27th May 2016 – 30th May 2016, Mumbai to Katni – Bandhavgarh
Temperature in May: 30-40 degrees (Extreme heat during summers since central India)
Travel options: Train station closest is Umaria or Katni.
Currently trains are available from Delhi only that come via Umaria. For tourists traveling from Bombay, the only closest station is Katni.
Hotel: Tiger’s Den Resort – near Tala zone
Zones available for Safari are: Tala, Magadhi & Khitauli.
A wildlife enthusiast’ heaven, and summers provide the perfect backdrop to wildlife sighting at Bandhavgarh. This time my trip was to the forest in Madhya Pradesh. We were told there are around 65-70 tigers in the forest and we looked forward to meeting the mighty beast on this trip.
Our train reached Katni at 05.50 pm & the ride was approx 100 kms to the hotel.
Bandhavgarh is popular as the tiger haven of India and is a beautiful jungle filled with flora & fauna that enchants you. This park has been the scene where some of the most iconic tiger documentaries have been made with special names given to some of the famous tigers. But there have been moments when tigers have ventured out of the forest to kill cows in the adjoining villages, due to encroachments. There are 5 star hotels like the Taj who arrange for a naturalist in the jeep safari accompanied by the guide and is worth every dime paid. There is a fort inside the jungle called the Bandhavgarh Fort which is shut to general public and only forest officials and one pujari who walks his way up & down to conduct rituals in the nearby temple is allowed access to the fort. There is an idol of Lord Vishnu which one can spot in the Tala zone and the view from the originating point of the river charanganga is beautiful to visit. There are many man made caves to spot there too. Monkeys in other jungles are fed by tourists and hence become notorious unlike here. The forest officials are very strict about humans feeding animals. Water is in plenty around this region giving tiger spotting an added advantage.
20 jeeps allowed
Our first safari was through Maghdi. We were told, one of the most famous tigers of the zone, Bamera used to rule this zone at a point of time, till he was found dead.He was large and very powerful till he was defeated by another tiger. This zone is the most sought after zone, for it’s lush & green landscape & the probability of sighting the tigers is more, although it completely depends on luck. An hour passed by, we kept roaming through the jungle, listening to the calls, birds chirping and trying to comprehend where he would be. Our driver took us to a barren landscape filled with dry grass. We found a few foreigners mounted upon 2 elephants looking directly at a spot in the grass & we immediately realized, it was a Tiger. But we were mistaken by the number. A few minutes later, the mother a female tigress walks out of the grass followed by 3 male cubs, large enough to have them mistaken for full grown tigers. It was the Rajbehra, a mother from the Tala zone, who had crossed over to this zone for the safety of her cubs. Once they disappeared in the bushes we were led by our driver to another watering spot and this time it was Dotty, who was spotted from the bushes. She walked for 5 minutes in front of the jeeps before leaving the audience in a happiness frenzy. On this tour, we also happened to spot a few birds namely the Magpie, Tweepies, Blue kingfisher, Bee eater, Indian pitta, Lapwing, Blue jay, Indian roller or Neelkanth and the Paradise fly catchers.
20 jeeps allowed
2nd zone tala was booked for the evening. The Charanganga river passes through this zone. We were fortunate enough to spot a King vulture here today. The most ecstatic moment followed, when we spotted a huge Malabar Pied Hornbill & a grey Hornbill. We were told the Malabar pied Hornbill has a very weird way of giving birth. The male bird covers the female bird with mud in a hole in a tree for 15-20 days till the eggs hatch while the female sits on the eggs inside to keep them warm. The male feeds the female who has its only beak put outside the tree. Nature sure has unique ways.
A few of the dominant males in this jungle were charger, followed by B2, Bamera but all of them are now dead. We also spotted the Indian Bison and a pack of Jackals along with a Swallow while we waited at the Rajbhairav lake.
The Khitauli zone has more bamboo trees. Area is around 50 kms and there are less water sources here making chances of spotting animals a bit difficult although nature is beautiful everywhere & has its own way of showing its beauty. We spotted a Black Drango & a jungle owlet & were ecstatic. But like i said, nature has it’s own way and didn’t leave us disappointed. When we passed the Nigah Nala, we spotted another Tiger, walking gracefully across the road, not withstanding the 3 jeeps behind him, who were trying hard to capture a photo.
Our guide was right, he had mentioned earlier with his broken English “Patience get Tiger, No patience no Tiger”. The other birds spotted were the Lesser adjutant stork, common Hawk, a cuckoo and a Magpie robin.
Once again, we were booked on a safari in the main zone. This time we spotted a crested Serpent Eagle sitting on a tall tree. It had a kill in it’s beak, but since it was far away, a clear picture could not be captured, although our guide helped us with binoculars and it looked grand. We also spotted a Red bottled lapwing, a Coppersmith barbet and a Common hawk-cuckoo. We were taken to a spot where a 65 ft horizontally laid idol of lord vishnu is laid at the origin of river charanganga. We also saw a shivling there.
On our way back to the train station, we had interesting conversations with our driver.
There are 5 National parks in Madhya Pradesh – Panna, Kanha, Satpura, Bandhavgarh & Pench. Out of these our driver who had been to almost all of them, mentioned that Kanha is the greenest among these, due to links with the river Narmada. Panna on the other hand is a rocky region with very less water.
At Bandhavgarh he spoke of the Tiger family. He mentioned Sita who was once the grand tigress of the jungle, never scared of tourists. Bamera on the other hand who was B2’s son died just 7 days back. He was put in an enclosure in an effort to save him since he could not hunt & had hurt his leg. The forest officials in Bandhavgarh are now very strict owing to the increasing poaching activities here.
Our driver mentioned the reason why there is an 80-20 forest rule. There was a group of lawyers who were not given permission to enter a forest core area and they had filed a case against the forest authorities mentioning that tigers were not safe in the habitat of humans entering the forests and the court had ruled that no one could enter these forests for 5 years. But this was overruled by the hoteliers whose business ran on wildlife tourism. For 5 years there were no forest authorities checking on the animals and no wildlife conservation efforts were taken. The Bandhavgarh fort was also closed to public due to this ruling.
But now thankfully the Government has recognized that tourism enables finances required for conservation of these forests & its wildlife and has also put in restrictions on human interference to the animals. Hence the 80-20 Rule, where 80% of the forests is the core area and 20% is open to public. Infact promoting wildlife tourism raises awareness among tourists too.
He also mentioned another tale of a famous photographer Tiwari who was jailed since his jeep had crushed a tiger accidentally under his jeep.
While passing on our way we saw a dead monkey but our driver was reluctant to move or touch it due to the strict poaching rules. He mentioned, he would be jailed if he could not prove he did killed the monkey.
We returned via Katni with loads of wildlife memories & stories.