Although I had read a lot about Bandhavgarh’s bewitching beauty and gathered enough information from those who had visited the place, all my preconceived notions were swept aside once I found myself inside the National Park. The lush greenery, the majestic Bandahvgarh Fort with pastel grey clouds floating above and the rays of the evening sun lighting the wooded shrubs with Steppe Eagles perched on them, presented a sight that was truly breathtaking.
Set among the Vindhyas, Bandhavgarh is a relatively small national park, but significantly with the highest known density of Tiger population in India. In Bandhavgarh, you are actually in White Tiger territory. It is unique among the National Parks of India in that it has a rich historical past.
Having visited all of India’s top-end National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, rarely have I come across a National Park that is so steeped in history. By the way, aren’t wild havens far removed from civilization? But not so in Bandhavgarh where there is history written all over. The finest specimen is the magnificent Bandhavgarh Fort which forms the backdrop of the National Park from where the royal family of Rewa used to hunt.
At dawn as I set out with the forest still dark with my elephant moving along in almost total silence, I can already hear the morning sounds of Bandhavgarh National Park. Peacocks calling from their nighttime roosts and answered to by the raucous barnyard crowing of Jungle Fowls, gaudy ancestors of the domestic chicken. Gray Langur Monkeys give out the low self-satisfied hooting with which they greet the day and warn one another to be on alert. And as the elephants err on the road and the mirthful Squirrel play hide and seek, it can even be his majesty having forthy winks and asking in the sun.
Perched 15 feet up in the fork of a tree, with dart gun is the Park Ranger who directs his team of trained tiger trackers riding atop elephants to push their way through dense bamboo.Somewhere in between is a tiger sleeping off a meal from a buffalo he killed the previous night. The Ranger is hoping that the big cat will be disturbed by the elephants, slink away from them and head towards him. Listening to animal alarm calls, betraying the tiger’s stealthy passage, he muses about the ingenuity of the Asian Shikaris, who invented this technique, once employed by royalty to slaughter tigers. Ironically, today it is one of the tools he uses to help preserve these big cats in order to answer some basic questions about the species.
Tiger tracking is not all fun and excitement – often it is as thrilling as land surveying! Oops. But there are rewards for entering the secret world of tigers. At Bandhavgarh, it was simply amazing to listen to their deep roars reverberate across the Bandhavgarh landscape. Mind you, Tigers can stalk, mate and chase leopards up trees, but during most of the day they sleep. Sounds incredible. Isn’t it ? And tigers are a phenomenon at Bandhavgarh.
Tigers may be a phenomenon at Bandhavgarh but I found the avian life no less astounding with as many as 150 species of birds nesting in Bandhavgarh’s favorable micro-climate. With the onset of winter, migratory birds had already flocked in to the marshy surroundings of Bandhavgarh which made for a truly colorful setting. I had a date with Paradise Fly Catchers, Golden and Black Headed Orioles, Yellow Ioras, Purple Sunbirds and Red Vented Bulbuls.
After a fun filled day in the wild as I relaxed in my comfortable chair at Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp, a procession of elephants were wending their way through the high grass trumpeting a welcome. I was joined by Suzanne Haliwell, a keen wildlife enthusiast from far away UK. As the evening wore on and we moved from beer to cheap brandy, Suzzane talked more and more about animal conservation and that if things fell in place, she would start her own zoo. I thought she was mad. How could anyone, except a millionaire, start her own zoo. Suzanne was undaunted and most Britons are that sort really - very touchy about wildlife.
Here in Bandhavgarh, it is blue and green all around which spreads an unfathomable mystery. The mystery that is Bandhavgarh.