We arrived in the jungle in our jeeps, accompanied by a sharp eyed guide, ready to discover the secrets of the forest. Like everyone else, we were looking for Sher Khan, the big cat who Rudyard Kipling so lovingly vilified and immortalised at the same time in his Jungle Book. We were tracking the tiger at Kanha National Park, by following pugmarks, keeping our eyes peeled for signs of dragged kill and listening for alarm calls. In spite of all that, the majestic animal just wouldn’t oblige us with its presence.
The next day, we went along for what is sometimes derisively called the ‘tiger show’, an orchestrated encounter with the cat. This is when the mahouts drive their herd of ‘tracker’ elephants into the forest and use a sophisticated radio system to communicate the movements of the tiger — all of this happens while you sip coffee at the visitor centre and wait for your turn to clamber on to an elephant. As expected, our first sighting of the tiger was atop an elephant — the striped animal had just hunted, and, as was clear from a carcass, made a meal of a 30-lb chital. He was so desperate to rest that he lifted his head just twice even when three elephants hovered above him. The fact that this sighting was stage managed, surprisingly, didn’t take away the thrill of spotting a tiger in his lair.
After this encounter at Kanha National Park, we hopped back into our jeeps and drove off towards a direction where, we were told, we would be able to spot wild dogs. Slim, red and bushy-tailed, wild dogs or dholes are the most feared savages in the jungle. We spotted half a dozen dholes, which had just finished taking down, and eating, three chital. They were roving through the grasses close to Shravantal, a beautiful water body where the chances for sighting birds are very high.
There were more stunning views in store. In the evening, we enjoyed a picturesque drive to Bahmnidadar, the highest motorable point in the park at 873m, once used as an airstrip for hunting parties. By the road, the forests changed from sal and bamboo to mixed trees, the soil became loamier and the hills reflected the mood of the skies. At the Sunset Point at Bahmnidadar, we were once again rewarded with a spectacular view of the entire Banjar River Valley.
Perhaps the best part of our trip at Kanha was when, during our drive around the forest, a swarm of antlers belonging to a company of barasingha (swamp deer) emerged out of tall grass. Just over three decades ago, the barasingha population in the park had gone down considerably and the species was close to extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have now risen. As the deer shook their antlers, it seemed as if they were telling us their success story. It’s one tale that we would always be glad to hear, again and again.
About Kanha National Park
Kanha is 2,000 sq km in size. It has a horseshoe-shaped valley, and grasslands surrounded by the Satpura Mountains, standing at heights ranging between 450 and 900m. Comprising the Banjar and Halon valleys of the erstwhile princely provinces of Central India, it became an hunting ground for the British from 1879-1910. In 1933, Kanha was established as a sanctuary and declared a National Park in 1955. The park has a rare species of barasingha, which live in a hard-ground habitat.
It’s believed that the name Kanha came from the texture of the soil found in the area. The soil is sandy in Banjar Valley in Kanha, Kisli and Mukki ranges. In the lower pockets, the soil is finely textured and tends to be somewhat clayey. It is locally called kanhar, and this apparently gave the park its name. Though one of India’s better-protected Project Tiger reserves, conservationists do have their worries about Kanha. This is due to its proximity to impoverished villages, and its closeness to Nagpur, which is known as an illegal wildlife trade hub in Central India.
State: Madhya Pradesh
Location: Kanha and its Maikal Range, part of the eastern segment of the Satpura Range in Central India, carves itself on to the eastern profile of Madhya Pradesh (to the southwest of Jabalpur)
Distances: 980 km SE of Delhi, 480 km SE of Bhopal, 270 km NE of Nagpur Route from Delhi NH2 to Agra; NH3 to Biaora; NH12 to Jabalpur via Bhopal; NH12A to Mandla; district roads to Kanha (Kisli) via Bamhni Route from Nagpur NH6 to Bhandara; state roads to Kanha (Mukki) via Balaghat and Baihar.
When to go: The park is open from Oct 1 to Jun 30 (and closes during the monsoons). Temperatures vary from a maximum of 29°C to a minimum of 2°C. Winters are severe and frosty, so remember to carry your woollens. Nov-Mar is the most comfortable time to go Best sightings are in Mar, as the weather is good and the grass cover low, ensuring better visibility. Besides, the shrinking water pools also ensure good sightings. Dec-Jan is when there are the best chances of spotting barasingha
Go there for: Barasinghas, tigers and birds
About the Author
Pramila N Phatarphekar is a feature writer with Outlook. She covers wildlife, food, living and anything that’s intriguing the canopy.