Kanha National Park

From its iconic faunal species, the Royal Bengal Tiger and Barasingha, to its picturesque meadows and Sal forests, Kanha offers one of the best wildlife experiences in the country

Sheema Mookerjee

Kanha National Park

Kanha National Park is considered among the top five tiger parks of India, and is certainly one of the best wildlife experiences in the country. Its beautiful landscape is a combination of meadows and mixed deciduous forest with thick stands of Sal trees. The Banjar river flowing through it, and the Maikal Hills in the background add to the park’s picturesqueness.

The apex species, of course, is the Royal Bengal Tiger, with a healthy population of over 120 adults and several more cubs. Thriving in this ecosystem are other large mammals like the hard ground Barasingha which is unique to Kanha, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Barking Deer, Indian Gaur, Indian Leopard, and Sloth Bear; as well as several smaller denizens like Dholes, jackals, mongoose, porcupines and more. The bird and insect life in Kanha is quite prolific too.

Kanha has three entry gates for tourists: Khatiya, Mukki and Sarhi. The entire park spreads over 2050sq.km., while the core zone is 917sq.km. and is divided into six administrative ranges: Kisli, Kanha, Sarhi, Mukki, Bhaisanghat and Suphkar. The first four are open to tourists.

Plan Your Trip

Getting There


Jabalpur is a convenient but small airport with ATR flights, for those staying on the Khatiya Gate side (4-hour drive + 1 hr for Mukki). Raipur is closer to Mukki Gate and caters to more flights (4-hour drive + 1 hr for Khatiya). In case you get a convenient flight from Nagpur, that also works (5 hrs).


Jabalpur station is 4 hrs away from Khatiya Gate. Gondia Junction is closer (2.5 hrs + 1 hr for Khatiya) to Mukki Gate.


Kanha is about 1200-1700km from most metros and will take between 16-24 hours if you drive continuously. Most people do this over two days with a pitstop overnight to catch up on sleep.

Best Time To Visit

The national park is open from October 1 to June 30 every year. It remains shut during monsoon season and so are most of the resorts and lodges, though buffer zones are sometimes open. Naturally, peak tourist time is during the holidays and long weekends, so if you want to avoid crowds don’t plan your trip during these dates.

October to November: The park is covered in thick post-monsoon foliage and is green and beautiful. But it may be difficult to spot tigers during this period. Those waiting for the off-season to get over, book their safaris with new enthusiasm.

December to March: This can be considered the best time to visit Kanha as the winter weather slowly gives way to early spring. Sightings are good and you get to see a wide variety of mammals and birds. The tigers also settle into their routes and territories making tracking easier.

April to June: The beginning of summer is the mating season for birds, providing a lot of activity that will excite avian enthusiasts. As temperatures rise, the large animals come out to the water bodies and can be seen up close. If you aren’t daunted by the heat, this is the best time for tiger watching.


Kanha National Park (KNP) has a chequered conservation history with tiger hunting and tree felling continuing well after independence. The national park began life as Banjar Valley Reserve Forest around 1865, covering an area less than 150sq.km. The area was populated by subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherer villages of Gond and Baiga tribes, who were gradually shifted out in the 1960s and 70s. The famed meadows of Kanha, Sounf, Mahabir, Aurai and Bishanpura, where wildlife teems today, were thriving villages with herds of cattle and paddy fields. Looking at the grassland packed with grazing deer at Neeldabra, near the Mukki Gate, it is hard to imagine that a large and busy sawmill was active here just 60 years ago.

Licensed hunting and timber harvest continued till 1955 when a small portion of the region was declared a national park. The Viceroy’s hunting lodge built in 1905 in Supkhar with a woven thatch roof remains as a relic of Kanha’s colonial hunting past, with remnants of hand-pulled punkhas (fans), gun racks and an ageing grove of alien Cheer Pine (Pinus roxburghi) trees surrounding it. In the early 1950s, the “king” of a southern principality, Vijaynagar, is reputed to have shot 30 tigers in Kanha. Although Pench and Kanha remain the presumed backdrop for Rudyard Kipling’s famous The Jungle Book (1894), it is doubtful if Kipling ever came here.

KNP started maturing as a serious wildlife conservation landscape in the early 1960s when noted biologist George Schaller spent over a year studying the tiger and its habitat. With the growing reach and influence of capable forest and administrative officers posted here, KNP started flourishing in the 70s. One of its first directors went on to design, create and head the internationally renowned Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun. A former collector of Mandla district, where one-half of the park lies, an IAS officer with a deep interest in conservation, conceptualised and supervised India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. A later director, who spent eight years in KNP, rose to steer and dominate India’s tiger conservation policy for over two decades.

Among its many firsts, Kanha brought back the hard ground Barasingha from the brink of extinction, successfully rewilded orphaned tiger cubs when other parks were sending them to zoos, created one of the best wildlife visitor experiences, and encouraged inclusiveness by training capable women park guides and drivers.


Kanha has a wide variety of accommodations. The Khatiya Gate side has now become almost overcrowded with resorts, while Mukki still remains a more peaceful experience. Since it is impossible to cover the entire list, I have made a selection of the more eco-friendly resorts. The high- and mid-range resorts all include meals with their tariff.

High-end (double occupancy ₹10,000-15,000)

Kanha Earth Lodge and Flame of the Forest on the Khatiya side are two excellent lodges with good naturalists, with a focus on a genuine wildlife experience. While the former is larger and run by the Pugdundee Group, the latter is a cosy boutique stay with four rooms.

Mid-range (double occupancy ₹6,000-8,000)

Chitvan is good for families and larger groups. It is one of the oldest lodges on the Mukki side and has comfortable rooms and green surroundings. Its well-oiled machinery provides good service and value for money.

Shergarh is a wildlife lodge steeped in character and provides a very peaceful ambience as well as a good safari experience. It’s very close to Mukki Gate.

Salban Homestay is the residence of a former travel publisher and a wildlife conservationist, and provides an intimate experience of living on the fringes of the core zone (Mukki). It is a homestay in the true sense and unique in Kanha. Head over to this story for detailed coverage.

Budget (double occupancy 4,000 – increases with dynamic pricing)

Of the many budget options in Kanha, we recommend the M.P. Tourism Resorts that operate at all three gates. The resorts at Mukki and Khatiya are large and established, while the newly opened resort at Sarhi Gate is the only stay option for that zone. These are open throughout the year.


See | Do

  • At the top of the list are safaris into the national park, conducted by the forest department. Tickets should be booked well in advance – you can do it online or through the lodge where you plan to stay. There are morning and evening safaris and you should plan to do a maximum number so that you can soak in the flora and fauna, and not just go on a tiger chase.
  • The forest department has marked out guided walking trails (approx. 8km) on the edges of the park’s core area and these are the best way to experience Kanha on foot. Apart from this, your lodge might organise nature walks on their grounds or village visits in the neighbourhood.
  • The chase to see tigers, which is what most tourists come to Kanha for, can get quite stressful and lead to noisy melees. It is best to ask your lodge to arrange for an experienced driver/naturalist who can anticipate such situations and get you the best angles.

For Photographers

  • A combination of 70-200 and 100-400 or 200-500 tele-zoom lenses works well for wildlife, while a 16-35 or 24-105 is handy for habitat and landscape shots. Specialists will obviously keep two bodies and carry prime lenses. But do note that animals are used to vehicles and can come fairly close.
  • The chase to see tigers, which is what most tourists come to Kanha for, can get quite stressful and lead to noisy melees. It is best to ask your lodge to arrange for an experienced driver/naturalist who can anticipate such situations and get you the best angles.
  • A full day safari is highly recommended for those who can afford it. Primarily a filming/photography permit, it gives four people access to all tourist zones and an opportunity to experience the park on your own terms.

What To Pack

  • Binoculars and cameras are recommended to make the best of your safaris. Also make sure to carry a good field guide and bird book.
  • Sunscreen, hat, mosquito repellent, water bottle.
  • During the months from December to February, pack clothing for extreme cold – down jacket, leggings, cap, gloves, scarf, buff – morning safaris are in near-freezing temperatures.
  • During October to November and March to April, it is advisable to carry a light jacket or hoodie and a buff/mask for the morning safaris.
  • From May to June, be sure to pack sun hats, glares and thin cotton clothes that cover your arms and legs as protection against sun and insects, and a buff/mask for dust.


  • Plan your safari zones according to the gate where your resort is situated. There are four core tourist zones: Mukki, Kanha, Kisli and Sarhi; three buffer zones: Khapa (Mukki side), Khatiya, and Sijhora (Sarhi side); and a sanctuary, Phen, which is away from all the gates.
  • Khatiya Gate has access to all four core zones while Mukki Gate has access to the Kanha, Kisli and Mukki zones, and Sarhi Gate has access to Kanha, Kisli and Sarhi. The approach to the Sarhi gate is not well developed as yet.
  • Do note that the park has a speed limit of 30km and it takes at least two hours to reach Kanha or Kisli zones and return to the Mukki Gate. The reverse holds true for travelling to the Mukki zone from Khatiya Gate.
  • The three buffer zones organise similar safaris and are usually treated as the last option if tickets to the core zone are sold out. However, these can hold surprises and it is good to find out in advance if any sightings are happening in the buffer region. Khapa and Khatiya are close to the main tourism hubs, whereas Phen and Sijhora are further away and need advanced planning.

Good To Know

  • Shop at the well-stocked souvenir stores at Mukki and Khatiya gates and the Kanha zone breakfast point inside, all run by park employee cooperatives. The Khatiya entrance has other private shops as well. You can also check out the “Baiga Haat” which is a collection of stalls selling local produce, wild honey and handicrafts.
  • ATMs and chemists are available on both Mukki and Khatiya sides, with more options at the former. The Sarhi side is quite isolated.
  • Recommended reading to enhance your Kanha experience: Photographic Field Guide to Wildlife of Central India by David Raju and Surya Ramachandran; A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Sub-continent by Krys Kazmierczak;
    Birds of the Indian Sub-continent by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp; Jungle Trees of Central India by Pradip Krishen.

Budget Per Person

  • A safari ticket at Kanha costs ₹1,550 per person.
  • You can hire a guide at ₹500/600 and hire a jeep and driver for approx ₹3,000. These are rates set by the forest department but are subject to change.
  • Upscale lodges around Kanha provide package prices that total up to more since they charge for the naturalist, packed breakfast, etc.
Sheema Mookerjee - Travel Writer & Publisher

Sheema Mookerjee

Travel Writer & Publisher

Sheema Mookerjee has set up permanent residence in Kanha since 2016, after a busy professional life in Delhi. She is a former publisher of Lonely Planet India.


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