Spreading over 448 Sq Km area in the Vindhya hills in Madhya Pradesh, Bandhavgad National Park is considered as one of the best Tiger Reserves in India from the tourist point of view. With somewhere between 65-75 Tigers, Bandhavgad has reputation of having highest concentration of Tigers per unit area.
Bandhavgad was former hunting preserve for Maharaja of Rewa. After independence when Government of India, under the leadership of Mrs. Indira Gandhi realised that Tiger population has drastically gone down and initiated project tiger, in year 1968, Bandhavgad was declared as Tiger Reserve. It is one of the earliest Tiger Reserves in India. After more than 40 years, Bandhavgad has managed to maintain a healthy population of Tigers in the reserve despite of black years when Poachers were strongly organized and taking toll of many Tiger lives all over India.
The forest is dominated by by central hill on which Bandhavgad fort is located. Surrounding forest is mostly composed of Deciduous forest with Saal and Crocodile bark trees are dominant. Mahua (madhuca longifolia) is also important tree of this forest. With excellent grassland among the forest allows good number of game to thrive and ultimately allows Tiger to thrive.
Of the total 448 Sq Km area, 105 Sq. Km area is declared as core zone and no tourist can go in there. Rest of the area has been divided into various zones. Zone 1 is known as "Tala", Zone 2 is known as "Magdhi" and Zone 3 is known as Khitouli. There are other zones too but these three zones are the zones which are mostly visited by tourist.
Bandhavgad, being an old reserve and being one of the favorite tourist destinations, has become one of the highly studied reserve. Many established tigers in this park are known by proper names. Many of them are photographed and documented. B2 Tiger which is named after the area which he dominates is one of the most photographed Tiger in the world. Many existing Tigers in Bandhavgad are descendants of B2.
TrekDi had planned this trek in April. After reaching Katni in the noon, it was almost evening by the time we reached and already time of Animal Activity. On the way itself we were able to see few Sambar, several dozens of Spotted Deers, a wild boar. We turned in to our resort and then after breifing about the next days schedule and tips about how to behave in the forest we went to bed. The next day will soon rise and we must be in the jungle when sun pops out from the horizon.
We had planned total 4 safaris in two days. The morning Safari starts at 6am and for that we had to reach the forest gate at 5.30am. To achieve this timing we had to start from our resort at 5.15am and to achieve this timing we had to wake up at 4.45am. So our day started at 4.45 in the morning. From 6 to 10am we explored the jungle and back to resort by 10.30am. After that we leave our resort again at 3pm and exit forest at 6.30pm. It was 7pm by the time we reach our resort and after having discussion about todays sightings and sharing photographs, we had early dinner at 8.30 and that was the end of 17 Hrs of the day.
Having a tip from some wild enthusiasts we selected Magdhi and Khitouli zones for our Safari. In the Magdhi zone, there were chances to see a tigress with 4 cubs, and two male tigers. Unfortunately during the ride 1 we weren't able to spot any tiger in Magdhi zone, though we saw fresh pugmarks of Tigress and cubs. Even if we didn't saw any tiger, we were lucky to spot many birds and other mammals. Peafowls were giving amazing shots and poses. The Changeable hawk eagle, White eyed buzzard, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Yellow footed green pigeons were some interesting sightings. We got to photograph Cheetal, Sambar, Wild boars. There was one solitary sighting of Chinkara. Some of us got to see the Indian Gaurs which are recently introduced in Bandhavgad from Kanha and are only 20 in number in entire reserve.
Ride 2 we planned in Khitouli zone which is little bit less interesting from the perspective of Deer sightings but this area has several Blue bulls (नीलगाय) which are usually not found in other parts of the reserve. But before we leave it rained cats and dogs and we were afraid that perhaps we may not able sight tiger on this ride too. But unlike many other forests, Bandhavgad has very limited sources of water, and because of rains the weather had cooled down. So it was possible that Tiger may end his noon siesta earlier than usual and hence higher chances of Tiger Sighting. It was a gamble, which always is when we go for Tiger. The rain which had stopped before started again in form of light drizzle. We were waiting at a waterhole in Khitouli zone where a Tigress with two cubs (1 male and 1 female) of age about 3 years were expected. We started getting alarm calls but Tigress didn't appeared at the waterhole. It was almost time to leave the reserve and we started return journey when suddenly two cubs were spotted just adjacent to the Road. Male cub was sitting just 10 ft from the road and female cub was sitting about 20 ft from the road. The last 10 Gypsies had excellent sighting of these two tigers which were extremely calm and gave full freedom to photographers. Unfortunately it was already sundown, the light was low, weather was cloudy and hence it was very difficult to photograph them. But sometime, even if you don't photograph Tiger, seeing it fully and storing it in the mind which will remain a precious memory forever is more important. We were back to resort by 7.30pm seeing the King of the Jungle. On the way back we spotted a Fox and a mongoose but couldn't manage to photograph it.
Ride 3 and 4 were again in Magdha and Khitouli zone in which we had excellent birding. TREKDI promotes that, Camp to the jungle is not just for Tigers, its for all kinds of Fauna. Sometime we may overlook a bird or an insect which might be rarer than Tiger himself. So overlook nothing and document everything. Since we started with this attitude and since we already had a tiger sighting we were not at all in rush and hence were able to have excellent photographs of White eyed buzzard, Shikra, King vulture and many more birds.
We ended this camp with sighting of 2 tigers and 70+ bird species, 15+ butterfly species in the short duration of two and a half day.
>> I will be publishing checklist soon in this same blog.