For the first time in history, a young girl climbed a tree one day as a Princess and descended from it the following day as a Queen. The eye witness who stood guard to her in the forest was from Nainital, India – Jim Corbett.

70 years ago, in 1952, Princess Elizabeth travelled to Kenya’s jungle with her husband Prince Philip and spent the night in a secluded treehouse (machan) situated deep within the forest.

Back in the 1930s, a two-room treehouse on a massive 300-year-old fig tree was built in Nyeri as an auxiliary building to the Outspan Hotel when decorated military soldier Eric Sherbrooke Walker decided to build one for his lovely wife. Thus the Treetop hotels started their journey. 

The intention was to provide guests with a Machan experience, similar to the Shikar events in India, by giving them a tranquil, up-close, and intimate glimpse of the wildlife in the surrounding forests of Mount Kenya. 

Treetops Lodge is ideally situated just in front of a watering hole and salt lick and is in the line of an ancient elephant migration route between the Aberdare Mountains and Mount Kenya.

However, it was not a popular destination among tourists until February 1952, when Kenya had an unusual guest, Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth – who was visiting the continent on a Commonwealth tour along with her husband.

At that time, another remarkable guy was residing in the cottages of this Kenyan forest. The oldest and arguably most famous national park in Uttarakhand, India was named after him – Jim Corbett, the legendary hunter-naturalist. 

India’s best-known ‘Shikari’ was born in Nainital in 1875, and lived there until Independence. After that, he sailed to Mombasa, Kenya with his sister Maggie where he lived in the cottage ‘Paxtu’ on the grounds of the Hotel Outspan, Nyeri, a few miles away from Treetops lodge. 

On a bright February morning in 1952, when Jim had just finished shaving, he received a sensational telephone message informing him that the Princess had invited him to accompany them to the Treetops. 

Jim spent the day with the Princess and Royal party in the tree house. While she observed and filmed elephants and rhinos on her camera, he spoke to the Prince about the Abominable Snowman, and expressed his concern for the King’s failing health. 

The stunning sunset faded from the horizon. At night, the Princess went to sleep, and Corbett went down to the foot of the 30-foot-ladder. He was ready to guard the Princess through the dark, silent night. But something was happening in London. 

While Princess Elizabeth was sleeping in the treehouse in Kenya, her father King George VI passed away in the middle of the night. Unaware of what happened that night, the Princess started filming rhinos again, had her breakfast and returned to the royal lodge where she was informed about the news. 

Corbett wrote in the visitors’ log book – 

“For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed on to a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen – God bless her”

A few years later, the Treetops hotel was burnt down by the guerrilla fighters of the Mau Mau rebellion. This is the copy of the register at Treetops hotel in Nyeri where 70 years ago both Jim Corbett and Queen Elizabeth II signed.

Source: Tree Tops(1955) by Jim Corbett, Wikimedia, Facebook Page of Jim Corbett Books,