It is generally said that one must be lucky to spot a tiger in a National Park, but in Bandhavgarh one should be unlucky if the tiger is not found!!
It is not that there are lot of tigers in Bandhavgarh. National Parks like Kanha, Bandipur and Nagarahole have more tigers than Bandhavgarh but it is the high density of tigers in Bandhavgarh that makes the big difference. Maximum numbers of tiger documentaries are also filmed in Bandhavgarh.
Grasslands of Bandhavgarh
We boarded Narmada Express from Bhopal at 11:30 in the night. At 11 in the morning, we alighted at Umaria, which is the gateway for Bandhavgarh. Almost all resorts and hotels are situated in a village Tala, 30 km from Umaria. We hired a taxi which took us to White Tiger lodge, an MPTDC resort.
The two entry gates through which the safaris are conducted are from Tala and Khitauli. Tala is preferred by everyone as maximum number of sightings happens here. Two safaris are conducted veryday. The morning safari starts from 6:15AM and ends at 10:15AM. The afternoon safari is from 2:15PM to 6:15PM.
Only Jeeps that are registered with forest department are allowed insde the forest. A maximum of 45 Jeeps are allowed per safari. It is on first come first basis. Rest of the vehicles must go though Khitauli entrance.
Durinf previous years, if a tiger was spotted, the news would have spread to all safari jeeps and within matter of few minutes the tiger would be surrounded by 45 Jeeps creating tension and stress for the feline. To minimize the traffic, the safari path is now divided into four routes A, B, C and D. All routes converge at a mid point where the drivers have to report to Forest officials. This is only the place where tourists are allowed to get down. Snacks and drinks are also provided here. So, a vehicle will be assigned a route from start to mid point and another route from mid point to exit. There can only be 12 Jeeps at any point of time in a route.
Every morning, the trackers would track the pug marks of the tiger and find out the location where the tiger is resting. This information is provided to forest officials. The people on the Jeep are then taken on Elephants which would go very near to the tiger!! This was the most popular way of seeing the tiger in previous years.
I got down into business the moment I entered the resort. I had decided to go on every safari for the days I stayed in Bandhavgarh. My wife and kid decide to take rest in that afternoon while I decide to go on a safari. Resort people would arrange everything that is needed for the safari with no extra cost!!
A sambar deer
The striking difference in Bandhavgarh when compared to south Indian jungles is the total absence of elephants and bison in former. It is the deer family that is omnipresent in Bandhavgarh.
Pugmarks of a tiger
And we saw one more tiger within few minutes!! What a day!!!! But again, it never came into open.
After the tiger, my focus shifted to Bandhavgarh fort. Located on a hill at the center of the National forest, there are no records to show who constructed the fort but the fort was ruled by various dynasties from 3rd century BC.
The road to the fort is steep which can be covered only by a four wheel drive vehicle. Earlier one had to trek for 30 minutes to reach the fort. The fort also is home to few tigers. So, a road was constructed to avoid trek through tiger land.
One of the 18 ponds in Bandhavgarh fort.
Before my Bandhavgarh trip, I was under the impression that sighting a tiger in Bandhavgarh was easy. This was due to many write-ups that I had referred. But it is not so. Tigers are always elusive. A majority of people return without seeing a tiger. The recent modifications for the safari route and with no tiger shows, the chances of seeing a tiger is reduced. But it is safe to say that chances of spotting a tiger are high in Bandhavgarh than in any other forest in India.
How to reach Bandhavgarh:
The nearest railway station is Umaria which is 30 km from Bandhavgarh. There is one train from Bengaluru which passes through Umaria. Katni (100km) and Jabalpur (150 km) are other major towns near Bandhavgarh. There are daily trains from Bhopal and Indore that pass through Umaria.