Let me say this right in the beginning: For all our vacations, we head to National Parks because the forests have a magnetic appeal and we are besotted with their charm. By now we have visited most of the Parks in India, so we have to keep revisiting them. That said, Kanha in Madhya Pradesh (MP) is a forest that we can see, breathe and feel, again and again.
Kanha Reserve spreads across an area of 1,949 sq km, which makes it one of the largest Parks in India. So just driving around the forest is relaxing and breathtaking. The Park is divided into four zones — Kanha, Mukki, Kisli and Sarhi — from which you choose to book your safari rides. We opted for Kanha and Mukki zones and the sightings were marvellous. We chose a Wednesday to take a morning flight from Pune to Nagpur. From Nagpur to our resort near Mukki gate was a five-and-a-half hour drive and the friendly and chatty driver made it feel even feel shorter. Why we chose Wednesday to travel is because we could relax after the journey and not rush for a safari ride. The afternoon safari at Kanha remains closed for visitors every Wednesday. So do make a note when booking the rides.
We started on a good note considering June weather when rains are expected. But the sky was light grey and blue, and the weather hot, which makes it ideal for animal sightings. That said, we were equipped with raincoats.
Kanha is known for its barasinghas or swamp deer — the state animal of MP — and you can find them in large numbers. However, this wasn’t the case some years ago when hunting, poaching and diversion of the long grassland to agricultural land led to a decrease in their population. After which reserve officials took necessary steps to conserve them.
Now, they can be found in great numbers. Their long antlers and brown coat make them a fascinating species.
Large groups of spotted deer or chital also can also be found. Grazing, locking horns, crossing the track, males making mating calls, mothers nursing the young, fawns looking lost and some members of the herd always watching out for predators. But we felt they are far more afraid of humans. If we found a herd standing close to the vehicle track and our Gypsy passed by, they would run for their lives!
We also had great bird sightings. Watching the Indian roller (blue jay or neelkanth) spread its wings and take flight was magical. Clothed in different hues of blues, dull green, purplish lilac, brown and having white streaks — the bird would make a pretty canvas if you have the passion to paint. We felt awestruck watching it fly past us and soaring into the vast blue expanse overhead.
We saw nightjars too, which can be mistaken for a rock. Unless you are observant you are likely to miss the bird, which is most active at dawn and dusk. They are very well camouflaged in their surroundings.
But the bird that won our hearts is the Indian scops owl. We saw not one but a family of three with mummy owl and her owlets keeping a vigil on intruders and passersby. Nicely perched on a tree hole in their sweet home, they made an adorable sighting.
By the time we were on our third safari trip, we had spotted a lot of animals, birds and trees. But yes, the king was yet to arrive! On our third trip, we asked the driver and guide to head early for the rest area and breakfast break so that we could avoid the rush of other vehicles.
We took our break, finished early and left for the second round of the forest. While we were driving around, a driver from another safari vehicle informed us that a male tiger had been sighted next to the track closeby. We rushed to the spot and saw MP-KTR-T-29 Link 7, popularly known as Chhota Munna. Sitting, walking, lying on the road — the tiger graced us with his presence for more than 20-25 minutes and shutterbugs went berserk clicking him. He started walking away when he got the scent of another bigger male — MP-KTR-T30 (known as Umarpani Male). And we were lucky to see him too. Just a few metres away, this male, which had killed many other tigers in territorial fights, was resting. From his looks, you could make out he was the boss and he held our attention too.
Sighting of two male tigers in close proximity is a rare phenomenon because tigers fiercely guard their territories, and the weak don’t survive. The guide informed us later that Link 7 and Umarpani Male were gearing up for a fight. We hope both survive.
The author can be followed on Twitter @taniaroy