Kanha in Madhya Pradesh (five hours driving from Jabalpur, six from Nagpur) has sometimes been called the N'Gorongoo of India. The simile is apt, albeit Kanha is far greener and its cordon of hills far more densely wooded. Unlike Tanzania's N'Gorongoro, the Kanha valley is not a volcanic crater, though the enclosing hills are a consequence of geologically ancient volcanic activity. The horseshoe-shaped Kanha valley, which accounts for nearly a third and the oldest part of the Kanha National Park, is bound by two distant spurs emanating from the main Mekal ridge, forming its southern rim. The spurs, in their gently tapering traverse, nearly close in the north leaving but a narrow opening for the meandering Sulkum or Surpan river, the valley's main drainage. Herds of the Kanha miscellany, the axis deer (chital), the swamp deer (barasingha), the blackbuck (hiran), the wild pig and occasionally the gaur, throng the central parkland of the valley, providing the basis for the comparison with N'Gorongoro. With its confiding herds and relatively tolerant predators, Kanha offers an almost unrivaled scope to a keen photographer of Indian wildlife.
The forests of the Banjar valley and the Halon valley, respectively forming Kanha's western and eastern halves, had, even at the turn of the century, been long famous for their deer and tiger. Expectedly, therefore, they were reserved as the exclusive hunting grounds for the most privileged, the British Viceroy, as early as 1910. The ups and downs in the ensuing decades gave an interesting conservation history to Kanha which celebrated its golden jubilee in 1983. It all started with an area of some 96 (250 sq km) in the Kanha valley being gazetted as a sanctuary in 1933. This was followed by 116 sq miles (300 sq km) of the Halon valley around Supkhar also being declared a sanctuary in 1935. However, because of extensive deer damage to tree saplings in the forests and crops in nearby villages, the Supkhar sanctuary was denitrified within a few years. Both these areas at that time still harbored teeming populations of the Central Indian barasingha (Carves duvauceli branderi). This majestic cousin of the nominate swamp deer (Carves duvauceli) of the sub-Himalayan flood- plains had adapted itself to the hard-ground grasslands and until the turn of the century dominated the Central Indian highlands.
Mounting pressures on the wilderness notwithstanding, Kanha valley survived as a sanctuary into the 1950s. Excessive stock grazing had, however, jeopardized the barasingha's grassland habitat and its numbers had greatly declined. Yet a few thousand still found a home in Kanha valley's central maidans - meadows with sporadic groves of trees. Then in the early 1950s, a blessing in cruel disguise, as it was, a privileged hunter was allowed to shoot 30 tigers in and around the sanctuary. The furor that followed led to a special legislation and the Kanha valley was declared a 96-sq-mile national park in 1955. Since then, the gains have been steady. In 1962, the park was expanded to 123 (318 sq km). In 1970, the area south of the Mekal ridge and down to the river Banjar was added raising it to 172 sq miles (446 sq km). Finally, Project Tiger paved the way for the integration of the eastern Halon valley into the park system, initially on a actuary status in 1974 and as a full national park since 1976. This gives Kanha National Park its present area of 363 sq miles (940 sq km) which is further buffered by an additional area of 388 sq miles ( 1005 sq km). The total conservation unit encompasses 750 sq miles (1945 sq km) and is called Kanha Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger.
Kanha's Jewel: The swamp deer or barasingha is the jewel of Kanha and its rescue from the brink of extinction, the crowning glory of its conservation achievements. The enlargement of grassland habitat through village relocation has been the main basis of this breakthrough. Barasingha feed almost exclusively on grasses and tall grass meadows are essential to the security of their fawns from minor and major predators from August - September, when they are dropped, to late November. By this time, the fawns are strong enough to keep pace with the herds and are well initiated into the art of security through herding. Cultivation of the valley grasslands had appropriated the bulk of the grassland habitat while excessive stock grazing did not allow grasses to grow tall enough in the remainder. In consequence, the rate of success at raising young steadily declined and in Kanha valley itself the barasingha number fell from nearly 3000 in the early 19505 to just 66 in I 970.This was the last surviving population of this subspecies in the world. Fortunately, as a result of measures taken, including village relocation, their population continues to show a steady increase and in 1986 had crossed the 500 mark.
Sighting Animals: Kanha has a distinct monsoonal climate. Over 90 percent of its annual precipitation of 64 inches (160 cm) arrives between late June and late September. The park remains closed from July I to October 31, but an early downpour, washing away portions of fair weather roads may enforce an earlier closure (though seldom before June 20). November is mildly cold while December - January are the coldest and given to severe frost, late night temperatures in valleys dipping to 29°F (-2°C). February - March is pleasant spring time. April starts warming up while May - June is the hottest period. Permission showers in late June kill the heat and herald massive deer congregations in the maidans, which quickly shed their brown-yellow and don the rich green of the new flush of grasses. This coincides with the second peak of the chital rutting season. Their rut starts in late March and stretches well into July, the first peak being from mid-April to mid-May. The valleys reverberate with loud, sharp and long-drawn bugling of stags. The maidans are dotted with dominant stags displaying to and courting females and fighting rivals for them.
Vehicular excursions and elephant rides in the park are permitted only by daylight. The best time is in early mornings and late afternoons.
Kanha animals are confiding and a little care in approach can yield prolonged pleasure observing interesting animal behavior within a species and interaction among different species. As soon as a group of animals is sighted the vehicle should slow down, and stop at a distance where the animals take note but do not run away. Soon they resettle, where after advances may be made gradually. With patience a vehicle can be positioned between groups of animals on both sides of the road. Vehicles are not allowed to leave the road. Nor is walking allowed while on excursions.
Birds: Kanha's bird life is rich, the tally of species being close to 300. Mornings are full of rich bird calls. Peafowl, sometimes dancing peacocks during March to June, are seen all over. The Indian roller, racket-tailed drogue, red and yellow wattled lapwing, green bee-eater, different doves (5 species), gray horn bill, tree pie, myna, munia, bush chat, warbler, flycatcher, babbler and woodpecker are commonly seen. Blockheaded and golden oriole, paradise flycatcher, pied Malabar horn bill, Indian pitta, Indian stone curlew, common gray and painted partridge and green pigeon are often seen on drives and elephant rides. Black ibis, white-necked and lesser adjutant storks, white-breasted and pied kingfisher, different egrets and occasionally cormorants are seen around water bodies or streams near Kanha, Sonph, Kisli and Mukki. The main birds of prey, often seen swooping down on and catching or feeding on small mammals, snakes and birds, are the crested serpent eagle, crested honey buzzard, whiteeyed buzzard, black winged kite, shikra, laggar and shaheen falcon, kestrel and a number of owls and owlets including the barn owl, brown fish owl and the night jar. Often whitebacked and scavenger vultures and occasionally black and long billed vultures can be seen scavenging on tiger, leopard and wild-dog kills. For bird watchers staying at Mukki, a trek along the Banjar river and for those at Kisli, going round the Kisli and Kanha campuses can prove highly rewarding. Penetrating into woodland on foot even around the campus is neither advisable nor permitted for reasons of safety.
Tiger Land: The raw beauty of the Kanha wilderness is satisfying because a comparison of the condition of the forests outside with that of those inside is a strong pointer to "conservation in action" in the Park. Kanha's diverse miscellany of mammal and bird life is without many parallels, because so much is seen so well in so short a time. Yet Kanha is better known as the best place in the world to see tigers.
Sighting tigers on drives here is not uncommon, but seeing and photographing tigers from elephant back, sometimes after a thrilling systematic track, is a memorable experience. Elephants usually go out very early in the morning for tiger tracking from Kisli, Kanha or Mukki. An elephant accommodates up to 4 persons besides the mahout - the elephant driver and the friend, philosopher and guide of the visitor. Starting the track, he would readily say in Hindi, "Eyes, ears and nose open and mouth shut." This is sound advice and should be heeded in the interest of success in tracking.
Best Time to Visit
The visiting season to Kanha national park is within the months of April to June and November to January. The park is closed from July to Mid-November that is during the monsoon season.
How to Get there
Air : Nagpur at 266-kms is the nearest Airport to visit Kanha National Park and is connected by various domestic airline services with Mumbai.
Rail : Jabalpur at 169-kms is the convenient rail head to visit Kanha.
Road : Kanha National Park is connected by road with Jabalpur 175-kms, Khajuraho 445-kms, Nagpur 266-kms, Mukki 25-kms, Raipur 219-kms. Within the park: Koshi - Kanha (9-kms), Kishi - Katia (4-kms), Kishi - Mukki (32-kms). There are regular to and fro bus service available from Jabalpur to Kanha.
Park Visitation Timings
1. 15 November to 15 February - Sunrise to 12.00 noon and 3.00 pm to Sunset
2. 16 February to 30 April - Sunrise to 1200 noon and 4.00 pm to Sunset
3. 1 May to 30 June - Sunrise to 11.00 am and 5.00 pm to Sunset