If you have traveled extensively in India, then most likely you have already heard of Kanha National Park. Also known as Kanha Tiger Reserve, it is one of the many National Parks in India where one can hope to see a tiger in the wild. It is in Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India and the land of tiger reserves. Kanha is the largest National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
Ever heard of the Jungle Book? It is believed that Kanha National Park was on Rudyard Kipling’s mind when he wrote the book. But hey – I saw the movie and the forest doesn’t really look like how it is portrayed in the movie. Hollywood obviously makes everything look even more dramatic than it already is and sometimes ignores the beauty of simplicity. In the new movie, the jungle is depicted as a tropical rainforest but not in the books. In reality, this area has a tropical savanna climate.
So here’s the thing – no matter what kind of a traveler you are but seeing a tiger in wild is an experience that you will remember for life. Yes, you may have already seen one if you ever visited a zoo as a child, but that’s not a tiger’s natural habitat. Thankfully, India has many tiger reserves where you can go for a tiger safari. The state of Madhya Pradesh, especially Kanha National Park is one of the places where the probability of seeing a tiger is usually higher.Most of you know it already but I’d still like to mention this – please treat Mother Nature with respect. Keep in mind that a forest is a sacred space and you need to respect the rules of nature. Do not ever visit a zoo to see wild animals that are kept in captivity for human entertainment. Visit National Parks, animal reserves and sanctuaries instead. San and I do not visit or support zoos and we’d like to urge our readers not to do so too. And hey, go read about our elephant safari experience in Sri Lanka.
Project Tiger 1973, Tiger Conservation and Background
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you probabaly already know this, but here’s a little background about India’s tiger conservation efforts.
On April 1 1976, India launched a tiger conservation program called Project Tiger. The aim is to protect tigers from extinction by conserving their natural habitats. Under this program, many tiger reserves were set up and encouraged so that these places can be the breeding grounds for new tiger population.
One of the biggest challenges with tiger conservation is poaching. As per ancient Chinese medicine, tiger parts are used in several recipes and extremely wealthy businessmen in the neighboring countries allegedly sent several highly paid poachers to these parks. To fight poaching, the government set up Tiger Protection Force. The tiger population has risen from 1411 in 2006 to 2226 in 2015.
Where is Kanha National Park?
The state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) is massive in size and is bigger than most of the countries in the world. It is even bigger than Italy! Within MP, the forests of Banjar and Halon valley collectively form Kanha National Park.
As mentioned before, this region has a tropical savanna climate with open grassy meadows. Kanha has two entrances, one is in Mandla district and the other is in Balaghat district. For detailed information about how to reach Kanha National Park, please check out the end of this article.
The Zones inside Kanha National Park
Kanha is divided into 4 zones – Kanha, Kisli, Sarai (Khatia Gate entry) and Mukki (Mukki gate entry). All the zones are equally good but the tigers in Kanha and Kisli zones are better accustomed to seeing humans around them and so it is believed that the chances of spotting tigers in these zones are better.
Some important places to see inside Kanha National Park are Bamni Dadar (sunset point), Kanha Museum (you will most likely stop for a toilet break here) and Medicinal Plan Conservation Area.
My Tiger Safari Experience in Kanha Tiger Reserve
The worst thing about jungle safaris is that they start very early in the mornings – but hey that’s also the best thing.
Our group was divided into 4 and we went off in different safari jeeps. Two of them saw tigers and the other two did not. Sadly I was in the group that did not! But the most amazing thing is that both the groups saw different tigers. One saw a male and the other saw a female. One of the groups that saw the tiger was nice enough to share the footage and the pictures with me.
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We thought we’d be the first ones to reach the Khatia entry gate of Kanha but we were wrong, there were many jeeps already standing in the queue. The entry took 30 minutes because the authorities check the IDs for each person that enters the park. Moreover, a naturalist accompanies each jeep and sits in front.
Even though the weather in MP was warm when I visited towards the end of October, it was surprisingly chilly in the morning. It’s a good thing that our jeep had a blanket for all of us to share.
The jeeps are only allowed to follow a fixed route so that the wildlife is not disturbed and I respect that. Also, the drivers and naturalists are not allowed to use a walkie-talkie because the authorities want to prevent a situation where one group sees a tiger and calls every other group to see it.
As soon as we entered the national park, we saw a herd of deer that and a few monkeys right next to them on the tree. Our naturalist explained that monkeys and deer often form an alliance to protect each other from predators like tigers and leopards.
Just a little ahead of the monkeys and deers, we saw a little snake. It was so small that I’m sure we would have missed it if our jeep wasn’t on a standstill.
Our naturalist helped us identify a lot of trees and birds but I don’t remember most of their names. I particularly remember the Indian ghost tree, it had shiny white bark and our naturalist mentioned that it glows in the dark; especially more so during full moon nights. Apparently, Kanha has over 1000 species of flowering plants!
We saw a snake, groups of deer, barasingha, chital, sambhar, blackbucks, etc. We even saw a few wild dogs, which looked like normal stray dogs to me. I also read somewhere that the park has a few sloth bears and leopards too but we did not see them.
Our naturalist showed us tiger paw marks on the ground, which appeared to be fresh. He mentioned over and over again that we should not appreciate the natural beauty around us and enjoy looking at other animals and birds apart from just waiting to spot a tiger.
I have this thing for nature and visiting a forest always feels like a reward for all my senses. I love the sounds of the forest, the smell of trees, the gentle breeze against my hair, and of course I love looking at the greenery. Forests have this kind of a healing energy that all of us need from time to time to feel spiritually invigorated. That’s why I cherished every single moment of being here.
I was amazed at how frequently the landscape inside Kanha forest changed. At one point the forest was extremely dense and lush, and at another time it was totally dry. We also saw a few streams inside.
Most of the jeeps make a stop in the middle of the park which is one of the very few areas where eating is allowed. You can buy simple snacks and drinks here.There is a massive structure that’s made here using deer antlers. There is also a little museum here called Kanha Museum where I got to know a little more about Kanha National park and its history.
This is the spot where I met others in our group who were in different jeeps and I got to know that they saw tigers.
At first, I was sad because I did not get to see the majestic tiger while I was in Kanha. I was also a little annoyed at my luck because because my visit to MP was as a travel blogger and content creator so my visit felt like a joke to me initially. Because of this, I did not even look at my Kanha pictures and videos for nearly 4 months after my visit. Last week I finally did and I realized how special my visit was. I learned so much from our naturalist and the lovely locals of MP. Moreover, tigers are elusive animals and I am lucky that the other half of the group did and they shared their shots with me.
Safari Timings at Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park allows the entry of jeep safaris twice a day – morning shift and afternoon shift. The morning shift is from 6:30 am to 11 am and the afternoon one is from 3 pm to 6 pm.
If you’re planning on doing the morning shift, you will have to wake up at 4 am or even earlier. Don’t let that bother you because you can always sleep after your safari is over. Afternoon shift is good too but I was informed that the morning shift gives a better opportunity to observe the park’s flora and fauna. One really good thing about the afternoon shift is that it will give you a chance to see Bamni Dadar – the sunset point inside Kanha.
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Only 6 people are allowed to sit in one jeep along with one driver and naturalist. All the vehicles are allowed to follow a fixed route and leave the part before the end of their appointed time. There is a bit of paperwork that needs to be done before every visit, ask your hotel to help you with it.
Kanha National Park Online Booking
I hardly ever tell my readers to book things in advance but not in this case. Kanha allows only a limited number of jeeps inside the park per day, per zone. These tickets usually sell out a few weeks in advance.
Kanha National Park Entry Fee
The entry fee is INR 1370 per person. On top of this fee, there is also the cost of jeep and guide that can be shared. The cost of the jeep is usually INR 2000 and the cost of hiring a guide is INR 370.
Best time to visit Kanha National Park
Weather-wise, the best months to visit Kanha National Park are from October to March, which are winter months in India.
Tiger sighting is easier when the forest dries up from late March to May, however, the heat can be unbearable at this time. This is when most of the wildlife photographers visit the park.
Nature lovers will love the months from November to February because the rainfall before these months revives the vegetation in the forest. These months are very good for bird watching because a lot of migratory birds visit Kanha during this time.
Kanha National Park is closed for visitors in the months of July, August, September and half of October. The park opens every year from October 15 and shuts on June 30.
Kanha National Park Hotels and Resorts
MP Tourism arranged our visit to Kanha National Park and they booked one of the best places for us to stay. We stayed in a place called Soulacia Hotel & Resort that’s the best place where I have stayed in the entire state of Madhya Pradesh. It is not just about the luxury but the overall feeling of comfort and ease that I felt while I was here because of the resort area, my cottage, the staff and the food.
Soulacia Resort is pretty big with a swimming pool, garden, dining hall, plenty of cottages and bonfire & barbecue spot.
My cottage was extremely luxurious, had a balcony, study area, massive bedroom, an equally massive bathroom and also an open-air shower in the backyard.
On the first night that we visited Soulacia, the staff arranged a bonfire and barbecue for us with an outdoor bar. The food here was exceptionally good and we really enjoyed the breakfast too.
A cottage in Souacia Hotel and Resort costs around $125 USD per night. To know more, feel free to read reviews on TripAdvisor from other travelers who stayed here.
How to Reach Kanha National Park
Perhaps you already know this but I still feel I should remind you that Kanha National Park is a forest area, so you can’t directly fly to it. You will have to reach one of the big cities that are close to Kanha and do the remaining journey by car. Your hotel will surely send a cab to pick you up if you ask in advance and pay a little extra.
Reaching Kanha National Park By Air
The closest airport to Kanha National Park is Jabalpur and from here the drive can take easily 3 to 6 hours, depending on the traffic and how bad your vehicle is. Jabalpur is 160 KMs away and Google Maps shows that this distance can be covered in 4 hours but it took us 6 hours to reach.
Our journey was particularly long because we had a very slow vehicle. However, our drive to Jabalpur airport from Kanha barely took us 2.5 hours because of a faster vehicle.
Two more options of nearby airports are Raipur (250 KMs) and Nagpur (300 KMs) but the distance is double. I do not recommend you fly to these because you may just end up wasting an entire day to reach your hotel in case the traffic situation is bad.
Reaching Kanha National Park By Road / Driving
If you’re driving to Kanha National Park from any other part of India, reaching here depends on which park gate you will enter from – Khatiya (Mandla district) or Mukki (Balaghat district). Deciding where you enter the park from further depends on which hotel you will be staying in. I will make it easy for you and share my suggestions.
Khatia entrance is usually preferred because it covers a larger area of the park – Kisli, Kanha & Sarhi zones. Mukki entrance covers the Mukki zone of Kanha. Both these entrances can be reached very easily from Jabalpur and Nagpur but the route is different.
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Reaching Kanha National Park By Train
The nearest train stations to Kanha National Park are Gondia & Jabalpur. If you’re traveling from Delhi, one of the best trains to do this journey is train number 12442 – Bilaspur Rajdhani, which goes directly to Gondia. Another option is 12122 – MP Sampark Kranti that goes to Jabalpur. If you’re doing this journey from Agra, you can book 18238, which goes to Gondia.
If planned well, train travel within India can be quite comfortable because it will give you a chance to lie down and doze off. First class AC and second class AC are obviously more expensive but they are worth the cost for the amount of peace that they provide. For a typical chaotic Indian train experience, you may want to book your seats in a cheaper compartment like 3 tier, general compartment, and third class.
Here is a list of some bigger cities that are near Kanha National Park and the distance from there:
- Jabalpur – 160 Km (4 hours by road)
- Raipur – 250 Km (5 hours by road)
- Bilaspur – 250 Km (5 hours by road)
- Bhilai – 270 Km (5 to 6 hours by road)
- Nagpur – 300 Km (6 to 7 hours by road)
Alternatives to Kanha National Park
Kanha may be the biggest national park in MP but it is not the only one that’s worth visiting. You may want to check out some more national parks in Madhya Pradesh that you can visit.
Pench National Park
Pench National Park just 200 KM away from Kanha and both these parks share Seoni district in Madhya Pradesh. It is called so because the river Pench flows through it. This park is spread over both Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Along with Kanha, even Pench is believed to be the backdrop of the Jungle Book series.
Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve
Another one of the bigger national parks in Madhya Pradesh, Bandhavgarh National Park is just 250 KM away from Kanha Tiger Reserve. Out of all the national parks in India, it has the highest known density of Bengal tigers.
Satpura Tiger Reserve
Satpura National Park is located along Madhya Pradesh’s Satupura Hills. The nearest big city is Bhopal. My friend recently visited Pugdundee Safari Resort in Satpura and had the most memorable experience. This jungle lodge is located along the backwaters and you can even stay in a treehouse here.
Panna National Park
Panna National Park is located towards the North East side of Madhya Pradesh state. It is one of the newer national parks of MP. It is no longer called a “tiger reserve” but is “biosphere reserve” because the entire population of tigers has sadly been eliminated as of 2009 because of poaching.
Have you ever been lucky enough to spot a tiger in the wild?
There are so many national parks in India apart from Kanha National Park where it is possible to see wild tigers. If you have ever been lucky enough to see a wild tiger, please comment below and let me know where. I’d love to read about your experience.