Bandhavgarh

Wilderness and History Entwined

4 SEPTEMBER 2014,
Two Warring Big Cats at Bandhavgarh
Two Warring Big Cats at Bandhavgarh

Many of us marvel at the exciting wilderness oriented things that other people do, but we have lots of excuses for not attempting them ourselves. No time. Not fit enough. Too risky, etc. etc... The truth is that you don’t have to be young to enjoy some of the things that seem intimidating. For example: Tracking Tigers. Whether you are six years old or sixty, there is a wilderness option within your range that will add a lot of fun to your life.

India has some of the world’s top end national parks and wildlife sanctuaries whose areas extend several thousands of square kilometers where wildlife can be observed in their natural surroundings. One such National Park is the world famous Bandhavgarh National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Set among the Vindhyas, Bandhavgarh is a relatively small national park, but significantly with the highest known density of Tiger population in India. In Bandhavgarh, you are actually in White Tiger territory. It is unique among the National Parks of India in that it has a rich historical past.

Rarely will you come across a National Park or a Wildlife Sanctuary that is steeped in history. By the way, aren’t wild havens far removed from civilization? But not so in Bandhavgarh where there is history written all over. The finest specimen is the magnificent Bandhavgarh Fort which forms the backdrop of the National Park from where the royal family of Rewa used to hunt.

Though no records exist to inform you as to when the fort was constructed, it is believed to be about 2000 years old. Several dynasties have ruled the fort. For example : the Maghas, the Vakatakas, the Sengars and the Kalachuris. The last ruler to occupy the fort was the Maharaja of Rewa who converted the fort and its surrounding jungles into a hunting reserve meant for the royal family. The Maharaja took a lot of pride in preserving the forest cover since he had a vested interest – that of tracking tigers which was his number one passion.

Although I had read a lot about Bandhavgarh’s bewitching beauty and gathered enough information from those who had visited the place, all my preconceived notions were swept aside once I found myself inside the National Park. The lush greenery, the majestic Bandahvgarh Fort with pastel grey clouds floating above and the rays of the evening sun lighting the wooded shrubs with Steppe Eagles perched on them, presented a sight that was truly breathtaking. Bandhavgarh never ceases to amaze you with it’s haunting wilderness. There is a wonderful wild isolation in this part of the world.

Perched 15 feet up in the fork of a tree, with dart gun is the Park Ranger who directs his team of trained tiger trackers riding atop elephants to push their way through dense bamboo. Somewhere in between is a tiger sleeping off a meal from a buffalo he killed the previous night. The Ranger is hoping that the big cat will be disturbed by the elephants, slink away from them and head towards him. Listening to animal alarm calls, betraying the tiger’s stealthy passage, he muses about the ingenuity of the Asian Shikaris, who invented this technique, once employed by royalty to slaughter tigers. Ironically, today it is one of the tools he uses to help preserve these big cats in order to answer some basic questions about the species.

Tiger tracking is not all fun and excitement – often it is as thrilling as land surveying! Oops. But there are rewards for entering the secret world of tigers. I was told by a “Mahut” (Master Elephant Rider) at Bandhavgarh that sometimes when they are looking for mates, their deep roars reverberate across the Bandhavgarh landscape. Tigers can stalk, mate and chase leopards up trees, but during most of the day they sleep. Sounds incredible. Isn’t it ? And tigers are a phenomenon at Bandhavgarh.

The National Park has a core area which is all of 105 Sq.Kms and in addition to the tiger it is also possible to see Chousingha (Small Four Horned Antelope), Chinkara, Nilgai, Porcupine, Hyena and Rhesus Macaque.

Tigers may be a phenomenon at Bandhavgarh but the avian life is no less astounding with as many as 150 species of birds nesting in Bandhavgarh’s favorable micro-climate. With the onset of winter, migratory birds flock in to the marshy surroundings of Bandhavgarh which makes for a truly colorful setting. You can have a date with Paradise Fly Catchers, Golden and Black Headed Orioles, Yellow Ioras, Purple Sunbirds and Red Vented Bulbuls.

Each climatic change unfolds a different spectacle. With the variations in the water level in the “beels”(Marshy surroundings) different vegetation patterns emerge. As a result food potentialities vary, thereby attracting birds only as far as it can feed them. Temporary swamps and completely dry land in Bandhavgarh makes for an interesting habitat combination which is biologically rich, with conspicuous vegetation types and plant species. Each species of birds can be seen in separate cluster of colonies of more than thousands. The marshy areas of Bandhavgarh will delight you with sudden flights or calls. The best time for bird watching in this Park is early morning and evening.

Here in Bandhavgarh, we were guests of the magnificent Samode Safari Lodge, easily one of India’s top ranked jungle hospitality properties. The Lodge is innovatively built on the first floor of the central edifice and is conspicuous by its ethnic décor and furnished to excellence. The wooden floor comes with two cozy fireplaces and offers breathtaking views of the jungle landscape.

Most visitors to Bandhavgarh who are honored guests of the magnificent Samode Safari Lodge, make it a point to drop in at the luxurious Spa that kind of marvelously coalesces your wilderness trip with the truly invigorating Spa experience.

The best part of Samode Safari Lodge is that it is most elegantly designed in the form of a necklace of truly ethnic villas - each one epitomizing the grandeur of the fabled North-Indian hospitality around the central lodge. Each of the tastefully done up villas are conspicuous by a graceful living area with a built-in lounge, a tastefully appointed bedroom, a plush bathroom, a private dressing enclave and a hush-hush verandah providing great views of the jungle landcape.

Dining at the Samode Safari Lodge can be a heady experience and there are surprises galore. The venue could be either indoors or alfresco. If you are inclined to savor the gastronomic delicacies on offer, the rustic ambience of the main restaurant is the place for you. The Lodge goes that extra mile to arrange truly romantic dining experiences out in the woods, the sparkling poolside or it could even be one of those balmy bonfire barbecues. The Lodge’s in-house bar is easily one of the most well stocked in this part of the woods.

After a fun filled day in the wild as I relaxed in my comfortable chair at the Samode Safari Lodge, a herd of deers were wending their way through the high grass and I was joined by Suzanne Haliwell, a keen wildlife enthusiast from far away UK. As the evening wore on and we moved from beer to cheap brandy, Suzzane talked more and more about animal conservation and that if things fell in place would start her own zoo. I thought she was mad. How could anyone, except a millionaire, start her own zoo. Suzanne was undaunted and most Britons are that sort really. Very touchy about wildlife.

At dawn as you set out with the forest still dark with your elephants moving along in almost total silence, you can already hear the morning sounds of Bandhavgarh. Peacocks calling from their nighttime roosts and answered to by the raucous barnyard crowing of Jungle Fowls, gaudy ancestors of the domestic chicken. Gray Langur Monkeys give out the low self-satisfied hooting with which they greet the day and warn one another to be on alert. And as the elephants err on the road and the mirthful Squirrel play hide and seek, it can even be his majesty having forthy winks and asking in the sun.

Here in Bandhavgarh, it is blue and green all around which spreads an unfathomable mystery. The mystery that is Bandhavgarh.

Traveler’s Fact File
Best Season: November to June (The Park closes in July for the monsoon).
Where to Stay: Luxurious jungle accommodation is available at the Forest Rest House, the Samode Safari Lodge, The Taj (Mohua Kothi) and Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp. Tented accommodation too is available on request. Nearest Town: Umaria, located 30 Kms from Bandhavgarh.
Getting There: The nearest airport is Khajuraho, 210 Kms from Bandhavgarh. From Khajuraho, hired taxis and buses are readily available.

For reservations please feel free to contact:
Field Director
Bandhavgarh National Park
P.o. Umaria
Dist : Shahdol
Madhya Pradesh
India