Three years before when i started this company of wildlife tours, Bandhavgarh was an unknown name to me. I always had a feeling that all parks of Central India were very similar, dry and barren. It was Mr. MN Jayakumar , who pushed me to do a trip to this place. Using his pictures and what ever he told me about this place, i floated a tour. As he was the mentor, i had no difficulty in filling up the tour. The journey was on and i too was a guest!!!
One fast way to reach Bandhavgarh is to fly to Jabalpur and take a cab. Jabalpur is connected only from Delhi and Mumbai. I chose to fly to Mumbai as we were flying from Bangalore. It was June and i was told that it would be extremely hot at Bandhavgarh. Going from a place like Bangalore which doesn’t get that hot, i was a bit cautious, but did want to think too much.
The early morning flight from Bangalore to Mumbai takes less than two hours. Then there is this waiting period at Mumbai as the flight to Jabalpur is at 2.30PM. The sandwiches and milkshakes gave us company at Mumbai airport. I did not feel the heat and this was because i was in an AC atmosphere inside the airport. The flight to Jabalpur is a small aircraft with 30 odd seats. With a lot of difficulty i pushed my camera bag into the over head luggage compartment.
The flight landed at 4.30 PM, and the minute i stepped out, i knew what it would be for the next five days.It was like someone pouring a bucket of very hot water on my face. Phew, it was hot, very hot!! I ran to my cab and sat too realise that it was like an oven.
We did not enter the city but took a short cut to the highway. The place did look dry and barren as i expected. But as we were nearing Bandhavgarh, i could sense of change happening in me. I did not know why then!! Something kept on saying that, i was making mistake about this place. Finally we reached our resort.
Aryanak, the resort where we had booked, is owned by Mr. Harshvardhan, who himself is a great nature lover and is very popular at Bandhavgarh. He became popular because he actually jumped from his vehicle to save a tourist who was being attacked by a tiger. How did he muster courage to do this, still remains a question. His a very strong man with a heart of a kid. The resort is know for its hospitality and customer service.
Evening was pleasant, and after dinner we retired for the night. The distant roar of the tiger and the me trying to get a glimpse of it was my only dream that night. Early morning at 5AM, we were served tea and our jeeps were ready. Ravi, who owns the safari jeeps was ready to welcome us with a smile very few in this world have.
Born and brought up at this place, Ravi knows the forests like back of his palm. I call him the hero and he calls me ‘ Dada’. A relationship which is more than three years old but worth all the gold. His knowledge about this terrain would put any serious wildlife to shame. His patience is what i envy.
Into the forests we were. The forest is divided into three zones. Tala, Magadi and Khitauli. The park consititues of 448 sq kms and the buffer zone extends to about 466 sq kms. Tala was then the premium zone because of its density of tigers, but over the years all the three zones have been teeming with tigers and cubs.
Fifteen minutes into the jungle, we encountered the King. The heat of the summer had got him out for a drink at a man made water hole. Unbeleivable, i was sighting my first Central Indian tiger in just fifteen minutes!!! He drank for more than ten minutes, before he decided to get inside the water body to cool himself down.
We were starting to feel the heat, two we quenched our thirst with the butter milk kept in the ice box. One needs to keep themselves hydrated during summers in Central India. We always carry enough water, butter milk in all the vehicles we arrange for our guests. This along with packed breakfast is a must as the safaris are from 5.30AM to 10.30 AM.
For a minute, i thought it was a small fox, but the stripes behind the bushes gave it up. It was a cub of this huge male who was quenching his thirst. Half hour into the jungle, we had a family of tigers in from of us. Now i knew, why Bandhavgarh is referred as the The tiger capital of the world. My entire perception changed. It has changed so much that this is my second most favourite park after Corbett in India.
There is a central part of the park which is a common place for Tala and Magadi zones. Here the villagers set up stores and sell hot tea, cool drinks, samosas, and maggie. We went there for a much needed rest.
The safari continued and we stared to explore the other parts of tiger park. Tala zone is very picturesque. It starts with a grass land, and then the terrain gets a little undulating, but then it ends with a grass land. It has the mighty mountains on one side of it. Magadi is a little narrow as it starts but opens up beautifully to the meadows and then climbs up to a hillock. Khitalui is a difficult terrain, but the famous Male tigers have found this zone a safe heaven.
Bandhavgarh is a combination of two words, Bandhav meaning brother and Garh meaning Fort. The legend says Lord Rama had gifted this beautiful fort to his loving brother Lakshmana. This ancient fort lies in the hillock of the Vindhya ranges in the district of Umaria. Every year thousands of people walk through the thick jungles to visit this fort to offer prayers to their Gods. Bandhavgarhh after this era were ruled by a lot of dynasties. Out of all the Baghels were believed to rule the regions for the longer period. a game reserve where only the royal families were allowed for hunting these wild creatures.
The famous statue of Seshaya is found in the Tala zone. any a times , tourists have encountered tigers sitting in the pond and on the rocks at this place. This is a must see place when one goes to Bandhavgarh.
Every tiger has been given a name here!!! The area in which they operate is their prefix unlike the filmy names one gets to hear at Tadoba. Bamera male, Magadi female, Rahbera male etc. The new entrants have not yet got re-christened. Funny isn’t it, and thats what the tigress seem to be saying!!!
The morning safari ends at 10.30 and it takes another half hour to reach the resort. And the reason is not because the resort is far, it because of the local delicacy we have on the way. The chenna ( chin pea ) with onion and masala, followed by the sweet jamun in rabdi ( a sweet made of flour, sugar syrup, dipped in sweet cream of milk ). This is the best food one can ever have after sighting the King of the jungle.
This was followed by a very sound sleep. I got up when the hotel staff rang the bell with a hot cup of tea. We were back again in the jungle. Apart from the Royal Bengal tigers, which is the main attraction, one can find leopards, spotted deers, sambhar deers, hanuman langurs, macaques, Jackalas, wild boars, barking deers, Gaurs. There are no elephants in this region. Wetlands are less but the flowering trees attract birds like minivets, tickels blue flycatchers, barbetts, plum headed parakeets etc. There are many reptiles also found here, though sighting one is difficult.
Next day morning, we decided to take the elephant ride. This was to explore the grass lands where the jeeps couldn’t reach. A special mention about the Mahouts, they are the a part of the forest saviours. They follow the cubs from the day they are born to adulthood. The tigers are used to the elephants but do like them getting very close. The ride is an out of the world experience. One needs to carry a small lens and should be careful not to drop them on the forest floor. Though photographing from the elephant top is challenging, it is pure fun. The Mahouts get close to the tigers but do not disturb them. The commands they give to the elephants to stay put is very funny. They talk in pure Hindi to the elephants. Not sure, whether they understand every word, bt it did the job. The other people in the jeeps are always anxiously waiting to sight the elephants as they know, where the elephants are the tigers would be. But this is not true, sometimes the tigers go under heavy undergrowth, making things difficult. But we were lucky every time we took the ride.
That day evening, we came to know that a tigress had made a ill and the cubs were on it. We were the first to enter the jungle. This is also a speciality with our trips as we maintain very strict timings, we do not delay to enter the jungle. This is because we have tied with the best drivers at all the parks. They are the best because of their love towards the jungle and its dwellers. Their love to the animal world is second to none. Getting to the spot early had its advantages. The cubs were just abut finishing the kill and heading towards the mountains to rest. We managed some very good shots of them and finally retired at the resort. It was party time then.
Sadly every journey comes to an end. But the journeys i have been taking to the tiger capital would always be edged in my memory for ever.
By : chandrashekar k www.travelunbounded.com