Kanha National Park
160km (99 miles) S of Jabalpur
A continuation of "Kipling Country," Kanha is in many ways the most beautiful and fascinating national park in the country, not only for its sizeable tiger population but the landscape that keeps changing as you traverse the 250 sq. km (98 sq. miles) open to tourists; thick wooded areas open into scrubland, which in turn dissolves into meadows, and all periodically interspersed with natural bodies of water and streams. Kanha was included into Project Tiger in 1973 and here, we can say with some relief, it has had positive results (currently India is battling under the ignominy of losing its tigers at an alarming rate to poachers due to insufficient infrastructure and conservation mismanagement). Another success story is that of the Barasingha -- a handsome deer whose numbers had dwindled to 66 in 1970, but is now at 450 and climbing! Although sighting a tiger is not as easy here as in Bandhavgarh, the picturesque park is teeming with all kinds of birds and mammals which you will most definitely come across during the safari; even on the worst of days, finding langurs, chital and peacocks is guaranteed.
Visitor Information -- There are two zones open to tourists -- Mukki and Kanha. Given that you will most probably be staying at one of the Mukki resorts, it would make sense to cover Kanha in the morning when the Park is open for longer (6am-noon), and the close-by Mukki in the evening (3:30-6pm). As in most other national parks, it is best to let your resort make all the necessary arrangements by opting for the "jungle plan." Although they have their own in-house naturalists, to create employment, guides have been inducted into the forest department from the villages around Kanha -- each has been given some training, binoculars, and a bird guidebook and it is compulsory to have one accompany you on the safari -- this makes perfect sense as they are more aware of the animal movement and besides, the more eyes the better. You are advised to tip them at least Rs 50, a figure that would increase depending on how many of you there are and how happy you have been with his services.
By Air -- Both Nagpur and Jabalpur have flights from Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. At press time, there were talks on for connecting all wildlife areas in MP by charter flights, arranged through some of the upmarket resorts.
By Train -- Jabalpur and Nagpur are your closest rail connections. Your chosen resort will make the necessary travel arrangements for you. If you're coming from Bandhavgarh, there is an option of catching a train from Umaria (40 min. from Tala) to Jabalpur, although the timings aren't quite suitable; instead, you could do it the other way round and go from Jabalpur to Umaria by the early morning Narmada Express and thereafter by road to Bandhavgarh.
By Road -- There are no shortcuts to getting to Kanha -- nearest airports and railway stations are at Nagpur and Jabalpur (both take 4-5 hr. to Mukki). You could also drive from Bandhavgarh (6-7 hr. on something that calls itself a road). Note: There are no restroom facilities along the way so be prepared.
When to Go
The park opens by October, but the best time to visit would be February to April. After that the heat intensifies dramatically and although the animals may be forced to search for water and thus expose themselves, whether visitors can bear with the blazing sun is another matter.
Organizing Your Safari
There is very little that differs in the system that is followed by the other Parks in Madhya Pradesh -- refer to our section on Bandhavgarh for a detailed account of how it works. Once again, we must warn our readers that while the sighting of a tiger is extraordinary, you may feel squeamish, especially when tourist numbers are high, at the manner in which this magnificent animal is literally cornered. While authorities claim that the tiger is free to make its own path and remain sequestered from our ravenous gaze, in truth, given its tendency to mark its territory and use the same trails, it has little option but to run up against eager tourists twice a day. Perhaps if you were to clearly state the level to which you are willing to go, your naturalist would conduct the safari accordingly.
Park entrance is at Mukki or Kanha. Park fees: Rs 2,000 admission; Rs 600 elephant ride per person for 3-5 min. Daily 6:15-10am and 3-6pm; park closed July 1-Oct 15.
Where to Stay
Kanha has some fairly upmarket and lovely accommodation choices in hand, with the latest Taj and &Beyond masterpiece -- Banjaar Tola taking first prize. Singinawa (tel. 98-1026-5781 or 0124/406-8852; www.singinawa.in; Rs 29,820 double) was a tad too formal for us, but that was to be expected given the pedigreed background that it revels in, a little too obsessively perhaps. Owned by Latika and Nanda Rana, part of the Nepal royal family and both of whom have studied tigers extensively, in partnership with Mike and Claire Gallety, it consists of 12 air-conditioned cottages and a massive central stone lodge where guests discuss their sightings over cocktails and dine on the massive wooden table, surrounded by fabulous photographs taken by Nanda. Food is catered to suit the first-timers palate but a little too dull and mismatched for those who crave Indian spices. Much of the 23 hectares (57 acres) has been left untouched -- nice to explore, with a lovely pool to soak in after. Their vehicles are decidedly the most comfortable and, with eager naturalists as part of their team, you will undoubtedly have a wonderful wildlife experience. But really, our money's on Banjaar Tola. If you'd rather opt for something more informal and relaxed (not to mention less exorbitant), we recommend Shergarh. (PS: Keep a lookout for Kanha Earth Lodge, scheduled to open at the end of 2009 (www.kanhaearthlodge.com) -- owned by the same group that operates Kings Lodge and Ken River Lodge, it's sure to be a good option.
Tip: If you decide to go by rail from Kanha via Umaria on your way to Bandhavgarh, then you will need to leave Kanha the evening before and stay overnight at Jabalpur in order to catch the early morning train. The only decent en route option is the Narmada Jacksons (tel. 0761/400-1122; www.jacksons-hotel.com; doubles from Rs 2,500) but don't expect much -- this is basic accommodation, just booked to facilitate your onward journey.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.