The land of legends namely Sita, Charger, B2, Bokha & now Bamera- Bandhavgarh has always been a favourite spot for wildlife lovers and photographers since time immemorial. Located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Bandhavgarh’s Tala zone has the highest tiger population density in India- up to 20 per 100 square km. All three tourism zones namely Tala, Maghdi & Khitouli have a healthy tiger population while not much is known about Panpatta & Kalwah.
A typical Saal & bamboo forest Bandhavgarh’s main source of water is the Charan Ganga River originating from the ancient Bandhavgarh fort. Declared a National Park in 1968, Bandhavgarh’s mixed vegetation and varied topography provide varied interesting backgrounds to spot the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Vijaya's cub at Bandhavgarh
Project ‘Cubs 2012’ took me to Bandhavgarh as two tigresses in the tourism zone of Tala- Banbehi aka Wakeeta & Kankati aka Vijaya are bringing up their litter of three cubs each. While the cubs of the former are 12-14 months old that of the latter are 6-7 months old.
On the first safari itself, we were blessed with a sighting of Wakeeta & her cubs in open grasslands. Mother had probably made a kill & therefore the family was seen regularly, for next two safaris we had some wonderful sightings of this family.
The Big Daddy of Park, Bamera is the current ruler of Bandhavgarh & is also the son of Legendary B2. He has probably mated with most of the females of this park & has planted his seeds in an area of approx. 200 sq km spread across all the zones. With such a huge territory & so many family matters to attend finding him was like finding a needle in a heap of saw. He did make a brief appearance in the Tala zone but we missed him by a few minutes.
Having made first vehicle entry in a park a golden rule for safari, mornings used to be pretty early, I used to reach the park entry gate at 4.30 AM for 6.30 AM safari similarly for afternoon safari as well. Though painful to do so for 10 days at a stretch, it has loads of benefits & of course, my driver, an old hand in the park for 37 years takes pride in his pole position. I completely agree with him as some of my best sightings have happened because of this first-entry rule, this trip was no exception either.
As I shuttled between both the families & did manage to get pictures of all the cubs, we were still waiting to capture cubs along with their mother in one frame. Suddenly both the families moved into interior areas of the park which were out of bounds for fee-paying tourists but accessible to VIPs to shoot on elephant back that too without fee. Wonder if is there a VIP list for death as well & would these so-called would love to maintain their status there also???
While I waited patiently for these families to come back, Mukunda male & Rajbehera female obliged us with their sightings. Rajbehara female was said to be expecting & is about to give birth to a litter soon, do I still need to say who the male is???
Ever-increasing VIP movement in Tala & reduced sightings of both families took me to Khitouli, a lesser-known area of the park. This was a pure gamble as, despite a healthy tiger population, sightings are not very frequent. Still, better than the frustration of Tala I thought, at least I knew what to expect. The gamble was worth it as I spotted a tigress in the Dumdama area of Khitouli & followed her for almost one hour. She looked like an old tigress, around 8-10 years old but was not at all disturbed by the presence of vehicles. Feel blessed to photo document this tiger for the first time ever.
Picture of Tigress and cubs together in the checklist was still pending & we again headed to Tala zone. As we approached the last 20 minutes of our last Safari at Bandhavgarh, Vijaya took her cubs out from the Gopalpur area & headed towards the fort area where she had made a kill a few hours back. This a famous one-eyed tigress who lost her left eye in a fight. She crossed the road along with cubs right through the middle of jeeps parked on vehicular track & thankfully we were at the right place to document this….
They say the famous legend of Bandhavgarh ‘Sidh Baba’ does not disappoint a devotee. I couldn’t agree more as I definitely got more than what I had asked for.
Thank you, Bandhavgarh for making this trip so special