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In the footsteps of… Rudyard Kipling

The bear necessities for a trip to the Jungle Book writer’s India

In the footsteps of… Rudyard Kipling
Crawford Market, Mumbai, India. Image: Getty

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Disney’s new Jungle Book movie has put Kipling’s India in the spotlight, but the writer whose books played a key role in shaping British perceptions of the steamy subcontinent barely set foot in tiger country. The urban jungle of Mumbai, where he was born to British parents, is a better place to follow the Kipling trail. His birthplace — a ramshackle timber cottage in the grounds of the Sir JJ School of Art, in central Mumbai — has become a pilgrimage spot for fans, as has South Mumbai’s central Crawford Market. The friezes here depicting rural Indian life and the fountain carved with exotic animals were designed by Kipling’s father. Walk south, avoiding the red double-deckers that clatter around Azad Maidan cricket ground, to St Thomas Cathedral, where the young Rudyard was christened under the mournful marble memorials to early colonialists who met their end at the hands of climate, combat or tropical diseases.

After being educated in the UK, Kipling returned to India to work as a newspaper reporter, spending several years in the hill station of Shimla, one-time summer capital of the British Raj. Viceregal Lodge, a florid, baronial pile that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Jacobethan England, was his home.

If you can’t make it that far north, head inland from Mumbai into Madhya Pradesh, the setting for Kipling’s tales of feral man-cub Mowgli, Shere Khan and Baloo. Most travellers come here in search of the real-life Shere Khan — Kanha, Satpura, Tadoba and Pench are the four national parks in the region where the Bengal tiger can be found.

Kipling on screen
Born in Bombay (Mumbai), Rudyard Kipling is best known for Just So Stories, The Jungle Book and poem Gunga Din. Disney has remade its 1967 animation The Jungle Book as a live-action movie starring the voices of Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the snake, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Bill Murray as Baloo, Christopher Walken as King Louie and Neel Sethi as Mowgli. On general cinema release from 15 April.

Published in the May 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)