If you are looking for a day trip that is a little off the beaten path and want to take your chances to catch the elusive big cats, then Kanha National Park is the place you should be. Located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Kanha is a tiger reserve in India and the largest national park of the state. The national park was created in 1955 and was given the distinction of being a tiger reserve in 1973. Kanha is divided into two protected areas, Hallon and Banjar. The park, nestled in the Maikal range of the Satpuras, encompasses an astonishing 1945 sq km area, taking into account the buffer zone and the core areas. Along with the Bengal tiger, Kanha boasts an impressive array of flora and fauna, including the Indian leopard, sloth bear, barasingha (swamp deer) and the Asiatic wild dog, to name a few. Not just animals, the reserve is home to around 300 species of birds for you to spot! So, what better way is there to spend a day in Madhya Pradesh than at the Kanha National Park?
The main attraction of Kanha is the jungle safari. Taking you right into the lap of nature, with beautiful hills and lush, green forests, the available safaris are absolutely enchanting and can give you goosebumps. It is an experience that stays with you and makes a lasting impression.
For the safari, Kanha has four zones, namely Kisli, Kanha, Mukki, and Sarhi. The national park, like all others in India, stays open from 16th October to 30th June. There are two shifts – morning and afternoon, and timings vary according to the season. The Jeep safari is the most common and is an excellent way to watch nature unfold in front of you. Other than the traditional Jeep safari, however, there is an Elephant safari as well, which takes place only in the morning. However, this cannot be booked in advance, unlike the Jeep safari, and must be booked the day of, depending on the availability of the elephants. Additionally, Kanha also provides the opportunity of a night safari that can be booked at the park gate.
If you are an early bird, then your morning should start (preferably) before sunrise since that is when the gates of the national park open up. Hop on a Jeep to start your safari, and it will take you right into the depths of the forest. Along with your guide, keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse of the wildlife, but do not forget to take in the beauty of nature in the quiet and sleepy morning sun. There is something very calming and almost therapeutic about sitting quietly amid the forest as you keep your ears perked to hear a call. That is what you and your guide will be doing, as you wait with bated breath for the chance of seeing the big cat wander out in search of water or simply for a stroll. The guide will take you to see every nook and cranny of the zone that you are assigned to, and, if not the tiger, you might just get to see something more elusive.
After you are done with the morning safari, there will be a need for refreshments as you gear up for your second safari in the afternoon, which starts at around 2 or 3 pm (depending on the season). There are a few hotels and restaurants to famish your hunger, however, it is a proven fact that food will be the last thing on your mind. The thrill of the second safari and the expectation of what has to come will pass the hours, and before you even realize it, it is time to hit the road once more. The second safari will be like the first one, only this time, the evening is fast approaching. As the sun sets and the light starts to fade, the wilderness, and you, will be engulfed in the eerie and mesmerising beauty of an evening-time jungle. Again, keep your eyes peeled on the road and around you – you might not even realise it, but there might just be a tiger looking at you at any given moment. The evening safari ends at sunset, and when you are done with it, you will have an experience that cannot match anything you have felt before.
The jungle is the home of the animals and the birds, and, as a tourist, we are their guests. Thus, it is very important to keep a few things in mind and play by the rules for a safe and hassle-free experience. It is advisable (and necessary) to drive slowly. It is not only so that you can experience everything around you with all of your senses, but it is also to keep the animals safe. Speeding can lead to dangerous accidents that should be avoided at all costs. It is also extremely important to stay in the Jeep at all times. It is also advisable to be on the road and zone that is assigned to you - do not stray from them. Additionally, it goes without saying, littering is a big no-no. So is smoking or lighting fires of any kind. Lastly, keep in mind that the national park is a huge area, and you might not be able to see a tiger on just a day trip, and that is ok too. However, the park will not disappoint in delivering the experience of a lifetime!
During the summer months, Kanha can get very hot. Thus, wear light and loose clothing and carry a hat, scarf and sunglasses to protect yourself. Sunscreen is also a must. Light clothing is advisable during the winter months as well, since bright colours can disturb animals. In the winter months, carry warm clothing since it can get quite cold. The morning safaris during winters record freezing temperatures, so bulk up on winter wear. Additionally, water bottles are a must since continued exposure to the sun can cause dehydration. Lastly, you can also carry binoculars and cameras.
Winters are the peak season to go to Kanha as the summers can get extremely hot. November to March is, thus, a great time to visit the park. The forest is rejuvenated after the monsoon season, and it is also a great time for bird lovers since a lot of migratory birds flock to the park. However, to increase your chances of catching the tiger, March to May is a great time to visit Kanha. Fair warning, though, the temperature is very high during the time and can become scorching.
Kanha has two main entry points – Khatia and Mukki entrance gates. The national park is well connected by land, air and railroads, and you can avail of a host of different ways to get to it. By air, the nearest airports are Jabalpur (160 km), Raipur (250 km) and Nagpur (300 km). By train, Gondia (145 km, 3-hour drive from Khatia) and Jabalpur (160 km, 4-hour drive from Mukki) are the nearest. The park is also very well connected to all of the major cities of Madhya Pradesh.
Waiting with bated breath in the stillness of a beautiful forest is an incomparable experience. You have to sit quietly and decipher what the call of the animals around you mean, along with your guide, as you try to figure out which path the biggest member of the cat family will take. And, if luck (and a little calculation) has it, then you might just come face to face with an animal that will forever create a place in your heart and mind. So, are you ready to answer the call of the wild on a day trip to the Kanha National Park? Pack your bags and book your tickets to Madhya Pradesh!
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