The name Kanha itself may be derived from kanhar, the local term for the clayey soil in the valley bottoms, or from Kanva, a holy man who once lived there in a forest village. Two river valleys are prominent features of the park's topography: the Banjar in the west and the Halon in the east. Both these rivers are tributaries of the Narmada, which flows through the district headquarters town of Mandla, 64 km (40 miles) to the northwest of the park's western entrance. Kanha's valleys are enclosed by hills topped with plateau, locally called Dadar.

Four principal vegetation types have been identified in Kanha: moist deciduous forest, dry deciduous forest, valley meadow and plateau meadow. The main species in moist deciduous areas (27% of the park area) is the Sal tree (Shorea robusta). Park headquarters, located at Kanha Village in the park's western block, lies at about 600 m (1,900 ft.) above sea level. The plateau at Bamhni Dadar rises to 870 m, or about 2,900 ft. The park is shaped roughly like a figure "8" on its side (see map facing page 16), with a length from west to east of approximately 80 km and a width ranging from 8 to 35 km.

The park consists of a core area of 940 sq km, which is surrounded by a buffer zone of 1,005 sq km, thus comprising a total area of 1,945 sq km. The core area of the park and most of the buffer zone are located in two districts: Mandla to the west and Balaghat to the east. In addition, a small section of the buffer zone in the south-eastern sector is part of Rajnandgaon District. There are nearly 150 villages in the buffer zone and over 260 villages within a radius of 10 km.

For management purposes, the park is divided into 5 ranges: Kisli, Kanha, and Mukki in the western block, and Bhaisanghat and Supkhar in the eastern sector. These latter two ranges are closed off entirely to the public. Within Kisli, Kanha, and Mukki ranges, certain roads and areas are also closed to tourists. As of this writing (mid-1998), the percentage of the park's core area open to visitors (227 km2) is about 25%. The park is served by an extensive network (a little over 700 km) of generally well-maintained roads

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