Tiger Trails and Beyond in Kanha National Park

Tiger spotting at Kanha National Park
An Unforgettable Moment

I just got back from a trip to Kanha National  Park with a group of friends and the experience will remain etched in memory forever. It was the first time I sighted a Tiger in the wild and what a sight it was. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

About Kanha National Park

Kanha National Park was created in 1955 and was made a Tiger Reserve in 1973 when Project Tiger was commissioned. Apart from being renowned as one of the best places to spot the big cat, it is also justly famous for its efforts in conserving the hard ground Barasingha. Kanha is the only remaining natural habitat of the Barasingha in the world.

Hard Ground Barasingha at Kanha National PArk
A majestic stag Barasingha – Kanha is the only place in the world to find them!

It can be accessed conveniently through Jabalpur, Raipur and Nagpur. It takes around 3.5 hours by road from Jabalpur, 5 hours from Raipur and 6 hours from Nagpur.  We flew into Nagpur and then drove to Kanha, passing by another one of Madhya Pradesh’s fabulous national parks, Pench, on the way.

Map of Kanha National Park
Map of Kanha National Park (Courtesy: Mapsofindia)

Kanha is roughly divided into five ranges – Kisli, Mukki, Kanha, Supkhar & Bahmnidadar. Supkhar and Bahmanidadar ranges are strictly out of bounds for tourists. Parts of the other three ranges are accessible through Safari vehicles. We stayed at Kisli Log Hut, inside the park area in the Kisli range, courtesy the good offices of a friend connected to the forest department. There are numerous hotels and resorts of varying budgets and quality on the outskirts of the park.

Safaris are open for booking 120 days in advance and sell out very fast. Be sure to book as soon as the booking window opens, even if you decide on your accommodation later. Safaris are available in two slots. Morning Safari begins at sunrise and ends before 11 am. The evening Safari begins at 3 pm and ends before sunset. We managed to fit in four safaris in the course of our two nights stay.

Day 1

A wild boar - an uncelebrated resident!
A wild boar – a rather uncelebrated resident of Kanha!

We had butterflies in our stomachs when we set out for our first safari on the evening we reached. We felt the sheer rush of venturing into the jungle, not knowing what awaited us! Of course, the holy grail would be sighting one of Kanha’s famed tigers. Soon we spotted a Sambar, some Barasinghas, some wild boars and many birds.

A Vulture spotted at Kanha
A Vulture: A very rare sight now due to Diclofenac accumulation

We were already considering it a successful outing when word came in of a tiger that had been spotted in the Mukki range earlier that morning. Our driver sped away to the said spot and sure enough, there were fresh pugmarks.

Tiger Pugmarks at Kanha
Tiger Pugmarks

The time spent chasing the pugmarks, not knowing whether we will be rewarded with a sighting, is loaded with suspense. After trailing the pugmarks for a kilometre or so, we spotted the elusive beast! What a moment it was when I first sighted a tiger in the wild. It is a matter of great fortune and here I was, spotting a tiger on the very evening.

Tiger Sighting at Knaha
First Tiger Sighting at Kanha – Bone Chilling & Exhilarating at once

There were no other safari vehicles around us at that point in time. It was just us and Chhota Munna. It was 15 minutes of unadulterated bliss as we saw him walking on, rubbing himself against bushes and hugging trees to mark his territory. Most people would consider themselves fortunate to get a mere glimpse and here we were, exclusively enjoying his company for a full quarter of an hour. I would be lying if I say that the sheer excitement wasn’t mixed with a little fear but I put complete trust in our driver and guide. After obliging us with sights we will never forget, Chhota Munna made his way into the thickets and we moved on thanking our lucky stars.

Tiger in Kanha NAtional Park
Chhota Munna’s yawn is no less scary than a roar!

After we spotted Chhota Munna, I was overcome with the feeling that I had fulfilled my destiny and could now die in peace. We were heading back to our lodge assuming that we had seen our share of drama for the day.  But we were mistaken. We were still in the meadows of the Kanha range when suddenly the atmosphere became charged with the alarm calls of Cheetals, Langurs and Barasinghas. Every single creature in sight was looking unblinkingly in one direction and making sounds to alert their tribe. And there it was – another tiger – lurking in the meadows. This was clearly more than we had bargained for. There was a moment of tense excitement when it appeared that we might witness a hunt. But after eyeing the pray from a distance for a minute that seemed like an hour, the tiger quietly faded away into the meadow along with the fading light. The deer would live to see another day. We had another story to tell.

An anxious herd of Deer
An Anxious Herd of Deer –  their toes to outrun death

The evening was spent sharing stories, adoring the photographs captured and speculating what Day 2 would bring us.

Day 2

The second day was less eventful but no less enjoyable. Exploring the jungle after having already spotted the tiger is like taking on the world after having attained enlightenment. Not that I have any first-hand experience of what the latter feels like. I guess when you are not hung up on spotting the tiger, you begin to appreciate the other incredible residents of the forest. On the second day, we visited Shravan Tal, a lake which is said to have found mention in the great Indian epic, Ramayana. Dasharatha, the father of Rama, it is said, had mistakenly shot a young boy named Shravan at this spot, thinking him to be a deer. He incurred the wrath of Shravan’s father who had to witness his son died in his arms. The curse eventually became pivotal to the story of the Ramayana.

A male Cheetal tending to itself near Shravan Tal

We also visited a museum which is located close to the entry gate of the Kanha range. It is a small but highly informative museum that captures the history of Kanha National Park, its conservation efforts and interesting details about its residents. The museum screens a documentary which, though dated, is a must watch.  The documentary attempts to sensitise visitors on the nature of challenges faced by the authorities in conserving the forests and the wildlife it shelters. Particularly telling is the plight of the beat guards who patrol the jungle on foot to guard its residents against pernicious human activities. They live under basic conditions in extreme isolation. Every time they go out on their beats, they run the risk of being attacked by the very tigers they are out to protect! The entry gate of the Kanha range is made by putting together fallen antlers of deer and is a sight to behold.

Gate of Kanha Range Made of Fallen Antlers
Gate of Kanha Range Made of Fallen Antlers

Along with numerous Cheetals, Barasinghas, Bisons and wild boars, we also spotted many birds. The birds we saw included Jungle Babbler, Indian Roller, Parakeets (Alexandrine, Rose-ringed & Plum-headed), Red Wattled Lapwing, Coppersmith Barbet, Greater Flame-back woodpecker, Common Hoopoe, Greater Racket Tailed Drongo and even a Vulture. The budding bird watcher in me had a gala time.

Indian Roller
Indian Roller

The tigers eluded us on Day 2 but we weren’t complaining. We spent the evening star gazing.

Day 3

The next day was to be the last of our trip and we all got ready ahead of time so as to not miss a minute of our final safari. We were all hoping for one last glimpse of the tiger on our final day to end the trip on a high. And we were not disappointed! We hadn’t got any scent of a tiger till midway through our safari when we happened to cross a jeep that informed us that Munna had been spotted close by. Our driver immediately sprang into action and off we went on one last chase.

And sure enough, after reaching the designated spot, Munna made an appearance for us, albeit a brief one. It was indeed poetic that the trip that had begun with sighting Chhota Munna ended with meeting his father, Munna, on the last day. There was absolutely nothing more we could have asked for. We turned back towards the guest house and then onwards to Nagpur.

We carried back all the non-biodegradable trash we had generated because, understandably, there aren’t proper waste disposal systems in the jungle and all trash is incinerated. These little things go a long way in preserving the jungles we love so much.

Sunset at Kanha National Park
Au Revoir, not Adieu

Reflections

I can’t possibly end the story of my trip to Kanha National Park without a word about the guides and drives who take tourists on the safari. They do not just show you around. They go out of their way and try their best to treat you to a big cat sighting. Seeing the tiger defines the jungle experience for many tourists and they are well aware of that. The seasoned drivers and guides spot pugmarks and follow alarm calls of prey to guide tourists to a glimpse of the elusive giant. Just the thrill of the chase is half the fun. The guides know the family tree of the 100 or so tigers inhabiting Kanha at least as well as their own family tree. They can instantly recognise tigers by observing their body stripes. They are extremely proud of the forest they serve and make every effort to ensure all visitors leave happy.

We most certainly left happy. The long drive back to Nagpur was spent reminiscing the many memorable moments from the trip. Two days away from cellular connectivity within the confines of the forest were rejuvenating. The myriad revelations of the jungle were humbling and inspiring. I vowed to come back soon to catch up on my quota of fresh air and dose of sanity.

The Mighty Jungle
The Mighty Jungle

My humble advice to all visitors is to come without expectations of spotting the Tiger. Too many visits to Tiger Reserves are defined by the sighting or otherwise of Tigers. There are enough wonders in the jungle. Let the tiger sighting be an icing on the cake if you get lucky, but do not forget to enjoy the cake itself.

Chhota Munna Tiger walking away at Kanha NAtional Park
Until Next Time

19 Replies to “Tiger Trails and Beyond in Kanha National Park”

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  8. The photo of Chhota Munna was amazing. May I share it with a story I wrote for children about Munna, the father? Is this your photo, and should I cite you somehow? The story is a little funny because it was supposed to teach some values that children should have~ My husband and I went to Kanha twice, but never saw the amazing tigers; just heard that Munna was accused of killing 2 people in his old age.

    1. Hi…My response time is probably the worst in history. Just came across your query. If it is still relevant, please feel free to use the image. There is no need to cite me :-).

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