In a Golden mid-day,
with silence as our mate.
Patrolling the greenery,
in search of our Date.
A serene jungle ..
With a lake beside.
This is the place,
where Mowgli resides.
Winters are charming...
Alluring are the Falls.
Heart starts pounding,
When Kanha Calls..
This is our third safari at Kanha National Park and last of this Bandhavgarh-Kanha tour. No surprise that our body and soul both were challenged by the ruthless winter and restless traveling. We entered the Kanha Zone through Khatia-Kisli gate in search of the big cat with experience of yesterday's sighting still fresh in our minds. There is one more entrance to the park through the Mukki gate which is 40 km away from our present location.
Its more than an hour now, we are trailing in the area which is hilly in nature with dense forest of Shal and bamboo, it's hard to peep in and search for animals. The big cat and big grass (bamboo) are famous for their intimacy throughout India. Last few days of this tour has taught me the basics of jungle. Now its time to implement what I have learnt. Basically no rocket science is required to understand the forest.
Its down to primitive signaling system comprising calls of deer, sambars, monkeys and many more. All we need is basic observation power to understand what is happening around and most importantly natural instincts to conclude from all above.
Luckily most of the drivers and guides in Kanha and Bandhavgar are blessed with all above qualities. They are regularly trained by professionals and all of them take immense pride and pleasure in their profession. Mr Surendra, our today's guide is no exception. As we moved along the forest in the open, Surendra ji heard some alarm calls from a Sambar right from behind. Instead of taking a u-turn, the driver drove almost 300 mtrs in back gear. Timing is most important for tiger sighting, especially in winter. Certainly he does not want us to leave only with stories heard. It’s the sighting of tigers that drags thousands of tourists in Kanha and Bandhavgarh every year and we were no exception. After a jerky back gear drive, our Jeep took a sharp left turn to enter into the road exactly perpendicular to the previous one. There was one more Jeep in front and its passengers signaled us to wait. It appeared that they have sighted something. We waited and waited… with no further calls or alarms, with my two year old Sarthak constantly shouting “পিছনে... আরেকটা... গাড়ী আছে”("There is one more car behind") , it was too much to handle in such delicate situation! He kept repeating, totally out of context he seemed to be overexcited with the presence of so many cars. All was left to my wife to show her delicate motherhood skills, managing perhaps the biggest hurdle, little Sarthak's blabbering. She hold her nerve and exhibited tremendous skill to put him back to sleep in the comfort of her lap. Silence reinstated…
Countdown begins… no-one is sure which side to focus. The forest continued to remain still, calm and quiet. The dusk is nearer and warm sunlight is bathing the forest. The silence seems so wonderful.
Something moved on the left. Right next to us, Barely ten feet away -
1…2…3… Yes it’s Naina, a female tigress about 8 years old, patrolling her territory of Srijhora Road, Kanha. I am the first to sight her behind the bushes. Oh My God!! its coming right in our direction leaving me speechless.
Throughout the safari I covered my camera with my jacket to protect it from dust. Now its not coming off, worse its making noise that can irritate Naina. Somehow I managed to separate it and point my lenses on her. Before I can frame it correctly the car pulled back to make way to her. Surendra ji anticipated that by doing this Naina will parade along the road giving a perfect show to her admirers. However Naina planned otherwise.
She came strolling right in front of us, did not even bother to take a look around. Her body and the tail when stretched together is big enough to cover the 10 ft road. Glorious yellow strips sparkling in the luminosity of the setting sun. Instead of parading the road created for her, she preferred to disappear once again in the forest, leaving all of us in great disappointment specially the cars which queued behind us.
It’s the land of Mowgli and jungle has its own rules. We tried to track her once more, predicting next possible route which opens on the road perpendicular to us. But no luck this time.
Immediately we heard prominent calls nearby but in different direction, very surprising since tigers don’t share territories. The experienced guide helped us to understand that it was for a leopard. The monkeys are known for making different sounds for tigers and leopards. Our Jeep immediately took a u-turn and hurried to the location. The warning calls of monkey and sambar were loud and clear. Definitely something is happening behind the bushes. Surendra ji told us that leopards are too shy to come close like tigers do, hence sighting them becomes more difficult. This time he advised us to check, up in the branches of trees as well. We waited for 10 mins without any luck and changed our direction.
It was a matter of immense pride to make entries in the tiger sighting register two times in the same page and the honor went to me.
Our wonderful jungle-book experience came to a successful end.
Preferred time and month to visit
The park is open for nine months for the tourist. Its closed during the monsoon from July to September. Winter is preferred time for the tourist, the jungle and the animals looks more beautiful during this period. However the scope of sighting preferred animals especially big cats increases in summer. So summer is the time for wild life photography. Mainly because water is restricted to limited places in the forest and innocent creatures voluntarily presents themselves at the pre-identified water bodies. So the challenge of locating them through calls, signals, foot prints and other means are generally not required.
However there is a catch, in summer the temperature rises up to 45 degrees Celsius. That’s not really comfortable for humans as well. Interestingly the jungle also loses its shine due to heat and lack of water and animals prefer to coverup themselves with thick layer of mud, hiding their glamourous skin.
Location and how to reach
Khatia-Kisli gate is located 161 from Jabalpur, 481 km from Bhopal,250 km from Nagpur and 62 km from Mandla. Private cars and travel agencies in all big cities offer cars plying from these locations.
The villagers of Kanha travel by bus plying between Mandla to Kanha. Two times daily, morning and afternoon buses are available. The bus operates from Kanha and first trip from Kanha starts at around 8 am. From Mandla public conveyance to various places are available.
Where to stay and what to eat
To our surprise the place was crowded with enthusiastic Bengalis. So Bengali cuisines are common form of food in this place. Chains of dhaba and hotels are clustered in front of Kisli-Khatia gate and offers all sorts of food at reasonable price.
Rooms in Kanha are little expensive when compared to Bandhavgar. It should not take more than two to three clicks to google down the stay of your choice. So I am not repeating the information which is readily available.
We stayed at Motel Chandan. Our budget was constrained and we preferred dormitory of eight person. It comprises of two toilets (one Indian one western) and the door opens in a private terrace. Rs 4000/- per day. You need to climb 15 to 20 steps to reach the entrance. The prime advantage is proximity to Kisli Khatia gate. The gate is 5 mins walking distance. The manager cum owner is a local guy from Mandla. He can arrange gypsy’s as well. Friendly and helping in nature. Phone number 9424989289.
While strolling down the lanes of Kanha I found a home stay “Shri Rambhanjan home stay” with pure Vegeterian food. The double bedded rooms looked pretty clean and neat. Extra mattresses are arranged if required. Cost Rs 1000/- for double bed and Rs 200/- extra for mattress. It looked pretty good. Phone No Ashok 9425855198, 9406703298, Rajendra 9713984146
It’s better to get an independent jeep which they call a “full vehicle" booking. Although maximum number of person permitted is six, its always better to go in a team of three to four. Carry an extra jacket or cloth to cover your camera. It often gets very dusty. So some protection is required for the lenses you carry. If you are using mobile select the flight mode on and keep your camera always on for these few hours. Remember there is no scope for a repeat telecast.
Don't get fooled by the bright sunny light. You may need to shoot animals behind bushes which is dark. So keep your ISO on higher side. Perhaps 1000. I chose aperture priority mode. Since its almost impossible to fine tune manual settings as things starts happening very fast around you. Timing, lighting and finally framing is perhaps the right order of priority for anyone. If we keep waiting for ideal pose we may end up getting nothing. Keep the burst mode or continuous capturing mode on. Don’t feel irritated if you have to delete 80% of what you capture in post processing. Zoom in lenses are a must but what to do for a beautiful landscape scenery that you suddenly come across. There is no time to change lenses. With dust flying all around it is not advisable too. So keep you mobile or alternate camera ready for task. One can safely select matrix metering, white balance as shadow or cloud i.e maximum kelvin. Rest is framing, including the interesting objects and plotting them in right location. This is for any landscape you want to capture. Mobile camera is also very handy provided you choose the manual or professional mode. For landscape and bright objects ISO of 100 will give you desired result. Select the white balance carefully in mobile as well. Shadow and cloud, that is higher kelvin will add the necessary warmth in your pictures. Don’t be shy to stop your gypsy multiple times to avoid blurs in your capture. Trust me the drivers and guides are really friendly to allow such actions.
If you are pointing your lens at the big cat for a video/image, do it without zooming. Let other cars and humans come in the picture. That will give you a terrific feel when you see the video/image at a later date.
“Elephant bathing” and “nature trail” are not publicized properly. It cannot be booked online. It has to be booked at the gates. Morning trails are the best chance to capture whatever you want. It’s a five kilometers walk though the buffer zone, a guide will accompany the visitors. The cost is Rs 500 for the guide and Rs 250 per person. Its better to take a binocular on rent (Rs 100) so that bird watching becomes comfortable. The walk is quite thrilling to say the least. Tiger sighting is not uncommon as you will be taken to the border area of core and buffer zone. There is a canal dividing the two. The divisions are known only to humans and not to the original residents. My best capture of Sambar was possible while trailing. It was hiding behind the bushes, checking us for possible threats before crossing the road. Barasingha, spotted deer, barking deer, wild bores, barbet, king fisher and the list continues. Forest department has engraved valuable information in all corners along the walk. So take your time to read them as your walk continues. A watch tower is constructed just away from the point where the trail starts, view from its top is mesmerizing.
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