"Nothing exists for itself alone, but only in relation to other forms of life" ~ Charles Darwin


King of the Jungle

Subhasish Chakraborty, a regular visitor at wildlife parks, is captivated by his visit to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh..

I walked into the dining hall of Krishna Jungle Resort at Kanha and overheard a small, compact, wiry old gent holding forth animatedly. I recognised his working - class English accent and gathered that he had a close encounter with a tiger that morning. Ten minutes into our conversation, Jim from Birmingham conspiratorially confided that my English was not 'that bad for an Indian' and recounted 'the bloody difficult time' he had been having communicating with the locals. Jim said that he had gone but a hundred yards into the forest, a morning like any other, a route, a safari like any other, a right turn like any other, and there she was - a large tigress with her cubs just yawning and whiling time. The jeep stopped 10 feet away. No growl, no snarl, no move to vanish; one curious look was all Jim got.

Next morning it was my turn to be out in the wild. I hired a gypsy and off we were in the wilderness of Kanha. Slow, I commanded Praveenbhai, my driver. Leisurely. 'Thek Hai, ji,' he replied. Was he a guide as well as a driver? I was suspicious. Did he know the jungle well? Another dumb - ass tourist, another day on the job. Praveenbhai had spent 10 long years on the routes. He knew them by the tip of his finger.

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I saw the forest fly by in a staccato blur of yellow and browns and I had that sinking feeling of going nowhere very fast. We were whizzing past vegetation that I called 'tiger grass', spun golden and six feet tall. Perfect tiger cover.

I was scared stiff once we entered the dense jungle, nerves jangling each time birds burst out in a cacophony, flying suddenly from their perches. A sure sign of a big cat on the prowl. My driver Praveenbhai was highly amused with my "chicken" state and assured me that the tiger was a very reclusive and shy animal and it took loads of effort and luck to sight one in the wild.


Suddenly, Praveenbhai slowed to a crawl. Pugmarks, he muttered. Pugmarks were all I had seen on my earlier safaris. I wasn't enthused. Exciting at first, in reality they symbolised the past tense. The only pugmarks I wanted to see were with the pug still on them.

These are recent, he said, weren't there yesterday. I peeped over. Past tense or not, I was enthralled. Huge pugmarks, at least 5" wide, tattooing the forest in a straight line. Every turn the jeep took, I expected the prints to vanish. They stayed, all through the sharp lefts, rights and U's. Bizzare, civic minded pedestrian behaviour for beasts used to hoofing it cross - country.

Praveenbhai finally stopped the vehicle by the side of a bushland. A water reservoir built by the Forest Department was to our left. I saw a watch tower 100 yards to the right. Praveenbhai hurried me up the stairs to the top. He was dead sure a tiger was prowling near by. Facing the watch tower was a 500 yard stretch of forest cleared to provide unobstructed view of wild animals when they came to the reservoir to drink water.


Suddenly out of nowhere Praveenbhai pulled me to his side and asked me to look straight at a 90 degree angle. "Do you see anything"? Yes, I said. They look like wild jungle dogs, I retorted. "No sir; they are tigers". And he was dead right for as the herd was nearing the reservoir, I could make out their brown and yellow stripes. I was excited.

As the herd approached the watering hole, I could clearly see the tigress along with her four cubs. On reaching the reservoir, they growled, Grrrrrrrr, perhaps warning us. And then, majestically, lowered their heads to drink water. It took them 10 long minutes to quench their thirst. And in those 10 minutes, there was frenetic activity. I had emptied my Nikon into the herd, 20 shots in all. How could tigers be so unconcerned, so trusting, I wondered.

Satiated with our experience, we drove back towards Krishna resort. Evening was fast approaching and we passed a herd of nilgai, the adults almost six feet tall at the shoulders, handsome and equine in stature. They were stretching their muscled necks to chomp at fast thinning leaves on balding trees.


By the time we reached Krishna Resort it was pitch dark. After a quick hot shower I sat on the patio and recalled my day's adventure. My legs seemed to weigh a ton each while my numbed brain needed rest. That night after dinner, I kept repeating to myself, "Subhasish, you are too old for this." After all I was touching 30 and was an insult to the word "fit".

After a good night's sleep, I woke up to the chirping of the birds. Kanha is rich in bird life with some 200 species of birds that include Doyel, Khanjana, Bulbuli, Sonabau, Cuckoo, Papia, Titir. Little can compare with the delight of watching male birds flaunt their feathered charms in the breeding season in the lush folds of Kanha. The world of birds is full of mysteries as the winged creatures display amazing human traits, herd discipline and unpredictability.

Kanha National Park, all of 1945 sq Kms with a core area of 940 sq Kms was declared a sanctuary in 1952, and became a National Park in 1955. There is a 28 ha enclosure (created in 1970) for Barasingha within the park, with a tiger-leopard fence, to protect them. In 1969 a small dam was constructed at Kanka on the Desinala and another in Sanf in 1970. This improved the perennial availability of water both on the upstream side (storage) and the downstream (seepage). The availability of grass fodder along the stream banks was also enhanced which has helped the dispersal of ungulates over a wider area during the dry months. Since 1972-73 the practice of annual burning has been given up and instead only fire breaks are cleared and burnt to create blocks. With the creation of an independent full-time unit for the management of the park in 1972, with considerable additional staff, firm anti-poaching has become effective. The improved range conditions, enlargement of suitable habitat, decreased predation by tigers and effective general protection have resulted in the barasingha population steadily increasing since 1971.

The Tiger is easily sighted thanks to excellent conservation efforts and the Tiger Shows on Elephant back which are a hit with the visitors. It is a common sight to see groups of tourists riding on the howdah (elephant back) and proceeding towards the deep forest where to witness the eternal wildlife drama unfolding in front of their naked eyes.

I was very impressed with Kanha's Exhibition Houses or Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centres are located at Khatia, Mukki and Kanha proper and they are the result of a joint venture between United States National Park Service and Indian Centre for Environment Education. These Visitor Centres can provide you with a wealth of information on wildlife. A sound and light show also takes place - "Encounters in the Dark".

In Kanha the animals are shy and nocturnal. The thrill of a sudden encounter is intoxicating. A particular sighting never repeats itself, whether that of a tiger with cubs, a tiger on a hunt or tigers mating. The sheer variety in Kanha is amazing.

Getting There
There are regular air services to Raipur and Nagpur (270 km) from other airports in india. One can also take the flight to Jabalpur (170 km). From these airports one has to drive to the park. The most convenient railheads for Kanha are Jabalpur and Nagpur. These two are well connected by fast and superfast trains to other destinations in India.

Access to the Kanha National park is via Khatia or Kisli. From Jabalpur there are daily bus services to these places. From Jabalpur, Bilaspur and Raipur one can hire taxis to the park. No vehicles are allowed inside the park after dark so get there before dusk.

Important Address:
Field Director, Project Tiger,
Kanha National Park,
P.O Mandla,
Madhya Pradesh (India) - 484661

There are many good facilities for staying at Kanha. The tourism and the forest departments have made adequate and comfortable lodging arrangements. The lodges and rest houses are at nearby Mukki or Kisli. The Kanha safari lodge at Mukki, Baghira log huts at Kisli and Tourist lodge at Kisli are some of the government-run outfits. Apart from these there are private hotels and rest houses for tourists. There are canteens and hotels at Kisli where one get both Indian and western cuisine.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.