heaven at Saravana Bhavan, with branches on P-Block in Connaught Place, and at 46 Janpath. As well as healthy veg staples like rice and dhal, another easy dish for children is the dosa, a huge, crisp rice pancake, which can be eaten plain, or more ambitiously with a spicy potato and onion filling and tangy sambar dipping sauce and coconut chutney. Other great south Indian restaurants include Swagath and Sagar Ratna, with branches all over the city.

Modern megacity in India

A gargantuan, pulsating metropolis that reinvents itself every time you blink, Mumbai is India’s most modern and most happening city. The best entertainment spots, the liveliest cultural melting pots, the yummiest meals at the most trendy cafés or the latest designer threads gracing the most beautiful people – Mumbai is where you’ll find them. Indeed, the city is getting a make-over unlike anything India has seen before, with more than 15 ‘supertalls’ – trade slang for skyscrapers over 300m – under construction in the northern suburbs.

Many travellers limit themselves to the historic neighbourhoods of south Mumbai and miss out on Mumbai’s modern cutting edge. Here’s a look at some of the sights and activities that help you to get under the cosmopolitan skin of India’s ‘Maximum City’.

 

Shop like a fashionista

Rising from the ashes of what was once a colonial cotton mill, High Street Phoenix (highstreetphoenix.com; 462 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel West) is Mumbai’s top destination for shopaholics, particularly those with a weakness for premium designer labels. Appealing to Mumbai’s icons of film, fashion and finance, this luxury shopping complex – the largest of its kind in the city – houses top global brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Jimmy Choo and Gucci. If you have any red carpet events coming up, this is the place to get kitted out in the latest catwalk chic. Refreshingly, High Street Phoenix also has a generous smattering of home-grown haute couture labels such as Rohit Bal (rohitbal.com) and Anita Dongre (andindia.com), whose gorgeous ethnic dresses and modern-medieval ensembles find their way onto the sales racks after being showcased at the Mumbai and Delhi fashion weeks.

 

Where India goes organic!

There are more cafés in Bandra than there are houses, or so locals like to claim. And to be fair, this posh neighbourhood in central Mumbai does indeed boast some of India’s best delis, coffee shops, snack bars, breakfast joints and tearooms, serving a divine range of espresso-based pick-me-ups and organic comestibles in cool and laid-back interiors. The trendiest name on this circuit is The Birdsong (Off Hill Rd, Bandra West), where life-affirming organic healthfood comes to your table in imaginative and tasty avatars, such as organic khichda (like kedgeree version 2.0) and vitamin-rich quinoa salad.  Then there’s Yoga House (yogahouse.in; Sherly Rajan Rd), which supplements its yoga classes with wholesome vegan and vegetarian food, including famous salads, multigrain bread and hash browns with spinach and mozzarella. To pamper your sweet tooth, swing by Theobroma (Link Square Mall, Linking Rd), a satellite branch of the famous south Mumbai confectioner, for the best walnut brownies and vanilla cinnamon custard tarts in town.