The jungle from ‘The Jungle Book’
udyard Kipling was inspired by reality to write his ‘Jungle Book’. In fact, he based his stories on an account told to him by a British solider, Sir William Henry Sleeman, who documented up to six cases of wild children raised by a pack of wolves, just like Mowgli. But there’s no evidence of the mesmerising snake, the vengeful tiger and the singing monkeys, Kipling really did invent them.
What wasn’t the product of his imagination, or at least not entirely, are the Indian jungle landscapes where the ‘man-cub’ has his adventures. Kipling, a British subject born in Bombay, worked as a reporter in India for several years. Despite this, he never travelled to Madhya Pradesh, the state that experts think was the setting for the children’s story. The trees Mowgli climbs, the stream where he splashes around with Baloo, the grasslands he walks through with Bagheera, and even the ruins of Monkey City are all to be found here. But not necessarily in the same location. The jungle in ‘Jungle Book’ is actually a ‘remix’ of the various landscapes you can see in this region.
“Oh dooby doo, I wanna be like you”
As well as other national parks in Madhya Pradesh, like Saptura or Kanha (the largest one in the region, covering 940 square kilometres), the Disney team were inspired by locations outside India to create their digital jungle, like the Sabah rainforests in Borneo.
Many of them are in Pench National Park, ‘real jungle with real Shere Khans’, according to the Madhya Pradesh tourist office. The park is situated between the districts of Chhindwara and Seoni, and it was in the latter where in 1831, a feral child like the one Kipling read about was found. Plus, the first sentence in the book talks about some hills, the Seeonee hills, a fictional but suspiciously similar name. With lush forests and huge expanses of grassland, Pench National Park has one of the highest herbivore populations in India. Covering a total area of 757 square kilometres, it’s remarkable mainly for its game reserve, where you can spot Bengal tigers, now an endangered species. It’s estimated that around 65 individuals live in the reserve. They share the area with hundreds of animals, including 285 types of birds and sloth bears like Baloo.
The tiger also reigns supreme in Bandhavgarh National Park. Along with Ranthambore National Park, it’s one of the best places in India to see them roaming free. But it’s not so easy to spot the exotic white tiger, even though this is it’s original home. None have been seen for more than 60 years. The last one, Mohan, was domesticated by the Maharajah when Bandhavgarh was still a private hunting ground.
Standing on top of a hill and surrounded by vegetation is Bandhavgarh fort, after which the park is named. It’s more than 2,000 years old and according to legend, it was a gift from Rama to his younger brother. Nature has regained control over the site and nowadays it’s home to several species of vulture. Kipling’s Lost City is inspired by this kind of abandoned building, although in ‘The Jungle Book’ it was the monkeys that made the ruins their hideout. The ‘Bandar-log’, as the author calls them, have changed their profile: in the Disney animated film their king was an orang-utan, which would be impossible, as you don’t find these apes in India. In the 2016 version, which was completely computer generated, King Louie was a Gigantopithecus, an extinct primate that lived in India, China and south-east Asia. A nod towards mingling science and fiction. Happy hunting!