Sunday, March 25, 2012

My first Rendezvous with the Tiger!

Bandhavgarh will always hold a special meaning for me, after all that's where I saw the tiger in the wild for the first time!
It was the March of 2006, having completed our MBA, with the results out; we were in the mood to celebrate. Bandhavgarh was actually a spontaneous decision, we needed a break desperately; we wanted to get out of Kolkata for a few days. Away from the concrete jungle into the wild was definitely a welcome change. None of us had been to Bhandhavgarh before so it was decided, Bandhavgarh it will be.

It was a very short trip around 5 days. Out of which two days were spent in the train. We stayed in the White tiger lodge at Bandhavgarh. Very well maintained, we loved it! The rooms were nice and big, surrounded by trees, flowers, and we could hear birds chirping all the time.

What we were not prepared for however was the early morning chill. We were prepared for summers really. In Kolkata summers had set in. None of us had carried anything warm. The first early morning venture into the Bandhavgarh National forest had my teeth cluttering, hands going numb etc...After the initial early morning chill, when the sun came out, everything became normal.By afternoon it reached another extreme, it was much too hot!

Bandhavgarh National Forest

Bandhavgarh Madhya Pradesh India

There is something about jungles... and I keep saying that, I just don’t get tired of it ever. The sylvan thick vegetation, the sudden appearance of or a deer or a Sambhar signaling the presence of a tiger, is all very overwhelming!

On day 1 we were kind of close to sighting a tiger but could not sight one! We heard the Smbar calls we waited patiently for the Tiger to emerge but no such luck. Even though the first day we did not sight the tiger, we did not regret it so mcuh because were were drinking in the beauty of the forest , birds, butterflies, deers, sambars, and the total experience was quite heady actually.

Just being there was a wonderful experience, the sense of well being was very eveident. We were just feeling good about everything. I remember in the evening we were always hungry, the food they served at the resort was yummy, I was surprised to note that my usually extremely non-vegetarian friends’ were also enjoying vegetarian meals like chapatis, dal, simple aloo sabji, raita etc ! The evenings were spent exploring the resort, chatting, playing table tennis, it was so good to unwind. Gazing at the starlit night was so intoxicating.

I think we were very lucky, we were there for two days only, and on the 2nd day's morning trip to the park, we saw the tiger(s) up close and personal! Our guide informed us that two tiger had been spotted but it was not on the motor able track and we would have to get on to an elephant so that we could go near the tigers.Bandhavgarh gets a lot of foreign visitors, especially the National Geography type. I caught myself ogling at handsome men with sophisticated cameras heading towards the park, the cameras had zooms extending till forever!

Four of us got onto one elephant. We covered some distance, off the beaten track, and there they were, both the tigers sitting. I could hear the cameras clicking away. Many of us were too taken in by the experience and were yet to start clicking. One of the visitors, on another elephant could not find the tigers after focusing through his zoom lens, the tigers were so close that after using zoom he could not see them! They were sitting barely 7-8 feet away from where we were...and the visitor kept saying where is the tiger...where is the tiger! That was very funny!

I pinched myself just to make sure this was really happening, my first sighting of a tiger and I get to see two together! I was overjoyed. These magnificently handsome creatures are really something! And seeing them in the wild is a treat.None of us spoke for a long time, we were hypnotized. I can still feel the goose bumps. That evening was celebration time of course, we were too excited to sleep, we ate more than we should have, we chatted and cahtted till our jaws ached, we were after all on a high!

Entrance to the park

The Tiger!

We started planning for the next day, we still had half a day before boarding our train. We thought we might be able to squeeze in some more traveling. We decided to set off early in the morning
for Jabalpur. If we coud reach Jabalpur in 3-4 hours it would give us enough time to check out the marble rocks, the Dhuandhar Waterfalls, and some very ancient temples. I could not sleep that night. At 3 am we were ready to move. However, the driver of the car that we had hired did not look so ready to move. He was about ready to fall asleep. It seems, he had drive non-stop for the last couple of days. He wanted to know if any of us could take over the driving so that he could get a few hours of sleep. My cousin volunteered. And I am happy one of us did, otherwise it may have been risky. My cousin recalls her experience of driving the SUV at 3 am in the morning with forests on either side, with  occasional sounds of  animals as an exhilarating experience. It was quite an experience for all of us.

We reached Jabalpur and completed almost everything we wanted to see. We had a nice long lunch at a hotel and then set off for Katni to board our train. One of my friends went inside the station to find out the platform number, while we were paying off the driver and unloading our luggage, he came back in a few minutes to inform us that the train had left 2 hours back!

With me and my cousin around, what can one expect! Our reputation of missing trains precedes us all the time. It seems strange that none of us ever checked the ticket even once to confirm the train timing. One of us said it is at 3pm and we went with that. We did get reservation in another train that would leave at 1am. So we stayed at the waiting room, and I must say after the initial shock and uncertaintly, I quite enjoyed this part too. This meant my vacation was getting extended for another day! Wow!

The train that we boarded (Shaktipung express) this time, took a longer route, it went through Chota Nagpur plateau. This region is so beautiful; I loved the journey, through small cute stations, vendors selling exciting food. The best part was when the train halted at a station called - Barkakhana, it brought back so many memories from my childhood.

My father was posted in a place called Ramgarh Cantt, in Bihar. We stayed there for almost 4 years. Barkakhana was the station where we would get down in order to reach Ramgarh. That was the closest railhead for Ramgarh. If you ever happen to stop at that station try out the samosa and chana that the vendors sell, it is out of the world!

Since that day, I have had the good fortune of sighting tigers twice, in Sunderbans and in Ranthambore. And each time I have been enamoured by this absolutely magnificent creature.

Next time, we plan to drive down to the closest national park and what could be better than a Mahindra XUV 500. That sure is another magnificent creation!

Some more information that might be useful if you are planning a trip to Bandhavgarh:

We boarded the Howarh Mumbai (via Allahabad) superfast mail for our journey yo Bandhavgarh.
We got down at Katni junction.

We booked the hotel from the Madhya Pradesh tourism office in Kolkata. It is in the  Chitrakoot building, Room No 7, 6th Floor in 230 AJC Bose road. Phone number - 033 30979000

We had booked a car in advance from The White Tiger Lodge.
We reached Katni at around 4.30 pm, and by the time we reached the lodge it was around 7 pm.
The double bed AC rooms cost 4,500/night, and rooms with coolers cost 3,500/night.
Single rooms cost around 3000/night.

Contact numbers of the White tiger lodge is : 07627-265366, 07627-265406

While coming back we took Shaktipunj express from Katni 'cause we missed the Mumbai mail.

Sunset at Bandhavgarh National forest


Punit Dubey said...

Wow! Seems you guys have great time at friends are visitng the place this April-end, unfortunately I wont...may be some other time...

indu chhibber said...

thanx for this trip & good luck for the contest

Vetrimagal said...

A lively, lovely write up about Bhandavgarh.
Being holed up in South India, these places sound exotic and makes me add this to my Bucket list.! When and how is the question.

Thanks for sharing this enjoyable trip with readers.

sourabh said...

I wish it is more informative especially relating to cost, sharing some phone number etc

Ranjana said...

Hi Sourabh,

Thanks for reminding me.
I have updated that info on that post today. Hope that helps.