Spotting the tiger at the Bandhavgarh National Park

The Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh has the highest density of tigers in the country, increasing your chances of catching a glimpse of one

Will he? Won’t he? I chanted as I plucked the petals of a seasonal flower. You may be pardoned for thinking I was considering a proposal from an admirer. But it was an altogether different alpha male that I had I mind. I was thinking of the tiger.

Will he grant me a glimpse of him or won’t he? Will I be fortunate enough to spot this elusive creature or will I return home disappointed? These were the thoughts crossing my mind as I drove from Katni to the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

It was a hot April afternoon and we started our jeep safari at 4:30 pm. Caps, sun block, water bottles and cameras – along with a prayer on our lips—were all we needed as we drove through the jungle.

Bandhavgarh is a relatively small national park with an area of only 448 sq km divided into four ranges. Of this only the Tala range comprising 105 sq km is open to tourists. A couple of years ago, when I was visiting, the park had around 60 tigers making it the national park with the highest density of tigers in the world. However, during the pandemic officers have recorded images of 41 tiger cubs (new-born as well as those up to the age of 12 months) within the national park. Bandhavgarh is literally booming with tigers right now.

With so many tigers around, we felt our chances of spotting one were high. But we still had our fingers crossed. An hour into our ride we saw pugmarks on the side of the road. There was instant excitement. Were we really going to see him then? We could barely contain our exhilaration. However, the guide said that the tiger had been spotted at that place in the morning but had then walked deep into the forest and was unlikely to come out again.

So we drove on assuring ourselves that there were a lot more of them, we may still encounter. A little while later, we stopped suddenly and could hear the monkeys creating a racket and the deer looking alert. The majestic animal was on the prowl and its prey was watchful.

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Bandhavgarh has one of the highest densities of tigers; photo by sam power/ unsplash

We waited with baited breath. Soon there were a dozen or so more jeeps parked where we were. Everybody maintaining a pin drop silence. The only noise around was that of the monkeys. After about a quarter of an hour had passed and there was still no sign of the tiger, we drove on. By this time I had lost all hope of seeing him. We only had another hour of the safari left and as far as I could see we were driving around aimlessly.

And then suddenly, there she was. Not the alpha male I had hoped to see but his lady love. A beautiful, full grown tigress crossing the road with the least regard for us lesser mortals.

She strode across the dirt path into a grass land and then walked towards our jeep, changed her mind and lay down in the grass some 50 yards from where we were. Once she was in the grass, we could barely see her. Soon there were over two dozen jeeps with eager tourists in each, ready with cameras, waiting for her to look up just once. But no matter how much we all hoped, and prayed, she just continued to lie down and her contempt for us idiotic two-legged creatures was more than evident. And then as if she took pity on us, she raised her head a bit, wriggled her ear, glanced at us and went back to sleep.

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Photo by amit jain/ unsplash

As we drove back to the resort, I couldn’t help but think of the extent of man’s greed that could make him kill one of god’s most beautiful creations. All you had to do was take one look at those sinewy muscles, the golden eyes, the black stripes and the sheer majesty of the tiger and you were hooked for life.

Bandhavgarh: A profile

Bandhavgarh was first established as a national park in 1968, with an area of 105 sq km, due largely to the initiative of the last ruling Maharaja of Rewa, Martand Singh, who was then an influential political figure in the state. In 1982, the area of the park was increased to 448 sq km. The original 105 sq km of the park came under a single range –Tala –which is open to tourists. The remaining 343 sq km was divided into three ranges – Kalwa, Magadhi and Khitauli.

In 1994, Bandhavgarh was included in the ‘Project Tiger’ network of parks and the funding for maintaining the park is now given by the central government.

Bandhavgarh is around 102 km from Katni which is well connected by train. The nearest airports are Jabalpur, 170 km and Kahjuraho, 250 km.

The park remains closed from June 30th to October 1st.

The White Tigers of Rewa

Most of us have seen white tigers at zoos or have at least heard of them but few of us know that the very first white tiger found in the wild was in 1951 in Bandhavgarh, which was then the private hunting ground of the Maharaja of Rewa.

In 1951 a hunt was organised for the then Maharaja of Rewa, Martand Singh. He spotted four nine-month-old cubs, of which three were normal but one was white. The maharaja was so fascinated that he captured the white tiger and decided to keep it as a pet.

The white tiger cub was brought to the Govindgarh Palace of Rewa and was named Mohan. When Mohan was old enough, he was mated with a normal tigress. The first three litters were all normal coloured. Then in 1958, Mohan was mated again with one tigress from the second litter and she gave birth to four white cubs. In 1960, her second litter included two white cubs and one normal cub. Of these the Maharaja gifted one white tiger cub to the Zoological Park in Washington . However, the government heard of it and banned the Maharaja from sending any more white tigers abroad.

In 1962, the third litter comprised of two white cubs, one male and one female. There was now a brood of white tigers at Rewa.

On the maharaja’s request the ban was lifted and in 1963, the maharaja gifted two cubs from the third litter to a zoo in England. These cubs were named Champa and Chameli. The remaining cubs were then gifted to the Delhi and Kolkata zoological parks. The Maharaja kept Mohan with him right till Mohan’s death in 1971. The palace has a fresco depicting Mohan’s funeral, where Mohan’s body is carried on an elephant.