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.