The Bandhavgarh National Park is small compared with others, but its importance lies in the fact that it has a high game density. When originally notified as a protected area in 1968, the Bandhavgarh National Park was only 105sq km in size, but in 1986, this area of the park was extended to include large areas of sal (Shorea robusta) forests in the northern and southern ends of the Park. Today, the National Park covers an area of about 448sq km and is home to a wide variety of animals, including primates, carnivores, ungulates, reptiles and birds.
The Elusive White Tiger
The forests of Bandhavgarh are regarded as the white tiger jungles of the yesteryears, but unfortunately no white tigers have been reported from the wild in the last 50 years. It is also believed that less than a dozen have been seen in India in about a hundred years. But it remains a fact that when the white tigers were sighted last time in India, it was right here in Bandhavgarh.
As per the documents in the Rewa Palace records, there has been as many as 8 occasions on which white tigers had been sighted in and around Bandhavgarh National Park during the first half of the 20th century. In 1951, Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa captured an orphaned white tiger cub from the Bagri forest in Bandhavgarh and domesticated this male white tiger and named him Mohan. The Maharaja was also able to successfully breed white tigers in Rewa and export the cubs to distant countries. As a result, all white tigers in captivity today are Mohan’s descendants. The species thrived in captivity, with a number of specimens related to Mohan finding homes in zoos and circuses all over the world. Mohan was the last white tiger in the wild, and no white tiger has been ever reported since.
Previously, it was believed that the white tigers were actually an animal species named as albinos. Later, it was discovered that the white tiger did not have pink eyes as albinos and instead, these tigers had black stripes and blue eyes, which might have been acquired as a result of genetic aberration that occurs due to mutant recessive genes in both parents.
Maharajas of Rewa’s Private Game Reserve
The Bandhavgarh reserve as a private property worked in favour, as well as against the interest of the wildlife in the area. While the forests were well protected and hunting rights remained in the hands of only a selected few, the white tiger was still not safe from the human aggression.
By 1914, Maharaja Venkat Raman Singh shot 111 tigers, a figure that was slightly above the auspicious number of 109 tigers that the Maharaja had intended to shoot. The figure of 109 might have been considered a good number for kings, but for tigers it only resulted in the death and extinction of these tigers. The Project Tiger was launched in 1972, which aimed at protecting the tiger and its habitat and by 1968 the area was declared a National Park and the killing of tigers in Bandhavgarh stopped.
Sal (Shorea robusta) trees dominate almost half the forest in Bandhavgarh area and this sal tree is an important component of the deciduous forests of North and Central India. Sal forests were found throughout the northern region of the Deccan, which extends from Madhya Pradesh to Orissa in one continuous stretch. These magnificent forests are famous for its uniform and thick growths of tall and straight sal trees that have rounded leaves. The sal also provides precious timber and yields a resin that is generally used as incense. Over the years, legal and illegal logging of trees has wiped out large parts of these forests, and it is only in places like Bandhavgarh that sal forests are still preserved. On Bandhavgarhs upper slopes, a mixed forest replaces the sal forest, while in the north, there are large stretches of bamboo and grasslands.
Wildlife Population in Bandhavgarh
Mammals & Reptiles
The Forest Department has recorded that there are at least 22 species of mammals and about 250 species of birds in Bandhavgarh National Park. Parts of the forest that were cleared for cultivation have now turned into grasslands where the nilgai (blue bull), chinkara (Indian gazelle), and chausingha (four-horned antelope) can be sighted. Groups of wild boar can also be seen moving around the area, digging their snouts into the ground. Occasionally, carnivores like jackals and foxes follow their prey into the forest. The sambar (Indian stag) and the muntjac (barking deer) inhabit the denser parts of the Bandhavgarh forest along with herds of chital (spotted deer). Gaur (Indian bison) herds can also be seen in the Park during the months of March and April when they move down from the higher hills to the meadows for grazing.
A small population of black-buck also exists around the fort area in Bandhavgarh. The black-buck population was reintroduced to the Bandhavgarh National Park and is protected from predators by the old masonry walls of the fort. A number of smaller animals such as the porcupine, ratel, palm squirrel, small Indian civet, lesser bandicoot rat, or predators like the jungle cat, hyena and jackal, can also be seen during a drive through the Park. Reptiles including cobras, vipers, kraits, ratsnakes, lizards, pythons and turtles are more elusive.
A lot of action that takes place in Bandhavgarh forest is up on the trees, by the two primate species, the rhesus macaque and the Hanuman langur that inhabit the Park. These monkeys are easily visible and are realy fun to watch. Large langur troops can also be seen frolicking and feeding on trees. The langur feeds mainly on the leaves, some of which are so poisonous that even the most seasoned insects avoid them. Chital herds are often seen close to langurs, and both share a very special bond. Perched on treetops and equipped with keen eyesight, the langurs are a vital part of the alarm system in the forest that warns against approaching predators like the tiger and leopard. It is believed that for the most part, langur and chital alarm calls signals the presence of a predator in the area.
Aerial Population at Bandhavgarh
Bandhavgarh is a stopover for a large number migratory birds in winter. A variety of water-fowls come over here, but the absence of wetlands in the forest area makes them congregate at small water bodies. These water-fowls are not the only visitors at the park and other birds such as the steppe eagle also visit Bandhavgarh in winter.
A number of other small birds can be seen in and around the National Park, such as the blue-bearded bee-eater, Tickells blue flycatcher, white-bellied drongo, gold-fronted leaf-bird, white-browed fantail, Jerdons leafbird, minivets and woodshrikes. Other prized sightings of the bird include that of the paradise flycatcher, Malabar hornbill and racket-tailed drongo.
The vegetation along the streams and marshes in Bandhavgardh forest area is also rich in bird life. The easily spotted birds include the green pigeons, peafowls, parakeets, little grebes, egrets, black ibis, sarus cranes, lesser whistling teals, white-eyed buzzards, black kites, Egyptian vultures, crested serpent eagles, black vultures, red jungle fowls, doves and kingfishers.
Best Time to Visit Bandhavgardh National Park
If you are planning your wildlife vacation tour to Bandhavgarh, then the best time to view the wildlife wealth is during the summer when the undergrowth has dried out and the wildlife moves closer to the few water bodies that has survived the heat. Winter season is also good to visit the national park, but sightings are rare and disrupted during this season. The best time to visit Bandhavgardh National Park is between February to June.
Wildlife Safaris at Bandhavgardh National Park
Moving around inside the Bandhavgardh Wildlife National Park is possible either in a hired jeep or on the back of an elephant. Jeeps with latest communication devices such as walkie-talkies and licensed guides are available outside the Park from either the White Tiger Lodge or Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp. The roads in the Bandhavgarh forest are usually in pretty decent condition and wildlife sightings are very much common. The best time to drive through the Bandhavgarh Wildlife Park is from dawn until about 10 a.m., and in the evening from 4 p.m. till dusk. As a precaution, entry into the Wildlife Park after dusk is not allowed. Elephants belonging to the Forest Department are mainly used for safaris into the Park. The mahouts (elephant trainer-cum-driver) are usually well informed about the movements of tigers, and the areas that are good for viewing the wildlife in general.
Accommodation is available at the Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge, near Park gate. It contains 10 cottages & one 4-room house. You can also avail accommodation at the Jungle Camp near Tala Gate.
There is also the Tiger Trails which offers cottages near a lake & stream.
For reservations and booking, you can contact Tiger Tops, 1/1, Rani Jhansi Road, New Delhi.
Transportation for Reaching Bandhavgarh National Park
The nearest railway station from Bandhavgarh National Park is is Umaria which is almost 35km away.
Buses also ply from Umaria, Tala and Satna. Jeeps can be hired from Tala and from Umaria.