Sheer beauty and Shere Khan. Widely considered the greatest of India’s wildlife reserves, Kanha National Park covers nearly 1,000 sq km of deciduous forest, savanna grassland, hills and meandering rivers with crystal clear waters. Few visitors are disappointed by its beauty.
The reserve’s main claim to fame is that it served as the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 classic Jungle Book, a novel about a boy (Mowgli) raised by wild wolves. And of course, central to the tale is the fearsome, ferocious tiger Shere Khan, the king of this jungle. The chance of catching even a fleeting glimpse of one of his descendants is the park’s biggest draw, and while sightings cannot by any means be guaranteed, the odds improve as tiger numbers continue to rise. According to government figures the park is now home to around 90 tigers, up from 60 in 2010.
But even if a tiger doesn’t oblige on your visit, you cannot fail to see dozens of other species of animals and birds that thrive in the Kanha’s sal forests and vast meadows. They support huge populations of deer and antelope, plenty of langurs, wild boar, chital, hyena… the list is long. And if Shere Khan fails to materialise, you could well see his adversary Baloo in the form of the utterly delightful sloth bear. For birding enthusiasts, over 260 bird species have been recorded here too. Here’s a selection: Stork, teal, pintail, pond heron, egret, peacock, pea fowl, jungle fowl, spur fowl, partridge, quail, ring dove, parakeet, green pigeon, rock pigeon, cuckoo, bee-eater, hoopoe, drongo, warbler, kingfisher, woodpecker, finch, oriole, owl, fly catcher.
However, if one animal were to represent Kanha, and its reputation for being one of India’s best manages forests, it would be the Barasingha, the Swamp Deer. Two decades ago this handsome creature came close to extinction, but now they number around 450 and rising, thanks to one of the country’s most successful conservation efforts.