In search of the magnificent beast of Bandavgarh

It all happened over a cup of tea in office, when one of my colleagues mentioned about Bandavgarh National Park, and the next thing I knew was we were all set for a weekend trip to Bandavgarh.

Bandavgarh National park derives its name from the famous Bandavgarh hillock in the heart of the forest, the history of which can be dated back to the first century, with several of its 39 caves engraved with inscriptions in Brahmi script. It also finds its mention in the Ramayana period when Ram had asked Lakshman to use the fort to keep a watch on Lanka. There are no proven records to determine when and by whom the original fort was constructed but it has been ruled by several dynasties like the Mauryans, Vakataka rulers, Sengars, Tripuris, Baghels, Mughals (for a brief time) whose last inhabitants abandoned it in 1935. The adjacent forest area was mainly used by the royalty for hunting until it was declared as a National park in 1968. The National Park situated in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh, is known for having one of the world’s highest density of Bengal tigers and to preserve that, Project tiger was constituted in 1972.

The Journey

There are no direct flights/ buses or railway services to Bandavgarh from Delhi, hence we took a 14 hours overnight train ride to the nearest town of Umaria. We reached in the morning of 17th Dec, 2016. The Umaria bus station is nearby to the railway station and sharing autos are available at a cost of just 20 Rs. per person. From the bus station, buses for Tala are available in intervals of 15 minutes, which is the base location of most of the hotels and resorts in Bandavgarh. Alternatively, one can opt for an auto ride to Tala for around 400-500 bucks. In our case, we opted for the bus at only 30 Rs. per person for the 35 kms distance.

Most of the resorts are located in and around the Tala bus stop. However, while looking for hotels keep in mind the fact that if you don’t have a private vehicle, transport will be an issue in case your hotel is located in the interiors or the adjacent village area. The buses drop people at the main Tala bus stop. In that case, auto is a better option from Umaria. We realised that our hotel was around 2.5 kms into the village area when we got dropped off at  Tala bus stop. Not finding any convenient option, we decided to walk towards it by following the signboards, but we were lucky that the resort vehicle found us and provided us the ride. So finally, we reached our destination, The Mogli Resort, around 11 am! The resort is decent with little cottages surrounded by lots of trees and it also has a swimming pool. However, at similar rates lots of other options are also available. Pre booking is highly recommended.

The Safari

We booked two jungle safaris from the official site:- https://forest.mponline.gov.in/. However, the online payment only includes the jungle permit. The vehicle and guide cost is extra and needs to be paid at the booking office which is around Rs. 2560. The jeep consists of 6 seats and this price can be shared by tourists on per seat basis.

The Bandavgarh park area consists of 3 main zones for the tourists to explore- Tala, Magadhi and Khitauli. Currently, only 20 % of the forest is open for tourists. Unfortunately the Bandavgarh fort falls in the restricted zone, hence we can only see the magnificent structure from a distance.

Day 1

We started off with the evening safari on Saturday, in the Magadhi region. It starts at around 3 PM from the booking office. At the entrance, we were amongst the fleet of safari jeeps, all set out in hopes of getting a glimpse of the stunning creature. The Magadhi region falls in the plainer part of the park with mainly forests of Teak and Mahua trees and grasslands. There are also lots of ponds, most of which were dry due to the winter season. As we got deeper and deeper into the jungle we saw some spotted deers and variety of birds but the eyes were restless in trying to find traces of yellow and black amidst the green! And then suddenly we saw 2 jeeps ahead of us stopping and pointing at something. The guide of our jeep immediately knew and rushed us to the spot where the other two jeeps had stopped. And then we saw what we were looking for! A gorgeous tiger elegantly crossing a pathway across the grassland, some 200-300 mtrs away from us! I was so excited at the breath-taking view that I got confused whether to keep staring at it or click pictures. And within seconds it disappeared into the woods! Thankfully, I could manage to click a few pictures. We all knew that we could have got a closer glimpse at the tiger if the jeep would move that distance ahead. But alas, the tiger was in the Tala area and we were in the border of Magadhi-Tala zone. As per forest rules, zone switching during the safari was prohibited. The guide told us that it was the Raj-behera female. He then decided to move us to another location which is supposed to be a crossing area for the Raj-bahera female going by past records. All the jeeps kept eagerly waiting, hoping for the tiger to cross pathways. But as time flew with no signs of movement, we realized the tiger probably was still inside the woods taking rest. Disappointed, we decided to go deeper into the park to look for other tigers. But the next two hours of wandering was all in vain. It was time for the end of the safari. Though little disheartened, we were also excited for the next day,as we had another morning safari in store. That evening I retired to sleep early after dinner as I couldn’t wait for the dawn to break.

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Day 2

5.20 am! The alarm went off and we quickly got ready to reach the booking office by 6 am. We had booked the second safari in the Tala zone, which comprises of the area that was originally included in the National park.

The Tala region has mostly rocky terrain. The morning sunrays peeped through the leaves creating beautiful hues which were a treat to the eyes. The camera can never do justice to its beauty. As we moved deeper into the Tala zone, we stopped at several points where fresh tiger paw-marks were spotted. In one of the spots, many safari jeeps, including ours waited calmly for a tiger family to show up, after a guide claimed to have seen some tigers hiding in the bushes at a distance. In the meanwhile, we did see lots of Chitals, spotted deers, some rare species of owl and jackals. As the clock kept ticking towards the end of safari time, we didn’t lose hope till the time we reached the exit gate of the zone. It was disappointing to not see any tigers that day, but the signboard at the exit surely brought a smile to our faces “Perhaps you may not have seen me but please don’t be disappointed, I have seen you!”

After the end of the safari, we quickly packed and checked out of the hotel, had a sumptuous lunch with fish fry in a Bengali restaurant and set out for our journey back to Delhi.

So until next time, I engraved my memories with the sight of the fierce yet beautiful Raj Bahera female.

Sharing one of the pictures of the Raj Bahera female. Spot her 🙂

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Some travel tips:

  1. Try to visit during the summer season- from March to June, as the probability of tiger spotting is high, around the water sources due to the heat.
  2. If you’re travelling without a personal vehicle, ask your hotel to arrange a pick up for the safari from the hotel itself, as it’s difficult to find transport early in the morning.
  3. If you’re sharing a jeep with another group, sometimes you might not find like minded people. Just keep calm and keep looking!

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