Bandhavgarh National Park
No other game reserve in India has a higher density of tigers than the impressive Bandhavgarh. Eager to spot this king of the jungle? Then head to Madhya Pradesh's second national park (behind Kanha), an undulating expanse of wildlife heaven. Bandhavgarh also boasts tremendous birding opportunities – best availed of from a hilltop bang in the centre of the park. On this hillock (300m), one of many in the park premises, are the crumbling battlements of the 2000-year-old fort; clamber up to enjo some superb views of the surrounding landscape (a hike of one hour). At the base of the hill are a series of shrines and cave temples once used by hermits and soldiers, as well as a huge stone carving of a reclining Vishnu.
While Bandhavgarh is a relatively new addition to India’s roster of national parks, the area is steeped in history. The hilltop fort here goes back to the time of the Ramayana (c. 800 BC) – the stronghold’s name is said to come from Rama requesting his brother Lakshmana to guard over Lanka (Bandhavgarh is Sanskrit for ‘brother’s fort’).
Bandhavgarh has seen dynasties come and go, among them the Mauryans, the Chandellas (who built the temples at Khajuraho) and the Bhagels. When the Bhagel rulers moved their capital to Rewa, little by little jungle and grassland colonized Bandhavgarh, the area becoming a hunting ground for the Rewa maharajas.
One ruler, Maharaja Raman Singh, was especially trigger-happy; he is known to have slaughtered 111 tigers. Hunting officially ended in 1968, when the current maharaja bequeathed Bandhavgarh to the state government as parkland. In 1986, the core zone was expanded with the addition of two large areas of forest.
Bandhavgarh is located amid the hills of north-eastern Madhya Pradesh. Indeed, much of the park is made up of craggy uplands. Only to the south does the topography change, with level grasslands appearing. Sal trees (moist evergreen) predominate in the valleys and lower reaches, while higher up can be found mixed forest; across the park, the forest cover is largely moist deciduous. There are also copses of bamboo spread out across the valleys. Bandhavgarh has 32 hills, some with plateaus, others with overhanging escarpments – the bluff on which the fort stands is part of the Vindhya ranges.
Bandhavgarh is open from November to June, but spring to midsummer – March to June – are the best months for sighting wildlife. At this time of year, tigers (and their quarry) venture towards Bandhavgarh’s watering holes (Chakradhara, Gopalpur, Jurmani, Barwanala) and three rivulets. But even during winters, there’s no dearth of opportunities to spot the area’s abundant wildlife.
Flora and Fauna
Bandhavgarh’s diversity in habitats – hills, rivers, swamps, valleys – has blessed it with a cornucopia of flora and fauna, and a landscape of wondrous lushness. Perfect, in fact, for that unforgettable wildlife experience.
Besides the magnificent tigers (numbering between 35 and 50, more than half of them in the core zone), Bandhavgarh is also home to a host of deer – barking (kakar, muntjac), sambar, and spotted (chital) – alongside gazelles and three species of antelope (nilgai, chausingha, chinkara). The sambars and muntjacs usually conceal themselves in the forest (along with the sloth bears and porcupines), while hyenas, jackals and foxes can be spotted roaming around in the open. Leopards also inhabit the park, but are pretty elusive creatures (even though they’re 40 strong). You will also come across wild boar, gaurs and the Indian pangolin (a type of anteater) here.
A large part of Bandhavgarh’s varied (and exotic) avifauna – more than 250 species in total – is to be found amid the mixed forest higher up. Here, you’ll likely see red jungle fowl, painted spurfowl, the white-naped woodpecker and long-billed vulture. Brown rock thrushes, crag martins and vultures can be seen in the vicinity of the fort, while around the fruit and flowering trees, you’ll spot green pigeons, Jerdon’s leafbirds, and a couple of species of eagles (crested serpent and variable hawk). For the many species of storks, hornbills, herons, cranes (and birds of prey), Bandhavgarh provides ideal habitation. Among the smaller birdlife, you’ll encounter the spotted munia, bee-eaters (green and bearded) and three species of parakeet, while of the migratory birds, the nakta (a duck), lesser whistling teal and ruddy shelduck are regular winter visitors.
In addition, the almost 80 species of butterflies provide a riot of colour to what is an already biodiversity-rich park.
How to reach
Bandhavgarh is 195km from Jabalpur and 237km from Khajuraho. It is located on the Satna-Umaria and Rewa-Umaria highways.
The most convenient way to reach is through rail – the Narmada Express goes from Indore to Umaria (the railhead closest to Bandhavgarh) via Bhopal and Jabalpur. From Delhi (Nizamuddin), the Kalinga Utkal Express also goes to Umaria, via Agra, Gwalior and Jhansi. And from Khajuraho (or Varanasi), take the line to Satna, then the train to Umaria. From Umaria, you can take a shared jeep, a taxi or a bus to Tala (1hr).
The nearest airport is in Jabalpur, while Khajuraho airport is connected to Delhi and Varanasi.