Venturing into the habitat of the wild animals, where the animals rule; going deep into a forest and sighting a tiger (tigers, if you are lucky) sitting, absolutely free, in front of you, the imagination itself is a thrilling one. The forest is their land and we are intruders in it. The denser the forest, the more the excitement! Tiger reserves offer quite an adventurous experience to the visitors.
Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) are famous for their dense Sal forest, grasslands and the tiger population.
Kanha National Park
Kanha is located in Mandla district of MP. Spread over an area of 1940 sq. km., this forest can give you some real lifetime experience of not just tiger sightings, but you can actually feel the frightening silence of a dense forest of huge, tall Sal trees, interspersed with grasslands, with a chance of a tiger appearing from anywhere.
Kanha has a good number of tigers, but it became famous also for preserving the almost extinct Bara singha deer. Many species of deer roam about freely in the forest area. If you happen to stay in some lodge/guesthouse inside the forest’s area, you can easily see herds of deers grazing fearlessly around the lodge campus. You feel exactly as if you are staying inside the actual jungle. A good variety of birds too can be seen.
There are regular jeep and tiger safaris, which take tourists inside the forest. Forest guards are always on a lookout for pugmarks of tigers, which help them to trace one. As soon as they spot tigers, lodges and hotels are immediately informed, which in turn inform the tourists. You have to get ready quickly, because the tiger will obviously not stay there long waiting for you! Jeeps take tourists till the motorable road. From there tourists are taken on elephants to the spot where the tiger is. After seeing the tiger they drop tourists at the same spot where the jeep dropped, to be taken back to the hotel by the jeep.
This is where we had quite an adventure! The jeeps and elephants were doing multiple rounds, till the tigers remained at the spot. Somehow, the driver of our jeep forgot to take us back, their being quite a large number of tourists that time. We waited patiently for our jeep, till the other groups of tourist were also there waiting for their respective jeeps. One by one everyone left, but no trace of our vehicle. Then we started panicking. It had begun to get dark and here we were in the midst of dense forest; not a sound of human being anywhere; only the sound of birds and leaves moving with the wind. And above all, having sighted not one, but six tigers nearby! What could we do? We started walking on the road, following the jeep’s route, all the time praying silently and watching out for any sound, the jeep’s as well as any rustling among the trees and grass. We almost thought we may become prey today. But God lives in forests too!Some foreign tourists were returning in a jeep. On seeing us walking in that jungle, totally unarmed, they stopped. One almost said- ‘Are you mad?’ Whatever we were, they asked us to climb in their jeep at once. We reached our lodge alive, with an adventure to remember all our lives. Evening walk in a tiger reserve!
Bandhavgarh National Park
This is another place of undisturbed natural beauty. Situated amidst the Vindhya ranges, the beauty of Bandhavgarh is different from that of Kanha. Their are more grasslands here.
Bandhavgarh National park is 197 km. north east of Jabalpur, and the nearest railway station is Umariya from where it is 34 km. Bandhavgarh forest was the hunting ground of the royal family of Rewa. There is an old fort too inside the forest.
Like any other national park here too regular jeep and elephant safaris are available. Special trips are made, if a tiger is spotted somewhere.
Because there are fewer tourists at Bandhavgarh, compared to Kanha, we enjoyed more here. The tiger we saw was leisurely basking in the winter sun after killing and feasting on a peacock, amidst tall grass all around. We saw the remains of the fresh kill lying next to the tiger. All elephants except one, with ours, had returned. The tiger was sleeping in spite of the tourist movement. Now that we were the last tourists, our mahout poked the elephant to trumpet to wake up the tiger. I was frightened and didn’t want the tiger to look at me! But it did wake up at the sound of the elephant and stared at us. When the mahout purposely rotated his stick pointing the tiger, it suddenly sat up and gave a fierce angry roar. I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I froze for a second and pleaded the mahout to take us back immediately!
Watching the elephants taking bath in the forest pond, with their little ones, helped by the mahouts, is a beautiful sight I’ll never forget.
The village around the forest too offer an experience of the typical relaxed pace of village life.
Evenings in and around the forest have an eerie silence, but certainly worth experiencing. It is part of our beautifully frightening mother nature!