Famously the ‘jungle’ that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, the Kanha Tiger Reserve is not at all as depicted in the Disney Cartoon – all steaming jungle and thick undergrowth. Having said this, all the animals of the cartoon – with the exception of the elephant - do reside there. It is a beautiful area, comprising sal and bamboo forest, grasslands and river habitat. The most prevalent animal is the Chital (or spotted deer) which can be viewed grazing peacefully on meadows or amongst trees, often near langur monkeys, who not only dislodge fruit and seeds from the trees which the chital then eat, but who also provide a look out for tiger. It contains the world's only population of the barasingha deer, and the reserve's authorities have been instrumental in rescuing the species from imminent extinction.
The sadly endangered tiger is probably the animal above all others that people come to India to view, and at Kanha you stand as good a chance as anywhere of seeing one. When my wife and I were there we went on six game drives (either on jeep or elephant back) and saw tiger on five of them. On one occasion we saw, in the sunset, a mother playing with her six month old cub – a memorable sight in any circumstances, but especially when you consider there are probably as few as two thousand Royal Bengal Tigers remaining in the whole of India. On another occasion, on elephant back, we saw two nearly fully grown cubs enjoying the shade of the sal forest in the heat of the midday sun. On our final day at Kanha we followed a tiger stalking – ultimately unsuccessfully - a herd of chital.
There are also leopard at Kanha too, but though probably more numerous than the tiger, they are more difficult to spot – but again, thanks to the skill of our guide, we were lucky to see one slinking along the side of a track before cutting into thick undergrowth. On any trip you will undoubtedly see chital , gaur (the enormous Indian buffalo - which can stand six feet at the shoulder ), sambar (India's largest deer), peacocks in abundance, wild dogs, wild pigs, and numerous species of bird. As much as anything, what captivated me most about Kanha, aside from the tiger, was the sound of the jungle. There is a steady hum of insect noise and birdsong wherever you go. Furthermore, when there is a tiger or leopard on the move you will hear a cacophony of alarm calls made by a variety of animals and birds (from langur monkey to peacock), and it is these – together with pug marks on the dusty track - which enables the skilled trackers to locate the tigers.
There are two ways of enjoying the park – one by jeep and the other on elephant back. A jeep will contain one driver and one tracker/guide who work together to interpret the sights and sounds of the jungle and provide you with a good opportunity of seeing a tiger. In a jeep you will cover more ground but are limited to following the dust tracks circumnavigating the park. You should make it clear in advance whether you want to see as much as the park as possible, or are happy to go more slowly and spend more time watching the wildlife. On elephant back you travel slowly but can go anywhere in the park – the elephant will even uproot an obstructive tree if the mahout (its 'driver') commands it to. Furthermore if you find a tiger, then it only sees the elephant (of which it is neither afraid nor views as lunch) and not the humans on top. This enables you to get very close indeed, and provides fine photo opportunities as well as a fantastic adrenalin rush.
We stayed at the Kipling Camp, on the west edge of the park near the Kisli Gate. It is a well run camp which provides simple accommodation and good food, and two resident naturalists. Wildlife tourism is not as developed in India as it is in Africa, and this is reflected in the quality of the accommodation, which is basic. However if you are here solely for the wildlife then this will be an irrelevance. Also, the area of the park is much smaller than say that of the Serengeti, and the number of tigers there (estimated at about one hundred – but possibly less) far less than the number of lions in most major East African reserves, and so it is likely that you won’t be alone when you see one. However there is something so compelling about the tiger that even if you are one of ten vehicles all following one tiger as it goes about its business, you will probably be able to blank out everything else as you marvel at the sheer power, grace and majesty of this incredible animal. Likewise, though you will not see anything like the volume of wildlife in Indian reserves as you will in African ones, a single sighting of a tiger in the wild has as much power to excite as seeing plains teeming with thousands of wildebeest.
I saw my first tiger in the year 2000, but with poaching a continual menace, and funds to fight it virtually woefully inadequate, according to some experts, in ten years a sighting of a tiger in the wild may be a thing of the past.
Kanha Tiger Reserve in the eastern sector of the Satpura Hills of the Central Indian Highlands. It lies 100 miles southeast of Jabalpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Click on the thumbnail to see a full size map of the area.
My trip to Kanha Tiger Reserve (and Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh) was part of a longer holiday arranged by Travelpack, an excellent travel agent specialising in trips to India for the traveller who wishes to remain as independent as possible and not be part of an organised group. If you book from Travelpack kindly mention that you came from this site when you do so.
There is a book specifically about the Kanha National Park - as well as several others on the Royal Bengal Tiger - in the Wildlife Travel Bookstore.
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