Top 3 Winner of the 2011 ‘Inspiring Stories from Destinations’ Competition
Shergarh Tented Camp opened in 2004 and was established as a small and informal tented camp with a strong focus on high quality wildlife experiences, and with a deep concern for the environment and local community. The project all started with the vision to build a simple lodge from which tourists could enjoy the nearby Kanha Tiger Reserve.
Jehan arrived in Kanha 15 years ago to train as a naturalist at one of India’s first wildlife camps. Kanha captivated him and he purchased a degraded plot of non-native eucalyptus plantation. As the eucalyptus stunted the growth of other plants by consuming too much water, he set about clearing all non-native plants and nurtured indigenous flora. The land has been restored back to original native woodland and a haven for wildlife and set the journey of sustainable discovery.
Today at the camp, you can see indigenous fig and mango trees thriving and home to an array of wildlife. They have recorded hundreds of bird and about fifty butterfly species. Flying foxes colonise the trees and hundreds of breeding ingrids visit each year. A jungle cat hides in the grasslands and brings new born kittens each year. Wild boar and foxes are nocturnal visitors.
In 2001, Katie came to India and volunteered at the original wildlife camp Jehan had trained at, and developed a concern for local nature and communities. She questioned positive and negative impacts of tourism and wanted to be part of something responsible.
Katie and Jehan constructed Shergarh in one year using local skills and services, with a labour force from the local village. They were quickly accepted by their neighbours, forging relationships which still flourish. A local staff base was established or accomplished cooks, waiters, housekeepers and gardeners. The staff know almost every aspect of the camp and many operate as team leaders.
The camp works on projects with the local school, taking children into the reserve and teaching them about the importance of preservation. As their own children also attend this school, they take the approach as concerned parents in the community.
In running Shergarh, Katie and Jehan have stayed as true to their surroundings as possible. They avoid excessive services and focus strongly on delivering rich experiences.
Most visitors come to catch a glimpse of a tiger and Katie and Jehan help them achieve this by creating a range of activities that enable guests to have a more complete understanding of the local area. Their latest venture is overnight cycle trips through the forests and villages of central India, which incorporates responsible values and a fun activity.
For them, bringing up their two children in the jungle is the greatest influence of how life and work takes shape at Shergarh. Seeing them in the natural surroundings able to identify and draw lizards or save an ant from being washed down the plug hole reveals the sacred values of mother earth and teaches us how much their is to learn and to preserve.
Katie and Jehan believe what they have done is very simple and their success comes from following their hearts. They say they have followed basic principles in being a responsible human and that no qualifications or price tag is behind what they have achieved. To them, eco or organic can be elitist terms but the concept of responsibility is accessible to anyone.