Widely considered the greatest of India’s wildlife reserves, KANHA NATIONAL PARK encompasses some 940 square kilometres of deciduous forest, savanna grassland, hills and gently meandering rivers – home to hundreds of species of birds and animals, including tigers. Despite the arduous overland haul to the park, few travellers are disappointed by its beauty, which is particularly striking at dawn. Tiger sightings are not guaranteed, but even a fleeting glimpse of one should be considered a great privilege. Moreover the wealth of other creatures and some of central India’s most quintessentially Kiplingesque countryside make it a wonderful place to spend a few days.

Brief history

Central portions of the Kanha Valley were designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1933. Previously, the whole area was one enormous viceregal hunting ground, its game the exclusive preserve of high-ranking British army officers and civil servants seeking trophies for their colonial bungalows. Not until the 1950s though, after a particularly voracious hunter bagged thirty tigers in a single shoot, did the government declare Kanha a bona fide national park. Kanha was one of the original participants in Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger, which helped numbers recover. The forest department claims there are around 78 tigers, but guides and naturalists say 35–40 is a more accurate estimate (for most of India’s tiger reserves, halving the official figures will generally give you a more realistic idea). As part of a long-term project, the park has expanded to encompass a large protective buffer zone – a move not without its opponents among the local tribal community, who depend on the forest for food and firewood. Over the years, the authorities have had a hard time reconciling the needs of the villagers with the demands of conservation and tourism; but for the time being at least, an equitable balance seems to have been struck.

Yet serious challenges remain: in recent years poaching has become an issue again and traps have even been discovered in the park’s “tourist zone” (the area visited on safaris). Illegal timber felling is also a problem, the buffer zone is increasingly being encroached upon and there is little effort to check the growth of new hotels.

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  • The park