State: Madhya Pradesh
Location: Umaria District, Madhya Pradesh
Area: 450 sq. kms
Best time to visit: Between November and June
Nearest Town: Umaria (30-kms)
If Kanha is Kipling’s country, then Bandhavgarh is the jewel in Madhya Pradesh’s crown. Situated at a distance of 195 km from Jabalpur and 225 km from Khajuraho, the Bandhavgarh National Park is a premier wildlife preserve in the Vindhya mountain range of Central India. It is a tiny park compared to Kanha but with nearly the same number of tigers and leopards, or at least that is the official figure. Besides tigers and leopards, Bandhavgarh is also extremely productive for medium-sized bison herds. Bandhavgarh came into existence as a national park in 1968 with a core area of 105 sq. km, which was later extended to include two adjoining sal forests in 1986. Before becoming a national park, it was the game reserve of the Maharajas of Rewa. But due to loss of royal patronage, it remained neglected for a long time until the government declared it a national park to control rampant poaching in the area.
The forests of Bandhavgarh are the white tiger jungles of the yesteryears. However, no white tigers have been reported from the wild in the last 50 years, and it is believed that less than a dozen have been seen in India in about a hundred years. And yet when white tigers were sighted, it was right here in Bandhavgarh. Documents in the Rewa Palace record as many as 8 occasions on which white tigers had been sighted in and around Bandhavgarh 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 (see Rewa & Land under Madhya Pradesh). The Maharaja 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 has 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 reported ever since. Before scientists undertook research projects on the white tiger, it was widely believed that the animals were albinos. However, it was discovered that the white tiger did not have pink eyes as albinos do. Instead, these tigers had black stripes and blue eyes, a result of genetic aberration that occurs due to mutant recessive genes in both parents.
Sal (Shorea robusta) trees dominate almost half the forest of Bandhavgarh. The sal tree is an important component of the deciduous forests of North and Central India. Sal forests were found throughout the northern parts of the Deccan, extending from Madhya Pradesh to Orissa in one continuous stretch. These magnificent forests have 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 used as incense. Over the years, legal and illegal logging has wiped out large parts of these forests, and it is only in places like Bandhavgarh that sal forests are still protected. On Bandhavgarh’s upper slopes, a mixed forest replaces the sal forest, while in the north are large stretches of bamboo and grasslands. The undergrowth in Bandhavgarh is not very dense.
Mammals & Reptiles
The Forest Department has recorded at least 22 species of mammals and about 250 species of birds in the Park. Parts of the forest that were cleared for cultivation have now turned into grasslands where the chinkara (Indian gazelle), nilgai (blue bull) and chausingha (four-horned antelope) can be sighted. Groups of wild boar can also be seen moving around, 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 forest along with herds of chital (spotted deer). Gaur (Indian bison) herds can be seen in the Park only during the months of March and April when they move down from the higher hills to the meadows to graze. A small population of blackbuck also exists around the fort area. The blackbuck population was reintroduced to the Park and is protected from predators by the old masonry walls of the fort. A number of smaller animals such as the ratel, porcupine, small Indian civet, palm squirrel, 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, kraits, vipers, ratsnakes, pythons, lizards and turtles are more elusive.
A lot of action that takes place in Bandhavgarh is up on the trees, as two primate species, the rhesus macaque and the Hanuman langur inhabit the Park. These monkeys are easily visible and fun to watch. Large langur troops can be seen frolicking and feeding on trees. The langur feeds on 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 relationship. Perched on treetops and equipped with keen eyesight, the langur is a vital part of the alarm system that warns against approaching predators like the tiger and leopard. It is believed that for the most part, langur and chital alarm calls mean the presence of a predator in the area.
Bandhavgarh is a stopover for migratory birds in winter. A variety of waterfowls come here, but the absence of wetlands makes them congregate at small water bodies. These waterfowls are not the only visitors; others like the steppe eagle also visit Bandhavgarh in winter. A number of small birds can be seen in and around the National Park, including some less common ones like the blue-bearded bee-eater, white-bellied drongo, Tickell’s blue flycatcher, white-browed fantail, Jerdon’s leafbird, gold-fronted leafbird, minivets and woodshrikes. Other prized sightings include those of the Malabar hornbill, paradise flycatcher and racket-tailed drongo. The vegetation along the streams and marshes is also rich in bird life. The easily spotted ones are the green pigeons, parakeets, peafowls, little grebes, egrets, sarus cranes, black ibis, lesser whistling teals, white-eyed buzzards, black kites, crested serpent eagles, black vultures, Egyptian vultures, red jungle fowls, doves and kingfishers, to name a few.
Bandhavgarh's history goes back 2000 years in time and the earliest signs of habitation can be seen in the Caves excavated from the cliffs to the north of the fort. Brahmi inscription here, date back to the 1st century BC A hunting reserve of the roya! family of Rewa in more recent times, Bandhavgarh was declared a Park in 1968. This is where the famous white tigers of Rewa were discovered.