Heera Lalji is leading me on a walk around the 15-acre Jim’s Jungle Retreat, a boutique property on the southeastern edge of Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. I’m interested in plants and trees with medicinal uses and, as head gardener, he’s the resident expert. I’m about to step on what I think is a weed, but I learn that the juice of the plant’s leaves when crushed provides a quick fix for stomach aches. Leaves of another cure headaches, while chewing on the stem of a third is a good fix for halitosis.
All around the property, plants are grown in a thoughtful way. There’s a kitchen garden for herbs like oregano and coriander, bandh ghungroo plants to attract butterflies, and the fragrant laung chandni tree, which fills the open-air dining area with its sweet scent. After my walk, I stop there to inhale deep lungfuls of its scent while chugging down my third mug of freshly ground coffee.
Despite the luxuries it provides, Jim’s Jungle Retreat does not insulate guests from the wild, so you still feel like you’re within the jungle. Tiger pugmarks on the trails leading in and out of the property heighten that feeling. Cottages are hidden among trees, so that sitting in the balcony, you can see monkeys jumping among branches. There are small water bodies surrounded with foliage that are frequented by birds. To while away time between jungle safaris and nature walks, you can read a book in the lounge, get a massage at the spa, or take a pair of binoculars up to the birdwatching machan.
The property has plush beds and lavish bathrooms, but its real luxury is the considerate service. For example, I noticed that the naturalist accompanying a family with children was carrying a picnic hamper with sandwiches and juice, rightly predicting the kids would get hungry. And, just about the time you start feeling a little hot and thirsty, a staff member will bring a tall glass of icy nimbu pani.
The Retreat’s kitchen is a source of many delights. Spices are ground on a traditional mortar and pestle, dough is kneaded in a brass dish, and flavours in the food are exquisitely balanced. The loaves of bread at breakfast, and the cakes and cookies served with high tea are all baked in-house. The week I’m visiting, they’re hosting a gourmet club, one of several special events on their annual calendar. Chef Michael Swamy, an avid birdwatcher, creates dishes using traditional Kumaoni ingredients and techniques. Amongst a menu of delicious creations, three stand out for me: a light carrot and coriander soup with tang from pahadi lemon; Kumaoni raita, seasoned with mustard; and rice tempered with tiny, crunchy jakhiya seeds.
In an effort to be green, the resort uses recyclable or reusable items wherever possible. Dustbins are lined with old newspaper and soap dishes fashioned from leaves. Rooms have solar water heaters and low voltage bulbs to conserve electricity. Waste is recycled and water treated and reused. Supplies are sourced locally, and 90 per cent of the staff is from nearby villages. Staff members are encouraged to improve their skills. For example, Heera Lal was sent to learn about organic farming.
The retreat’s logo has the face of a tiger composed of the fauna and flora found in the forest. Its accompanying motto “Seek the tiger, find the jungle” reflect the owner Daleep Akoi’s philosophy. The tiger is the star of Corbett and the attraction that brings in visitors, but Jim’s Jungle Retreat provides guests with an experience that ensures they fall in love with the forest itself.
First appeared in the July 2015 issue as “Jungle Foray”.
Accommodation Jim’s Jungle Retreat has cottages, lodges with balconies, and safari tents. Rooms have wooden floors, large windows, and a touch of the vintage. The tiger motif is everywhere (jimsjungleretreat.com; doubles ₹25,000 for 2 nights/3 days, including 2 safaris, all meals, jungle walks, and spa treatments).
Getting There Jim’s Jungle Retreat is in Dhela, near the entrance to Jim Corbett National Park’s Jhirna zone in Uttarakhand. It is 13 km/20 min from the town and railway station of Ramnagar, which is 250 km/6 hours northeast of Delhi. The nearest airport is at Pantnagar (80 km/2 hours southeast of Ramnagar).
Neha Dara is a travel writer and editor. She is happiest trotting off the beaten path, trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving in Andaman & Nicobar, or exploring local markets in small towns. She tweets as @nehadara.