Into the wild
|Sheila Kumar goes trawling in Kipling country where
she sees a magnificent tiger and much more|
The Kanha Tiger
Reserve is not as lush as the Corbett Park. It does not have a brooding fort
looming over it like in Ranthambore. However, what it does have is 940 square
kilometres of bamboo and sal forest, rolling meadows covered over with tall
grasses, a lake or two and very, very strong chances of glimpsing a tiger.
One finds Kanha is
a well-run park where the guides are competent and understand the value of
silence. They actually listen to the vital warnings systems that indicate a cat
may be lurking in the vicinity. The reserve was awarded the Best Maintained
Tourist Friendly National Park, a well-deserved accolade.
But the bricks
before the bouquets. To get to Kanha, one needs to traverse terrible roads, one
a national highway (12-A) at that. Considering Madhya Pradesh hawks its tiger
territories (Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Panna, Pench) with due aggression, it is
surprising that nothing has been done about laying fresh roads. However, if the
determined manage to traverse the abysmal route, they will reach the village of
Mocha, just three to four kilometres before the game park. At Mocha, there are a
handful of privately run resorts and inside the park, the Madhya Pradesh Tourism
Board runs the Bageera log huts and lodge.
Our jeep safari kicked off at a numbingly cold
hour of the winter morn, travelling a plotted circuit. Within the hour we had
seen two impressively large specimen of the Indian bison (gaur), herd upon herd
of chital, the one remaining black buck in the park, a pair of wild boar the
size of which would have impressed even Obelix, a brace of four-horned antelope,
stray sambhar and quite a few barasinghas.
Rathor Singh, our
guide, turned out to be something of an amateur ornithologist, so we got to
admire a variety of avian life ranging from the common egret, kingfisher,
lapwing, rocket tailed drongo, woodpecker, to green pigeons, crested serpent
eagles, pintail ducks, owls galore and a white-backed vulture high up in its
lair. The museum in the heart of the reserve is an interesting one spread across
a handful of rooms, its pictures arresting, its text informative without being
Kanha has 128
tigers, 90 panthers, one black buck, a few bears, about a 1,000 of the
white-socked gaur, 20,000 chital and 350 Branderi swamp deer, the only ones left
in the world of this breed of barasingha.
The humans talk in
code at Kanha. Just about every one had their heart set on witnessing the main
event, of course, so whenever two jeeps would draw up alongside, a terse ‘Any
dekkos?’ would issue. Someone would mutter ‘Route 8’. Elsewhere, a thumb raised
up or turned down did all the talking. Soon, word came that we could just get
lucky further ahead.
So, further ahead we went, the guide
cautioning us all along that spotting a cat did not naturally guarantee a
However, a darshan
is what we got, and a great one at that. At a clearing ahead waited two
elephants; the tiger had been spotted in the vicinity. The pachyderms crashed
into the jungle and came to an abrupt halt some 500 yards ahead.
There he lay,
literally at our feet, one magnificent male tiger a good five feet or more in
length, his yellow and black striping gleaming with good health. He had just
eaten part of his kill, a chital, and now lay in a stupor, not even bothering to
raise his head at the advent of gawkers. His huge paws were crossed, his tail
twitched lazily and so did his whiskers.
powerful tribute to the cat ran through my mind as did epiphany Number One:
There is no gazing one’s fill of a tiger. Once you look, you want to arrest that
moment, freeze it, and keep looking.
And then, one of
the elephants stepped a bit too close for the tiger's comfort. He raised his
head, fixed us with a yellow glare and growled low but with distinct menace. The
mahouts hurriedly moved the elephants to a safer spot, the magical moment passed
and the cat went back to dozing.
Two: sighting a cat engenders immediate greed. Once you have seen one of these
beasts, you want to see another. After which, you will want to see more of
Which was why we spent the evening safari
going up inclines, crossing boulder-dammed inlets, scanning the elephant grasses
intently, ears pricked to catch any warning call. The Panjal river runs to the
park's south but a shortage of monsoons has left the many creeks all dried up
and so, there didn't seem to be many watering holes. We came to the Shravan Tal,
where Shravan, the good son, had given his feeble parents water.
We passed a
thousand silent sentinels of bamboo, saw the ghost tree, the large albino sal.
We came across a hundred intricate termite castles some standing a good six feet
in height; we saw many giant cobwebs glinting a gauzy silver in the dappled
light, we saw pug marks, some fresh, some not. We stopped at two trees where
tigers and leopards had left clear markings. We saw a spectacular sunset at
two-and-a-half hours we had done pretty much all of Kanha, its densely forested
areas as well as its rolling flatlands, wrapped in an intense seeking silence
occasionally interrupted by shrill birdsong. We had come across a lot of animals
but our somewhat grim search had not yielded a tiger. At the end of the ride,
came the final epiphany: sighting a tiger is pure magic yes, but a leisurely
ride through Kanha sans any expectations, is a great way to spend time, too.
is about 165 km from Jabalpur, 259 km from Nagpur, both centres being well
connected by road, rail and air.|
the privately run resorts is Tigerlands. Phone: 0761-2622224. MPTDC has its own
log huts, and safari lodges inside the reserve. Tel: (07649) 277227 or (0755)
2774340/42/43. For more info, log onto mptourism.com.|
|When to go
reserve will yield a fair sighting of animals all through the year but the cool
months (October to March) are the best.|