Bandhavgarh National Park, “A den of terror – a terror of hungry tigers” – my initial reaction when I first heard the name. Within an area of just 694 square kilometers, more than 65 tigers live in this park. Amongst wPlease go”hich more than 40 tigers are adults. That’s exciting and frightening at the same time. To see a tiger in the wild is always one of the top items on my bucket list. It is till date my best trip, indeed, so it is obvious to make its description a bit long. So, buckle up for A Wild Encounter with the tigers in Bandhavgarh.

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Tala Zone

History

Bandhavgarh is located in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh. It means brother’s fort, was believed be given by Lord Rama to his brother Lord Lakshmana to keep a watch on Lanka. It came to the scene when Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa captured the first white tiger in India in 1951. That time it was just a hunting ground of the royal family. Maharaja Martand Singh named the tiger Mohan. Maharaja also successfully breeds the tiger and most of the white tigers found in the zoo are believe to be Mohan’s descendant. In 1968 Bandhavgarh was declared as a National Park and as of now, it has one of the highest density of Bengal tigers known in the world.

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Khitauli Zone

The Jungle

In 1972, the park came under Wildlife Protection Act and from then the entire game gone serious. At first, it was only a 105 square km jungle. But, it was soon realized that the area was not enough for the tigers so Magdhi, Khitauli, and Panpatha were merged with the Tala zone. Panpatha zone is not opened publicly where Tala and Magdhi are the premium zone for tiger sighting. It is being said that “In any other Park, you are lucky if you see a tiger. In Bandhavgarh, you are unlucky if you don’t see (at least) one.”

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Khitauli Zone

Apart from tigers, Bandhavgarh is the home of 37 species of mammals, more than 250 species of birds. Chital or the spotted deer are the most common of all the species. Also, Samber, Barking Deer, Wild Boars, Nilgai, Bison (only in walk) and last but not the least Tigers are very common. If you are lucky you can spot Sloth Bear, Indian Gazelle, Jackals, and Leopards. Pack of Wolfs is the rarest among all.

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Sambar Deer

Prelude

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Me, Arijit and Debobrata (from left to right) at Howrah Station

We booked 4 safaris online for this trip. Due to heavy demand, we got just 1 safari in Tala and 3 safaris in Khitauli. We went there in Howrah – Mumbai mail which began to run 4.30 hours late. It was quite a frustrating journey for us to sit on the train for that long. We found a little peace when we met up with two guys on the train. One of them was from Indore, Anirudh. A very friendly guy who single-handedly blew away our boredom. He had every single thing in his bag, starting from extended multi-point cable to laptop with lots of movies in it and playing cards as well. The other person was a local, from Katni and she was a bong (born and brought up in MP), Dishani. Her way of speaking Bengali was sounding very cute, all though we laughed at it most of the times. From her we came to know about all the fooling business that was grown around the area. The experience was awesome we felt blessed with the company we got. At around 10 PM we reached Katni and was almost 6 hours late.

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On the way to Bandhavgarh

We reached our resort Bandhavgarh Meadows at around 12.30 AM. At that point of time, we were amazed to see the reception we got. It has 10-12 cottages and 8-9 villas and it has a separate common dining area and a common place known as Gol Ghar for Bonfire and a few private dining areas for the love birds. The resort is just outside the boundary of Tala Zone and more than 70 species of birds can be spotted from the resort. Every person in the resort is well mannered, well behaved and highly dedicated to their jobs. We took our dinner very late at around 1.30 AM and believe it or not we got very delicious, very tasty and hot food. Another beauty of that resort is they will serve you different menu each day.

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Our Villa

As we were getting ready for a long relaxing nap, something caught my ears. It was raining outside. We were very tired and went to sleep as we didn’t know the consequences that time. Believe me, it felt like a wink of an eye when someone started knocking heavily on the door. I said “what happened?” very annoyingly. The guy said from the outside “It’s already 5.30 in the morning, please wake up else you won’t be able to see the tiger”. I swear him in my minds and woke up from the bed, but we were dead tired and somehow managed to get ready yet we were almost an hour late.

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Day 1, After the overnight rain.

Safari 1 :  Khitauli Zone Morning Safari

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On the way to Day 1 Safari (Khitauli Zone)

From our resort to Khitauli Gate was 6 km away. In that 6 km journey, we were actually dozing. And then in the middle of the road, we spotted a full family of spotted dears aka Chital aka barasingha. And from that point of time, we were started to feel the excitement of that place. We were sure that we will see a tiger on the road, maybe just walking in front of our car. As we entered the jungle the guide started telling us about the jungle and the different types of animal which can be spotted in this zone. From the guide, I came to know that the most powerful male of Bandhavgarh, Bheema can be seen in this zone. We started jumping in seats after that statement. Then I firmly asked him “what are the chances of sighting tigers today?”. After hearing my question, the guide drops an atom bomb on us. He said, In winter tiger sighting is a bit low in this zone as compare to summer. and It’s become next to impossible to track a tiger as for last 2-3 days there was enough rain in the area, so the tiger won’t move from there den. But, It’s a perfect condition to sight a Bear today as it was raining last night. We were very disheartened after hearing that and on spot decided that we will come back in the summers.

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Wild Boar (Out of focus shot, as I’ve just started learning to use a DSLR).
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Barasinga / Chital / Spotted Deer

Anyway as our safari proceed we spotted a lot, practically a lot of spotted deer, wild boars, peacocks. And out of nowhere suddenly our car stopped, guide spotted something in the bushes. After a deep analysis, the guide turned the car around and stopped at one point, and Walla! It was a sloth bear, roaming around and searching for food in the ground. It was quite far away though and I didn’t have that powerful lens to capture in my camera. A sloth bear which was very rare but we found one. That was a small victory for us. Everyone who came to know that we saw a bear, came and congratulate us and said: “you guys are very lucky”.

Safari 2 :  Tala Zone Afternoon Safari

It is a premium zone and we got one of the best driver around, Mr. Pandey Ji. He has a reputation of spotting a tiger in his every safari. We were also very pumped up after hearing that and went to the gate very early. Gate opens at 3.30 PM and as soon as we entered the park we were convinced why it is the most demanding and premium zone. Our guide was the only one who spotted two tiger cubs in the morning safari of Tala zone. So, we got two very qualified people sitting in our car. Pandey Ji was living up to his reputation, I found he is more knowledgeable than the guide sitting beside him. He told us the brief history of Rewa family, How it became a national park and a lot more. I can’t recall all the things right now but he has more knowledge than the wiki page of Bandhavgarh itself.

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I guess they were on a Date

We straight away went to the spot where the cubs were sighted in the morning. But, no luck. no one was there. There we came to know that a 12-foot long python has been seen in some lake nearby. Every car was leaving, so we also ask Pandey Ji to take us to that lake. But, Pandey Ji told us you have come here to see a tiger, not a python (which was a bit rude by the way). He analyzes the area briefly and suddenly moved to his driver seat and started the car at full speed. I asked him “did you saw, something?” he said “no. but I have a feeling that the mother should be around, so let’s track the mother.” And after a few km Pandey Ji kept his record intact, we spotted our maiden tigress, Her name was Spotty.

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Spotty Spotted! But, a long range shot and out of focus again.

She is the most beautiful female and the youngest mother in Bandhavgarh. Our car stopped on a bridge and the tiger was quite far away, though. She was still at her young age as we can say it by looking at her, she was taking rest and playing in her subconscious. Pandey Ji instantly became our hero and I highly recommend him.

Safari 3 : Khitauli Zone Morning Safari

It is the most disappointing safari of our trip, I don’t have much to write about it. First, it was full cloudy and zero visibility and then we got a very unprofessional guide which Dishani (the girl from the train) warned us previously, who are ready to fool you. Firstly we hardly even saw a Deer. The guide was not stopping the car anywhere, giving wrong information, like he pointed at a bird and told us that It was a very rare owl.

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A very rare Owl, Opps! my bad, It’s a common Eagle.

I took a photo of it and I zoomed the photo and I was just a normal Eagle. I instantly told me that it’s not an owl. He apologizes for his behavior. Then at the resting point where people are allowed to get out of the vehicle for refreshment, there I came to know that he saw tiger footprints and didn’t care to stop the car or even inform us. And above all the safari suppose to be for 4 hours but he took us out after 1.30 hours. When I asked him for the reason he coolly replied: “There is nothing to see”. Later I came to know everyone spotted a tiger after we came out.

Safari 4 : Khitauli Zone Evening Safari

After a disappointing morning safari, our shoulder was started to feel a bit heavy. When we came, sat in the car we saw we have got a very serious looking driver, he was not saying much and didn’t even greet us, which was unusual and we had got a habit of it by then. Anyway, our tour started and honestly I didn’t hope for much in this one too. By the way, it was the third time in that zone and the last one, so we had and an idea of the road. As we entered we quickly noticed we were on another route. In my mind, I was thinking he is also that kind of a driver. I got despaired and literary with a crying voice told him about the morning safari and also did a bit emotional blackmailing by saying “Uncle, It will be very unfair If we leave without seeing a tiger”. Our driver replied, “I won’t make it happen, I promise you that”. And we got quite and got alerted.

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Sambar, crossing the road.
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Jackal, those eyes said all!

I was thinking wrong about him when we hear the first alarm call from a Chital. And believe me, we were the only one on that road. Guide told us please be super alert as It’s a Leopard and highly master in camouflage. A cold breeze blew through our spines. We saw the deer making calls but I was completely frozen up, I forgot to capture the moment. Then by the deer’s movement, our guide pinpointed the location of the leopard. But as the guide said highly camouflaged in the bushes, and very hard to even saw it. After a few minutes, a few cars showed up as they also heard the Call. I said to the driver “Uncle, we think we are unlucky”. The driver replied “Son, you come in the summers will find 4-5 tigers in one safari, But the main thrill is in tracking one, and one tiger is moving inside the jungle as a tiger killed a cattle a few hours ago in the buffer zone. Let track that one down”.

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Tiger scratches.
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Footprints of … You guess!

He was so dedicated to his work that he was completely into it; truly focused. Sometimes he was scolding the guide and If we were taking a bit more time than given, he was telling us not to. Then came the best moment of the trip, the most thrilling one. He stopped the car at a three-point junction and told us “we are standing at one point, one road goes out of the jungle and one direction we already covered. And the tiger is moving, So, the tiger has crossed this road” as he finishes his words 3-4 Chitals started making alarm calls.

It was so heavy and so frequent that driver uncle declared to get ready to witness the one and only, most awaited Royal Bengal Tiger. But, it was our bad luck that` the giant noisy bus appeared from somewhere at the spot and after hearing the calls and that bus so crowded everyone started yelling and laughing; a complete mess. Driver uncle looked very disappointed. After this, a samber started giving alarm calls from another side. The scene was getting serious and intense. There was pin drop silence at one time. And then peacock started making calls from our behind. Driver whispered, “we are currently surrounded by 4 tigers, 2 cubs are on our right side, their mother is coming from the front with the food and one cub is just behind us”. He also added, “but they are not going to come out with all these people around as the mother is bringing food, she does not want to risk the food at any cost”.

Driver uncle was more stubborn than us. He was waiting there as everyone started leaving because it was the closing time and If any car comes out after the closing time, the driver, the guide, and the car gets a 3 months suspension. The guide was constantly telling the driver we have to cover 9 km from here, and we have only 15 min. Let’s go. His focus was on his earlier promise, he was said: “we will wait”. Then after another few minutes, the guide said we never gonna make it: “Please go”. Only 7 minutes left. Driver uncle very sadly apologized to us. He couldn’t keep his promise, we told him: “don’t worry, you gave us the best safari, and we won’t forget you”. He smiled at us and told us to hold anything possible because it is going to be a bumpy ride.

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Those are for the Elephant Safaris. Not Wild!

You can do the math for the speed, but it was a hell of a ride and a hell of a safari. Bandhavgarh is the best of the best of my all trips till date.

For safari booking: click this link (You can book only Full Vehicle entry, which will cost 1500 INR).
For Vehicle contact: Mr. Pandey +91-9424368631.
There are a lot of resorts available there, check this link.
Best time to visit: Oct-June, But If you want the tigers to walk along with your vehicle go in the summers. All of our bookings done by Indyatour.

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