IN TIGER TERRITORY
State Madhya Pradesh
Location Bandhavgarh lies in eastern Madhya Pradesh, in the northernmost spur of the Maikal Hill Range in the Vindhyas, which it shares with Kanha (located 160 km to the south), in Shahdol District
Distances 978 km SE of Delhi, 565 km SE of Gwalior, 32 km NE of Umaria
Route from Delhi NH2 to Agra; NH3 to Gwalior; NH75 to Satna via Jhansi; district road to Maihar; NH7 to Katni; NH78 to Umaria; state road to Bandhavgarh
When to go Nov-Mar for travelling com- fort; May-Jun for best wildlife sightings. The park is closed from Jul-Oct, which includes the monsoon and, coinci- dentally, the breeding season. Temperatures vary from 0-20 degrees in winter, and go up to 46 degrees in the summer
Go there for Tigers
Wildlife/ Forest Dept office
• Field Director, Umaria
STD code 07627
Air Nearest airports: Jabalpur (200 km/ 4 hrs). Connected to Delhi and Bhopal by Air Deccan. Taxi charges Rs 3,200. But Khajuraho (310 kml 6 hrs) is more convenient and better connected though the drive is long and tough. Taxi Rs 5,000
Rail Nearest railhead: Umaria (32 km/45 mins). Taxi charges Rs 800 approx. Though the road is not terrible, it isn't great. Most hotels you book will receive you at the station and arrange for the transfer, but buses and jeeps are also available for those who haven't made prior arrangements
Road Though it's highway driving all the way from Gwalior to Umaria, the roads continue to be in a state of disrepair
ABOUT BANDHAVGARH NP
For some time in the 12th century, the Bandhavgarh Fort, in the centre of the reserve, was the seat of power of the Chandela Dynasty. Later, it came under the Baghels, and then the Rewas, who are said to have been their descendants. About 106 sq km of the reserve functioned as the hunting ground of the Rewas; each Rewa king was supposed to shoot at least a 100 tigers. Despite that, the fact that so-called 'commoners' were not allowed inside the reserve helped in the conservation of other animals and the forest itself.
After Independence, the territory was taken over by the Madhya Pradesh Government but the maharajas retained their hunting rights until 1968, when the area was made a National Park. As hunting was stopped, the tiger population increased, and in 1982, the reserve's area was extended to cover the present 448 sq km. Bandhavgarh, and the adjoining Panpatha Sanctuary (also made part of the reserve), came under Project Tiger in 1993. Despite the conservation efforts, Bandhavgarh has its share of problems. Industrial pollution in the Sane River and bauxite mining in the Maikal Range (to the south) are just a couple of them. As the park is surrounded by 62 villages, poaching and grazing of animals in the forest are common occurrences. The park's popularity with tourists is also a reason for concern, as the crowds disturb the animals.
Bandhavgarh offers tourists a unique chance to attend a three-day wildlife photography camp and also learn more about the denizens of the forest. Organised by a Delhi-based outfit called Nature Safari, the camps are held between April and June and are open to all amateur photographers above 15 years. The camp includes three nights stay at the Tiger Den Resort (see Where to Stay on page 312), meals and jeep and elephant rides into the jungle for Rs 9,900 per person on a twin-sharing basis.
At the camp, which is led by photographer Sharad Tiwari, you'll be able to inter- act with naturalists. You can avail of field training, explore the jungle and photograph tigers, birds and flora. Ideally, you should be carrying a digital SLR camera with two lenses: 70-300mm and 100-400mm, two memory cards (of at least 512 MB each) and a 2X converter. However, a small ordinary digital or an old-fashioned SLR camera will also do. Tiger Den Resort has a computer, so you can take stock of your shots too every evening.
For more information about the camp and details of the schedule, contact Sharad
Vats, Yogeshwar or Manjeet at 981120094 or 011-275704461 581. Seats are limited, so book well in advance.
Bandhavgarh is shaped oddly like Britain, a 448-sq km tract of land with ranges of flat-topped hills on its flanks and the high hill of Bandhavgarh Fort (811m) in the centre, dominating the landscape. Large meadows such as Chakradhara and Sehra, and swampy ground like the Sidhababa Meadow, lie at their feet. It is bounded by the Sane River in the east, the Johilla River in the south, and drained by the Umrar River in the west. The porous sandstone of the land percolates water into several perennial springs.
In the past 14 years, around 15,000 fossilised eggs of the monstrous reptiles. the dinosaurs have been found in Central India. In most cases the eggs have been sold by villagers to foreign buyers who in turn re-sell it in the international market. Price? Last heard Rs 2.5 lakh
The core area of 106 sq km is surrounded by a 342-sq km buffer zone that spreads around the park barring the Sone boundary. The topography changes from sal forest and bamboo to grassland around the nallahs and swampy terrain. There are four entrances to the park: Panpatha in the north, Tala in the east (where most hotels are located), Dhamokar on the south-western perimeter, and Khitauli on the west. Two roads, the Umaria-Rewa Highway and the Parasi-Katni Road via Khitauli, pass through the park.
Park entry fee Indians Rs 25, foreigners Rs 500 Vehicle entry Rs 200 Guide fee Rs 100 Park timings 6-10 am; 3-6 pm
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
In Bandhavgarh, go on every possible safari, because no sighting is guaranteed, and no sighting is the same. Options abound, from jeep to elephant safaris. If your idea of a holiday does not include getting up at the crack of dawn, do at least make use of the afternoon. Either way, there's plenty of time before and after safaris (or, if you insist, instead of) to relax around the camp, drink around the open fires that most hotels organize. Many also offer an audio-visual presentation in the evening, which is often illuminating and educational.
First and foremost, leap into an open jeep and take off into the forest on the twice daily safaris. Note that each jeep is allowed to carry no more than six visitors, in addition to a guide and a driver. You can drive your own four-wheeler in the company of an authorised guide. Most hotels, however, will include park- related fees in their prices, so check with your hotel about the safari.
It is by far the best way to explore the park, but be sure to book in advance. The nicest elephant experience is to pay for a
WHERE TO STAY
Most hotels are concentrated around the quasi-town of Tala, near the park entrance on the Umaria-Rewa Highway. Although your hotel will provide you with pretty much everything you need, you can get most basic supplies, including vegetables, in town; there's even a general store known as Nathu Bihari. Importantly, a fuel pump was added in 2001, which saves you the 64-km long round-trip to Umaria to tank up. Ensure there's plenty of reserve supply, however, as fuel supply can be a bit erratic.
Tala has facili ties for local, long-distance and international phone calls, a little post office, and a small, very basic hospital (backed up by a much better hospital half an hour away at Umaria, which has emergency facilities).
The choice of stay options in Bandhavgarh include the cosy Nature Heritage Resort (Tel: 265351; Tariff: Rs 4,000), which has large, comfortable and quite aesthetic rooms located around a central, open-air, thatch-roofed dining hut and a few thatched campfire pits. The indoor dining hall is rather dingy, though it's hung with gorgeous tiger photos. The resort nevertheless offers very passable service for quite reasonable rates. It is owned by a gentleman who, in an incident in 2003 when a wounded tigress began to maul tourists in a jeep, distinguished himself by leaping from his own jeep, running to the animal and pulling her tail until she stopped her attack and bounded back into the forest.
The Tiger's Den Resort (Delhi Tel: 011-27570446; Tariff: Rs 2,500-4,500) has 18 luxury cottages with elegant little patios set in a manicured lawn, and 24- hr power backup. The rates include accommodation and meals. A jeep safari for four costs about Rs 1,700. One of their guides, Raghvendra Singh, claims a 96 per cent success rate in tiger tracking.
Located 20 km from Tala, this reservoir in the nearby Panpatha Sanctuary is a great spot for birdwatching. Ghapudi Dam, located about 10 km from the park, is also a good place for birding.