What’s it like cycling 150 kilometers through India’s prime tiger territory?

The village road ahead looks daunting—a gravel path interspersed with people, cows, and stray dogs. As an urban cyclist, I’m more used to the garden-variety cycling path; paved and neatly demarcated, free of walkers and wandering animals.

But this cycling trip had promised to be the trip of a lifetime—three days of cycling around Kanha National Park, also known as Kanha Tiger Reserve, in central India, which happens to be prime tiger territory. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is said to be based on his experiences in this part of India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Our group of eight female cyclists—led by led by organizers and keen cyclists Katie Bhujwala, a longtime India resident, and Sophie Hartman, an India aficionado—had begun from Shergarh, a cozy tented lodge close to the Mukki Gate of Kanha National Park. Shergarh, which opened in 2004, is owned by Katie and her husband, geologist and naturalist Jehan Bhujwala, and the couple have been cycling through the region since. After the arrival of their two children, they took the kids along for the ride too.

Even after three decades of living in central India, Katie remains enamored by the place. “This is such an interesting part of rural India,” she tells me. “You can experience authentic rural life here,” she adds. The Bhujwalas wanted to share these local experiences with Shergarh’s guests and soon began taking them on cycling day-trips. “Most people come here for back-to-back tiger safaris, but there’s a whole world of experiences at our doorstep,” Katie says. It’s experiences such as visiting local markets and meeting artisans on these cycling day trips that give guests closer interaction with the Gond and Baiga communities who have called this region home for centuries.

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