With over half the population of tigers found in indian forests, its but natural to make this a must see destination for wildlife lovers. However, tracking the elusive tiger is more a game of chance, patience and the services of an experienced guide. This blog brings you my experiences during a successful tiger spotting safari in India.
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I was not too excited at first when my mother told me that she had planned a jungle holiday for our spring break. For somebody like me who loves sleeping late on 'off days' from school, waking up for a safari at 5 a.m. did not seem like an interesting idea.
It was only when I googled 'Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh' and read on Wikipedia that this national park has one of the highest densities of tiger population in India, my interest in this holiday soared as our chances of spotting a tiger would get maximised. The park also has a large population of leopards and various species of deer. Thankfully two out of the three safaris my mother had pre - booked were afternoon safaris!
On the 20th of March 2014, we boarded the overnight train from Delhi. The next morning, the three of us – my mother, my little sister and me got off at Katni railway station. This was probably the smallest station I had seen. From there, we took a taxi to Bandhavgarh. The sun was just rising. The landscape looked gorgeous with the bright orange flowers of the Palash tree in full bloom. This tree is native to Central India and looks really awesome at this time of the year.
We reached our hotel Bandhavgarh Meadows in 2 hours, just in time for breakfast. After eating heartily, we went to our cottage and slept off. In the evening, we went for a walk outside our hotel. There was a little village just on the other side of the road and many fields around. My mother challenged my sister and me to climb a big Mahua tree. I am sure we made quite a funny sight acting like monkeys. When night fell, we witnessed one of the most magical sights - hundreds of fireflies dancing around illuminating the trees like it was Christmas time!
The next morning, we went for a swim in the hotel pool. At lunch, Mahender Uncle who was our hotel manager told us that he would be personally driving us in his gypsy for our first jungle safari that evening. He was a trained naturalist and we were excited to have him accompany us.
Bandhavgarh national park is divided into three main zones. Together, these three zones comprise the 'Core' of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve constituting a total area of about 700 km. Mahender Uncle told us that there are about 60 tigers in Bandhavgarh. Our first safari was into the Magdhi zone. We spotted lots of monkeys, spotted deers, sambhar deers, jackals, wild boars, the Blue Jay bird that evening but the main highlight of our first safari in Bandhavgarh was seeing a 'dancing peacock'. With its colourful feathers spread out, it looked so regal as it moved its body round and round gracefully. I wonder what music was playing in his head!
The next morning, we had an early morning safari into the Khitauli zone whose area is the smallest out of the three zones in Bandhavgarh. The excitement of meeting the Lord of Bandhavgarh got me out of bed really early without any trouble. The hotel staff packed us some nice aloo paranthas for breakfast. We were greeted in the jungle by a majestic male sambhar deer. He looked even more handsome than Walt Disney's Bambi deer. Just the thought of him being eaten up by a predator sent a chill down my spine!
Mahender Uncle told us that for the last year or so, tourism had been banned in 80% of the jungle area. Following a study done by a conservationist on how constant human traffic was upsetting the tiger population in the jungles, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgement saying that only 20% of the tiger national parks would remain open for tourism. This means that only a limited number of jeep safaris are now allowed in a limited area of the jungle every day. This is a good step for tiger conservation considering that there are just 1700 of them left in the wild in India!
As we drove back to our hotel, I felt disappointed at not spotting a tiger. Our two safaris were already over. Mahender Uncle cheered me up saying that 'he always saves the best for the last for his special guests!'
The next day we went for our third and last safari in the Khitauli zone again. I was praying fervently that we get lucky this time. After half an hour, we started to hear really loud jungle sounds. Mahender Uncle slowed down his gypsy and whispered to us that these 'alarm calls' meant that a predator was on the move! He told us to be very silent and alert for any movement around us. The alarm calls grew louder and louder. My heart began to beat really fast. And then I spotted it – a leopard. Mahender Uncle told us that leopard spotting was very rare as this predator was actually quite a shy animal. As more gypsies came there, the leopard quickly disappeared over the hill. We were one of the lucky ones who got a glimpse of the shy carnivore.
Mahender Uncle drove around the jungle for some time and finally went and parked his gypsy near a big water hole. He told us that this is one of the spots often visited by the animals when they are thirsty. We waited patiently for more than 30 minutes but there was no sign of any predator or his prey. Finally around 5 p.m just as it was getting to be park closing time, the Lord of Bandhavgarh himself graced us with his presence. I have never seen any animal look so majestic and handsome. The tiger walked to the waterhole, drank water and then sat in the little pool staring at us. I wondered what he was thinking!
That evening as we drove out of Bandhavgarh national park, I could not stop smiling. We had been lucky enough to see two predators in a single safari. No wonder Bandhavgarh is popular as the one of the best wildlife destinations in India.
My holiday to Bandhavgarh has made me quite a jungle fan. I would never enjoy seeing animals in a zoo anymore. The smells, sights and sounds of the jungle are so much more exciting than watching animals inside cages and enclosed areas. Over the next few years, I want to explore other national parks in India to see elephants, rhinos, lions and other wild animals in their natural habitats.
Our spring holidays had started. Hurray! I woke up in the morning early, jumped out of bed and got ready. We were going on a one week holiday to a national park in Madhya Pradesh called Bandhavgarh. We took the taxi and reached the train station. I was excited to see that our train had sleeping berths. Our mother gave us books to read. Soon it was time to sleep. I managed to get some sleep despite the loud snoring of a big, burly co passenger!
Next day, we woke up at five am and hopped out of the train at Katni station. A taxi took us to our hotel named Bandhavgarh Meadows. It took us two hours to reach our hotel from Katni station. We were welcomed warmly by a glass of lemon water and showed our villa. It was so very spacious! In the evening as my brother and me explored the area, we met two girls from the nearby village who were plucking coriander leaves in the field next to our hotel. Their names were Priyanka and Pooja. They asked us if we would like to join them. It was fun chatting with them and helping out as farm helpers!
The next morning, my mother and me went for a nature walk with Mahindhar Uncle, the hotel manager. Our hotel was very close to the Bandhavgarh national park. We saw a group of spotted deers and many different types of birds. The high point of our nature walk was seeing a dancing bamboo leaf. It looked so cute prancing around in the morning breeze!
That afternoon we had to go for our first jungle safari. I was a little nervous at first but soon began to enjoy the sights and smells of the jungle. We saw a jackal, a family of wild boars and a peacock with spreaded feathers dancing. Mahender Uncle told us that wild boars were the favourite food of the tigers! The second day, we spotted many monkeys, sambars and spotted deers. The third day was our last safari into the jungle. We saw a male tiger drinking water by a cave where his partner and 4 three month old cubs lived. It looked so majestic and smart. I kept looking towards the cave hoping his little cubs would feel thirsty and join him too! As we drove out of the national park, I prayed that this tiger and his family remained safe from poachers.
On our last day in Bandhavgarh, my mother had planned a special trip for us to Mahender Uncle's village located an hour away from our hotel. It was a beautiful village situated near the jungle. Mahender Uncle showed us the school he studied in and his village home. We visited one of his friends' field where the wheat plant was ready to be harvested. My brother and me got lessons in how to pluck wheat!
The high point of our village experience for me was when I joined a group of village boys herding their goats. It was so much fun being in the countryside. As we drove away from the village, I could not help but wonder how lucky these village children were to have all these cute animals to play with all the time!
The next day we bid Mahender Uncle and the entire hotel staff of Bandhavgarh Meadows goodbye. They had been so friendly and caring towards us. I knew that if we ever came back to visit Bandhavgarh, this is where we would stay. It really was a home away from home!
On a freezing dawn in the forest our naturalist asked driver to stop the jeep and turn off the engine so that he could hear the calls of deers and langurs coming from the jungle. 'Shhhh…. there is a tiger around' he whispered pointing towards a water body but we couldn't see it. That was probably the most desperate time I had in the jungle. Intensity started building up as we buried our eyes in the direction mentioned by him. For around 20-25 minutes the deer calls continued while we were looking in the direction mentioned by the naturalist, the feeling of helplessness had started creeping all over the occupants of jeep.
Just about the time when we started losing hope we suddenly had adrenalin rush as the tiger appeared on the scene leaving us awe-struck in our open top jeep. Just like any other domestic cat it was drinking water with its tongue but something was making this scene extraordinary which was keeping our eyes glued to the wild cat, we kept looking at it while it was drinking water and looking at us intermittently.
For a moment the persona of the tiger made me forget that I had a camera in my hand but the sound of shutter clicks of my wife's camera reminded me to use the instrument. I always wished to click the shrewd and intense tiger when it was giving me that killer look and I got that wish fulfilled this time. With looks to kill and attitude to die for it deserved all the adulation it was receiving, 3 jeeps were standing there to admire it. The tiger was such a show off that it came closer just to show its attitude by giving us intense stare and eventually vanished in the woods.
We were in the jungles of BandhavgarhNational Park which is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh and boasts of having the highest density of tigers among the all Tiger reserves across India. In a quest to do something different on our first wedding anniversary we had planned wildlife trip to Bandhavgarh and this tiger had started our day with a bang. It was our first wildlife trip and certainly enlightened us with many unwritten facts of the Jungle.
Fact 1: Don't go with a sole objective of sighting a Tiger
These jungles are not only about tigers, it has much more to offer than just the big cats. Tiger is the Apex predator, jungles with tigers inhabits its entire food chain; Tigers food, its foods food and so on. All share this jungle and they as well are amazing animals to watch. Langurs, spotted/barking/sambar deer, wild boars, peacocks are a common sights and If you are lucky you may also sight tiger, leopard, asian black bear, wild dogs, jackals etc.
If you want a guarantee of sighting a tiger, you might visit a zoo or a circus but if you are an adult, those places won't take you on a high for sure. Having said that we were lucky enough to sight Tiger, wild dogs, Jackal, Neel Gai and bear in our 1st trip but expecting too much can leave you disappointed. We could spot a tiger in only 1 out of 3 safaris; we met a family who could not sight a single tiger in 17 Safaris through Corbett, Tadoba and Bandhavgarh national park and we could easily make it out from their sorry faces.
Fact 2: Deer's don't die natural death!!
Across every corner of jungle we saw beautiful spotted deer herds happily roaming around; while talking to the naturalist we came to know about this fact that deers don't die natural death as all of them are taken by the predators, their everyday task is struggle to see a new morning. Even the predators take many unsuccessful attempts to end up with a kill which increase the struggle and thrill in life of deers.
We got to experience one such breathtaking instance where a herd of 20 wild dogs were chasing 4-5 spotted deers, we actually felt sorry about the poor deers but for them its part of their lives. Deers ending up as a meal of a predator is one of the unwritten rules of the Jungle.
Fact 3: Naturalist / Guide can make or break the sighting
Sighting a tiger is just a matter of luck, but even on a lucky day a bad naturalist can fail in tiger sighting. We were fortunate enough to have good experienced naturalists for all our Safaris and that's why we ended up sighting many exciting animals in Jungle.
Fact 4: Wildlife sense is a must
Keeping quiet is a thumb rule everyone should follow when in jungle. If you sight an animal and want to convey your feelings of excitement to the person sitting next to you, do it quietly by whispering or pointing towards the animal. Most of the animals are shy and would not come out if they know that people are waiting outside to watch them. Wearing clothes which camouflage with the jungle are advisable.
Fact 5: It's addictive
If roaming around in jungle in an open top jeep watching majestic animals like Tiger, leopard, lion prowl and haunt the other animals takes you on a high then in all probabilities you will get addicted to it.
You never get enough of wildlife. If you sight a tiger you want to see it again and if you don't then you have reasons to plan another trip. Under both the cases you want to head to the jungle. We started planning our next wildlife trip while coming back from Bandhavgarh.
Every place has its own charm and a charming story. Folklore, history, fiction, mythology; irrespective of the genre of the story all of them are interesting especially when heard from the natives. Undoubtedly jungle of Kanha in Madhya Pradesh has the most famous story associated with it which was narrated by a british legend. I can bet that the people who are reading this blog have not forgotten the story of 'Jungle book'. Decades ago far from you and me a different world was sketched in the dense sal forests of Kanha and Pench. Even today the title track of Jungle book makes us nostalgic and wanting to see it all again.
The timeless fiction written by British author Sir Rudyard Kipling came to life at 10 AM every Sunday on national television. I belong to the generation who grew up watching this magical setup of a jungle where Mowgli ruled them. A fascinating story scripted to perfection which included amazing characters like ' Ka the python', 'Baghira the black panther', 'Baloo the bear' and many others like chil, wolves etc. Our hotel in Kanha named Mowgli resort was just outside the jungle gates, and that got us more involved in the story of Jungle book.
Sherkhan was my favourite character in Jungle book and needless to say why. Everything about him was so well scripted that kids at that tender age made up the same impression about a Tiger. A shrewd, cruel and negative character carrying tonnes of attitude and a shrill roar. Watching a Tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park some time ago 'Blog - Bandhavgarh Diary' changed my childhood perspectives about them and the adjective 'cruel' was sidelined. The reaction you have while you site your 1st tiger is awe to his attitude. You don't feel that the tiger is 'cruel' but looks like he only wants you to be scared of him and stay out of his business.
The weather was harsh but a high chances of sightings was what we were hoping for.
Reincarnations of 'The Sherkhan'
In 4 safaris through different zones we sighted 6 tigers, 2 of them were full grown males and reminded us of the sherkhan in his habitat.
We sighted 'Munna', a dominant male from Kisli-Sarhi zone twice in different Safaris. In first sighting we could barely see him sleeping in the shrubs; but he did not disappoint and was seen sitting on the road side in the next safari. Before reaching Kanha we had heard a lot about Munna and the word 'CAT' inscribed on his forehead from my fellow wildlife enthusiasts and was super excited to see him. People had reported clicking him for hours in a single Safari and he did not care to go off the scene. When we sighted Munna he was recovering from a fight he had 2-3 nights ago with another adult male tiger, the fight was heard by the forest rangers for hours, Munna's walk with a limp was a proof of how fierce the fight was.
Almost to the end of a safari to Kisli zone we sighted a mighty male Tiger sitting in a waterhole. Within few minutes 10-12 jeeps gathered at the scene. All were left awe struck by his size as he got up and started walking towards the jeeps before vanishing in the woods.
Unfortunately the glamour of Tigers attracts all the attention of the tourists and many other beautiful birds and animals go unnoticed. Kanha has other residents like leopard, bear, the ultra rare barasingha, different species of owls, vultures etc. We sighted many beautiful birds and animals and enjoyed watching them in their habitat.
And it rained in summer
We were visiting Kanha in summer and temperature expected was around 43-44 degrees, however a brief shower at noon took it down drastically and soon after the rain was over we were in our jeep heading to the jungle for our last safari. The jungle we had left at 10 AM the same morning was very different than the one we were visiting now. The overcast conditions made the weather pleasant, the smell of the soil, the fresh leaves which were washed by the rain everything was looking like a different world. The safari after rain was the only one in which we did not sight any tiger but we enjoyed it due to weather and the dense jungle.
Approaching monsoon will close down all the major Tiger parks in country for few months but other Jungles can be visited on foot to experience the wilderness. Looking forward to a monsoon full of treks and small trips!!