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Kanha National Park is a well-known tiger reserve popular among forest enthusiasts, including me. I love all kinds of travel, but local and adventure travel are my favourites. That is why I love forests; they always reek of thrill and suspense – things that make an adventure great. Maybe that is why, when I got a chance to visit Kanha during the off-season, I accepted it wholeheartedly.
It was the middle of March; spring was almost at its peak. The mango tree beside my house was blooming. But I was depressed because I have not had a chance to go somewhere for a while (more than eight months, I believe). Now that was to end because of the adventure coming.
A few months back, my friend messaged me, “Kanha Chalein (Want to go to Kanha)?” I misread ‘Kanha’ for ‘Knaha’ at first. ‘Knaha’ in Hindi means ‘where’. After two minutes to clear the confusion, I agreed to his offer. Then we booked the train tickets, entry permits, forest rest house accommodations, and even the safari package online. I was fascinated by how well-organized Kanha’s tourism programs are. They really made it easy for tourists like us, who hate dealing with agents.
On the departure day, my friend and I met at Howrah Station with packed rucksacks on our back and excitement in our hearts. We boarded the Shaktipunj Express and reached Jabalpur Junction on the second next day. Kanha was still far from there. From the station we boarded the Satpura Express. This was a very rare opportunity. At the time, Satpura Express was Asia’s fastest narrow gauge express train. Now this service is no longer available and work is in progress to make the line a broad gauge train.
Hours after boarding the train, we arrived at Nainpur Junction and, yet, we were only halfway to Kanha. There was still a double bus trip awaiting us. From the station, we got on a bus to reach the Chiraidongri bus stop. From there, we boarded another bus coming from Mandla to reach Khatia Gate (or Kanha Gate), the main entrance of Kanha National Park. Finally, we were there, after a “not-so-excruciating” bus journey.
We spent the rest of the day there, seeing the local scenery, watching the forest department’s new trainee elephants, expecting the tiger to come to us angrily and demand an answer as to why we did not accept his gift.SB
Normally long distance bus services in India are over-congested. You have no place to stand properly inside the bus, more so with a backpack. Finally, you settle with climbing on top of the bus and sitting among the luggage and the other people facing the same problem as you. It’s funny and irritating at the same time – funny when the weather is pleasant and a refreshing wind is flowing, and irritating when it is raining or the scorching heat of summer is roasting you to dark medium brown.
You may ask why we do not wait for another bus. It is because the next bus may not come for the next hour or so, and it will be as congested as the previous one, if not more. However, these two buses were not that congested at all. The bus towards Chiraidongri was almost empty, and the second bus was a bit congested, but people offered us seats when they saw the heavy rucksacks we were carrying. Anyway, we reached our destination now, and that was all we needed. The sun was setting already, so we started walking towards the Forest Rest House. It was about a few minutes from the Khatia Gate.
It was evening when we reached the Forest Rest House (nowadays known as Khatia Jungle Camp), checked in, got our room prepared, entered our room and dropped the rucksacks on the floor. So we just packed our small bags, charged our cameras and phones, played some cards, and ate our dinner early before going to sleep. Since we went in the off-season, the rest house had only 5-6 out of 32 rooms booked, meaning more silence and peace for us.
We woke up at dawn the next morning. The safari was at 6 AM so we got ready by 5:30 AM, after forcing ourselves to get up. Our jeep and guide came to pick us up at 5:45 AM. After clearing the permit checks at Khatia Gate, we entered the forest.
The morning is the BEST time you can pick to visit a forest, I am telling you. The evening is good too, but morning is far better. There were abundant Spotted Deer (Chital) and Swamp Deer (Barasingha) grazing in the fields in flocks. They seemed very accustomed to tourists and we got a few close pictures of them. One spotted deer grazing very close to our jeep (about 7 feet away) – I was astonished. I did not know that deer can be this fearless. I counted it as a good sign and took a few shots. There were also a few Gaurs grazing on the other side of us along with a Sambar Deer couple romancing behind a tree.
The environment was filled with the scent of wild flowers, thanks to spring. We saw some sal trees; a few were so ancient that they date back 500 to 700 years, if not more. As we went deeper into the jungle, we started to see more deer herds here and there, two male gaurs fighting each other, a few wild dogs staring at us from a distance, a wild boar drinking water from a small waterhole, and yet, we could not see the main attraction of Kanha, the tigers.
However, our luck was with us, in a very weird way. Going to a very quiet place in the jungle, we suddenly spotted some blood marks going through some bushes to behind a big rock. As our jeep closed in near the bushes, a pungent stink hit our nostrils hard. It smelt like rotten butter and meat. Our guide whispered to us that it was a tiger, sitting behind the rock, eating its prey. Knowing how risky it could be to get any closer than we were, we agreed with our driver to move on, disappointed. Our luck was really with us in a weird way. On our return, we stumbled upon fresh tiger dump. It felt like a parting gift from the tiger to us, which is very… very… very cringeworthy!
It was like Tiger saying “Since you could not see me, here is a gift for you. Take this turd back to your home and keep it on the mantel” to us. Like any other sane person, we refused this lame gift humbly and kept moving to the exit. The jeep dropped us back in the rest house and bid us goodbye.
We spent the rest of the day there, seeing the local scenery, watching the forest department’s new trainee elephants, expecting the tiger to come to us angrily and demand an answer about why we did not accept his gift, and eating the food in the canteen.
As a Bengali, there are only a few states I can say cook rice properly, and while Madhya Pradesh, the state where Kanha National Park is located, is one of them, you are better off sticking to chapattis rather than rice in Kanha. The rice was good, but it could have been cooked better in my opinion. The canteen was run by local people, and they were very welcoming and honest; my friend and I enjoyed their company joyfully.
The next morning, we packed our bags and checked out from Kanha. It was time for us to head for Pachmarhi, to see the famous silk industry that is situated there, to touch the cocoons and the silk with our own hands, but that is a story for another time.
Also check out Gorumara National Park, India.