National Park Bandhavgarh – Tiger Safari in India
I know you might be surprised to find an article about India on my blog called EuropeUpClose. But 1-2 times per year, I like to highlight a destination outside of Europe to inspire you about other places as well. So in the coming weeks, I will publish a few articles about my recent trip to India and I hope you will fall in love with this beautiful country as much as I have. And who knows, maybe you will even get inspired to visit one day.
From Man-Eating monster to prized trophies of the Maharajas to the King of the Jungle, I wanted to learn more than just stereotypes about this majestic creature and was ecstatic, when Pugdundee Safaris invited me to Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Park for Tiger Safari.
Tigers in India – Myth & Reality
A few years ago, I had heard the following joke: What happens, if a man walks into the forest in India? – Nobody comes out. What happens, if two men walk into the forest in India? – The faster one comes out with a story.
When the Hunter becomes the Prey
Unfortunately, for many years, the joke was and still is on the tiger. The tiger hunting tradition of the Maharajas and British royalty and military decimated the numbers drastically. Colonel Nightingale supposedly killed over 300 tigers himself. 1 man. 300 tigers. Estimates speak of 80,000 slain tigers in just a 50-year time-frame (1875-1925) and the hunting of tigers continued to be a favorite past time for the rich and nobles until it was outlawed in 1971 and protection started in 1973 with Indra Gandhi’s “Project Tiger”.
The initiative was an initial success and created the first protected zones for tigers in India. Unfortunately, poachers still filled the thriving demand of black markets supplying “underperforming” Chinese men with a magic potion. A dysfunctional government system that left park wardens ill-equipped and in daily danger to be harmed by poachers, as well as a “counting” system that tracked paw prints (hint: not a reliable way to identify tigers), allowed the numbers of tigers in India to drop even more.
Another issue that threatens the tigers is the encroachment of humans into tiger territories. Villagers used to live in the core zones of tiger reserves and the close contact between tigers and humans inevitably led to conflict. Tigers would not only kill the villagers’ livestock but also in some cases people as well. Then, the villagers would go out on a killing spree to find the alleged man-eating tiger, often killing any and all tigers they would come across on their hunt.
A Silver Lining
Since the beginning of this century though, the story of the Tigers in India is not quite as depressing anymore. The government has put in an effort to protect its national animal and things are looking not as bleak anymore. The number of Tigers has gone up 30% over 4 years to 2226 Tigers, up from 1706 (2010-2014). Counting methods now rely on photos/videos of Tigers that allows park wardens and scientists to identify specific animals based on their distinct markings, making the numbers more accurate.
There are now 50 Tiger reserves in India and while they don’t guarantee the Tigers’ safety, they are an essential step in the right direction. Park wardens are now better equipped to protect themselves and the animals in the parks. And the government has created programs to resettle villagers outside of the core and buffer zones of the tiger reserves and pay them for livestock losses to protect them and the Tigers.
The Indian Government has another Tiger Census scheduled for 2018 and hopefully, we see an equally strong growth over the past 4 years.
National Park Bandhavgarh – Overview
Bandhavgarh National Park is a park with a long history. It was inaugurated as National Park in 1968, but the first human settlement is over 2000 years old. Its size expanded from roughly 105 km2 back then to over 1500 km2 (almost 600 mi2) today. It is also known as the park with one of the highest Tiger densities and therefore makes Bandhavgarh one of the prime destinations for Tiger Safari in India.
There are three zones in Bandhavgarh: Tala, Magdhi, and Khitauli. I visited the Tala Zone twice and it is absolutely stunning. Lush deciduous forest mixed with slabs of rock are towered by a gigantic plateau overlooking the park. On top of the plateau, there is Bandhavgarh Fort and a temple, which is currently inhabited by only one monk and the general public can only visit during two important Hindu holidays a year.
Best time to visit Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh is open between October 15 and June 30 and closed from July 1 to October 14. The best time to go is from March – June, if you are ok with the hot temperatures. During the time before the monsoon, the foliage is less dense and the animals are easily spotted at the few watering holes. However, the temperatures can reach up to 44 C (111 F) during that time.
January and February can be quite cold and even bring night frost to the park, so remember to bundle up and bring warm clothes.
October is a very quiet time to visit Bandhavgarh and you can enjoy the park with a lot less other tourists. Chances to spot Tigers might be a bit lower, as the trackers and naturalists need to re-acquaint themselves with the new territories of the Tigers and other animals, as they might have shifted during the monsoon time. That being said, I had 3 Tiger sightings on 2 safaris just days after the park opened and spotted lots of other incredible wildlife.
November and December are full of various religious holidays, so many Indians are taking advantage of their time off to travel to Bandhavgarh to see the Tigers and other wildlife. While the days are hot, the early morning and evening are quite cold, especially when you are driving in an open jeep. I highly recommend dressing in layers and bringing a sweater or light jacket in muted colors.
How to get to Bandhavgarh National Park
While there is a small private airport near the park for private charter planes, the closest commercial airport is in Jabalpur. You can find direct flights to/from many Indian airports, including Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Hubli, Hyderabad and more. The drive is about 4-5 hours and road conditions are not the best.
The closest train station is Umaria, which is about 45 minutes by car from the Park entrance. Train travel is an iconic experience when you travel in India and I highly recommend it. I used the train from Bhopal to Jabalpur and even in 3rd class, it was a nice and very memorable experience.
Most likely, your hotel or resort at Bandhavgarh will help to organize pickup for you, whether you arrive by plane or train.
The wildlife in Bandhavgarh is incredible. Of course, the Tigers steal pretty much any animals’ show but expect to see so much more. Bandhavgarh not only had the highest Tiger population but also the highest breeding Leopard population in India.
Because of the high density and also because of how the paths cross the park, your chances of spotting a Tiger and other wildlife are quite high. Did you know that all white Tigers can be traced to Bandhavgarh National Park? While the elusive white Tiger only had 8 recorded spottings in the last 50 years, and as little as 12 in the last 100, most sightings occurred in Bandhavgarh.
Aside from the big cats, there are more than 35 other mammals, 250 bird species as well as numerous species of reptiles that you have the chance of seeing. If you love watching birds and other animals, you will not be disappointed with your visit to Bandhavgarh.
National Park Bandhavgarh Resorts
Pugdundee Resorts at Bandhavgarh National Park
Pugdundee Safaris operates two lodges/resorts in Bandhavgarh National Park: Kings Lodge and Tree House Hideaway. I was invited to stay at both their properties and have to say that I fell in love with this company.
Pugdundee does not only provide you with luxury accommodation but also ensures sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical standards at all their properties. I know. Most hotels claim to be “green” these days, but for most, it doesn’t go further than the request to re-use your towel. Pugdundee walks the walk and really implements green, sustainable, and ethical ecotourism in India. Here are a few examples:
- They eliminated single-use plastics from their properties
- They provide each guest with a thermos and safe, filtered drinking water
- They hire over 60% of their workforce from the surrounding villages
- They grow their own vegetables and source food from local farmers
- They sell handicrafts from local artists
- They built the cottages around the trees, so they don’t have to be cut down
- They make sure the animals are not disturbed by instructing tourists on proper behavior, including a strict “no trace left behind policy”
- They work with highly trained naturalists and local trackers that know the area like the back of their hand and are experts at spotting and explaining the wildlife. Please also read my interview with a Kings Lodge’s Naturalist below!
Bandhavgarh Resorts: Kings Lodge
I spent two nights at Kings Lodge at Bandhavgarh National Park and I can highly recommend it. This Bandhavgarh resort offers luxury accommodation in a small and intimate setting. They have 10 cottages and 8 stilt houses, each offering all the amenities of a 4-star hotel, including pool, a spa (I highly recommend getting a massage), private bush dinners, and more.
The service at Kings Lodge was incredible. During my first dinner, I mentioned to the staff that I prefer spicy and authentic Indian food and not only did they cook authentic, spicy Indian meals for me for the following days, they also informed the other two Pugdundee lodges that I was visiting after about my preferences. Each employee that I met and talked to was incredibly helpful, friendly, and went above and beyond.
Bandhavgarh Resorts: Tree House Hideaway
The Tree House Hideaway is Pugdundee’s second resort at Bandhavgarh National Park and I spent 1 night there as well. What makes this resort so special is that you sleep in one of their 5 luxurious tree houses. This has been a childhood dream of mine and I was so excited that it finally came true. But don’t be fooled. The private tree houses are extremely luxurious and you won’t miss any comforts of a regular room.
While the Tree House Hideaway does not have a pool or spa, guests can use the facilities at Kings Lodge and they will arrange transport between the lodges for you as well.
My absolute highlight during my unfortunately short stay at the Tree House Hideaway was my Bush Dinner. They set up a private dinner in the middle of the jungle for me, surrounded by dozens of lanterns and served me a delicious Indian dinner. I was blown away by the atmosphere. I just wish I could have beamed my husband there for this for this beautiful evening.
Bandhavgarh Safari Booking is easy, especially with Pugdundee Safari. You can either just book the room, buy a package of several safaris with your room or buy them individually. While there are other safari companies offering their services at Bandhavgarh, I highly recommend Pugdundee Safari, because they have such high-quality standards.
Bandhavgarh National Park Online Booking is also possible with Pugdundee Safari. They have various Safari programs that let you experience one or more Tiger Reserves in Madhya Pradesh, as well as special interest safaris, full-day safaris, photography expeditions and more.
Pugdundee Safaris Sustainability and Conservation Efforts
Interview with Kings Lodge Naturalist and Assistant Manager Harpreet Singh
Harpreet has been a Naturalist at Kanha National Park with Kanha Earth Lodge and now is the Assitant Manager at Kings Lodge in Bandhavgarh National Park. When I met him, he shared his passion for Wildlife conservation in India with me and infected me with his love for Tigers.
What is your favorite about Bandhavgarh National Park?
I have been working with many tiger reserves in the last 8 years and Bandhavgarh was always on my wish list. Finally, I am working in Bandhavgarh. It is a beautiful park in Madhya Pradesh to see tigers and other wildlife. I also love the statue of Lord Vishnu, which is carved into a single rock. I am also looking forward to visiting the Fort which is on the hilltop Ganesh Pahadi, that is open only twice a year during important Hindu festivals.
Tiger Numbers are growing in India. Was “Project Tiger” a success?
No doubt, I proudly say that we have made this project successful. Tigers numbers are increasing in a healthy number.
What makes an ethical Safari company and how can tourists make sure that they book with a safari company that does not further harm the wildlife and environment?
Following points are religiously maintained in all our Pugdundee Lodges:
- Every safari is accompanied by our professional and trained Naturalists, who are well versed with local flora and fauna as well as a local tracker.
- Before leaving for safari all guests are briefed about do’s & don’ts.
- All guests are informed well in advance not to wear any flashy color.
- No plastic is used to carry packed food. Even water is carried in steel bottles. These steel bottles are given to every guest during their check-in to encourage not to use plastic.
- A cane basket is carried in the vehicle for trash during safaris.
- During sightings, a moderate proper distance is maintained so that the wildlife is not disturbed.
- We only use petrol vehicle for safaris in the park to avoid extra pollution by the vehicle.
- Naturalists are trained in such a way, that they encourage guests to enjoy flora, fauna & birds as well as mammals.
- Horn is deactivated in safari vehicles to make sure the animals are not disturbed by loud noises.
- Shouting and loud music are not encouraged in our lodges’ premises.
- To support the local community, the majority of staffing is done from the local village. Also, handicrafts and vegetables are bought from local farmers and suppliers to support their livelihood.
- On different occasions, village school children are shown documentaries, gifted with study materials, and our Naturalists explain to them the importance of human & animal relationship.
What is something that tourists can do to help protect the wildlife while they travel?
Most importantly tourist should follow the forest rules and regulations. They should never throw trash, even outside the park. Honking and loud music should never be encouraged.
Tell us about a Tiger encounter you will never forget!
In April 2018, I was in Kanha National Park and taking tourist out for morning drive as their Naturalist. We crossed a patch of forest before we reached the park entrance.
I thought I saw something walking between the trees. I stopped my Gypsy Jeep and here he is: the most famous tiger of Kanha ” Munna”. He walked towards us for a couple of minutes and disappeared into the darkness. It was my dream to see a tiger in that patch of forest, and it finally came true after waiting 5 years and right before I left for my new job at Bandhavgarh National Park.
Harpreet is also an excellent Wildlife Photographer and if you want to see some of his stunning photos, take a look at his Facebook page.
I hope you found this little excursion beyond the borders of Europe interesting and inspirational. This was my first trip to India and I can tell you this much: It won’t be my last and I can’t wait to return to this stunning country that is so full of history, culture, color, and delicious food.
Tiger Safari in India: National Park Bandhavgarh – Pin for Later: