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To watch a tiger in the wild is one of the most beautiful sights nature has to offer, and to see it in the forests of Kanha Tiger Reserve is truly breathtaking: thick forests on craggy hillsides, unending acres of tall, green grass, herds of deer grazing on the meadows, and the beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger on the prowl. Even before you enter the core area of the reserve, there is a buzz to Kanha; the almost dry grass and sal forests seem to be waiting in anticipation. Even the birdsongs around the forest sound different. A forest rich in flora and fauna, Kanha Tiger Reserve is home to more than a hundred tigers, and many endangered and rarely seen animals, such as the leopard, swamp deer, sloth bear, Indian wild dog, spotted deer, barking deer, rare Indian wolves, and several types of primates.
During the last years of the 19th century, the dense forests of the Maikal hills were a favorite hunting ground of British officers and local rajas. Surrounded by the River Narmada, the Hallon and Banjar valleys were rich in tigers, swamp deer or Barasingha, deer and leopards. However, unmindful hunting and rampant deforestation led to a near wipeout of the regions wildlife. In 1931, the British administration declared a moratorium on hunting in this region and declared is a wildlife sanctuary in 1933, limited to an area of 250 square kilometers. Two years later, 300 square kilometers of the Hallon valley were added to this sanctuary and conservation methods stepped up.
Post-independence, the Government of India notified the Banjar sanctuary as a National Park in 1953, and renamed it Kanha covering an area of 253 square kilometers. In subsequent years, more parts of Mukki valley and Kisli were added.
In 1973, Kanha was one of the original parks to be enlisted with Project Tiger at its launch in 1973 CE. A powerful predator, tigers are at the top of the food chain and efforts for their conservation encompass the entire eco-system of the region. Of the 28 parks now a part of Project Tiger, Kanha has done particularly well. Based on the tiger census figures of 2007, Kanha’s tiger population stands at 131.
Following the success of Project Tiger, the government added more of the surrounding areas to the park and handed the management of the park to a centralized Kanha Tiger Reserve in 1983. However, a period of decline followed and the animal population of the reserve started to go down. In 1995, the park adopted a core-buffer strategy: wherein 940 square kilometers of the park were designated as the core area to be surrounded by a buffer zone.
Besides the protected animals of the reserve, the region was home to two indigenous tribes: the Gonds and Baigas. Originally residents of the park’s core area, these tribes practiced subsistence agriculture. But rising population put pressure on the forest brought them in frequent interaction with the tigers. This had an adverse affect on the animals, and since 1960, these villages have been relocated out of the core are to the buffer zone.
Kanha Tiger Reserve is vast. While on a safari to here, your movement will be limited to the buffer zone and the reserve itself, for which the two common modes of transport are jeeps and elephants. You can hire a jeep for Rs 10 per kilometer for safaris within the park. You can also enter the reserve with your own private car, but it has to have a petrol engine. However, any vehicle can be used if your movement is restricted to the buffer zone.
A word of caution, the terrain of Kanha is craggy. It is advisable to move about only in the company of a guide or local driver. That way, you will also have the opportunity to keep an eye out for local wildlife. At any time, do not leave your vehicle to explore on foot unless a trained forest guide is around. Use of headlights and horns is also prohibited inside the park.
Mandla is the nearest town to the reserve, which has a railway station and limited connectivity to Jabalpur and Nagpur. The two gates at Mukki and Kisli are also well connected to Jabalpur, Raipur, Nagpur and Mandla through regular bus services.
Tourist Traps in the City
The tourist facilities at the tiger reserve are controlled and well managed. However, you may still come across the odd tourist or jeep driver wanting to push his way and jump the queue. Occasionally, you may also come across tourists who are just plain loud. But these are just a couple of drawbacks of a popular and otherwise peaceful destination.
Kanha is one of the most well preserved and rich reserves in India. While the jungle is largely free of human habitation, the efforts of conservationists and forest officials have helped preserved it's bio diversity. While visiting Kanha, do take time to interact with the guides, forest officials, and other locals you might meet. You will then be able to appreciate the love they have for the forest and its inhabitants and gain some insight into their conservation methods.
For souvenirs of your tiger safari, you can stop at the the gift stores near the gates. Items of interest include tiger keychains, portcards, calendars, wildlife books, and other local handicraft.
While cellphone coverage is ubiquitous in India, you are unlikely to get any connectivity inside the tiger reserve. You may not want to carry your phone in to the reserve at all, as silence will improve your chances of sighting a tiger.
Landline phones will be available with the forest officer as well as at the villages and resorts in the buffer zone, where you may also get cellphone connectivity. Some of these resorts do offer Internet connectivity, but at a price. If you are looking for Internet cafes and other amenities, head to Mandla which is the nearest town.