They say no two tiger sightings are the same. Yet, for those who’ve missed seeing on the elusive animal during earlier outings or are looking to catch a glimpse for the first time, the dense forests of Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh seem a safe bet to start from.
Home to the highest density of tigers in India, these forests have gained popularity for their high and repeated tiger sightings. The only other national park that comes close in regards to the frequency of sightings is Ranthambore in Rajasthan.
Interestingly, authorities at Bandhavgarh have devised a good method to ensure that the impact of tourism is low on the core forest. Rides into this zone one, that covers the oldest part of the park have to be booked online and at nearly double the cost.
Those who come for on-the-spot tours are sent into zone two. And if that gets filled up, then zone three. Guides insist the chances of seeing a tiger in zone two or three are equally high. So why do people pay for zone one? If you want to see the old, preserved forest, this is where you want to be. Also, zone one is traditionally home to Bandhavgarh's top cat.
The dominant male, Bamera, who took over the reigns from his father, resides here and is known for his love for the cameras.
But we decided to skip a meeting with the king and test Bandhavgarh and its ‘you-can-spot-a-tiger-in-three-outings’ theory in zone two and three. Our first ride was in zone three. Due to fellow companions who felt the need to have a sleep-in, we missed the 6.15 am start and entered at 7 am. With that went any chance of spotting the big cat.
As any wildlife enthusiast will tell you, tigers are nocturnal and your best chance of a sighting is at dusk or dawn. Once the sun is up, they retire to the shade for some R&R. So we had to make do with some spotted and barking deer, langurs and a sambar (who didn’t look thrilled to see us and gave an alarm call so loud it sent our hearts thumping for a long time).
Once out, we were greeted with a tourist’s worst nightmare, fellow groups with smug smiles on the faces. They had seen not one but two tigers. Rats. The evening safari in zone two was looking to go the same way. But a traffic jam on the trail and a lot of pointing and yelling from 15-odd jeeps revealed a tiger was in our midst. How he withstood this commotion is anyone’s guess. Maybe he thought that the visitors would leave eventually, allowing him to get back to his alone time. He was right. We did leave soon enough and he was still there, gloating in his victory over the outsiders.
But were we satisfied with his glimpse? Nah. The brief sighting ensured that our group’s sleepyheads were hooked and decided to be on time. We left at 5.15 am on day two and were among the first to enter zone two.
Then came the best news. A tigress with cubs was around. Woo hoo! We reached the location, and alarm calls were still on. Someone spotted a kill. The dead sambar meant she would return. We waited and were rewarded. We soon spotted the tigress dozing under a tree while her two cubs played.
We were even treated to some great pictures when the little nudgers decided to play with the carcass that was clearly too heavy for them. After some heaving that had tourists grinning like indulgent parents, they decided enough was enough and scampered on.
Like wildlife enthusiast Steve Irwin once famously said, “When you touch an animal, it touches you too.” And the tigers of Bandavgarh are great ambassadors for the endangered species that need our intervention, and fast, to avoid extinction.
Know the forest, like the best time to visit, animals seen, timings and entry fees.
Know your zones.
Pick the right guide. Opt for locals. They know the area well.
Be punctual. You could miss out on a tiger sighting purely because you are late.
Read the signs. Ask your guide to teach you how to spot tigers. This could be as simple as seeing pug marks on the ground, claw marks on the tree or listening to a deer's or monkey's alarm call.
Enjoy the moment. It really is something else
Don’t rough it out
Luxury comes home, literally, at Bandhavgarh with Syna Tiger Resort. Built to capture the essence of India, the rooms are designed either according to states (like Gujarat, Kerala etc) or follow a jungle theme. Families can also book themselves into a tree house.
“People from around the world want to see our culture. We bring it together in one area,” says Abhinav Tiwari of Syna Tiger Resorts. The resort, featuring a swimming pool, spa and all modern amenities, is listed in the Great Hotels of the World magazine. For more info, log on to