We are just back from a 3 day trip to Kanha Tiger Reserve. We flew into Nagpur, and drove 5 hours through the countryside, to a pretty lodge called Camp Dev Vilas. We did four safaris into the jungle - two in the morning, and two in the evening.
By the time I came back home, I was exhausted. But I had fallen in love with Kanha.
Why, you ask? No, it wasn't the tigers. Or any of the beautiful birds we saw. Or my first sighting of a leopard in the wild.
I fell in love with the land itself.
There are very few places in India where time stands still. Kanha is one of those places. In the tall sal forests of Kanha, it feels as if nothing has changed for a thousand years, as if the forests and the trees have stood there forever.
A sounder of wild boars in Kanha's Sal Tree Forests.
Apart from the noise of their feet on the leaves, there was no other sound.
I have been to other forests in India - but none of them have had this kind of impact on me. Maybe it is the sheer size of Kanha. You can keep driving around; the park seems endless.
One evening, we drove up to a plateau for a look at the park boundary. The forest stretched as far as the eye could see. The park is all of 2000 square kilometers., with habitat that includes not only sal forests, but also more wild forested tracts, and beautiful meadows.
Kanha is horse-shoe shaped, with hills ringing the park.
Can you see the hills in the far distance?
By the way, if you have heard of the word 'Gondwanaland' - referring to an ancient continental structure that existed up until 130 million years ago - it comes from the Sanskrit words "gond" + "vana" - meaning Forests of the Gonds.
In the late nineteenth century, an Austrian geologist, Eduard Seuss, studied the ancient land formations in central India, and came up with the theory that the continents as we know it today were all joined together. It was he who coined the term Gondwanaland to refer to this ancient supercontinent.
The famous meadows of Kanha. Looks like a water-colour painting .
The people of Kanha are ancient too. One morning, as we drove in the dark pre-dawn hour to our safari, I saw a group of Baiga tribals, carrying wood. There were men and women in the group walking with small quick steps, balancing their loads on their shoulders. As they melted away into the darkness, our guide Monu explained that the Baigas still make their living from the forest, collecting honey and timber.
In the buffer zone of Kanha, we also saw many small settlements of Gonds. Their houses are uniformly painted an auspicious blue. Their cattle are short, with small horns. They are farmers and cattle owners, living a simple rustic life.
Gond house under a mahua tree
Rocks, forests, people - everything about Kanha seems ancient, reminding you of a time when the world was a different place. Although the animal population of Kanha is nowhere the size it once was (the vast herds that once roamed these meadows are gone), the Forests of the Gonds seem to have escaped the complete destruction we see everywhere else in India.
One of the endearing features of Kanha is that the animals are still very shy of humans. It is a very different experience from say, Africa, where the animals lie around, indifferent to the hundreds of tourist jeeps. I for one, rejoiced that I had found such an Eden. I will return to Kanha soon, I am certain.
Chital run away in alarm when they see our jeep.