t2 tracks pug marks in the Kanha jungle but the tiger is mia!

It takes almost half a day to get to Kanha National Park — India’s famous jungle located deep inside Madhya Pradesh — but if you’re a wildlife lover, the journey shouldn’t be an impediment. The best way to get there from Calcutta is to take a flight/ train to Nagpur and then hire a vehicle (or ask your resort to send one). The drive is around six hours long (265km). One can also land in Jabalpur and drive down, it’s shorter (165km), but the roads, we hear, are better on the Nagpur-Kanha route. 

By Text and pictures: Karo Christine Kumar
  • Published 19.07.18
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Sunrise at Kanha National Park

It takes almost half a day to get to Kanha National Park — India’s famous jungle located deep inside Madhya Pradesh — but if you’re a wildlife lover, the journey shouldn’t be an impediment. The best way to get there from Calcutta is to take a flight/ train to Nagpur and then hire a vehicle (or ask your resort to send one). The drive is around six hours long (265km). One can also land in Jabalpur and drive down, it’s shorter (165km), but the roads, we hear, are better on the Nagpur-Kanha route. 

On a sultry day in June, with no signs of rain, I arrived at Club Mahindra Kanha, home for two days. The resort had organised a jungle safari and that’s all we could talk about as we spent the evening on the resort lawn, drinking village chai, seated cross-legged on the charpoy under a starry sky.

(Above) In wait for a tiger after hearing the alarm call of a deer during the jungle safari in Kanha National Park where elephant safaris are also available

SHIKARI SAMBHU 2.0

Early next morning I stepped out of my Kumbhi bungalow, named after the wild guava tree. The other bungalows in the peaceful Club Mahindra Kanha resort have also been named after trees like Mahua, Jamun, Sindoor and Banyan. The sun was not yet up but it was time to leave so that we could reach the Park’s gate by the opening hour of 6am.

Tickets can be bought for any one of the four jungle zones — Kanha, Kisli, Mukki and Sarhi — and a guide is assigned to each jeep. Carrying ID proof is a must and the guide ensures that tourists don’t swap places between vehicles, and that forest decorum is maintained. At no point are you allowed to step out of the vehicle on to the ground!

So off we went in search of the elusive tiger, me feeling quite like Shikari Shambu, the fictional character in Tinkle comics, perhaps just as lazy and unheroic!

The bungalows in the peaceful Club Mahindra Kanha resort have also been named after trees like Kumbhi, Mahua, Jamun, Sendoor and Banyan

SAFARI SIGHTINGS 

Sunlight dappling through towering sal trees, and grasslands filled with limpid pools… it is a pleasure to drive through Kanha Tiger Reserve even at 34°C. Our first sighting, just past the buffer zone (the transition zone between civil life and the forest), was an Indian bison with white socks. Soon after, the Jeep passed by spotted deer and sambal deer, two of the seven types of deer living in the forest, and the cameras went click-click. “Halt the car!” bellowed our guide Madan Chaubhey to the driver, all of a sudden. “Is it a tiger, is it a tiger?” we strained our necks and to see. “Look up ahead, it’s a jackal,” said Chaubhey. And then we saw it, a straggly excuse for a wolf, scampering into the woods, with game between its teeth!

Now that we’d tasted blood, we wanted more. And so deeper into the woods our Jeep went, scouting for more wildlife, on the heels of a grey-headed fish eagle in flight. A lone deer leaped across our path and that’s when we saw it — pug marks on a rough patch of muddy land, surrounded by tall grass.

Stopping the vehicle, we leaned outside and saw what looked like tiger pug prints. “The centre toe is elongated, which means it’s a tigress. They must be the pug marks of tiger Neelam and her cubs!” exclaimed Chaubhey. They were fresh and so we decided to park at the spot in case she or any other of the 105 tigers in Kanha decided to show up!

Alas, no luck even after 30 minutes, and so we carried on, content with more deer sightings, a black-headed ibis, and monkeys picking lice off each other. Yet wondering in our heads… kya tiger zinda hai?

CHILL ZONE

Back in Club Mahindra Kanha, our hungry selves tucked into the buffet lunch at Spices, the multi-cuisine restaurant. None of the groups had been successful in spotting the tiger and disappointment was as sharp as the knives we used to carve the Chicken Roast. Yet we made the most of the evening, shaping earthern pots out of clay at the potter’s wheel and taking turns to ride the Segway. “I wonder if there are any night safaris,” wondered one of us aloud. “Yes, there are! I think three Jeeps head out every night,” said a member of the hotel staff. We sat up straight, our minds filled with visions of hooting owls and black bears and raced to the reception to find out more.

An hour later, around 8pm, three of us adventure buffs, after some jugaad, found ourselves at the gate of Kanha National Park. There was no electricity so it was pitch dark, the air was fresh and the sound of crickets on a loop. There was a small gathering outside the window that sold safari tickets. In a few minutes, we filled the forms by the torchlight from our mobile phones, and we were assigned a guide and a Jeep. We were lucky, we had caught the last of the three Jeeps.

NIGHT SAFARI

The thrill of a night safari is something else. One feels daring yet helpless, like you’re stepping into Jurassic Park. One is excited at what lies ahead but look behind into the darkness when the open Jeep is moving, and fear creeps over like a blanket of dew.

The road ahead was lit up by the strong headlights of the Jeep. Our first sighting was a jungle owl perched on a branch, something you’d never get to see in a day safari. A little brown hare kept pace with us for a few metres. We even stopped to look at a black scorpion, the guide’s flashlight making it look less fatal.

But the star spotting of the night was a big sloth bear, crossing the road, carrying two cubs on her back. It all happened so fast that before we knew it, she had disappeared into the dark woods.

Though we didn’t spot a tiger even this time round, we did not mind. The thrill of the night safari is something I’d return to Kanha for. Tanha dil, Kanha safar….

FACT FILE

Property: Club Mahindra Kanha

Expanse: The resort is built over 18 acres of land

Rooms: It offers 62 rooms, divided into 18 one-bedroom and 32 studio units along with 12 luxury tents. All rooms are air-conditioned

Facilities: A swimming pool. The White Spa, which offers treatments like Svaastha Sparsh to put your frayed nerves at ease

Activities: Indoor activities include table tennis, chess, carom, pool, soccer, PS4, air hockey and pottery. Outdoor activities include nature walk, village tour, Segway ride, peddle go-carting and zorbing. There is also an organic farm, which you can take a tour of

Around the resort: Do visit Ghogra waterfall

Website: www.clubmahindra.com