Friday 2 January 2009

Bandhavgarh – The best place on earth to encounter the Tiger !

January 28, 2009, Bandhavgarh, MP - It was the 5:00 AM in the morning and viz.a.viz a 35 Degrees of temperature, it was 8 Degrees in Bandhavgarh National Park (BG), Madhya Pradesh. We knew it would be cold, but not this cold. Our Thermals, Sweaters, Jackets, Monkey Caps were not at all enough and we had to take 2 blankets each from the Hotel as we left in our Open Gypsy for encountering the Pride of India – the Tiger !

Day 1- (Morning Safari (1)- As we reached the Park gate –4 of us -  Me, my wife Sheetal, my cousin Hetal and her hubby Abhishek-  we paid the park fees (Guess Rs 100/-) and fees for using Digital Cameras (Guess Rs 50/-) and Handycams (guess 200/-) and there were around 30 Jeeps in queue. All were being allotted a Guide (the tribals were trained to guide by the forest dept and this generated a livelihood for them and it was compulsory to have one, Cost, Rs 200/- guess). Here too, one has to sign an undertaking that the park or government will not be responsible for any accident/death etc. This made Sheetal a bit nervous !

Also allotted to each jeep were different routes - A,B,C,D within the park, so the park is not crowded in one area. The Rule was that the Zone Token has to be kept and abided till 8:00AM and then post all come to the centre (choice is yours) for some tea, refreshments (You get there and ideally hotel you stay pack it in a basket for you – toast, sandwich, paranthas, juice etc), one is free to roam anywhere in the park. How it works is that when all the Jeeps meet at the Centre point, all the drivers exchange their feedbacks and then all rush to the area/zone where the movement of tiger was seen in the early morning. Thanks to our government linkages, thanks to Dr. Nigam Uncle, dad of my colleague Gaurav Nigam, that our visit was radioed to the forest officials and local police and we were given VIP Entry where in we were free to get into whichever zone we wished to. The driver was smart and took us to the C Route where in the last safari the earlier evening a tiger was seen very closely.

As we moved in, it was still pitch dark and the headlines were on the first encounter was of a herd of deer – around 30-40 of them crossing our path. Their eyes hone in the lights of the headlight and so did their skins… We moved further. Well, actually the experience of the jungle early in the morning is so fascinating and beautiful that no blog, no photographer can express the same. Soon, the day broke and the forest became light orange post the violet blue shade as it Hussain was stroking his brush.
The driver, post watching all the deers, wild boars, sambhars and monkeys  directly took us to the area where the earlier evening the Tiger was seen. As soon as we reached there, the driver and the guide, started look down as they drove very slowly - they were looking for the fresh pug marks of the Big Cat – a tried and tested method of finding a tiger and tracking its movement. They found and showed us – and we were excited ! Another way to find the big cat movement was to follow the “Call” – the call means – when a deer or monkey sees a tiger walking – they would make a panic sound which would echo in the jungle – when the cat is sitting, they wont shout. The guide, driver would try to move towards the sound and then would wait somewhere to welcome the Tiger. We too did the same and the wait was becoming unending and we were becoming impatient. Post a long wait we went to the centre at 8 and to addon to our frustration, we met other tourists showing their photos and video clips of the tiger they encountered on Route A. Nothing could have been more frustrating in life than this ! But, one thing which we sighted that others did not and the same is not so easy sighting is a Jackal with a fawns head (baby dear killed) in its mouth whom we chased around for 5 minutes !


Post my SA Experience, this is my first Indian Wild Life Experience. Expectations were high and it was my India to prove that its no lesser than Africa ! We chose Bandhavgarh as the park is smaller as compared to other parks and the density is also not too much and thus probability of encountering His Highness of Her Highness of the Jungle was much higher ! So I was trying to play a short shot and my confidence shattered in my first safari from 6 to 10 AM as we did not see what we came for.  But, we had planned for a 3 Days/2 Nights in BG which means 5 Safaris – 3 Morning (6-10AM) and 2 Evening Safaris (2 to 5 PM).

We went to the Route A but as the Jungle rule goes the probability of the Tiger viewing is highest between 6-7:30 AM and between 5-6:00PM – nearing dark. When there is sun over the head, the big cat too rests in shady places ! So post our futile safari, we returned back to the Hotel. And to addon salt on wound was a board at the Safari Entrance/exit saying – “you may or may not see the tiger, but for sure, he is seeing you” ;(((

Day 1- Evening Safari (2): Recharged with our motivation, we hit back at the Park for the afternoon safari and somehow rather than exploring the beautiful jungle our solo objective of coming to BG was becoming too too evident – just give us the Tiger and maybe god heard of our greedy wish and as we went to route A – we finally saw the Majestic Cat – but was a 500 m away ! We were satisfied but not much ! After enjoying the scene, the driver &  the guide – a different one at each safari – told us that they would explore a water lake where the tigers come to drink water (but usually in summer – 110% chances of viewing remains, subject to you bearing 45 degrees heat !) and at a place called Sidh Baba temple area. We asked the guide how and we were told another Rule of the Jungle – Each tiger marks his/her own territory – by pissing on the trees and scratching on them with the sharp nails and no other tiger would dare to enter the others territories. So, it means that in a 10 sq km area, you would definitely have a tiger, a tigress or two and some cubs for sure – its then your luck – how and when do you spot them. But, seems lady luck still chose not to smile at us !

Day 2- Morning Safari (3) : Again an early morning safari with more excitement and hopes. We chose Route B as the forest officer wanted to oblige us by leaking the news of hearing the tigers roar there. We roamed and followed the same process to locate the Big Cat. In a day, we too were experts to identify the pug marks and listen to calls. An hour passed by and futile. Soon we passed the Sidh Baba Temple (with a Shiv Ling) and my wife and sis prayed to the god – give us a tiger… we still roamed and then came the best moment of our lives – as we re-passed the Sidh Baba temple once created by the local tribals – the driver screeched and stopped – and at a distance of 4 ft – a huge 8 ft big Tiger walked out of the meadows, stopped, stared us eye to eye, walked, stopped, changed poses and slowly moved up the hill. This was for 60 Seconds – but each second was orgasmic – our cameras and handycams would too swear ! You could have seen the shiver in each of our spines and the awestruck faces were like a kid being amazed to see a rabbit out of a magicians hat ! Thanks to Sidh Baba – we did gave the local guide Rs 51/- to offer a coconut and flowers to the Almighty for this obligation – and almighty only knew whether these reached him or not ;)

We were too satisfied and flaunted our experience and the Centre at 8:00 AM and the best part was we were the only Jeep who encountered this and no others. Well, now we were motivated enough to explore the rest of the jungle post getting what we came for.
Day 2- Evening Safari (4) : Being satisfied with what we saw in the morning, we explored the beautiful jungle in the 2nd half and then understood that well, tiger ofcourse was what one comes for, the real beauty of the jungle is what overrides everything else – the landscape, the trees, the mountains, the plains, the flowers, the other animals and the entire feel of the forest – the air, the scent and the energy, which pen can not explain neither a camera could !

Day 3- Morning Safari (5) : This was probably another lucky day. As we entered the park, the rumors were already around that there was a young tiger in the rocky area a few kilometers away. We directly rushed there and there were a few jeeps lined up for something unique called the elephant safari or the tiger show. The forest team on 2-3 elephants would leave early morning tracking the movement of the big cat and once traced would inform the jungle authorities, which would open limited bookings for the show. Rs 150 or Rs 200 per person. Soon 4 of us boarded the elephant which started climbing up the hillock. We never knew the elephant could climb almost vertically on a rocky terrain and every mover was a shaker filled with fear for us, thinking we may fall anytime as we weeded past the bushes brushing almost us and saving our heads and faces from tree branches and wild thorns. Soon, the mahout (rider) who guides the elephant in hindi shouts ‘ruk’, which means stop and we see a tiger walking on the rocks just 10 feets away. Soon the mahout takes us closer and the tiger climbs down and sits near a tree. What a scene, what a posture and the moment of his opening his mouth roaring as we almost wet our pants added by the fearful thought of what if we fall down the elephant as there are no safety belts or covered seats. And what if the elephant fearfully sits down in front of the tiger ? but the mahout told  us that both the elephants fear and respect each other and rarely a tiger attacks. We took closer looks and captured all the moments in our digicam and handicams. Soon the big cat started walking and the elephant too followed. There was another elephant from the otherside with other tourists and the tiger was just in between. It stopped, did a fashion show type of walk and climbed the cliff again. This was a superb and a very close experience. There are 3 elephants which does a 5 minutes show each on turn. Luck is a factor that the tiger has to stay closeby and the elephant takes one to the closest. On the positive side, this is a unique initiative of the forest department to ensure that no unlucky tourists go without seeing a tiger and on the negative, this is interference in the wild and maybe the tiger is too used to the elephant and tourists coming to see it daily, so then its not the wildest wild tiger, but all said and done, it is a great great experience to see the big cat so close with all the risks on the elephant back  !!



Soon we moved ahead and it was a double whammy for us… soon a tiger from no where emerged out of the bushes and started walking on the road. We followed it for 2 minutes and then it moved towards a tree and started scratching it and peeing on it to mark his territory – what a rare sight to see the cat almost climbing the tree to scratch it with its sharp nails. This rendezvous lasted for 10 long minutes and then the cat vanished into the forest. Soon the time to come out was coming closer and we moved ahead with the most satisfying wildlife day of our lives !

Day 3- Afternoon Safari (6) : As we saw in a BG documentary, there was a priest who stayed in the BG fort and temple 811 m above the sealevel and the tigers used to come and sit next to him since years. He had died, but the temple is still around. We hired a jeep and went up there to have a look at the beautiful fort. The route over the hill was superb and good for sighting vultures and tortoises near the temple. And if one is lucky, once can surely sight tigers here, but guess we had enough for our BG Trip, 5 Safaris and 4 tigers sightings – that too 3 of them from a 4-5 feet distance, what else could one ask for !

Location

Bandhavgarh National Park is one of the wild life sanctuaries in the Indian state Madhya Pradesh. The national park is situated at 197 km away north-east of Jabalpur. This wild life park derived its very name from an ancient fort in the area. Bandhavgarh National Park belongs to the Vindhyan mountain ranges of central India and it boasts to have the highest density of tiger population in the country. Now there are about 46 to 52 tigers one can spot here. Bandhavgarh National park is located in Umaria District on the extreme north eastern border of Madhya Pradesh.

The terrain is of great rocky hills rising sharply from the swampy and densely- forested valley bottoms. The finest of these hills is Bandhavgarh, sided with great cliffs and eroded rocks, and on its highest point stands Bandhavgarh fort, thought to be some 2,000 years old. Scattered throughout the park, and particularly around the fort, are numerous caves containing shrines and ancient Sanskrit inscriptions.

Covering 448 sq. km., Bandhavgarh is situated in Shahdol district among the outlying hills of the Vindhya range. At the centre of the park is Bandhavgarh hill, rising 811 mt above MSL. Surrounding it are a large number of smaller hills separated by gently sloping valleys. These valleys end in small, swampy meadows, locally known as 'Bohera'. The lowest point in the park is at Tala (440 mt above MSL). The vegetation is chiefly of Sal forest in the valleys and on the lower slopes, gradually changing to mixed deciduous forest on the hills and in the hotter, drier areas of the park in the south and west. Bamboo is found throughout.

Bandhavgarh National Park is spread at vindhya hills in Madhya Pradesh. Bandhavgarh National Park consists of a core area of 105 sq km and a buffer area of approximately 400 sq km of topography varies between steep ridges, undulating, forest and open meadows. Bandhavgarh National Park is known for the Royal Bengal Tigers. The density of the Tiger population at Bandhavgarh is the highest known in India.

History

Prior to becoming a National park, the forest around Bandhavgarh had long been maintained as a Shikargah, or game preserve, of the Maharajahs of Rewa. Hunting was carried out by the Maharajahs and their guests - otherwise the wildlife was relatively well-protected. It was considered a good omen for a Maharajah of Rewa to shoot 109 Tigers. His highness Maharajah Venkat Raman Singh shot 111 Tigers by 1914.

Bandhavgarh has a very deep-rooted importance of it's own in the history and mythology of India. Looming high over the entire park and located in the heart of it's core area, is a fort dating back to the mythological era of Rama and Hanuman from the Hindu epic Ramayana. It is said that the two monkeys who created the "setu", or bridge, between India and Lanka to enable Rama to cross over and vanquish the demon king, Rawana, were also the architects of the Bandhavgarh fort. This fort was used by Rama and Hanuman on their journey back to their kingdom from Lanka. This fort was later handed over by Rama to his brother Lakshmana who came to be known as the "Bandhavdhish", lord of the fort.
This title is still used by the Maharaja of Rewa, who even presently owns the fort. It is thus necessary to procure his permission before entering the fort. This permission can however be obtained locally. In the northern areas of the park is where you will come across the oldest indicators of bygone eras. These are caves dug into sandstone and carry "brahmi" inscriptions dating back to the 1st century BC. The Chandela kings of bundelkhand, who are famous for the Khajuraho Temples built by them, also ruled Bandhavgarh. The ancestors of the Maharaja of Rewa were the Baghela Kings who started their rule here in the 12th century. Bandavgarh was the capital of their dynasty till 1617 after which it moved to Rewa, which was 120 km to the North. Due to this moving of the capital, Bandhavgarh went through a period of neglect in the times to follow. This was in one way a boon for the present forest present there.

Once this area got taken over by forest cover, the animals in the area too began to multiply. The negative aspect to this was that the royal family and their guests started using it as a hunting reserve. This continued until the Maharaja decided to hand it over, minus the area inside the fort, to the government.

Flora And Fauna

The Bandhavgarh National Park is a jungle consisting mainly of bamboo and Sal trees. Only on higher sides the vegetation changes to Sali, Sage, Saja, Dhobin etc.

There are more than 22 species of mammals. Carnivores include Tiger, Leopard, the Asiatic jackal, Bengal Fox, Sloth Bear, Ratel, Gray Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Jungle Cat, Common Langurs and Rhesus Macaque represent the primate group. Around 250 species of birds like Little Grebe, Egret, Lesser Adjutant Saru Crane, Black Ibis, Lesser Whistling Teal, White- eyed Buzzard, Black Kite, Crested Serpent Eagle, Black Vulture etc.



The Famous Tigers of Bandhavgarh
Bandhavgarh has the highest density of Bengal tigers known in the world, and is home to some famous named individual tigers. Charger, an animal so named because of his habit of charging at elephants and tourists (whom he nonetheless did not harm), was the first healthy male known to be living in Bandhavgarh since the 1990s. A female known as Sita, who once appeared on the cover of National Geographic and is considered the most photographed tiger in the world,[citation needed] was also to be found in Bandhavgarh for many years. Most of the tigers of Bandhavgarh today are descendants of Sita and Charger.
Another female, known as Mohini, became prominent following Sita's death. She gave birth to three cubs: B1; B2; and B3, from whom she was separated in 2003 following a vehicle accident and an incident in which tourists separated her from the cubs. She later died of her wounds from the vehicle accident.
Charger died in 2002. Between 2003 and 2006 his family met with a series of unfortunate ends. B1 was electrocuted and B3 was killed by poachers. Sita was killed by poachers. Mohini died of serious wounds to her body. The fully grown B2 survived as the dominant male in the forest between 2004 and 2007, mating with a female in the Siddhubaba region of Bandhavgarh and fathering three cubs. One of them was a male. This new male was first sighted in 2008 and is now Bandhavgarh's dominant male; however, one of his daughters has been known to mate with another male tiger who is likely to challenge B2's son for the crown.

Structure
Tourists are restricted to an area of 105 km² of the park, known as the Tala range. However this area is richest in terms of biodiversity, mainly tigers. There are four more ranges in the reserve namely – Magdhi, Kallwah, Khitauli and Panpatha. Together, these five ranges comprise the 'Core' of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve constituting a total area of 694 km². The buffer zone is spread over the forest divisions of Umaria and Katni and totals another 437 km². The legal status as a national park dates back to 1968, but was limited only to the present Tala range for a considerable length of time. In 1993 the present scheme of things was put in place.
Sight Seeing
  • Bandhavgarh Fort
  • Baghel Museum
  • Village Tala
  • Mahaman Pond
  • Climber's Point
  • Bari Gufa etc.


Activities Planned
Bird watching, Jungle Safari, Visit to Fort, Wildlife excursion in the National Park by Jeep and elephants

The Fort
No records remain to show when Bandhavgarh Fort was constructed. It is thought, however, to be some 2,000 years old, and there are references to it in the ancient books, the Narad-Panch Ratra and the Siva Purana. Various dynasties have ruled this fort: for example, the Maghas from the 1st century AD, the Vakatakas from the 3rd century; the Sengars from the 5th century and the Kalchuris from the 10th century. In the 13th century AD, the Baghels took over, ruling from Bandhavgarh until 1617, when Maharajah Vikramaditya Singh moved his capital to Rewa. The last inhabitants deserted the fort in 1935

Best Time To Visit
The ideal season for Tiger sighting is from October to June. The park is closed from July 1st to September 30th.

Weather
The temperature ranges from a maximum of 42 degrees in May and June to around 4 degrees in Winter. The mean annual rainfall is 1,1173 mm.

What To Wear
Light clothes preferably in beige or jungle greens in summers with the definite inclusion of cap and dark glasses. During winters, especially between the Month of November and February, carry warm clothing for chilly mornings and misty evenings.

How To Reach
By Air : The routes to Bandhavgrah are either by air to Khajuraho ( 210 kms) or Jabalpur ( 170) kms from the national park.

By Rail : The nearest railheads are Jabalpur ( 170 kms), Katni ( 102kms), And Satna ( 112kms) on the Central railway and Umaria ( 30 kms) on the South Eastern Railway.
Places to stay – We stayed at a superb property called Mapple Bundela. The best and the most luxurious property is Taj Mahua Kothi and there are properties for all budgets right from Rs 1500 per night to Rs 25000 per night available. Some of the good properties are :
Infinity Resort, Bagh Sarai Resorts, Nature Heritage Resort, Tiger Trails Resort, Baghela Resort, Salvan, Hotel Narmada Palace, Tiger Hut Resort, Nature Heritage Resort, Churhat Kothi,  Tiger Den Resort, Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge, Maharaja Royal Retreat,  Tiger Trails Resort 


No comments: