A visit to the ‘Big Cat’s’ lair is always adventurous; whether you get to spot one or not; it’s an unforgettable memory.
So, when we decided on an overnight trip to Bandhavgarh National Park, everyone was super excited. We were already in Jabalpur and Bandhavgarh was only about 3 hours drive from here. We quickly logged on to the net and made reservations for our rooms at ‘White Tiger Forest Lodge-MPTDC’ (Rs 5000/night – (USD$ 77) inclusive of all meals).
We had hit the road for Bandhavgarh by 10 AM. We were informed that there are no good places enroute, to halt for refreshments and to otherwise freshen up. And so, we spent some time on having a hearty breakfast. Do remember to carry your IDs as it has to be registered at the gate of the sanctuary before entering.
True to the words of caution, other than a few roadside shacks offering tea, there was no other respectable place to break journey. The road was good and our spirits were high. Ruskin Bond’s poem kept coming to my mind through the drive:
‘May there always be tigers
In the jungle and tall grass
May the tiger’s roar be heard
May his thunder be known in the land’.
We found the lodge easily and were happy to see the clean rooms. As we had reached on time for lunch (complimentary vegetarian buffet meal), we decided on finishing that and then catching the post-lunch safari into the sanctuary. But we were told that only on Wednesday’s they don’t have the afternoon safari. And yes, this was Wednesday!
The sanctuary allows guided tours twice a day –bone early in the morning at 6 AM, that lasts for approximately 4 hours and one post lunch, which is for 2 hours. We were offered a pick from two types of transport – the private jeep, which charges Rs 5000 for 4 people or the open truck (Canter) (Rs 600 per head, that seats 16-20 tourists), arranged by Madhya Pradesh Tourism. While the former has the advantage of manoeuvring off 40-50 metres from the ‘set road’; into the jungle, on spotting a tiger, the Canter has the advantage of ‘high seating’ so as to get better view of surroundings.
We booked ourselves in the Canter as we were more than four.
Once inside the Park, one can take elephant safari which are priced at Rs 500 per person, depending on availability. The elephants take you to the places which the tigers frequent. But these safaris are not available many times.
We were instructed not to carry any food items with us. We could carry water and the containers were to be disposed in bags kept in the vehicle.
Meanwhile, we decided to explore the grounds of the lodge as one can spot many interesting bird species and different types of monkeys here. Away from the concrete jungle of the cities, the atmosphere here was so surreal, with that tense feeling at the back of your neck; a feeling that you are being watched and could be attacked by some wild animal at any moment — at least that’s how I feel.
But then, gradually, peace descends on you as you hear nothing except the chirping of birds and chatter of monkeys and you become one with nature!
After a relaxed dinner, we retired early since we had to be ready by 5.30 AM for the Safari.
Into the Royal Bengal Tigers’ lair
We were all set and ready at 5.30 AM outside. The Canter had reached to pick us up. Those staying at this lodge are given preference for seats in the Canter since both belong to MP Tourism. Any seat left vacant is then filled with other guests from private lodges.
Bandhavgarh is spread at Vindhya Hills and is divided into 3 major zones, covering a core area of almost 100 sq kms and a buffer area of almost 400 sq kms.
We stopped at the gate of Zone 1 to register ourselves by showing our ID and waited for the other private jeeps to join us. The vehicles always move in a convoy inside the sanctuary and no private vehicles are allowed.
While we waited, the seasoned guide filled us on some details. The National Park was the former hunting ground of the Maharaja of Rewa. Bandhavgarh was famed for white tigers, which now are very rarely seen. The sanctuary is still home to the largest number of tigers and to some of the most beautiful ones. While speaking about the tigers, he called them lovingly by their names: Charger, Sita, Bamera, Blue Eyes, Mahaman, Damdama — all seemed to be his friends!
It seems the best time to sight these majestic animals is in the scorching months of May and June, when they come to the drinking spots to quench their thirst. By the way, the National Park is closed from July 1 to October 15.
The convoy soon started off slowly into the park. We were instructed not to make unnecessary noise. As far as the eye could see, there was a mixed type of vegetation — tall grasses between thick Sal forest. The silence is interrupted at places only by the birds.
If the driver would spot a wild boar or a python, he would ask for complete silence as possibility of spotting a tiger increases here (since boars and pythons provide a probable meal for the tiger).
This kind of atmosphere, albeit getting my adrenaline rushing, also gives me the creeps. The excitement of a sighting is many times dampened by fear. The driver drove on for almost two hours into the heart of the National Park. Our hearts thumped loudly in our chest, all through.
We spotted many species of animals like the Gaur, Sambar, spotted deer, Mongoose and even a jackal, along with the ubiquitous varieties of monkeys… but no tiger.
The convoy stopped at a tea stall for refreshments. There was no ‘usable’ washroom here. After a 15 minute break, we were back in our vehicles, to head back the same direction.
The return journey didn’t seem that ‘frightening’. And as luck would have it, just as we were about to reach the exit a wee bit disappointed; we spotted her — a beautiful tigress with her two cubs. She was gone before we could admire her to our fill; but we were elated!
The guide said although the forest department is doing its best to protect these rapidly disappearing species, the main threat to them is from the encroaching villages around their domain.
There is a world of a difference, watching animals behind bars and in their natural habitat. Wish we could all be Mowgli and gain the animals’ trust again!
The legendary, more than 2500 year old fort, is an exciting place to visit after the excitement of the safari settles. It requires a trek of almost an hour.
There is a famed temple here dedicated to the 16th century poet, Kabir Das.
The place finds mention in ancient Hindu mythology. Lord Rama stopped here on his way back to Ayodhya and this fort was built by his two monkey architects who had built the bridge between India and Lanka. Later, Rama handed the fort to his brother, Laxman, which gave the fort its name, ‘Bandhavgarh’ (Bandhu=Brother; Garh=Fort).
I love places that have some history attached to them which makes the entire trip beautiful and worthwhile.
We stopped to pay obeisance at an ancient temple of Goddess Durga before driving back to Jabalpur.