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Published: June 29th 2008
The jungle safari jeeps came rushing from the other side, and screamed past us leaving a trail of dust. We were headed away from the spot where the tiger apparently was moving. Our jeep turned its face, and raced on back to the spot. Our guide and driver had been promising us a good tiger sighting since morning, and finally they too sensed the chance of living up to their promise.
We were in Bandhavgar National Park in Madhya Pradesh for a 2-night/3-day wildlife vacation. A big group of about 12 people put together by our colleague Koustuv. The organization was impeccable with our stay planned at Tiger Den resort at Bandhavgar.
There are two ways to reach Bandhavgar from Delhi. Cheaper, and in my opinion better, is to take an overnite train to Katni junction, and then a 2 hour drive to Bandhavgar. Alternately, one can take a flight to Jabalpur, and then a 4-hr drive to Bandhavgar. Given the road condition, keeping the drive short works better.
There are two schedules for the jungle safari, one starts in the morning and the other in the evening. One must get a permit before entering the reserve. In our
case, the hotel took care of procuring the permits. The first evening safari did not turn out to be lucky for us. But the bumpy ride in the open jeep through the forest terrain, and the anticipation kept us to the edge of our seats all through. There are routes demarcated for each of the jeeps going into the forest till they reach a central huddle point. There information is exchanged about tiger sightings, and one can choose to follow any route from there on.
We were promised that the morning safari always turns out to be better. We managed to start almost on time. Given a group size of 12, with people from 60 to 6, it was quite commendable, and spoke for the enthusiasm of the group. We were packed in two jeeps, and took different routes inside the forest. The morning safari did turn out lucky for one jeep, who were overjoyed with their first tiger sighting, while we, in the other jeep kept pestering our driver for his lack of skills to spot the big cat. He tried his best to reach the spot, only to manage a glimpse of the black and yellow beast
behind the bushes. None of us were happy enough, but for the records we had seen a tiger.
It was beyond question that we would try our luck in the evening. This time both the driver and the guide were really upbeat about the prospect of sighting a tiger because apparently the tiger had made a kill in the afternoon, and the kill was still lying in the open. Going by the daily routine of the tiger, it will come back to his kill in the evening. Everything sounded quite good to us, till it was 2 hours into the safari, plenty of other wildlife to watch, enough nature viewing done, and still no sign of the big cat. We had already made two passes through Chakradhara, the area most noted for tiger sighting in Bandhavgar. We were on the verge of giving up hope, when we saw the convoy of jeeps rushing past us, and passed on the message that the tiger has been spotted and was finally heading for his kill. Some wild driving followed as we hung on to our lives.
There must have been 15 jeeps and hordes of excited onlookers as B2, the
male tiger ambled out from the bushes. He stared at the crowd, waited, and soon realized from his regular experience that it is his time to pose. Unfortunately his kill was on the other side of the road, and there was not an inch of space spared anywhere for him to cross and get to his kill. B2 just sat down, waiting for the crowd to disperse, which showed no intention of leaving the place till each seem to have managed his best shot, and till the time was up for the safari, and the drivers pretty much had to coax them to leave. Although it is forbidden to step out of your jeep, I saw people getting really adventurous. The less adventurous ones would climb to anywhere possible on the jeep to stretch the rules to its limits. I wish the tiger had roared once, or made an advance. Usually, it hardly happens, but there are stories of one angry male that used to be there, who had a penchant for jumping on to the hood of the jeeps, getting him the name “Charger”. The guides and the drivers are always cautioning tourists because in the excitement one forgets
that it is really the wild you are in.
There is another mode of touring inside the forest, and a very expensive one. One can take a daylong elephant ride, which if I remember correctly was in the range of 25000 rupees per elephant. Doling out such princely sum was never a choice with us. But you do end up making some fabulous sightings, like the elephant riders on the day we were in told us that they could photograph a python devoring a deer. That would make their money’s worth. We were also told that sometimes if a tiger is spotted at a place unreachable by jeep, one is allowed to take an elephant ride to reach the spot at a nominal extra payment. After hearing this, I wasn’t so sure whether we were really lucky to have spotted the tiger from our jeep. Bandhavgar Fort
Most of the national reserves seem to have a fort somewhere inside. No exception in this case as well. I recommend all who visits Bandhavgar to keep the fort in their must-visits. It is perched on one of the highest points inside the forest, and provides grand views of the expansive
area. You also get to see falcons and hawks from atop, and that makes for really great shots. So far as the fort goes, it is quite ill-maintained. Other than a temple which is the main attraction for most tourists, and mostly devouts, there is not much left of the fort palace. The mahals are almost falling apart, the massive man-made ponds are filled with moss, and unreachable. You can see tortoise, fishes from the top, but no chance of reaching anywhere close to it. There are 5 or 6 such ponds, or “talao”, as they are called in Hindi. I thought that these ponds will really attract wildlife, but was told that it is a bit high for them to reach. But leopards are often spotted, and once in a while tigers too.
Our trip was only centered around Bandhavgar, but if you time and energy, it is worth clubbing Kanha along with Bandhavgar. Kanha is a much bigger reserve forest than Bhandhavgar, and has a wider bio-diversity. However, as the guide pointed out, the chances of tiger sighting is much higher at Bandhavgar. I will end this journal with a note that be prepared to bear the
heat if you are visiting the park during the Indian summer as we did, although it was mid April which is just the beginning of summer.
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