Raneh Falls and Ken Gharial Sanctuary: an auto-rickshaw safari

Raneh Falls located within Ken Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary, is a budget alternative to a safari in the nearby Panna National Park. It is also a low-key, relatively unknown attraction. Surprisingly, you might encounter more wildlife at the easily accessible sanctuary than in the national park itself. Even if you’re not into wildlife, the deep, basalt-rock canyon, picturesque river and semi-desert landscape is worth a trip from Khajuraho.

A pack of vultures sitting on the branches of a bare tree in India
Vulturesat the Ken Gharial Sanctuary

Why and when to visit Ken Gharial Sanctuary and the Raneh Canyon?

After the whole day of visiting the temples, spending some time in nature could be a good idea. The Ken River Canyon is impressive, especially in the dry season when its high, multi-coloured walls are fully exposed. The opposite is true for the Raneh Falls, which are most striking during or just after the monsoon and almost disappear in the summer.

Vertical, reddish basalt rocks hide a pool from which in the dry season trickles down Raneh Falls
Raneh waterfall runs completely dry in the summer

The trip is worth the time and effort because the wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed. Jackals are very common, so as vultures and antelopes. You can see crocodiles (but most likely not endangered gharials) far down the canyon. Your guide will lend you binoculars.

Getting to Ken Gharial Sanctuary

Ken Gharial Sanctuary lies 15 km from Khajuraho town centre. You could cycle there but keep in mind the weather, lack of shadow and the uphill route. No public transport plies this remote road. You could hire an auto-rickshaw or, if you’re more adventurous, use the services of young boys on the motorbikes. Sooner or later, one of the local boys will approach you, offering a ride, for the ‘cost of petrol’. It’d be cheaper for the ride and the park’s entry. I cannot say how safe this option is as we haven’t used it.

A man in a shirt drives and autorickshaw, behind a pack of water buffaloes blocking the road to Raneh Falls
On the way to Raneh falls

The best budget safari

After crossing the countryside and paying the fee for a vehicle (the smaller, the cheaper), entrance and the guide’s fee, we entered the Ken Gharial Sanctuary.

Deep Raneh canyon of multi-coloured, grey, red and brownish basalt rocks ends with the narrow Ken river. On both sides of the canyon, semi-arid, rocky landscape can be seen
Ken river canyon

A very knowledgeable and amicable young man walked us to the waterfalls and explained the geological history of the place. There was hardly any water at the Raneh Falls but it didn’t make them an y less attractive. The deep, half-dry canyon was picturesque, especially contrasted with saffire- and emerald-coloured water and the rocky plains above. The water was crystal clear, so I asked if it was possible to swim there. The guide assured us it used to be possible until an entire family got drowned when the water level rose suddenly with the opening of the sluices in the dam further upstream.

Wide, deep Ken river makes its way around rocky , pinkish basalt rocks at Ken Gharial Sanctuary
Ken river viewpoint

The guide joined us in the rickshaw and we rode a bumpy road towards the Ken river viewpoint. We had one more chance for a short walk in a desolate, arid landscape. We walked some distance on the stone wall constructed on the orders of one of the maharajas. He used that never-ending wall for hunting. Once we left the forest, we could climb a small tower with incredible vistas of the Ken river.

A historical stone wall inside Ken Gharial Sanctuary
Hunting wall commission by one of maharajas

On a short stretch between the waterfalls and the viewpoint, we saw a whole pack of vultures on a nearby tree, two jackals crossing our path and at least a dozen of the nilgau antelopes lying in the shade along the road or simply walking on the road. I was thrilled.

An adult female and a calf nilgau antilopes cross calmly a dirtroad in Ken Gharial Sanctuary
Nilgau antelopes crossing the path at Ken Gharail sanctuary

The best waited for us at the end of the route, at the Ken river viepoint. Standing on top of the cliff, we could spot around ten large crocodiles having a sun bath on rocks on the other side of the river. The guide had binoculars so we could see them very clearly.

A wide river, pinkish rocks on the other bank and forest in the background at Ken river viewpoint.
Ken River viewpoint, best for spotting the crocodiles

In the past, it was possible to have boat rides on the river but ever since a drastic accident, they were stopped. One tourist ignored the advice of the guide and put his hand in the water which ended up as crock’s snack. At least that’s what we were told.

An enormous crocodile with a prominent crest lies on the rock at Ken river
Crocodile basking in the sun at the banks of Ken river

As we learned upon leaving, the guides don’t get salaries for their work – it’s a commission-based job. Hence, if you’re happy with the service of your guide, I’d strongly recommend leaving him a tip.

A jackal trocks in the arid shrub forest at the Ken Gharial Sanctuary
jackal

During this 2.5 hour long safari we saw more wildlife than on three safaris in Indian national parks (Periyar, Jaldapara and Sunderbans) combined! Moreover, we could see the animals from a very short distance, with no one else around. If you like nature, you should definitely carve out the time during Khajuraho visit for half a day there.

PRACTICALITIES

Prices [in Indian rupees as of February 2022]

600 INR hired autorickshaw from Khajuraho to Ken Gharial Sanctuary (and back)
300 INR price for an unofficial ride with local man on a motorbike
200 INR auto-rickshaw fee to enter Ken Gharial Sanctuary (incl. entrance for up to 2 people)
125 INR guide at Ken Gharial Sanctuary per group
100 INR 2-wheeler fee to enter Ken Gharial Sanctuary
50 INR a fee per person to enter the sanctuary (if not covered in a vehicle fee)

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