Lush, scenic and teeming with wildlife, Bandhavgarh National Park nestles in the Vindhya mountains in Madhya Pradesh at the very heart of India. Bandhavgarh is famous for having the densest population of wild tigers anywhere in the world. Over a three night stay and five game drives in the park, chances are, you will see at least one tiger, if not more.
The jeep drivers and forest guards that accompany each group into the forest are excellent spotters, but we’ve always had a friendly competition going amidst the family that keeps all our antennae up. Sambar, neelgai, wild boar and peacock are called out avidly, and if one of us spots a leopard, sloth bear or a pack of dhole (wild dogs), knuckles meet and serious respect is awarded.
The thrill of spotting, observing and photographing wildlife is reason enough to make the foray to Bandhavgarh, but there is much else that is rewarding. During our three-and-a-half hour journey from Jabalpur airport to the park, we were pleasantly surprised with the excellent roads, scenic farms and endearing villages devoid of the clutter and congestion seen along the highways of UP and Bihar.
Tala, one of the small villages adjoining the park, has a string of lively dhabas, coffee shops and Malaya, a rather chic handicrafts boutique. It was mid-December when we chanced upon the yearly Kabir Mela, a colourful, tented, three-day market for locals who gather to shop and pray at the local temple just outside the park. Steps away, and just behind the stone wall, is the magnificent sprawl of saal and bamboo forests. We enjoyed the constantly shifting scenery from the jeep and from the howdahs of domesticated elephants. Wide open maidans gave way to grassy swamps and cool rivulets were laced with the dappled shadows of leaves. There was birdsong everywhere. In comparison, the forests in the Americas and in Europe too are beautiful, but they have practically no predators. The thrill of chancing upon a leopard, or hearing the loud, bone-chilling call of a tiger somewhere deep in the thickets makes the Indian jungle experience sublime.
I recently met naturalist Sarath Champati, who told me about the successful relocation of eighteen Gaur, (wild bison) from Kahna National Park into Bandhavgarh National Park, where they once roamed before they disappeared. Apart from the fact that it is wonderful for visitors to see gaur, spreading them to different locations helps ensure their survival should there be an outbreak of disease in one area. He also spoke of plans to relocate cheetahs to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Your guide to the place
When to go
You can go to the park between the months of October and May. The weather is at its best between the months of February and November
How to get there
You can take the train or fly to Jabalpur or Khajuraho. Once you are there, your lodge will send a car to pick you up. It’s a 3-4 hours drive to Bandhavgarh
Where to stay
There are plenty of lodges like the upmarket Mahua Kothi and Samode Safari Lodge, to the more reasonably priced Junglemantra and King’s Lodge. Your lodge will book your entries into the park for morning and evening game drives, too
What to pack
Dress in layers as it can get hot and cold on the same game drive. Take along a camera, binoculars and a field guide to the flora and fauna of the park
Follow naturalist Sarath Champati at sarathcrblogspot.com