It was a sudden decision to go to Kanha. Infact, only a reaction to the impending long weekend and the prospect of a readymade trip. A friend was going with her colleagues, and they had pre-booked everything with room to spare. So we tagged on. Of course, the prospect of seeing a tiger was exciting, but after hearing numerous disappointing accounts from National park travelers, I was not so sure if that would happen. But then Kanha is a park with a high density of tigers (89 in an area of 800 sq km).
To reach Kanha, we could either go via Jabalpur or Nagpur. Since there are no flight connections from Mumbai to Jabalpur, we flew to Nagpur, and hired an Innova from there to take us to Kanha. We were to stay at MPTDC’s Baghira cottages, which are inside the park. However, the park does not allow entry after 10 pm, and after repeated requests, we were able to convince them to stretch it to 11pm. We started from Nagpur at around 5:30, and were not at all sure if we would make it in time.
Before beginning the road trip, we stopped in Nagpur to pack some food and water. After living in Mumbai, I am sometimes surprised by how neat and efficient the smaller towns of India look. Wider roads, nice rows of independent houses, slightly manageable traffic. Mumbai, in its current state cannot even hope for that level of maintenance.
Anyways, we did not get any food – no place could get dinner ready before 7, lunch was long over. Dejected, we moved on. Only very soon to be stopped at a railway junction. How could I have forgotten the railway crossings and how important it was to cross them at strategic times! After half hour of anxious waiting, we finally could go ahead. The route onwards was reasonably good, except for a few patches between Sioni and Nainpur which were very rough. But these were only about 30-40 km in all.
We reached Kanha almost at 11 – thanks to the enterprising drive from our driver. Kanha has two main entrances, Kisli and Mukki. Our resort was about half a km into the reserve area, near the Kisli gate. As soon as you enter the gates, the forest takes over and the outer world begins to fade. Phone signals go off, EDGE networks die, and the breeze is laden with the smell of trees. And as we stopped at Baghira, we were greeted by a deer, staring at us with curiosity and apprehension.
We had already booked five safaris for the next three days. The morning safari began at 5:30 in the morning (a rude shock to the lazy weekender in me). However, it is always refreshing to see the sun rise, especially if it is behind a morning forest. The predominant color of the forest was an arid brown, streaked with yellow. Amidst these, the gold of deers was beautiful, so was the black of bysons who moved with their own dash of white (egrets). The safari is done in an open gypsy, so you can freely enjoy the air and view.
In our impatience to see a tiger, we waited at three different watering holes to catch a glimpse, hoping that the heat will drive him to water. In vain. All we see was more deers and monkeys. By the time the safari ended at 11, we were exhausted with the heat and thirsting for water ourselves.
In the evening safari, we headed towards a different section of the forest. This was close to the Kanha meadows. On the way is a bridge which overlooks one of the most prominent water haunt of Kanha. Here the evening confluence was on. Many animals had come to beat the heat – wild boars, deers, barking deers, bysons, sambhars, and some lovely birds. The highlight was the kingfisher, which is such a pretty bird.
After spending considerable time at the bridge, we went towards the meadows. On the way we met an even prettier bird, the blue jay bluebird (see above). I was completely enamored with it, it is so serene and graceful.
In a great stroke of luck, we also were able to see an action-packed hunting scene: a wild dog chasing a pack of deers. The deers were running in all directions, visibly overtaken by panic. Surprisingly, this wild dog was alone; wild dogs usually chase in packs.
We started back, with the intention of going to the bridge again, waiting to see if the tiger would get lured by the abundant food there, not to mention the water. However, we didn’t even need to go to the bridge this time. Our very observant guide spotted a moving figure far into the distance.
I think I will leave more for a follow-up post 🙂