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In Search of Mr Kipling

Luxury & Lifestyle 09-03-2017

With two star-studded movie versions of the Jungle Book appearing in the cinemas over the next 18 months, journalist Jeremy Taylor travels to India to unravel the story of author Rudyard Kipling…

The plaque states that the writer was born here on 30 December 1865. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, had worked as an illustrator and art teacher in England before moving to India to become dean of the college.

Now, 150 years on, termites have ravaged what’s left of the Kipling bungalow.

It all seems a far cry from where Kipling’s ashes rest in London’s Westminster Abbey, beside the graves of other literary luminaries like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. So why has his birthplace been left to decay in this bustling corner of India?

A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE

Kipling expert and tour guide, Parvin Mistry, was born and brought up in Mumbai. As we shelter from the sun in the shade of an almond tree, she explains why.

“George Orwell once called Kipling ‘a prophet of British imperialism’ and that’s been his downfall in India.

“Kipling was a controversial figure in India because of the way he portrayed the country in some of his work. He was regarded as having a pro-imperialist attitude, one that supported the notion of an oppressed Indian people being subject to Britain’s colonial domination.”

One consequence of this is that plans to transform part of the Mumbai college into a Kipling museum have met with stiff opposition.

“There are two schools of thought on the subject. He was one of the 20th century’s greatest writers but he also supported imperialism. In India that can take many years to resolve!” said Mistry.

Insight Vacations offers travellers the chance to discover many of the sights, sounds and wildlife of the India that inspired Kipling’s work.

Their Essence of India Tour visits some of the places where the author spent the first six years of his childhood, before he was sent to England to study.

The seven-day luxury tour also includes key cities in an area known as the Golden Triangle. Delhi, Agra and Jaipur showcase India’s rich Mughal and Rajput heritage, with sumptuous palaces, marble temples and imposing forts all on the itinerary.

EXPLORING THE JUNGLE

The inspiration for The Jungle Book came when Kipling returned to India as a teenager to follow a career in publishing. He travelled extensively during the following decade and enjoyed a keen interest in wildlife.

During his many trips into the jungle, he encountered the animals that would later become so familiar to his readers.

I want to experience what Kipling saw and so the next day, I fly north to Ranthambore National Park.

Ten of thousands of tourists trek to this remote part of eastern Rajasthan every year. It’s a hot and unforgiving part of the country but they still come in search of one elusive animal – Kipling’s king of the jungle, Shere Khan.

Less than 60 Bengal tigers roam the park, fenced in and protected from poachers by a small army of guards. They have free range around 250 square miles of jungle and use their camouflaged coats to keep a low profile.

Encounters are so rare that even the most optimistic tour operators only offer a 20% chance of a sighting.

I’m beginning to think that tigers might remain a part of Kipling’s imagination when my guide suddenly pushes a finger to his lips and demands quiet.

High in trees, the birds are chattering loudly and a congress of baboons is in a frenzy of excitement. A message is being telegraphed through the jungle – there’s a tiger on the prowl.

Our truck halts and as the noise reaches a crescendo, I get my first glimpse of a wild tiger, lazily walking through a clearing in the grass. It’s a two-year-old female and even at 400 yards I can clearly make out the beautifully patterned coat, a brush of white whiskers and those menacing eyes.

I watch as the animal walks slowly on, carefully marking its territory. Then tensions soar as it veers off course, cutting a path through the grass and directly towards us.

For a moment the tiger disappears behind a ridge and nobody is sure where it’s gone. Then a gasp of excitement fills the truck. There’s no need for binoculars now because the tiger is less than 30ft away.

I can see saliva hangings from those fearsome teeth as it pants for breath, a tail swishing from side to side, and the crack of twigs as it swaggers nonchalantly through the undergrowth.

Did Kipling experience these same feelings when he first came face-to-face with a tiger?

Was this the defining moment that inspired one of literatures most lovable stories? I think perhaps it was.

Jeremy travelled with insight www.vacations.com

Photographs by Simon Boucher-Harris 

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