Tiger safaris in Kanha National Park

A vast landscape of sal forests and open grassy meadows in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Kanha is one of India’s finest national parks. Its population of Bengal tigers draws in people from around the world, eager to see Shere Khan shimmering through the grasses, but an abundance of other creatures live here, too. Leopards, Indian bison, langur, wild boar and jackal roam this vast wilderness, and there’s a huge array of resident and migratory birds, from peacocks to vultures. Kanha’s meadows play host to huge numbers of antelope and deer, too, including the rare hard ground barasinga swamp deer, found nowhere else and recently adopted as Madhya Pradesh’s state mascot.
Kanha is huge. The surrounding tiger reserve covers around 2,000sq km, including the 940sq km Kanha National Park at its core. This means it’s a little harder to spot tigers here than in nearby Bandhavgarh, but it also means that you are treated to a more rounded, satisfying safari experience, with the chance to shake off other jeeps, explore deep into the jungle and simply soak up the sights and sounds of a pristine Indian wilderness.
Kanha National Park was established in 1955, and in the 1960s, biologist and conservationist George Schaller conducted early tiger research here. The larger Kanha Tiger Reserve, which incorporates the national park, was created in 1973 through the Project Tiger initiative. Today, around 100 of these beautiful creatures live here and are protected by stringent conservation policies. Seeing one is undoubtedly a thrill, but never guaranteed. Despite growing to 4m long, tigers are tricky to spot and expertly camouflaged. They often prowl along the edges of meadows, where sambar, chital and swamp deer feed. You may sense the presence of a tiger before you see it. The atmosphere shifts, animal warning cries fill the air and the tension rises as one slinks into the territory.

Visiting Kanha National Park

Due to the limited number of jeep safaris permitted each day in Kanha, the high demand for them and the recent changes in the management of India tiger tours, the best and most hassle-free way to visit Kanha is on an organised tour – both tailor made and small group options are available. You will also need to book your visit well in advance – think, six months – as tiger safari slots sell out early and tour operators need time to complete all the paperwork necessary to secure game drives. They will also arrange accommodation.
Kanha National Park sits within the state of Madhya Pradesh, bang in the middle of India, and reaching this central spot usually demands a long journey using various modes of transport. An organised small group tour might kick off by flying to Nagpur and then driving to the park, or by traveling by train to Jabalpur, which is about 170km away. Many tours combine Kanha with one or two of Madhya Pradesh’s other fine national parks, for a range of wildlife experiences and the chance to see many different tigers. Bandhavgarh (six hours drive away) has the highest density of tigers of all India’s reserves and Pench (four hours drive away) has a thriving population of leopards and wonderful birdlife.
There are two main gates into Kanha: Mukki and Kisli. Three is accommodation clustered around each. Game drives take place using open vehicles, with usually six people, plus a driver and naturalist guide. There are two game drive slots per day, with the morning one (6am to around 11am) often the most fruitful for tiger sightings. Obviously, though, tigers don’t appear on cue and sightings are never certain. You need a good guide, good luck and a good number of game drives to spot one.

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Best time to see tigers in Kanha National Park

The best time to see wildlife and spot a tiger in Kanha Natonal Park is April and May, when rising temperatures mean water supplies are dwindling and animals can be seen congregating around those few remaining water sources. But – and it’s a sizeable but – you must be prepared for very hot days at this time of year, with highs in the 40°Cs, which can feel unpleasantly roasting for many. Instead, most people come November to March, when the days are warm (mid 20°Cs). The further away from the summer monsoon you travel, the more the vegetation has died back, making sightings easier. Mornings can be cold in December and January, and traveling in an open-sided safari vehicle makes chilly conditions feel even colder, so bring warm clothes and plenty of layers. In common with most national parks in India, Kanha is closed during the monsoon, from the start of July until the end of September.
Photography in Kanha

Photography in Kanha National Park

Most people who visit Kanha National Park want to see a tiger and also hope to capture one in a photo. Unlike on an African safari, where you may see a whole pride of lions or enjoy numerous sightings of your favourite creature on a single trip, on a tiger safari, it’s more important to relish each tiger, as subsequent game drives may draw a blank. Bear in mind, too, that vegetation and the tiger’s brilliant camouflage can make it hard to get a good shot. So don’t fixate on photography and instead, for a truly immersive wildlife experience, concentrate on soaking up the sights, sounds and atmosphere instead.
Paul Goldstein, top tiger safari guide at one of our leading suppliers, Exodus, has this photography advice:
“Much like mountain gorillas, you have to be aware that this is a desperately endangered species, so please try and look beyond your camera. I have led countless tiger safaris in India, but probably only have half a dozen really good photos. So, particularly when you see your first one, put the camera away because, firstly, you might not see another one and also, it is a deeply emotive moment. The photo will probably be rubbish anyway as you will be sobbing or shaking, as you should be.”
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Aditya "Dicky" Singh] [Two tigers: Ashishmahaur] [Tiger in Kanha Park: Davidvraju] [Jeep tours: Madhavi uikey] [Tigress and family: Christopher Kray] [Kanha sunset: NH53] [Tiger walking away: Christopher Kray] [Sleeping tiger: Honza Soukup]
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