Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bandhavgarh - Part 1 – Excursion to Bhedaghat

It was April and temperature had risen to 42 degrees in Bandhavgarh. Traveling to Madhya Pradesh at this time meant burning ourselves in scorching sun. But this was the best time to spot "The Tiger" in the wild. The tiger lover in us overpowered our delicate personalities and we decided to visit Bandhavgarh Wild Life sanctuary to see the Royal cat in his natural habitat.

Bandhavgarh Wild Life Sanctuary, located near Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, is one of the best habitats for Tigers in India. With 400 sq kms of sprawling forests settled at the backdrop of the famous Bandhavgarh hills & fort, the jungle boasts of having the highest tiger density in India. Also, the landscape is such that it is easy to spot tigers in the wild. This information was crucial because initially we were not sure which sanctuary was the best; Bandhavgarh or Kanha. But some research on Tripadvisor and other travel forums sorted our confusion and we choose Bandhavgarh.

Madhya Pradesh is alluring enough for travelers to club places like Bandhavgarh with excursions such as Khajuraho or Bhedaghat. Since we had been to Khajuraho, we decided to spend a day at Bhedaghat, which is only 14 km from Jabalpur railway station (one of the nearest stations to Bandhavgarh). Bhedadhat is famous for Dhuandhar waterfalls and marble rocks (river Narmada flowing in between the rocks). The song “Rat Ka Nasha” from movie Asoka (Kareena Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan) was shot here.

Distance (kms)
Khajuraho to Bandhavgarh
Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh
Bhedaghat to Bandhavgarh
Note: Nearest station to Bandhavgarh: Jabalpur, Katni, Satna, Umaria. (few trains go to Umaria, while trains to Jabalpur, Katni and Satna are ample)

On 02 April 2012, we began our trip and reached Jabalpur next morning after 17 hours of train journey. We took an Auto (Rs. 300) to reach Motel Marble Rocks in Bhedaghat. Sadly, the auto was too slow and instead of 20-30 minutes, it took 45 mins to reach hotel. It is advisable to take auto after careful scrutiny because the road to Bhedaghat is deserted and one can land in trouble if the auto breaks down in the middle. It would be better to take a taxi (Rs. 800-900). 

Owned by MP Tourism, this is the best place to stay in Bhedaghat primarily because it is located right on top of a hill adjoining the river Narmada and the Marble Rocks. Moreover, all tourist places; Chunsath Yogini Temple, Dhuandhar Waterfalls and Boating Ghat on Narmada River are within walking distance from the hotel.

Though, our room was very basic, we were happy as it was clean, had beautiful views of the river amidst the rocks, and was big enough to accommodate the three of us (Me, My husband -Navs & my childhood friend -Vaishali).

After a sumptuous breakfast, we walked to the Narmada Ghat for boating. It was almost 02:00 pm and the Sun was at its hottest self but the boat ride was soothing enough; the cool breeze from the river soaked up our sweat and comforted us with magnificent views of the marble rocks.  

It was amazing to see the rocks that were once under water, were now gleaming in sunshine, showing-off their beautiful scale-like textures and surface pores. Some of them actually looked like a piece of CheeseJ. While I was imagining this, a water snake made its way on the rocks, making the ride thrilling for all. 

The boat ride lasted for an hour & was thrilling, beautiful, peaceful and hilarious; all at the same time. Hilarious, because our boat rider had prepared a narration about the rocks, the river and everything that could possibly be talked about, in a truly hilarious and poetic way. And that is true for all the boat riders available there. So, in case you are looking only for solitude on the boat ride, take a private boat (cost Rs.400) or else to enjoy the environs among locals and the witty narrations, get on a passenger boat, accommodating around 20 people (Rs. 20-30/person).

There are two kinds of boats available at Bhedaghat, a Motor boat and a row boat; for best experience, I would suggest a Row boat because of its slow pace that allows you to enjoy everything at leisure. One disadvantage though is that if the water is too deep and currents are rapid, the row boat may not take you till the Monkey point, where the river flows through a very narrow space between the rock; a sight worth visiting. This is what happened with us, but overall the ride was worthwhile.

Exhausted and hungry, we went back to our hotel and grabbed a light lunch and drank lime juice that hydrated us instantly (There are not great eating joints at the Ghat). Our next destination was Dhuandhar waterfalls, (3 kms from the hotel). Since, we were in no mood to walk; we took an auto till the waterfall. Ethically, vehicles are not allowed to the waterfall, but a VIP gate allows you to do that (costs: Rs.50 one way).  The waterfall was beautiful and the gush had a calming effect. Once you see the waterfall, you would know why it is called Dhuandhar: Dhuan, meaning smoke, Dhar meaning cascade. The rushing water produces tiny water particles in the air, creating an appeal of smoke erupting from the cascades. We spent over an hour watching the falls, the fishes that jumped over and cooled our selves by dipping our feet in the lagoons surrounding the falls.

By the time we came back, it was dusk and we had snacks and tea in the open garden of the hotel, enjoying views of the river below. A sudden thunder splash comforted us and we looked forward to a comparatively cool morning.

View of City from Temple complex
Next morning, we woke up by seven and paid visit to the Chaunsath Yogini temple that was 2 mins walking distance from our hotel. After climbing 108 stairs, we were happy to see the view around. The temple complex gives a panoramic view of the Bhedhaghat city, with Narmada traversing through its grounds. Unlike many temples, this one was very peaceful and less crowded.

Whenever you visit Bhedaghat, do pick up a few pebbles, it is said they are sacred and rich in minerals. This was Bhedaghat, but don't go anywhere as the real story is yet to begin. My next post will take you through Bandhavgarh, its jungle and our encounter with the Big Cat!!! 

Bandhavgarh – Part 2 – Where Tigers Rule

A Stork in the lagoon outside our hut
After spending our first day in beautiful Bhedaghat, we left for Bandhavgarh in our cab the next morning at around 9:30 am. The road took us through farmlands, villages and jungle, giving us the best sight of country side. In almost 5 hours, we reached our hotel; Tiger Lagoon. Welcomed by a warm staff, moist towels and litchi juice, we felt at home and got to our rooms. The resort is situated near a lagoon, which ensures cool breeze and a good sight for bird watching. Our room was beautiful with huge windows overlooking the lagoon; where storks and herons frequented to catch fish. The first thing I had on my mind was a dip in the pool, so Navs ( my husband) & I headed for the pool, while Vaishali decided to take rest and enjoy the room. 

We had a stay of 3N/4Days and the hotel booked for all our safaris. However, we learnt later that we could book our safaris online, which would have given us the option of booking zones of our choice (as per availability). We got all three safaris for Magdhi Zone, as Tala was full. Initially, we were a little skeptical, but the hotel manager assured that we will surely spot a tiger.  

There are three main zones in Bandhavgarh.

Entrance fee/ Jeep (6 people)
Tala (Gate 1)
A premium zone (costs) – It has some of the best views of the jungle, including old caves and forts and is best for tiger spotting. Also facilitates Tiger show, where tigers are tracked and then tourists are taken on elephant back to see it (Rs. 600/person)
Magdhi (Gate 2)
It has a single track and is good for Tiger spotting and other animals
Rs. 1000
Khatauli (Gate 3)
A new zone and chances to spot tigers is less, though a variety of other animals can been seen here
Rs. 1000

The park entrance fee is separate (add around 1500 to 2000 more); Safari Tips, Timings, and Tiger show

Both morning and evening Safaris are good; and you can spot the tiger in either of them.
You can also book an elephant ride, which lasts for an hour and takes through paths not traversed by the jeeps. Though, there is no guarantee to see the tiger, if lucky you can see it from very close distance as compared to the jeep. We did not have any safaris on the day we arrived. Vaishali and I enjoyed the resort and spotted a few birds on the lagoon, while Navs went for an 8 km nature-cum-village walk organized by the resort. He saw the village life, various birds and carcass of a spotted-dear killed by the tiger. We enjoyed his stories with snacks and tea in the open area of resort, and spent the evening locating stars, planets and 


It was 10:00am and our first Jeep Safari was about to end. From 06:00 am till now, we had seen a variety of birds (Night Jar, Serpent eagle, dancing peacocks, Eurasian Thicknee, Jungle Fowl, common Kingfisher, and Indian Roller) and spotted dear, jungle cat and wild boar. The forest blossomed with ever green Sal Trees and echoed with sounds of birds, animals and crushing dry leaves. Its vast meadows produced brilliant sight of Cheetals around a lake with the Bandhavgarh hills at the backdrop. 

The best thing about a jungle Safari is that you never know when a tiger could cross your path, and this hope keeps you excited and energetic. But our vigilance hadn’t paid so far.

Our driver Nathulal and Naturalist Bhuri Singh left no stones unturned to track the tiger; locating pugmarks, inquiring drivers, persuading forest trackers (who perfectly know tiger location) and even instructing us not to waste time watching trivial birds when we could loose track of the big cat. Suddenly, Nathulal seemed to know where it was and rushed the jeep to the park entrance. Around 15 jeeps were standing there and we knew the tiger was somewhere near. There he was; crouched in the elephant grass. I stuck the binos to my eyes, while Vaishali, started off with incessant clicks, wanting to capture the tiger in all its moves and moods. The only person who was calm and spotted the tiger first was Navs, he just wanted to see the lord of the Jungle with naked eyes, guess his specs were enough for him.

The king now stood up and started walking; we also moved swiftly with him and came out of the park gate. Standing on our right side, he eyed at something; two spotted dears grazing right in front of him. We were thrilled, anticipating a kill. But, just as he took a leap, he got distracted by a crowd of 120 tourists and spared the lives of the feeble herbivores. He started crossing the road and was just five meters away from us. We were looking at a 4 year old, majestic male Royal Bengal Tiger that almost covered the road with his 6.5 feet long body. Neither perturbed nor annoyed, he looked at us with calm eyes, inquiring who we were and what were we doing in his territory. The beautiful stripes on his body shimmered with his cat walk and his composure told us that we were looking the king of the jungle.  
The Royal Bengal Tiger; click to see More Pictures

The wild cat disappeared into the other part of jungle and left us wanting to see more of it. That day everything acquired more beauty, only because we saw one of the most beautiful creatures in its raw yet magnificent form. 

Our second safari was in evening, and thanks to the Rain gods who not just provided a comfortable weather, but washed off the dust and revealed a clear, bright jungle. That evening, every peacock danced and every animal and bird rejoiced, because there was no sign of a tiger. 

On our last safari, we saw some rare animals such as, a Jackal, antelopes, Neelgai, a pair of fox and jungle cats. We also spoke to some forest guards who track tiger movement and ensure no poaching. It was amazingly to see them walk completely unarmed in the jungle. While talking to one of them, Navs asked. Don’t you feel scared of the tiger, what if it attacks you? And pat came the reply “We protect them and they protect us”. I was amazed that such a relationship existed between humans and an animal that is known only to kill. That day, we missed the tigers merely by 5 minutes but did not miss the messageconveyed by the forest guard.  

All four days, we did nothing but spotted different birds, animals, spoke with naturalists about the flora and fauna of Bandhavgarh and shared experiences with other tourists; mostly nature lovers, bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. 

One thing we missed was the visit to Bandhavgarh Fort. I personally think that if you have 4 days, you should surely visit that fort which is inside the Tala Zone and you would need to spend around Rs. 4500-5000 (including Jeep cost and permission charges). Being inside the core forest, the Fort offers a good site to watch birds and some animals. The interesting fact is that the jeep only goes till a certain point; where a huge statue of lord Vishnu is placed. After that you have to trek for an hour to reach the fort, and on way to the fort, you can see old caves with carvings and walk in the greens of Sal trees. The fort, which is atop the Bandhavgarh hills, gives a panoramic view of the entire forest below.

Tiger lagoon surely did make our stay in Bandhavgarh all the more worthwhile because of its amenities, exquisite architecture and warm staff, not to forget a very knowledgeable naturalist and super enthusiastic jeep driver.

So, that was my story of Bandhavgarh and its tigers. If you are someone who loves nature and wildlife and can do without TV for a while, you would love the place and the resort too. No doubt it would be a little hot in April (42 degree Celsius), but that’s when the tigers come out to drink water!! So, go ahead and experience the thrill!!!

In case you want to ask any questions or need help in planning your trip, write to me at sundararajan.aparna@hotmail.com