The Tiger Moment: A Great India Drive Through Kanha National Park in a Hyundai Exter AMT

We were in Tiger territory and immediately the cabin of the Exter seemed to be the safest place to be in

By Girish Karkera


7 mins read


Published on March 4, 2024

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  • The forest cover of Central India has been crucial to Tiger conservation in India.
  • We drive to highlight the work and the ability of Hyundai’s small SUV on this journey.
  • Also, we catch up with subject-matter expert, Latika Nath, aka Tiger Princess of India.

We reached our destination in darkness. An upcoming luxury resort on the outskirts of Kanha National Park called Hidden India. We were here for two reasons – first, to understand what Tiger conservation was all about and second, if lucky, spot a Tiger ourselves. Hidden India is literally hidden to many. A resort itself with its own mini wildlife ecosystem, we knew we were on the right path because we saw two spotted deer in between the bushes as the Hyundai Exter’s powerful headlamps pierced through the darkness. It also struck us that if the prey is around, so could the hunter! We were in Tiger territory and immediately the cabin of the Exter seemed to be the safest place to be in.


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Great India Drive is an annual initiative by Hyundai Motor India that gives the few of us an opportunity to drive across our great country in search of stories of people and causes. This year’s topic was Tiger conservation in which India has been at the forefront. The Tiger would well have been extinct for this generation if it hadn’t been for India’s efforts which began more than half a century ago. With successive governments patronage and enthusiasm of individuals, we are now looking at a healthy population. So healthy that we may run out of forest cover soon.


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The Nagpur-Kanha stretch is a mix of all kinds of highways. A Exter seems built for all.


The first rays of dawn filtered through the dense canopy of Hidden India, casting an ethereal glow around us. The air was alive with the symphony of the jungle - the calls of unseen birds and the rustling of leaves stirred by unseen creatures. While Hidden India is outside the buffer zone of Kanha National Park but for us city dwellers it felt as wild and abundant as a forest fit to be the abode of Tigers. 


Hidden India is also home to Latika Nath - wildlife expert, author and traveller she is hailed as the ‘Tiger Princess of India’ thanks to her work around wildlife conservation and tigers, especially. Her abode of tastefully done “tents”, which started off as a weekend home for her father but will soon house guests, reflected the passion for her work. The message of love for wildlife was clear through the artefacts and mementoes which struck a fine balance between sustainability and luxury.


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Kanha has one of the highest densities of tiger and other wildlife population. Sitting inside a Exter made us feel safer.


Maintaining balance is something the Exter is quite adept at. It comes in a segment and price bracket that impacts and lives and lifestyle of a major chunk of car users in India. Important then to understand how it is as versatile as projected. And what better way to prove the mettle of an “SUV” than throw it into the throes of a jungle.


Nestled in the heart of India, Kanha National Park boasts a staggering 940 square kilometres of diverse landscapes. Established in 1955, this park boasts a population of almost 2,500 tigers, making it a global leader in tiger conservation. And one of the reasons why the numbers are high is because this place also has a healthy number of prey – paramount for the big cat’s existence. Kanha is a tapestry woven with 170 species of mammals, including the majestic gaurs, the elusive sloth bears, and the peppy spotted deer. This ecosystem extends to the skies, with over 200 species of birds, including the vibrant peacocks and the majestic hornbills.


Our adventure began at the crack of dawn, as I met Latika, a petite woman with eyes that sparkled with the wild spirit of the jungle. She exuded an infectious passion for tigers, a species she had dedicated her life to protecting. It all started for her when she first sighted a tiger thanks to her adventurous father as we discussed forest life over hot tea on a chilly December morning. “I grew up with the poster of a tiger on the wall. And when I first saw a tiger the love affair started.”


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At Hidden India Resort with the Tiger Princess of India, Latika Nath, who gave us insights into the world of tiger conservation.


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But the more serious part of doing something about Tiger conservation happened because of some inspiration. “Dr HS Panwar who was the Director of Wildlife Institute of India said that no one had ever done a doctorate on tigers and will I be willing to take up that challenge” recalls Latika fondly. “The rest is history.”


While a lot has happened around Tiger conservation and their numbers have actually improved, especially in India, Latika feels the basic problems with being around big cats such as the Tiger is the same globally. “There are problems related to habitat, food, security, water…and that’s pretty much what happens across the planet. India is no different,” she reminds us.

Kanha park tiger

Even the buffer zones of Kanha provide a great opportunity to spot tigers at Kanha.


In a bizarre turn of events, while the tiger population in India is on the rise, their reserved safe areas haven’t. “There is a large population of tigers that is spilling out of the protected zones and resulting in human-animal conflict,” she points. But the intensity of this problem depends on the geographies. As Kanha has a healthy wildlife count, big cats such as Tigers don’t have a problem with finding food inside the reserve. But this isn’t the case in some national reserves such as Sundarbans, where prey is difficult to find. So the tigers have to find alternatives and end up attacking domesticated animals and in rare cases, even humans. 


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The shrinking forests has also indicated a bizarre character trait that Tigers are not known for – socialising. “So if you have a case where you have too many tigers and only limited space to live, then do they become more friendly? Because the cost of being solitary is too high as they have to fight everybody around them and everybody would get hurt.”


Speaking of which, for conservationists like herself, being around tigers is not without risk. “I have had tigers in all seriousness attack or mock attack or almost ready to kill you because we are too close to one of its cubs,” laughs Latika.


From 1973, when it became a tiger reserve, to today, Kanha has witnessed a 70% increase in its tiger population, a remarkable success story. This achievement is fuelled by a staff of over 500, who patrol the park, ensuring the safety of both wildlife and visitors. Kanha also collaborates with over 200 villages bordering the park. 

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All sustainable movements are about striking the right balance, just like the Exter does between conservative and contemporary design.


As we delved deeper into the park, the landscape unfolded before us like a living tapestry. Lush green meadows gave way to towering sal forests, while sparkling streams meandered through the undergrowth. Spotting a tiger is a special moment. And Kanha, thanks to its healthy tiger population that spills into the buffer zones,   offers a good chance for visitors. Of course it has a lot to do with luck and the expertise of your guide who will be familiar with the usual paths of the tigers. 


And the moment you spot one, it leaves you spellbound. It is only later you realise the gravity of tiger conservation. These magnificent creatures are not just symbols of India's wilderness; they are barometers of the health of our planet. And individuals like Latika, with their unwavering dedication fighting tirelessly to protect them.

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The trip to Kanha was an enlightening one, not only from learning about tiger conservation but also realising the potential of the Exter.


The Hyundai Exter AMT, which we took along, played a pivotal role in our journey. It allowed us to immerse ourselves in the wild, and to experience our tiger moment. Its capabilities mirrored the spirit of the Great India Drive - a celebration of exploration, discovery, and an unwavering human spirit.


Last Updated on March 26, 2024

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