Saturday, July 21, 2012

Kanha Tiger Reserve – Hide and seek with tigers



The tigers won, hands down. Apart from a few glimpses, we didn’t see much of Kanha’s legendary tigers. But they teased us all the way through and showed us enough evidence of a thriving tiger population, definitely in the tourist zone. Though one tiger sighting from elephant back wasn’t really what we would have ideally liked, we heard and saw tracks of several other tigers. And missed a leopard. And saw some beautiful barasingha up close.

Crested Serpent Eagle
Kanha is a 3 hour drive up from Pench, through Seoni and the day we set out, the highway was blocked by protestors agitating against the poor condition of the highway. So our driver had to take back roads and little village roads, so we saw a lot more of the villages than we expected. And I was so thrilled to see how beautiful our villages generally are, clean and neat houses for the most part, neatly painted in white and blue – almost like a uniform. And the DTH dishes were in evidence, sometimes even in the smallest of homes. Bharat Shining, anyone?


Anyways, back to Kanha and it was cold in the mornings! In May, the height of summer. We stayed at the lovely Tuli Tiger Resort, where we were accompanied into the forest by their chief naturalist, Mr. Pradeep Wasunkar, a fine gentleman and a really super source of information on Kanha. Pradeep would get us out of the hotel at 4:10, to be early in line though the gates only opened at 5:30. The gypsies all queue up and go in single file, so the laggards usually get a fine dust bath. Hence the urgency.

On our first morning, we headed down to Kanha, and before we hit the meadows, Pradeep saw fresh tigress tracks. She must have been on the road barely a couple of minutes earlier.  And as if to confirm her presence, we heard her roar, she was in the bush barely 20 feet away.  But we never saw her. We didn’t know where she went. But she was there. And very close!

That afternoon we headed to Kisli to seek a family of four (tigress with three cubs) who were seen near a waterhole next to the gate that morning.  As soon as we got there, langurs started calling and we all looked towards the waterhole for any signs of movement. But the langurs were actually looking towards the hill on the other side of the road. And then we saw them, two tiger cubs in the shrubs on the hill. And we moved our gypsy to create space for them to cross. But they never came, probably put off by the endless stream of impatient vehicles constantly moving back and forth. And just when it was time to go back, amidst a pall of dust, we saw the mother with a cub, much further back on the hill. Not a great sighting, but tiger nevertheless.

Munna - Record shot
The next morning, we went back to Kanha and Pradeep was keen to track Munna, the dominant male, who has an amazing ‘CAT’ marking above his eyebrows. And while we wandered all around for him, we saw some beautiful barasingha in lovely light. Then found out that his majesty had walked out in the open meadows. We came there much later and by then he’s walked to the edge of the meadow, where the safari elephants had caught up with him. And as our elephant came upto him, we saw he wasn’t a happy camper, he was snarling as one of the elephants blocked his path.  We got a couple of record pictures and headed off. I really don’t approve of the Kanha approach of blocking an animal that desperately wants to move on.  So no more elephant safaris in Kanha. 



Barasingha
That afternoon we spent more time in Kisli, explored the interiors of this beautiful part of Kanha. Beautiful waterbodies and lots of birds. And on the final morning, we were back at Kanha. Just before we hit the meadows, we saw fresh tracks of a tigress and two cubs.  Then further ahead, pug marks of another tigress and frantic barking deer alarm calls. Then another set of langur calls at another place. But no tiger! And when we headed to the meadow, we saw gypsies lined up in the centre. Munna had arrived, while we were away and was lying under a tree. At that time, someone told us there was a leopard on a rock at the edge of the meadow.

Dilemma time – should we try for Tiger or Leopard?  We wallowed in indecision for a bit then decided on the leopard. By the time we got there, it had already moved on, disturbed by the safari elephants. Foiled again. We went back to the meadow, but friend Munna was in no mood to surface. As we headed out though, we saw a beautiful herd of gaur in brilliant light. And a serpent eagle just as he was about to take off.

So we headed out of Kanha, having spent a lovely time with Pradeep, wishing that our tiger luck changes at Bandhavgarh!



Brain Fever Bird

Serpent eagle



Kanha Trip Guide

Getting there
Kanha is about 266 kms (5 hours) north-east of Nagpur. Jabalpur, 160 kms (3 hours) is the nearest big town and rail head. It has limited air connectivity as well.

Stay
Kanha again has the whole gamut of hotels. We stayed at the excellent Tuli Tiger Resort (www.tulihotels.com) Please so spend some time there with Mr. Pradeep Wasunkar, he’s a wonderful person and great company. Vijay, our driver was excellent as well and the manager Mr. Datta was very attentive and supportive.

Safaris
As with all MP forests, safari bookings can be made online (www.mponline.gov.in) but the site is not always easy to use. Your hotel can also get your bookings done through the site. The hotel will arrange your gypsies, better to go through with people from the hotel itself.

Other tips
Kanha is extremely dusty, so if you’re allergic, then carry a mask or at least a towel. And unless you’re going in peak summer, it can get chilly at times, so a jumper might not be a bad idea.