Come October and the national parks across India start opening up for the tourist season. The monsoon water has receded and animals will start roaming around in the open jungles. Jeep owners will commence servicing their jeeps, preparing them for the kuchha tracks of the jungle safaris. After a 3 – 4 month break the lodge owners will now re-start their lodges with a renewed energy. This calls for planning a holiday in the wild – while the national parks are open. Let me walk you through India’s most popular national park – Bandhavgarh located in the heart of India – Madhya Pradesh.
The probability of sighting a tiger here is said to be very high. A common joke that makes the rounds here is that one has to be really unlucky to not sight a tiger in Bandhavgarh. Now the reason for this statistic is simple, Bandhavgarh is a small national park with a decent population of tigers thus making it difficult for the animal to stay elusive. However, having said that, I have missed sighting them in all of my three safaris there. This means that I got to see the rest of the jungle in its entirety. A jungle is not just a habitat of one well-known animal; it is the place for its whole eco-system as well and a habitat for many other animals, both big and small. It also plays home to several tribes who have been living there since the known times.
So we went around the jungle looking at the tall Sal trees and the Bamboo trees that created canopies wherever they meet each other. I also learnt about the Lyna Vine, a plant which wraps itself around the Sal tree. It feeds on the tree like a parasite till the tree is dead thus killing itself in the bargain too. We got introduced to many medicinal plants like Bhira that has anti-malarial properties.
It wasn’t just the plants, the colourful birds became a focus of our attention too. There was the Indian Roller that displays its lovely blue when it flies. Giving it tough competition was the Indian Pita with its famed nine colours – though I had tough time trying to count its colours. There were eagles with alert eyes and buzzards in the colour of honey. The birds were well complimented by the delicate butterflies that jumped from tree to tree in brisk movements making many photographers fall over each other in an attempt to shoot them.
Herds of deer can be seen anywhere in India, but it is a pleasure to see them move from one part of the jungle to another in a big group. Monkeys living in a family like environment can be found tending to their young ones. There are not many elephants in the jungles of central India, but the forest department uses some of them to survey the jungle and to keep an eye on the activities there. Elephant safaris can be taken if you like to view the jungle from a height. I was lucky to sight a sloth bear right next to the safari path where it sat busy scratching the ground vigorously searching for food. No amount of attention seemed to disturbed it as it continued to look for food – must have been very hungry.
In the middle of the Tala and Magadhi zones of Bandhavgarh national park stands a hill with almost a flat top – also called tabletop. This is where Bandhavgarh fort is located. Legends connect the place to Ramayana, but in recorded history the Baghela kings ruled from here till the 17th CE. On the way up to the fort one comes across many caves with pillared halls and many carved sculpture. Most noticeable of these is the giant image of Vishnu in his reclining pose on Shesh Shaiya, next to a well-designed step well along with images of Shiva and Brahma. If you climb all the way up to the fort you will see all the avatars of Vishnu carved along the way.
If one wonders how people live next to a sanctuary of Tigers, let me just say that this jungle is a beautiful example of self-rejuvenation when left to itself. It is said this jungle was not as dense when kings used to rule from here and it was a living area for humans, but when the humans moved out, the jungle took over and today it is one of the most beautiful jungles in central India.
There are some villages inside the national park that are primarily inhabited by tribes like the Baiga. I took a walk around the Ranchha village near the Pugdundee Sarais Lodge where I staying. I was introduced to the stucco art work that can be found in every house here. Simple three dimensional clay figurines on the walls showcase the simple lifestyles of these tribes. I had gone to Bandhavgarh to see tigers, but thanks to tigers giving me a miss, I discovered the National Park in all its diversity – flora, fauna, heritage, history and tribal culture.
(Writer is a leading travel blogger from India. You can read her stories at www.IndiTales.com and reach her on twitter @anuradhagoyal)