Bandhavgarh National Park is a strange land. Flowing through a vibrant and luxuriant Sal and bamboo forest, the wind murmurs the [Bandhavgarh Fort, Bandhavgarh National Park] songs of nature in the voice of silence. It seems to be quiet yet vibrant. Leaves rustle! Water trickles! Grasses stop to move! Even the wind pauses to hold its breath and watch the drama unfold! Then all of a sudden, the Jungle springs to life! Langurs groan. Deer’s call, and you hear approaching crushing of dry leaves by something big, behold the King is here. A onetime hunting grounds of Maharaja of Rewa, it is today also a hunting ground for the Tigers who roam fearlessly in this Sal and bamboo forest. A touch of history, a taste of rawness, this park gives much more than you anticipate from it. While Tigers reign supreme here, it is home to over 250 species of birds, Sloth Bears, Indian Gaur, Leopards, Langurs, Deer family, Jackals, and sometimes spotted Dholes, one thing assured is that you will never come back disappointed from Bandhavgarh.
Rocky, rugged and beautiful, narrow valleys of the Vindhyan range are the essence of Bandhavgarh National Park. Grasslands, water holes and streams added to a lush habitat make it an excellent habitat for tigers. A 2000-year-old-fort on top of a plateau in the middle of the park adds mystery and an antique glamour to what also used to be the hunting ground of the Maharajas.
Bandhavgarh is known for having one of the highest densities of tigers packed into a compact area of 105sq km. This, along with the friendly nature of the wildlife here give it higher chances of game viewing. The tourism area is divided into four zones which can be explored during morning and evening safaris. There are stretches of beautiful Sal trees in the lower areas which gradually give way to a drier mixed forest in higher altitudes. Lush bamboo forests can also be seen here.
The park was recently in the news for being the platform for the first ever successful relocation of a small population of 20 Gaurs (the largest wild cattle in the world) from Kanha NP. Another rare but very interesting fact about this area is it was home to the only population of white tigers ever known! All white tigers in the world today are the offspring of this population!
Bandhavgarh is the epitome of a prime protected forest striving to survive in a developing country. It has emerged a winner and with a substantial number of thriving tigers. To its credit are also films, fame, controversies, rumours and philanthropy.
This celebrity national park has an unmissable charm and energy, which visitors there would vouch for! Bandhavgarh – the Land of the Tiger always leaves you wanting more.
About the Bandhavgarh National Park
State: Madhya Pradesh
Area: 1161 sq km (Combining Core and buffer forest), 624 sq. km is core and 537 sq. km are buffer forest.
Co-ordinates: Latitude: 23 30’ 12 to 23 45’ 45 N, Longitude: 80 47’15’’ to 81 11’ 45 E
Altitude: 440 to 811 m above mean sea level
Vegetation: Tropical moist deciduous, dry deciduous and scrub
Water resources: Son, Umrar rivers and numerous rains fed streams
Winter: November to mid-February
Weekly off: Wednesday Afternoon Safari
Summer: April to mid-June
Monsoon: June to September
Park Open: From 01st Oct to 30th June
Full Day Off: Holi, Diwali
Rainfall: 1175 mm
Closest Airports: Jabalpur (220 km) and Khajuraho (280 km)
Closest Rail heads: Umaria (35 km), Jabalpur (164 km), Katni (102 km), and Satna (128 km)
This park shot into prominence the year after it became a part of Project Tiger in 1993. It was like a player gets capped to play for his country and is immediately made the Captain of the team. The two Tigers responsible for the same were, Sita, the most enchanting Tigresses of all times, and Charger, the most aggressive Tiger of all times. Their stardom made Bandhavgarh a celebrity national park. BBC, Discovery, National Geographic, Icon films, they all descended on this park to make documentaries. The hoards of Tiger lovers ensued. Every wild Tiger has a short span for which it remains the dominant Tiger of the park. But Charger was unusually dominant for a long time. He did not allow any other male Tiger to settle down in Bandhavgarh. Towards end of 90s he had some skirmishes with B1, and gradually took the better of him. B1 died in mysterious circumstances, and then his sibling B2 took over the reins as King of Bandhavgarh. This guy became the poster boy of Indian wildlife in the years to come, and placed Bandhavgarh on a pedestal from where it made all other parks look much smaller in size and image. B2 became a wildlife brand, and Bandhavgarh National Park became the market leader in tourism. Ever since there has been no looking back for this park. The last two decades have seen emergence of Pench and Tadoba. But to displace Bandhavgarh from where it is today will need collateral damage, which in my opinion is not even a distant possibility due to good conservation efforts by the Forest department, local community, and increased awareness due to tourism.
Now, imagine yourself in an open Gypsy slowly and silently cruising along a dense forest trail, listening to the alarm calls of a Languor warning the presence of a Tiger. You feel a tingling sensation in the nape of your neck as the forest floor quietens, and you silently watch, through the early morning mist, a faint image of yellow and black stripes crossing the trail ahead. You move on, as the early rays of the sun make an array of magical shapes through the trees across the forest floor, and your lungs revel in the fresh morning air.
Bandhavgarh is a new National Park with a very long history. Set among the Vindhya hills of Madhya Pradesh with an area of 168 sq miles (437 sq kms) it contains a wide variety of habitats and a high density of game, including many Tigers. This is also the White tiger country. These have been found in the old state of Rewa for many years. The last known was captured by Maharaja Martand Singh in 1951. This white Tiger, Mohun is now stuffed and on display in the Palace of Maharaja of Rewa.
Prior to becoming a National Park, the forests around Bandhavgarh had long been maintained as a Shikargarh, or game preserve of the Maharaja of Rewa. The Maharaja and his guests carried out hunting – otherwise the wildlife was well protected. It was considered a good omen for Maharaja of Rewa to shoot 109 tigers. His Highness Maharaja Venkat Raman Singh shot 111 Tigers by 1914.
Bandhavgarh has been a center of human activity and settlement for over 2000 years, and there are references to it in the ancient books, the Narad-Panch Ratra and the Shiva Purana. Legend has it that Lord Rama, hero of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, stopped at Bandhavgarh on his way back to his homeland after defeating the demon King Ravana of Lanka. Two monkey architects, who had engineered a bridge between the isles of Lanka and the mainland, are said to have built Bandhavgarh’s fort. Later Rama handed it over to his brother Lakshmana who became known as Bandhavdhish “The Lord of the Fort”. Lakshmana is the God of the fort and is regularly worshipped in a temple there. The oldest sign of habitation in the park are caves dug into the sandstone to the north of the fort. Several contain Brahmi inscriptions dating from the 1st century B.C. Various dynasties have ruled the fort, for example, the Maghas from the 1st century A.D., the Vakatakas from the 3rd century A.D., From that time onwards Bandhavgarh was ruled by a succession of dynasties including the Chandela Kings of Bundelkhand who built the famous temples at Khajuraho. The Baghel Kings, the direct ancestors of the present Royal family of Rewa, established their dynasty at Bandhavgarh in the 12th century. It remained their capital till 1617 when the center of court life moved to Rewa, 75 miles (120 Kms) to the north. Without royal patronage Bandhavgarh became more and more deserted until forest overran the area band it became the royal hunting reserve. This helped to preserve the forest and its wildlife, although the Maharajas made full use of their rights. Each set out to kill the auspicious number of 109 Tigers.
At independence Bandhavgarh remained the private property of the Maharaja until he gave it to the state for the formation of the National Park in 1968. After the park was created poaching was brought under control and the number of animals rose dramatically. Small dams and water holes were built to solve the problem of water shortage. Grazing by local cattle was stopped and the village within the park boundaries was relocated. The Tigers prospered and the 1986 extension provided much needed forest to accommodate them.
The fort still belongs to the Maharaja of Rewa and permission is required to visit it. However, permission is available locally and no trip to Bandhavgarh is complete without trying to climb up the fort.
There are two ways up on the plateau, a jeep track and a footpath-both steep. It is far easier to see the fort by the jeep but much more rewarding to make the journey on foot. There is a convenient place to park vehicles on the southern side of the fort in the lush jungle which surrounds its base. This point is known as Shesh Saaiya, named after a unique 35 foot (11 meters) long statue of reclining Vishnu carved around the 10th century, from whose feet the Charanganga is said to flow. A rectangular pool of spring water lies just beneath the statue and the path to the main gate of the fort. On the other side of this imposing gateway lie 560 acres (227 hectares) of grassland, over which are scattered turtle-filled tanks and the many remains of the human inhabitants of the fort- from ancient statues to the barracks occupied by Rewa’s troops upto independence. At a brisk pace the walk from the Shesh Saaiya to the southern side of the fort need only take an hour, but if you stop to see the statues and temples on the way it can easily take much longer. As you follow the path southwards, the most remarkable sights are the 10th century rock images of the incarnations of Vishnu. A statue of Narsimhan (half man half lion) towers almost 22 feet above the grass. There is a carving of Barah Bhagwan (the boar incarnation), and a small temple enshrining a large image of Vishnu in his fish avtaar. The tortoise incarnation stands unenclosed and flanked by later carvings of Ganesh, the elephant God, and other deities. The charm of this walk lies in discovering these monuments in the jungle, unspoilt and unexploited. Some of the statues lie off the main path and so it is best to take a guide. Apart from the avatars, well worth seeing are three small temples of around the 12th century. These temples are deserted but the fort is still used as a place of worship. Kabir Das, the celebrated 16th century saint, once lived and preached here.
The natural ramparts of the fort give breath taking view of the surrounding countryside. Vultures wheel around the precipice, which also attracts blue rock thrushes and crag martins. The fort has a small population of Blackbuck, which have been reintroduced and to some extent protected from Tigers in the park below by repairs to the masonry walls at the edges of the fort.
Thus, Bandhavgarh offers excellent game and bird viewing and a historical interest which most other parks lack.
Flora & Fauna
There are 32 hills in this part of the park, which has a large natural fort at its center. The fort’s cliffs are 2625 feet (800 meters) high, 1000 feet (300 meters) above the surrounding countryside. Over half the area is covered by Sal forest although on the upper slope it is replaced by mixed forest of sal, saj, dhobin, and saja. Winter temperatures (Nov-mid-February) vary from almost freezing at night to around 68 degree Fahrenheit in the daytime.Summer nights are also cooler than the daytime temperature, which rises to 104 degree Fahrenheit. This park is closed during the breeding season, which coincides with the monsoon (July-October). Rainfall in the park averages 50 inches (120cm) per year.
Within the Park
Bandhavgarh is justifiably famous for its Tigers, but it has a wide range of other game. The undergrowth is not as dense as in some northern terai forests, but the best time to see the park inhabitants is still the summer months when water becomes scarcer and the undergrowth dies back.
The most effective way to search for Tigers is on elephant back. It’s advisable to book your elephant in advance and to wear plenty of warm clothing’s if going for an early morning ride in winter. The mahouts are kept well informed of the whereabouts of the nearest Tigers. However, there are many tigers in the park and the elephants are able to take you up steep, rocky hillsides and down marshy riverbeds, which are impassable to vehicles.
There are several good weather roads in the park. Jeeps are recommended over other vehicles and can be hired from the Tiger’s Den resort. A forest guide must accompany all visitors into the park. Entry into the park is allowed only during daylight hours. For both elephants and jeep rides the hours immediately after dawn and before sunset are best.
Chinkara, still rather shy, can be sighted on the grassland areas of the park, particularly on the formerly cultivated land in the southern extension area, on the edges of the main viewing area. Also, to be seen in the grasslands are nilgai, chausingha, and sounders of wild boar, as well as the occasional jackal or fox. Muntjac and sambhar prefer denser vegetation. The main prey animal, however, for the Tigers and the park’s rarely sighted leopards are the chital, which now number a few thousand.
There are two types of monkeys common in the park, the rhesus macaque and the black-faced langur. Drives can also reveal jungle cats, hyenas, porcupines, ratels, and a variety of other mammals. Bandhavgarh attracts many migratory birds in the winter months, including the birds of prey like the steppe eagle and a variety of wildfowl.
If the early morning Safari is a thriller then the late afternoon rendezvous to get another glimpse of the Tiger, and watch the shadows grow taller as dusk approaches and the cacophony of birds grows louder in the trees, is not to be missed experience.
The nights in Bandhavgarh are an enigma- the twigs of the bonfire crackling in the resort lawn, combined with the calling of the jackal, the silhouettes of the trees against a starlit sky and perhaps, a distant rumbling roar deep in the heart of the forest.
Moist Peninsular low-level Sal -3C/C2a
Wet Gangetic moist mixed Deciduous forest -3C/C3a
Area: 1161 sq. kms.
Core: 624 sq kms.
Buffer: 537 sq. kms.
Longitude: 80 47’15’’ to 81 11’ 45 E
Latitude: 23 30’ 12 to 23 45’ 45 N
Altitude: 440mts to 810mts above sea level.
Temperature: Min. 2 c Max. 44 c.
Monsoon mid- June to Sept.
Winter Nov. to mid-Feb.
Summer mid -March to mid -June
Park is open from 1st October till 30th June