Kanha National Park Travel Guide

What to Do, Where to Stay, and the Jungle Safari Experience

Safari in Kanha National Park.
••• Safari in Kanha National Park. Sharell Cook

Kanha National Park has the honor of providing the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel, The Jungle Book. It’s rich in lush saal and bamboo forests, lakes, streams and open grasslands. The park is one of the largest national parks in India, with a core area of 940 square kilometers (584 square miles) and surrounding area of 1,005 square kilometers (625 square miles).

Kanha is well regarded for its research and conservation programs, and many endangered species have been saved there.

As well as tigers, the park abounds with barasingha (swamp deer) and an extensive variety of other animals and birds. Rather than offering one particular kind of animal, it provides an all-round nature experience.

Location and Entry Gates

In the state of Madhya Pradesh, southeast of Jabalpur. The park has three entrances. The main gate, Khatia Gate, is 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Jabalpur via Mandla. Mukki is nearly 200 kilometers from Jablpur via Mandla-Mocha-Baihar. It's possible to drive through the park's buffer zone between Khatia and Mukki. The Sarhi Gate is nearly 8 kilometers from Bichhiya, on National Highway 12, about 150 kilometers from Jabalpur via Mandla.

Park Zones

Khatia Gate leads into the park's buffer zone. Kisli Gate lies a few kilometers ahead of it, and leads into the Kanha and Kisli core zones. The park has four core zones -- Kanha, Kisli, Mukki, and Sarhi. Kahna is the oldest zone, and it was the park's premium zone until the concept was abolished in 2016.

Mukki, at the opposite end of the park, was the second zone to be opened. In more recent years, the Sarhi and Kisli zones were added. The Kisli zone was carved out of the Kanha zone.

While most of the tiger sightings used to take place in the Kanha zone, these days sightings are becoming more common all over the park.

This is one of the reasons why the premium zone concept has been abolished.

Kanha National Park also has the following buffer zones: Khatia, Motinala, Khapa, Sijhora, Samnapur, and Garhi. 

How to Get There

The nearest airports are in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh and Raipur in Chhattisgarh. Travel time to the park is about 4 hours from both, although Raipur is closer to the Mukki zone and Jabalpur is closer to the Kanha zone.

When to Visit

The best times to visit are from November to December, and March and April when it starts getting hot and the animals come out in search of water. Try to avoid the peak months during December and January, as it's very busy. It can also get extremely cold during the winter, particularly in January.

Opening Hours and Safari Times

There are two safaris a day, starting from dawn until late morning, and mid afternoon until sunset. The best time to visit the park is early in the morning or after 4 p.m. to spot the animals. The park is closed from June 16 to September 30 each year, due to the monsoon season. It's also closed every Wednesday afternoon, and on Holi and Diwali.

Fees and Charges for Jeep Safaris

The fee structure for all national parks in Madhya Pradesh, including Kanha National Park, was substantially overhauled and simplified in 2016.

The new fee structure became effective from October 1, when the parks reopened for the season.

Under the new fee structure, foreigners and Indians pay the same rate for everything. The rate is also the same for each of the park's zones. It's no longer necessary to pay a higher fee to visit the Kanha zone, which used to be the park's premium zone. 

In addition, it's now possible to book single seats in jeeps for safaris.

The safari cost at Kanha National Park consists of:

  • Safari permit fee -- 1,500 rupees for a whole jeep (seating up to six people), or 250 rupees for a single seat in a jeep. Children under five years of age are free.
  • Guide fee -- 360 rupees per safari.
  • Vehicle hire fee -- 2,000 rupees per jeep. Jeeps can be hired from the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation at Baghira Log Huts at the Khatia entrance, or the Kanha Safari Lodge at the Mukki entrance.

    The safari permit fee is only valid for one zone, which is selected when making the booking. The guide fee and vehicle hire fee are distributed equally between the tourists in the vehicle.

    Safari permit bookings for each zone can be made at the MP Forest Department Online website. Book early (as much as 90 days in advance) though because the number of safaris in each zone is restricted and they sell out fast! Permits are also available at all gates, as well as the Forest Department office in Mandla.

    Hotels who have their own naturalists and jeeps also organize and operate safaris into the park. Private vehicles aren't allowed into the park.

    Other Activities

    The park's management recently introduced a number of new tourism facilities. Night jungle patrols take place through the park from 7.30 p.m. until 10.30 p.m., and cost 1,750 rupees per person. Elephant bathing takes place in the park's Khapa buffer zone between 3 p.m. and 5.p.m. daily. The cost is 750 rupees entry fee, plus 250 rupees guide fee.

    There are nature trails in the buffer zones that can be explored on foot or bicycle. One of the most popular ones is the Bamhni Nature Trail near the park's Mukki zone. Both short walks (2-3 hours) and long walks (4-5 hours) are possible. Don’t miss experiencing in a sunset at Bamhni Dadar (a plateau that’s also known as sunset point). It provides a mesmerizing view of the park’s grazing animals as the sun disappears down the horizon.

    Elephant rides are possible. The cost is 1,000 rupees per person and the duration is 1 hour. Children aged from five to 12 years pay 50% less. Children under five years of age ride for free. Bookings need to be made a day in advance.

    Where to Stay

    The Forest Department provides basic accommodations at forest rest houses at Kisli and Mukki (1,600-2,000 rupees per room), and at Khatia Jungle Camp (800-1000 rupees per room). Some have air-conditioning. To book, phone +91 7642 250760, fax +91 7642 251266, or email fdknp.mdl@mp.gov.in or fdkanha@rediffmail.com

    Baghira Log Huts, operated by the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, has rustic accommodations amidst the forest buffer area between the Khatia and Kisli gates. Rates are high (expect to pay up to 9,600 rupees for a double, per night) and there aren't many amenities. However, the big attraction of this place is having wildlife right at your doorstep. If a log hut isn't within your budget, try staying in a dorm room at the adjacent Tourist Hostel instead (1,200 rupees a night, including meals).

    There's also a wide range of other accommodations, from budget to luxury, in the vicinity of Mukki and Khatia gates.

    Not far from Khatia Gate, boutique Courtyard House is delightfully private and serene. For a relaxing escape, Wild Chalet Resort has reasonably priced cottages by the Banjar River, a short drive from Khatia. The cottages at family operated Pug Mark Resort are recommended as an inexpensive option, near Khatia Gate. If you want to splurge, you'll love Kanha Earth Lodge near Khatia Gate.

    Near Mukki, Kanha Jungle Lodge and Taj Safaris Banjaar Tola are pricey but worth it. Alternatively, Muba Resort is a popular budget option there. If the thought of a secluded and rejuvenating and stay with organic farming interests you, try the very popular Chitvan Jungle Lodge.

    Also near Mukki, award-winning Singinawa Jungle Lodge showcases the region's tribal and arts culture, and has its own museum.

    Singinawa Jungle Lodge: A Unique Tribal Experience

    Named Most Inspirational Eco Lodge of the Year in the 2016 TOFTigers Wildlife Tourism Awards, stunning Singinawa Jungle Lodge has its own Museum of Life and Art, dedicated to tribal Gond and Baiga artisans, on the property.

    As I stepped out of the car at the entrance to Singinawa Jungle Lodge, and was greeted by the smiles of the friendly staff, a gentle breeze sent a delicate flurry of golden leaves from the trees.

    It felt as though it was cleansing the remains of the city from me, and welcoming me to the slow and peaceful pace of the jungle.

    Walking along the path through the forest to my cottage, the trees whispered to me and butterflies hovered around. The lodge is located on 110 acres of jungle bordering the Banjar River, and while many lodges focus on safaris into the national park, Singinawa Jungle Lodge provides its guests with their own naturalist and offers many experiences that enable guests to immerse themselves in the wild.

    Accommodations

    The accommodations at the lodge are secluded and spread out through the forest. They consist of 12 very spacious rustic stone and slate cottages with their own porches, a two bedroom jungle bungalow, and a four bedroom jungle bungalow with its own kitchen and chef. Inside, they're individually decorated with a fusion of wildlife paintings, colorful tribal art and artifacts, antiques, and items handpicked by the owner.

    Massive soothing rain showers in the bathrooms, plates of delicious handmade tiger pugmark cookies, and Indian jungle tales to read before sleeping, are a highlight. The king size beds are super comfortable and the cottages even have fire places!

    Expect to pay 19,999 rupees per night for two people in a cottage, with all meals, services of a resident naturalist, and nature walks included.

    The two bedroom bungalow costs 26,999 per night, and the four bedroom bungalow costs 43,999 rupees per night. Rooms in the bungalows can be booked separately. Read reviews and compare prices on Tripadvisor.

    Safaris into the national park are extra and cost 2,500 rupees for an exclusive two person safari, or 5,500 rupees for a group of up to four.

    Museum of Life and Art

    For the lodge's owner and managing director, Mrs. Tulika Kedia, establishing the Museum of Life and Art was a natural progression of her love for and interest in indigenous art forms. Having founded the world's first dedicated Gond art gallery, Must Art Gallery in Delhi, she has devoted significant time to acquiring artworks from different tribal communities over the years. The museum houses many of these important works, and documents the culture of the indigenous Baiga and Gond tribes, in a space that's accessible to tourists. Its collection includes paintings, sculptures, jewelry, everyday items, and books. The accompanying narratives explain the meanings of the tribal art, significance of tribal tattoos, origin of the tribes, and the intimate relationship that the tribes have with nature.

    Village and Tribal Experiences

    In addition to exploring the museum, guests can connect with the local tribes and learn about their lifestyles first hand by visiting their villages. The Baiga tribe is one of the oldest in India and they live simply, in villages with mud huts and no electricity, untouched by modern development. They cook with primitive implements, cultivate and store their own rice, and brew potent toddy from the flowers of the mahua tree. At night, members of the tribe dress themselves in traditional attire and come to the lodge to perform their tribal dance around the fire for guests, as an additional source of income. Their transformation and dance is captivating.

    Gond tribal art lessons are available at the lodge. Attending the local weekly tribal market and cattle fair is also recommended.

    Other Experiences

    If you're keen to become further acquainted with the tribes, you can bring children from the tribal village that the lodge supports with you on safari into the national park. It's an exciting experience for them. Anyone who's feeling energetic can also go cycling into the interior of the reserved forest to a tribal Baiga village with beautifully painted mud huts and panoramic views.

    Singinawa Jungle Lodge undertakes conservation work through its dedicated foundation and you can join in the daily activities, visit a school that its adopted, or volunteer work on projects.

    Children will love their time at the lodge, with activities specially tailored to different age groups.

    Other experiences include day trips to Phen Wildlife Sanctuary and Tannaur river beach, meeting a community of tribal potters, visiting an organic farm, birding around the property (115 species of birds have been recorded), nature trails, and walks to learn about the forest restoration works on the property.

    Other Facilities

    When you're not having adventures, get a relaxing reflexology treatment at The Meadow spa overlooking the forest, or laze by The Wallow swimming pool spectacularly surrounded by nature.

    It's also worth spending time in the atmospheric lodge itself. Spread over two levels, it has two large outdoor terraces with lounge chairs and tables, a couple of dining rooms, and a indoor bar area. The chef serves up a delicious variety of Indian, pan Asian and Continental food, with Tandoori dishes being the specialty. He's even putting together a cookbook featuring local ingredients.

    Before you leave, don't miss stopping by the lodge's shop where you can pick up some souvenirs!

    More Information

    Visit the Singinawa Jungle Lodge website or see my photos on Facebook.

    The Kanha National Park Safari Experience

    The peaceful jungle is actually a noisy place, from the constant chatter of birds to the sporadic warning calls of prey when a predator is present. The predator, the tiger, not only dominates the forest but also visitors' desires to see it.

    At 6.15 a.m. precisely, as the sun just starts illuminating the horizon, the park gates swing open to allow the line of waiting jeeps into the Mukki zone.

    Anticipation, with the thought of spotting a tiger is high, as the vehicles head off in various directions.

    I'm feeling hopeful but not determined. I'm simply appreciating being in the jungle -- this magical place that inspires stories, including Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel, The Jungle Book.

    A herd of spotted deer appears strolling gracefully through the forest. There's a baby one all alone close to the side of the road, almost completely camouflaged in the foliage. It boldly looks back at us, as we stare and take photos.

    The initial pace is leisurely, with awe over each animal sighting. Robust male sambar deer, many varieties of birds, an imposing hefty black gaur, swamp deer, and lots of monkeys. One alpha-male monkey in a tree near us refuses to be frightened, and aggressively bares his teeth and hisses.

    Gradually, as time diminishes, attention on finding a tiger becomes more pronounced.

    We stop frequently to listen for warning calls. We also exchange information with the occupants of each jeep we pass. "Have you seen a tiger yet?" However, from the passive looks on their faces, it's not really necessary to ask.

    We encounter a mahout riding an elephant. "There have been warning calls nearby," he tells us.

    We remain stationed at the spot for a while, alert with expectation.

    The mahout and his elephant disappear into the dense jungle to try and locate the tiger, the carpet of leaves crackling beneath them. We hear the warning calls too. A tiger does not materialize though, so we drive on and repeat the process at a new location.

    Stop, listen for warning calls, and wait.

    Eventually, it's time for breakfast at the designated rest area inside the park. All the other jeeps are there, and it's confirmed, no one has seen a tiger so far. As we eat the tasty food provided by our lodges, discussions are had between the guides and naturalists, and plans are formulated.

    Go back and check out previous places where warning calls were heard. Explore different parts of the zone where tiger sightings are most common.

    Yet, time is ticking quickly. The sun is now beating down harshly, warming us up but also subduing the activity in the forest and causing the animals to retreat out of sight into the shade.

    "Why do tigers even come out at all?" I curiously asked my naturalist. If I was a tiger, I wouldn't be fond of noisy vehicles and gawping humans constantly trying to track me down.

    "The dirt road is easier for them to walk on," he explained.

    "There's less chance of them getting thorns in their soft paws. Plus, the dead leaves on the ground in the jungle make noise when the tigers walk, alerting their prey. It's easier for them to hunt when they can walk quietly along the road."

    "A tiger is only successful in capturing its prey one in 20 times," my naturalist went on to inform me. Quite the inspiration for not giving up!

    Just as we were about to give up ourselves, as our permitted time in the park was fast coming to an end, we encountered a jeep pulled over on the side of the road. Its occupants were all standing up, their demeanor electric! Clearly there was a tiger around. It certainly looked promising.

    Apparently, the tiger had been sleeping by the side of the road when they'd arrived recently. It had only just sauntered off into the jungle.

      We waited, and waited some more. Unfortunately, the park was due to close and our guide was getting impatient. It didn't seem like the tiger would come out again, and it was time to leave.

    There would be another safari in the afternoon. Another chance to catch sight of the elusive tiger. It wasn't my turn to get lucky though. A tiger crossed the path of one jeep at a spot we'd passed by only minutes earlier. Once again, we'd narrowly missed it. It really is a matter of being in the right place at the right time!

    The closest I got to seeing a tiger was a tree with its side ripped apart by the animal's powerful scratches. Yet, any disappointment I felt was allayed by the pervasive enchantment of the jungle.

    See my photos of Kanha National Park on Facebook.