Published: May 30th 2005May 10th 2005
The main reason why people take all pains to come to this remote national park
We knew that the trip would be long and tedious, the Bandhavgarh National Park
is not easy to reach. But we were absolutely determined to go there because we had met several people who had seen tigers there. We could not let this opportunity pass!
Leaving Khajuraho at 7:30 a.m. (actually 8 o’clock), we hoped to make it there in one day, though it is only 237 km from Khajuraho. The first part of the trip took us to Satna
and was very picturesque because we crossed the Panna National Park set in beautiful wooded landscape on a nice winding road. We could have reached Satna perfectly on time, if we had not hit upon a road blocking caused by a political demonstration. It was ridiculously small and the road merely blocked by a lorry tyre and a dry branch, so when the police arrived after some time, they would have had no problem to break it up be it not for a lack of discipline on the part of the waiting drivers, our bus driver included. The road had just two lanes, one for each direction, but somehow the drivers had managed to queue in three parallel rows on
Tiger's morning walk
Exceptional sight in the early morning
each side! So when the policemen managed to clear away the physical barrier still nothing would move. After many precious minutes more the police put the chaos in order and we finally reached Satna. It was already noontime and we went to eat in the restaurant of the bus stand, which was not too bad by the way. Without further complications we caught another bus to Rewa
, the seats were rather tight but still o.k. We arrived in Rewa around 3 p.m., as far as we had seen from the bus the city was rather ugly, but we did not care, for us it was only another stop on the way to our dream destination. But here the trouble started: we had to go to Umaria next, the city closest to the Bandhavgarh National Park. Although it was quite early, we learnt that there were no more buses this day. We were pondering on what to do, when they almost shoved us into a bus which was about to leave, saying it went to Shahdol. Stephan quickly checked it out on the map, discovered that this was at least the right direction, and we were already gone. We were able
Time for breakfast
... which hopefully does not consist of tourists
to find seats and had arranged snugly, when the bus stopped again in the middle of the road and the passengers were disembarking frantically. Nobody explained anything to us in English, so we simply followed the others, quite weary of all the fuss. Then we saw that another bus was standing behind ours and its passengers were getting on our bus. Up to now we have not understood for what reason the passengers were exchanged, we were just standing on the road watching the scene quite desperately. People were bustling around, pushing to get in or out, shouting in Hindi all the time. Stephan tried to find out what we were supposed to do, when some Indian men literally pushed Klaudia on the second bus. She had not wanted to get in yet because other people were still unloading their luggage and then she really got stuck on the stairs. A man was hurriedly dragging a huge bag from the rack close to the entrance, he was one stair above Klaudia, then he stepped down, still pulling and was moving his back closer and closer to Klaudia. She could not move in any direction and feared to get crushed, trying
Spotted deer stag
Who is watching whom?
to push the man’s back away. When this would not help, she started yelling on top of her lungs, alarming Stephan, who intervened by pulling the man off the stairs. Klaudia stepped in, trembling like a leaf, when suddenly somebody in the bus told her in English that we could keep the seats we had in the other bus. Why, for heaven’s sake, were the Indians behaving like animals then, without using their brains, merely relying on instinct? And why couldn’t they give us this vital information before? If we had known, we would have waited until the end to get in. We admit that we were quite disappointed about people’s lack of helpfulness. Fortunately the rest of this trip passed without further incidents, the road was even wonderful. We later learnt that it was a toll road which had been built by a Malaysian company. India would need more roads like this! We arrived in Shahdol
shortly before 8 p.m., there would have been a train to Umaria at 10 p.m. but we were exhausted and decided to stay in Shahdol for one night. The place was not mentioned in our guidebook, so we asked several people about a
Spotted deer herd
By that time we were reassured that there was enough food for the tigers
place to stay, they unanimously mentioned one hotel, so we took a rickshaw there. To our big surprise, we found a very nice and clean hotel, the room even had a TV, and all that for Rupees 400. How nice to be positively surprised once in a while, where you would expect it the least! We had enquired at the railway station and found out that a train to Umaria was leaving at noon, so we were not in a hurry next morning. We wanted to be on the safer side and drove to the bus stand after breakfast, maybe buses would leave earlier. There we were told that no buses at all were available this day, no matter where to, all had been booked for marriage celebrations. Strange country where nothing moves for obscure reasons like this! So we were on our way to the railway station. Once there, we heard that the information had been wrong and that a train had left not long ago. Damned! We were really at the end of our wits, when suddenly a man on a motor bike approached us, asking in good English whether he could help us. Oh dear, we badly
Young spotted deer
Very cute animal with perfect camouflage
needed some help! He turned out to be a Christian missionary and proposed to take us to a fellow missionary’s place, where we could have a rest and he would find out what there was to do. We eagerly accepted. These people were so friendly, they gave us to eat and to drink and found out that there were really no buses, but a train to Umaria at 3 p.m. We spent a nice time with them, even if we did not agree with them on all points. In the end, they took us to the train station in their jeep, we are glad that Salim had come our way and would like to thank them once again. Since no buses were running, everybody was restricted to the train. The platforms were extremely crowded, all these people would never fit into a train even if it was empty! But we were lucky, Klaudia sat on a single seat, which definitely had a special function, but nobody shoved her away, and Stephan lay down on one of the upper berths. We arrived in Umaria
at 5:30, found out where the buses left, but the auto-rickshaw drivers all tried to rip off
Elephant tiger show
If you are wondering what it's all about, look at the following pictures
blatantly, so we hired a bicycle rickshaw, something we normally did not do with our luggage. The old man was incredible, he managed to ride the bicycle and did not push it, he was offended when Stephan got off to relieve the burden. He was a big help us, without him we would not have found the bus to the National Park so easily. We found the minibus but it was already so crowded that they refused to let us enter, although this seems to have been the last bus. Would we ever reach our destination? We tried to shop around for an alternative and got really furious when we saw that other people had entered the bus after us. We are quite sure that they all worked hand in hand so that the tourists would pay as much as possible. Once again, nobody lifted a finger to help us. That was the moment when Klaudia cracked. She took her backpack and was willing to go anywhere, just in order to leave India as soon as possible, without having seen tigers or Varanasi. It did not come that far, though, Stephan found an auto-rickshaw for Rupees 250, and when we
Relaxing after mating
detected a huge herd of spotted deer close to the Bandhavgarh National Park, she was reconciled again. The village by the National Park is called Tala
, it was difficult to find accommodation there, many places were booked for a big marriage. But the guys were helpful and sent us to a restaurant, which offered accommodation and we finally had a bungalow for ourselves. Uff, it was a hard day’s night!
Next morning, we had to get up early, the jeep safari started at 5:30 a.m. Anyway, we did not need an alarm, the mosquitoes had already woken us up. You have to find a driver, which is no problem, the whole village is economically linked to the National Park, at the gate an official guide is attributed to you as well as the route you are to follow. The jeeps queued up in two rows, this morning there were about 10 of them full of hard-core nature lovers who did not mind the heat, all desperate to see the king of the jungle. When all had got their guides and routes, they started simultaneously, Stephan was reminded of the start of a Formula One race, at much reduced speed
Just look at these fantastic stripes
of course. The first wild animal we came across was a young fox with sand-coloured fur, it was well camouflaged on a stretch of sand, and we could not even take pictures. We were pleased to see an animal so quickly, after all we had not only come for the tigers but our guide got quite excited, pretending that who saw a fox first would soon see a tiger. We were not fully convinced, believing this to be the tale every tourist heard, but gave our best to sound a bit enthusiastic. Anyway, when our jeep proceeded on the first part of the circuit common to all routes, we suddenly saw him, moving slowly and gracefully on the edge of the grass - a beautiful male tiger!
It was only a matter of seconds until all the jeeps had gathered at the same spot, watching the lovely creature walk his own pace with beating hearts and clicking cameras. A couple of minutes later the tiger had enough of the commotion and disappeared into the thick forest. Several jeeps, ours included, moved on to a spot where the guides believed the tiger might cross the road, we waited quite a long
Same male tiger
Lifting his head at the elephant's approach
time, but Mr. Tiger acted according to his own will and not to ours. We explained to our guide that we were interested in all kinds of animals and also keen on seeing tiger food if we didn’t see any we would have to think that tigers here fed on tourists. This somehow convinced our reluctant guide and we hit the road again. Soon we were relieved to see many herds of spotted deer, so we would not have to serve as tiger food (just kidding). The National Park is set in a kind of valley between two ridges of hills, quite secluded from the outside, maybe this fact also deterred poachers. Around 8 a.m. our guide asked us whether we would like to go for an elephant ride which might enhance our chances to see even more tigers. Anyway we would only have to pay when we actually saw a tiger, so we readily accepted. The guide communicated by walkie-talkie and informed us that we would see two tigers, a male and a female. These news had of course spread to the other groups as well and we were not the only ones on the elephant. We climbed on
Male tiger again
But he did not feel disturbed in the least
the animal from the jeep without any problems, almost bursting with excitement. We were seated laterally, not a very comfortable position, but the elephant did not have to walk far. There they were, lying lazily on a clearing, showing us their beautiful white bellies. We later found out why they would not move, they had just mated. Sorry folks, we missed this! They hardly took notice of us approaching, only lifted their heads for a quick look. You cannot imagine haw incredibly close the elephant came, we were only about 10m from the tigers!! We did not have unlimited time at our disposal, each elephant is given approximately 5min, so we enjoyed every single second, scrutinizing the tigers’ anatomy with our binoculars. We were very lucky, somehow our guide liked us and had asked the mahout to stay a bit longer than allowed. Tigers are perfect creatures with their golden fur and dark brown stripes, white bellies, big strong paws and powerful heads. In the hour that was left we saw more herds of deer but we were in a kind of trance and did not fully notice them.
Later on we had breakfast with Christina and Erik, a
She definitely was feeling well
lady from Hong Kong and her Dutch boyfriend whom we had met last evening. There is absolutely nothing to do in Tali, it was getting very hot again, so Klaudia decided to have a rest while Stephan had a walk around. In the early afternoon we went to an internet cafe to check our mails. At 5 o'clock it was time for the evening safari. This time we did not see any tigers, but again deer in huge numbers, wild peacocks and a flock of Indian hornbills in a tree as well as some wild boar. We also drove to an old Vishnu statue which was lying in a pond surrounded by lush vegetation. We quickly realized how lucky we had been in the morning and decided to leave for Varanasi next day. In the end, we saw what we had come for, so why linger on. We were really fed up with public transport, so we hired a jeep to take us to the train station in Katni
for a direct train to Varanasi at 10 a.m. However, we would have made it with buses without any problems, because the bloody train was 2 hrs late, by the time
Sleeping female tiger
It's nice to have a rest after such an exercise
we arrived in Varanasi we had already 5 hrs delay.
The Bandhavgarh National Park is hard to reach by public transport and we almost despaired, but it is a truely magical place and definitely worth all the trouble.
There are more photos below