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Tiger Safari India Which side of Kanha National Park should I stay?

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Tiger Safari India - The 'two sides' of Kanha National Park

​​For us here at Wildlife Trails it is very interesting to write a blog about the 'two sides' of Kanha National Park, as to be honest we organised nearly 95% of our tiger safaris in Kanha from the 'Mukki Gate' and there were very solid reasons for following this 'tactic' in the early years of the 21st century. When we first visited Kanha National Park in 1999 we stayed at the excellent Kanha Jungle Lodge and were welcomed like members of their family. At that time there were approximately three other lodges located on this side of the park and it was rare to see another vehicle enter for the early morning game drives. In addition, Kanha Jungle Lodge very much had a jungle and wilderness feel to it; as it was built in the buffer zone of the park and sightings of spotted deer (Chitel) and other wildlife within the grounds was a regular occurrence. The drive to the main park entrance at Mukki was only a short distance away and the anticipation as you drove slowly through the extensive forests and meadows of the famous Kanha national park was tangible.

Kanha National Park - Is this the best place to see tigers in India?

All such questions like this must be answered by experienced and regular safari goers to India, as like the fortunes of your local football team, things can change very quickly in the 'Premiership Table' of India's tiger sanctuaries. However since our first visit to Kanha in 1999 it has rarely dropped out of the top 3 or 4 tiger reserves in India when it comes to the reliability of tiger sightings. Part of the reason for this is the sheer size of Kanha National Park, which by Indian standards is one of the largest in the country. Kanha has several huge meadows which attracts large herds of Spotted Deer, as well as Indian Gaur (Bison) and Sambar Deer. All of these herbivores are the favourite prey of tigers (and leopards) and national parks which have such habitat will often have high tiger densities. Infact the tiger reserves of central India and particularly in the state of Madhya Pradesh have some of the highest densities of tigers per square kilometre of any tiger sanctuary in the world.

See and photographing wild tigers in India is not just about tiger densities and protected habitats; although that is a very good starting point. Another important factor is the personality of the tigers themselves and how 'habituated' they are to the safari vehicles which enter the park nearly every day - apart from the Monsoon season from July to September. Imagine yourself as a young tiger cub seeing your mother confidently walk within 5 metres of a jeep full of 'clicking' photographers; nothing happens to her, so why should you feel any fear? Many years later one of the male tiger cubs of this litter becomes the dominant male tiger in the Kanha range of the park and is supremely confident and relaxed around the same jeeps and sometimes noisy crowds of photographers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Kanha National Park - Which gate to visit, Mukki or Kisli?

Despite our love and affection, as well as many successful tiger safaris at Kanha from the Mukki side, we now feel a more balanced approach is beneficial to our clients, so we would suggest a minimum of 2/3 nights at both the Mukki and Kisili sides of the park. We would also add that the rural drive between these two gates which lasts approximately 1 hour, provides a fascinating insight into some of the beautiful village communities who live close to the park; the architecture of the houses changes from region to region and with a good driver and guide you can enjoy some wonderful photographic opportunities in this ‘real life watercolour’.

So there are many more lodges now built on the Mukki side, so the old argument of staying here for a more peaceful and tranquil tiger safari in Kanha national park is pretty much redundant. That said we would still very much encourage a stay here, as not only does this entrance give you easy access to the wildlife rich forests and meadows of both the Mukki and Kanha zones/ranges; you can also carry on your safari into the Kisli area and choose to drive around (outside the national park) to the famous elevated scenic viewpoint of Bamni Dadar and enjoy some stunning views of Kanha national park laid out before you. In addition, the Mukki zone of Kanha national park has recently introduced the option of a 4km or 8km walking safari in Kanha (with a park ranger) and we very much support the development of a more diverse and intimate tiger and wildlife safari experience at Kanha.

So the main reason to split your stay at Kanha national park is to have access to all the major zones or ranges of the park; there are 4 ranges inside Kanha, which are Mukki, Kanha, Kisli and Sarhi. Because of the internal road and track system within the park, it is very difficult and long winded to reach Sarhi from Kanha, so for us it makes a lot of sense to stay in a wildlife lodge close to the Khatia Gate (direct access to Kisli) and then have easy access to Kisli, Kanha and Sarhi. This is not just about maximising your chances to see tigers in Kanha, as each year the distribution of tigers and especially tigresses with cubs changes from zone to zone. This approach is about enjoying the very different terrain and habitat in the different zones (Sarhi is hillier and dry than the central zones) and having the chance to see a variety of wildlife.

So why not follow in our footsteps and book a tiger safari in India at Kanha National park, visiting the two sides of this beautiful tiger sanctuary; it is a decision you will not regret!

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