When Kipling crafted the affable character of Mowgli, he modeled the locale of the Jungle Book on the pretty Kanha National park in the heart of India. The state of Madhya Pradesh is home to the Kanha National Park or the Kanha Tiger Reserve that is roughly over 520 sq kilometers in core zone area with an additional 1000 sq km as buffer zone to the core area. The reserve is home to roughly 110 tigers and besides offers a gorgeous setting for other lesser pursued flora and fauna. The reserve is mostly made of salwood trees growing long and lean with broad leaves, my favorite Labernum, the vine(y) Banyans, from which Mowgli swings and other local specie. The beautiful forest that once inspired Rudyard Kipling to concoct the Jungle Book is still as glorious as ever, well maintained by the Park officials over time. Apart from the man-cub Mowgli, the Jungle Book introduces us to varied other characters with their own eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, each as different as can be from the other. Together they form a microcosm of the world as it is and highlights a plot where like in every story the good wins over the evil. On a mission to relive the childhood Jungle Book days, ones where we religiously tuned into the government run Doordarshan channel and watched Mowgli, Bagheera, Akira, Ka and the unforgettable Balu fight the evil Sher Khan. The only difference being, we literally pursued, hoping to get a glimpse of a Sher Khan or the Indian national animal the Tiger!
Venturing into the forest in the early morning hours with a group of wildlife enthusiasts means that we were kept abreast wholly about the inner workings of the forest. From firelines to the names of trees and birds sighted the government induced guide and our fellow naturalists brought to the front wonderful nature knowledge to our notice. The Park is divided into zones accessible from different gates. The Kanha Gate is the most popular while the Mukki Gate is the least. But once in the park there is no knowing of which route the Tiger decides to grace. No more tracked down by Mahouts, the sighting of Tigers has gotten unpredictable at it’s best. Besides tigers are rather solitary creatures and like cats, they simply cannot be coaxed into doing something they would rather not. That said, after almost two hours of our scheduled 5 hour safari time we were elated to spot a lessor known tiger, approximated by it’s build to be roughly 5 years old. And unlike Sher khan this creature with a shiny coat looked as magnificent as ever. Quite a bit of the show-off the tiger sat amidst the jeep tracks checking us out, just as we clicked away incessantly. As I marveled at the orange and brown stripes, unique to each tiger, the guide watched carefully, instructing less movement and low decibel volume continuously, lest we be attacked. But looking into the vastly contended eyes of Mr T, I was pretty sure he had his fill for the week!
Excited and pleased to have survived the safari and spotting a tiger, we set out again to appreciate the salwoods, the very many birds and other fauna, mainly the Barasingha deer that is only found in Kanha. With thriving deer population, the tigers at Kanha do have plenty to eat apart from the gorgeous surroundings they enjoy. Switching off the mobile phones in mandatory in Kanha as the radiation caused the death of many a bird-specie. The feathery creatures are supposedly not immune to the radiation and I sure wish we fare better off! Sleeping owls, foxes, kingfishers, tailor birds, mynas, and a whole lot of other ornithographer delights later one drives out of Kanha very refreshed and delighted. When the great architect Frank Llyod Wright said, “I do believe in God, I only call it nature”, he did know a thing or two about God. Kanha hosts a great many number of resorts and lodges, staying in a tent, wearing the safari hat with binoculars in tow, ala Shikari Shambu may be a great idea!
p.s as a lover of fiction, visiting places that inspire timeless classics is a wonder in itself, sometimes the imagination wins but mostly the reality is truly inspiring. (ala Bath for Pride and Prejudice, Atlanta for Gone with the Wind, Baker Street for Sherlock Holmes!)