Thursday 20 March 2014

Bandhavgarh, The Tiger Country!

Bandhavgarh Tour
Our guide got a call from his fellow guide and he signed the driver. “Sahab, baith jaeeye humein nikalna hai’ (Sir, please sit down, we need to move) said our gypsy driver in a very low voice. We all kind of dropped into our seats and the gypsy moved at very fast pace, taking sharp turns, we reached a spot where there were other gypsys waiting in a pin drop silence. ;
Only voices of birds, spotted Deer and may be also barking Deer could be heard. And there he was at a distance we saw a stripped body lying on the ground in the bushes. She moved stood up and gave us some photo shots.
This was our first ride into the Bandhavgarh forest, we had the photos of tiger. We could not identify the tiger but it was a grown up male.
Bandhavgarh, is a fort and a forest surrounding it. The area is 105 sq km, fairly small compared some other forests or aka national parks. This is part of the government of India’s Project Tiger movement. Bandhavgarh houses some 65 tigers in total but the majority of the area is under core zone, which means vehicles are not allowed to go into that area. It is very important to be lucky as for the tourist the tiger spotting areas are limited.
We started our journey of 18 hours of train ride from Pune to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. This period being the festival of Holi, we had tough time getting rail tickets. Generally in India getting train ticket itself is an adventure. This was my first journey on rail after 1996! On reaching Jabalpur our mini bus was waiting to take us to the resort called Bandhavgarh meadows. It took us 200+ KM and 5 hours ride.
There are three sections of the park viz. Tala (the main village), Khatauli and Magadhi. Tala is supposed to be the premium zone for the tiger sighting. Our resort was about Dutch 5 minutes’ drive away, I say Dutch because Indian 5 minutes can mean half an hour as well.
We had booked four rides in the park, one in the morning and one in the evening per day. Morning ride was 4 hours and evening was 3 hours. After reaching the hotel, we had dinner and retired early to bed as we were supposed to get up at 4:30 AM. Next morning at 5:30 AM we all 11 of us were ready and got into our two Maruti gypsy, reached the main gate of Tala section.

This is interesting, when I say it is a gate then I mean just an arch with forest officers noting down the numbers of the ID proofs of each tourist. Around the gate there is nothing for a fence. The gate is only meant for the cars to get into the national park. (I am using national park, tiger reserve, forest to mean same thing).  The gypsy driver is banned from entering the park if he (it is always a He) misses to come out of the park on time to the last minute.
 When we entered the park we were greeted by elephants and a mahout and wondering why they were there, we moved on. Watching along the herds of the spotted deer, Sambar Deer, peacocks and even we saw wild bore, walking around with the smaller ones. Chirping birds like magpie robin, bulbul, Leap birds were in abundance.  We always had a guide who would give us information about the flora and fauna of the forest. We crossed a gypsy who told us that they had just seen an Asian black bear.  We rushed as usual to the spot. We could have glimpses of the bear as it is a shy animal and prefers mountains and dense forested areas.
After the first ride’s drama of the tiger and bear spotting, we got out in time from the forest at 10AM. On reaching the hotel/resort we got into critique of our photos by each other and our photography experts. After brunch some retired back to the bed J or went for birding.
We were ready again at around 1:30 for light lunch and went for second ride of the day for three hours in the same section.
When tiger is passing the herds of Deer flees the area, this is no brainer, but they also make specific alarm call to alert others of the presence of the tiger. We were on our Tiger trail and saw pugmarks going in the opposite direction. We turned back and we saw group of pugmarks one of a grown up tigress and others of cubs. So it was a mother taking her children on a walk. But then the cubs’ pugmarks disappeared but grown up pugmarks were still there at a distance. This was an indication that the cubs were kept in the hills somewhere safe and the mother tiger was out on hunt. She would make a kill and come back to pick her kids up.
One forest employee helped us locate the cubs but they were in not motor able area and we were not supposed to step down the vehicle. Also we could/should not disturb the cubs, which were 2-3 years old. That is pretty big to harm anyone.
Suddenly the car stopped and driver and guide were asked us to shut up and they were listening to the alarm calls of the spotted deer. We followed the sound and came to a place where we could see a spotted deer wooing a female. This is also a mating season in the jungle. But then we asked the driver why would a male deer make a tiger alarm call to woo the female, Instead of mating call which is distinctively different? The answer was he has been eating too much of Mahua fruit (intoxicating forest fruit which when dried up and fermented make highly alcoholic disgusting drink, extremely common in the tribal areas), and now has confused the mating call with the tiger call! Men will be men J
Next morning, we heard spotted deer making an alarm call, and we followed it to see around 4 to 5 gypsys were waiting for the tiger or specifically Tigress. We parked our vehicle in such a way that the bush (Bamboo) was on our left around 5 meters from where we stood. This area was called Bodha Talao, We heard two spotted deer being chased by the tigress. One went to the Hillock and other ran just behind our vehicle crossing the path we were parked on. Our camera lenses were pointing to the exit of the bushes thinking that the tigress would follow the spotted deer. The tigress would have been something like few feet away from us. But nothing came out of the bush and we waited for good 15 minutes, in vain. We got information about other tiger in Bhulbhulaya, another part in the national park. Our second group who crossed us on our way to Bhulbhulaya went to Bodha Talao to check on the tigress and we went to Bhulbhulaya.
The tigress, we thought went to hillock to get the other deer, was actually in the bushes itself. Either we were over confident or just simple greedy for tiger sighting, but then again we could not walk into the bushes to check if the tigress was there or had gone to chase the Deer. This tigress, after some time decided to walk towards the same direction as we went but through the bushes and one point she had to cross the road and it was the same road on which our second vehicle was passing and they got a perfect sighting of the next prince of Bandhavgarh!
We were little disappointed but at the same time happy about the fact that our other colleagues could see the tiger from such a small distance. Our colleagues were saddened by the fact that we could not see the tiger. They tried to call us but unfortunately the mobile network in the jungle is not always available when you need it.
We checked the photos and it was a magnificent tigress, we chatted on the dinner table, checked the photos and received critique for our photos. The chatting continued to the camp fire where experienced people in our group told us tales of the tigers from different national parks then night went on. Who knows may be a tiger or two were listening to the chatter we were having and may be feeling glad that not all humans are bad and they also love tigers.
All said I went to bed with tiger on my mind, in my dreams and then in my thoughts for a very long time to come!
Thanks for stopping by!
Be cool, stay lucky!
Rahul Nene