Jungle escape to Kanha

I was enviously reading about Kafka Tamura, the central character of Haruki Murakami’s book Kafka on the Shore, flipping the pages that describe in detail his days spent alone in a log cabin nestled by the mysterious yet protective layers of a lush forest in Japan. With enough time to day dream in the train journey from Mumbai to Jabalpur, I may have imagined myself fitting into the story a hundred different ways before exhausting into sleep. But as all beautiful stories go, less than 12 hours later, I found my fantasies playing out in front of me. There I was, a stone throw away from the buffer zone of Kanha National Park, without any form of entertainment or connectivity. I probably had enough luxury and company to draw any parallel with the image of nothingness in Haruki’s novel, but being there, I was overcome by this positive energy at having completely escaped the busy city life. My surroundings demanding nothing but my complete attention for the next three days.

Sunset in Kanha National Park

Sunset in Kanha National Park

With wildlife tourism at its peak in India during the winter months, tourists from all over the world visit the Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh with the hope of sighting a tiger. I met people, who went for not two, but as many as eleven safaris during their stay. I will be honest; I thought they were simply wasting their time and money. But into my third and last safari, I was heartbroken to be driving away from the easy sight of spotted deer and peacocks. No wonder people chose to spend about eight hours daily for days at a stretch, braving the freezing December cold in a jeep, only to soak in the wilderness there.

During the safaris, looking frantically yet carefully for the wild beasts soon turned into a routine. I, however, treasure those few minutes when the engines of the jeep were made to shut and we sat with bated breath, listening intently to the piercing sound of a cricket at one moment, and the mating call of a Barasingha the next.  Every other moment, the leaves would rustle, alerting us to the presence of a wild creature lurking at a close distance. A bird would fly past, while another would perch itself on a tree nearby, allowing us to stare in awe at its colorful palette like feathers and small gorgeous frame for a few seconds. For those few minutes, I felt one with the forest, like I belonged there.

Tigress in Kanha

Spotted in Mukki zone – A tigress calling out to her cubs

Asian Openbill Stork

An Asian Openbill Stork busily looking for food

Barasingha

Swamp deer or hard ground Barasingha – saved from extinction through conservation efforts in Kanha National Park.

 

If the forest left me thrilled, the rather informative museum in the Kanha zone of the national park  (that served as our breakfast stop during the first safari) left me especially curious about the many villages spread across the buffer zone. Once I was done wildlife spotting, I went on a long guided walk through the village of Samnapur in the afternoon. What I noticed was a beautiful contrast. Well facilitated primary and secondary schools co exist with a small population of Bhil tribe that lives without any materialistic possession other than what they deem extremely necessary – only a stove and blanket from what I noticed. With a weekly market providing them their requirements, the village that still practices barter system, seems to have no complaints whatsoever about living so close to the forest. Farming keeps them busy and nature is their respite, they say. I am a little surprised, but after constantly asking the same question to safari guides and the resort staff, all of whom come from neighboring villages, I make peace with the idea for the moment. Perhaps, man and wild did enter a safe mutual concession in these villages, and I was glad to not have heard otherwise during my stay.

Village life in Kanha

The villagers thrive either on agriculture or jobs made available owing to wildlife tourism.

Samnapur village

The resorts in the area swear by the kind nature and hard work of the villagers.

If like Kafka Tamura and me, you are looking to escape everyday worries for a while, I say go to Kanha, and while you are there, let the forests bewilder you and soothe you all the same.

 

Note: I visited Kanha in mid-December when the temperature went down to zero during early morning safaris. If you don’t want to brave the cold, wait a few months as naturalists informed me that April is also a good month for wildlife spotting.

Want to soak in the wilderness of Kanha? Read on.

Take a flight/train to Jabalpur. Book a cab through MP tourism to Kanha, the last I checked they charged Rs.2000 from Jabalpur station to Mukki Gate. If you are on a budget, like I was, take a rickshaw to the City Bus stand and take the Kanha Deluxe bus that leaves at 7 am and drops you at the village Mocha, which is 51 km away from Mukki Gate, at 12 pm. From there, you’ll have to request your resort to arrange a pick up for you.

Check into a suite in Chitvan Jungle Lodge. The affordable tariff of this luxury resort covers all delicious meals as well, and the service is just excellent. (Mail them for prices) The resort will book your safaris for you on prior request at Rs.4500 per jeep which is inclusive of the services of a driver and guide.

Once there, do not worry if you have been booked to go into Mukki zone instead of the Kanha zone. They are both part of the same national park and while Mukki provides greater chances of tiger spotting, Kanha zone is more scenic and has been given the status of premium only owing to the presence of the museum.

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