Majestic "Crested Serpent Eagle"' in Bandhavgarh.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bandhavgarh National Park :- On Trail of the elusive tigers with "Mumbai Travellers Group".

The tiger is synonymous with India and as a Indian  and a  World wild-life enthusiast  traveller  was aghast at not ever having viewed a tiger in the natural wild jungles of the Country.In 2005  on a Solo- tour in Bangkok   got myself photographed bottle-feeding a tiger cub   as well as  with  a pair of full grown  tigers in two separate zoo's. .Recently in May 2012  had visited the "Gir National  Park" in Junagadh with "B.N.H.S (Bombay Natural History Society)" group to view the Asian lions and came back home with memories and photographs of a life-time.Ultimately, a tour to any wild-life tiger park in India  was the priority of my wild-life and nature tour agenda.Through "Facebook(FB)" social website have been planning all my recent group tours and hence  came across an advertisement  by  "Mumbai Travellers" group of a tour to "Bandhavgarh tiger national park". in the month of June. "Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve" in India was the former  hunting preserve of the Maharajah's of Rewa  and  has the highest tiger density of all the tiger parks in India . Martand Singh, the last Maharaja of Rewa, captured the first living white tiger observed in nature, during his 1951 hunting expedition   to Govindgarh jungle at Rewa, the outskirts of present Bandhavgarh national park. This captured white tiger was named "Mohan" and bred in captivity and all  present day white tigers in zoo's all over the World trace their ancestry to this one  white tiger, "Mohan". ..In recent years,two of its former  resident tigers, tigress 'Sita' and tiger 'Charger' have been  the  one of the  most photographed and documented tigers in the World, contributing immensely towards "Tiger Tourism and Conservation" in this national park.Hence history and tiger tourism beckoned me to visiting "Bandhavgarh National Park".Contacted "Mumbai Travellers" through Internet/Phone and spoke to the tour group leader Mr Jogi.Prajapati,  requesting him to confirm my participation for this tour . On Friday(24-5-2013) payed  a advance confirmation deposit of Rs 5000 through a bank transfer, the total tour cost amounting to Rs 7300, excluding the train passage to Jabalpur station..The "Bandhavgarh National Park" tour was  to begin on Tuesday(11-6-2013) with  departure from Mumbai  by the "Garibrath Train"  to Jabalpur .From Jabalpur station it would be an approx 4 hour  journey by road to the Bandhavgarh national park.After a  2 night 3 day stay at Bandhavgarh national park we  were to return  back to Mumbai  on Saturday(15-6-2013).The train tickets costing Rs735 each way were booked by tour leader Mr Jogi.Prajapati.Ultimately, i was finally fulfilling my dreams of visiting a national park to view the tiger in its natural habitat and not as seen in zoo's, circuses or as  tourist photographic specimens.

DEPARTURE MUMBAI(Tuesday 11-6-2013) AND ARRIVAL JABALPUR(Wednesday 12-6-2013) :- It was raining cats and dogs the previous day on Monday(10-6-2013),Mumbai having received its third highest rainfall in a decade for the month of June! I was hoping that the rains would be favouring our tour plans and it obliged.Miraculously, Tuesday was a dull cloudy morning, totally devoid of rainfall. Thats the unpredictability of the famous "Mumbai Monsoon weather".Left my residence at Prabhadevi at approx 1200 hrs and boarded a bus to Dadar station.Was on platform Nos 4(Central Railway) at approx 1220 hrs, very early for the scheduled arrival of  the :'Garibrath Express" at 1345 hrs.Rang up Mr Jogendra(Jogi).Prajapati to confirm the scheduled plan of the tour as we  tourists were total strangers and  allotted different bogies on the train..The train arrived on schedule at approx 1348 hrs and  boarded  coach 'G12'  and  occupied seat nos 22.The "Garibrath Express" is a centrally air-conditioned train , slightly smaller than the normal air-conditioned train boggies and without a pantry, a 21st century common man's luxury train service in India.My co-seat passenger was busy on his lap-top having plugged into the trains electricity supply  box allotted for passengers at individual berths,normally seen in airport terminals, something unbelievable on trains  just a decade ago.As the train made its journey got to know a little about Jabalpur from my co-passenger, a young I.T professional from that city.Later Mr Jogi.Prajapati came over and introduced himself and  got my seat interchanged to the compartment in which most of the other co-tourists were seated.I carted my luggage into compartment  "G14" and got acquainted  with my co-travellers.Mr Denis.D'souza, Mr Romeo.Coutinho,Mr Ameya.Kharulkar,Mr Praveen.Ramaswamy , Mr Amar.Juvekar and Miss Snehah.Mani .It was a pleasant journey, the air-conditioned train being comfortable and clean.Finally arrived at Jabalpur station  on Wednesday(12-6-2013) at approx 0715 hrs, the train delayed by an hour.
JABALPUR(Wednesday 12-6-2013) :- There were three families in the tour group, the rest of us all single travellers irrespective of marital status.The Abhijit.Bakshi family were an elderly couple, the Sameer.Mhatre family, a young couple along with their young  daughter and the Rajneesh.Barve family, a young couple with their young son.Total strangers became acquaintances and age or profession  was no criteria as it was the passion of nature and wildlife that brought us together on this tour.Three air-conditioned cars were waiting for us and  Denis.D'souza, Praveen.Ramaswamy,a American student of Indian origin, Romeo.Coutinho and myself were allotted a "Toyota Innova( MP 19 BB 2399)", an excellent new  A/c car..After loading our luggage we were driven to "Paras Hotel" where the ladies  and men got themselves freshened  and later breakfast was at "Atithi restaurant" situated on the ground floor of the same  hotel.At the breakfast table tour leader and co-founder of "Mumbai travellers" Mr Jogi.Prajapati explained the tour schedule and requested a self-introduction from all tour members, our total being 16, including tour  leader Mr Jogi.Prajapati.During the self-introduction realized that we all belonged to different professions, age groups ,sex and marital status, the passion of nature and wildlife being the bonding factor.
"Bhedaghat" Rock marble  on River Narmada.

After breakfast consisting of "Paratha/Curd/Pickles" we drove towards "Bhedaghat(Marble Rocks)" , a  village approx 25 Kms from Jabalpur station situated on the banks of the Narmada river. Bhedaghat is famous for its unique marble rocks , most beautiful on a full-moon night and  many prominent Hindi films were shot at this river location.At approx 1000 hrs we reached Bhedaghat, all the three vehicles arriving in uniform order.There were numerous shops selling marble handicrafts, mostly religious icons.We made our way towards the banks of the river and were greeted with the beautiful sight of large  marble rocks and a few young boys diving into the river from one of these rocks, a source of tourist income.We boarded a rowing boat and were given a tour of the river and glistening marble rocks by the boatman Rajesh, a hilarious  narrator who told us the various locations on the rocks  on  which Hindi films were filmed.Spotted a man doing the "Dead Man's Float" on the river, absolutely still akin to a log or dead body,a advanced form of yogic breathing. After the boat ride  viewed the scene around the river spotting two magnificent Egyptian Vulture gliding in the sky, a rare sight as vultures are almost extinct in most parts of India.Purchased a curio, my normal habit on any tour, memories for another day.From Bhedaghat we drove a short distance towards "Dhuandhar Falls", a prominent tourist attraction of Jabalpur with its best view being in June, just before the onset of Monsoon.It was a long 10 minutes walk from the car- park to Dhuandhar falls , numerous marble curio shops and fruit vendors occupying both sides of the narrow path.The sight of the Duandhar falls from a distance reminded me of the Rhine falls  on the Switzerland/Germany border, beautiful and powerful.The Duandhar falls plunges from a height of approx 10 meters, the water  creating a mist  and hence the Hindi name "Dhuandhar". There is a rope-way above the waterfalls from which tourists can observe the grandeur and beauty of this unique seasonal waterfall.
The  massive flow of  " Dhuandhar  Waterfalls".
                                                                                                                                 During monsoons this waterfall ceases to exist at the Narmada river water level rises considerably, immersing entire portions of the Bhedaghat marble rocks let alone the unique "Dhuandhar Falls". Observed unique "Salmon type" indigenous fishing at the Dhuandhar falls.Strangely, akin to the legendary and bizarre  mass salmon spawning  a small variety of fish akin to sardines tend to swim upwards, against the flow of the waterfall.A enterprising fisherman had kept his net at a narrow wedge between two small boulders of the waterfall at its narrowest point, the fish jumping into the small net in order to swim against the current.Brilliant idea  and observed for the first time at a waterfall in India.Photography of this beautiful waterfalls was on everyone's agenda and as a "world tour name-dropper" this water falls bizarrely resembled the "Rhine falls" in Europe.In a film shoot, portions of this waterfalls could be duplicated for the majestic Rhine falls in Europe or vice-versa !.At approx 1215 hrs i made my way back towards the car park, a long walking distance. En-route  tasted the unique "Salted bora's(berries)" and "Ramphal(bark of a edible tree)", authentic rustic Indian fruits sold by local street-side hawkers. Reached the car-park at approx 1230 hrs and checked my weight on a portable gymnasium weighing scale and aghast to know that at 81 Kgs i was definitely not a "6-Pack" fitness fanatic! Most of our group members were busy shopping for souvenirs and at approx 1245 hrs we departed back  to  Jabalpur for lunch.
Lunch was at  the same "Athithi Restaurant", a unique Jabalpur vegetarian thali and a dessert consisting of  'Gulab jamun'.One unique observation of  "Mumbai Travellers"  and  tour leader Mr Jogi.Prajapati unlike all my  previous travels in group tours was the religious ceremony of reciting the "grace-before-meals" in Hindu ritual before every meal..Even on my tour to the "Holy Land(Egypt,Israel,Jordan)" we never ever recited religious catholic rituals although that  was partly a religious tour, a Christians life-long dream of visiting the "Holy Land".After lunch at approx 1445 hrs  we began our 184 Kms journey to "Bandhavgarh Tiger national Park". Our driver Mr Ashok.Chowdhury was a skilled veteran and the air-conditioned car was a luxury in travel.The highway was excellent and the car averaged speeds of 80Km/hr on the main highway .We had a short stop-over for tea at a small town.The traffic on the highway was sparse, besides there was no rain and hence the journey  peaceful and normal..About 10 Kms from Bandhavgarh national park the roads are cratered intentionally for drivers to reduce speed and hence  prevent wild animal accidents. The main  highway towards Bandhavgarh passes through the core area of the national park and wild animals including tigers do cross the road , a corridor between various zones of this large forested area.Spotted a large herd of chital(spotted deer) grazing on one side of the highway, our first glimpse of the jungle's herbivore wild-life. At approx 1830hrs we  finally reached  "Nature Heritage Resort" situated in Tala, the small town inside the "Buffer Zone" of  the  Bandhagrh tiger reserve.
Classic "NATURE HERITAGE RESORT" in Tala Zone of Bandhavgarh National Park.

BANDHAVGARH NATIONAL PARK:- On arrival at "Nature Heritage resort" we were given the usual welcome cold drink and tea.This  sprawling forest resort was one of the original resorts built in the early 1990's before mass tiger tourism and a string of hotels flooded the buffer zone locality.Today there are approx  upwards of 45 resorts and hotels within Bandhavgarh tiger reserve with "Nature  Heritage resort" definitely amongst the top resorts in location as well as external and interior decoration..Tigers are  occasionally sighted in the nearby the "Tala  zone" which contains maximum tigers forms a boundary with this resort.We were allotted our rooms,Denis,Praveen and myself checking into "Room 119", a palatial A/C room with balcony's akin to a suite.Framed photographs of tigers decorated the rooms walls, a perfect atmosphere of lush and rich tiger jungles.
After a quick bathe explored the surrounding estate of the resort which was lit up with "Petromax lamps", reminders of the  early 1900's before the advent of electricity in villages when tigers must have been as common as cats in these forested jungles.Amazingly rustic as well as beautiful, especially to city dwellers from one of the most populated city's in the World, Mumbai..Bandhavgarh had received heavy rainfall the previous day of our arrival and the jungle was smelling with typical lush jungle natural perfume!
"MUMBAI TRAVELLERS" group at  the entrance of  "NATURE HERITAGE RESORT" in Bandhavgarh.

"Mumbai travellers" tour group  enjoying a sumptuous dinner at "Nature Heritage Resort" .

Dinner was at 2100 hrs in the main dining hall, a palatial hall decorated with tribal handicrafts and framed photographs of tigers in various poses.One strange aspect of "Nature Heritage Resort" was the total absence of television , a total blackout of entertainment other that tiger talk and tiger tourism,excellent and innovative.Dinner consisted of Vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes  and was relieved do dig my human teeth into a chunk of chicken , a total human carnivore by choice! After dinner we assembled at the "Bonfire" enclosure and were given a brief introduction about Bandhavgarh  national park and its topography by a experienced guide of the resort. Bandavgarh National park has 4 zones which are Tala, Magdhi, Khitauli, and Panpatta, the Panpattal zone being closed for tourists.The  recent Supreme Court legislation of reserving only 20% of core tiger area in national parks for tourists reduced drastically the chances of common tourists viewing a tiger in Bandhavgarh.The "TALA  ZONE(Gate 1)" has the highest tiger density in the entire Bandhavgarh forest range and hence a maximum rush for advance tourist bookings to this safari zone.Sadly, "Mumbai travellers" could not manage booking at short notice as a minimum time frame of 2 months is required for advance bookings in the "TALA ZONE(Gate 1)" .Hence we were allotted the  common and less preferred Khitauli zone(Gate -3)and the Magdhi zone(Gate-2) .where spotting a tiger was akin to winning on a total "OUTSIDER HORSE" in the sport of Horse-racing. Akin to Illegal cricket betting in India i wouldn't be surprised if bets are placed on "TIGER SIGHTINGS" in the national park as it is the most popular and rare wild predator of the Indian forests.I was a avid fan of Jim.Corbett  and among Indians, the famous "Billy" Arjan Singh who akin to Corbett was a prolific hunter in his youth but later a great conservationists of the "Big cats" in India. Devoured books during my younger  school and college years , "The man-eaters of Kumaon" being one of my all time favourite  book. In later years , thanks to the "B.N.H.S(Bombay Natural History society" library got a inside view of some of India's most famous wild-life pioneers  and  hunter/ conservationists, the most notable being "Billy" Arjan.Singh  who set up the "Dudhwa National park". He was the first conservationist to introduce captive leopards and tigers back into the wild Indian forests most famous being "Tara", the hand reared baby  tigress released in the wild .It is an  engrossing and tragic story with  "Tara" supposedly turning a man-eater and later shot, although Billy Arjan .Singh insists that it was a look-alike tigress that became a man-eater  and was shot and not Tara.The mystery is debatable.. I was also a "Air-gun" hunter during my youth , guilty of shooting numerous birds during  the 1970's on  vacations to my  parents ancestral villages in Mangalore.Hence i had a theoretical  knowledge on "Big Cats" due to reading and  also owning  pet cats since 1995 which are carbon copies in miniature of their bigger cousins. As a  "Speculator/Gambler" I sensed and had a premonition that we might not sight a tiger in our 3 safari trips to the jungles as "Big Cats" ,especially tigers always routinely prefer their own territories, never ever or rarely straying out of their respective "ZONES". .In Bandhavgarh forests the preferred tiger territory was the  "TALA ZONE"  and hence a rush to that zone by advance booking tourists and "V.I.P's".We were all tired from hectic sightseeing and car travel ,besides, the next days safari began at 0430 hrs and hence after the brief lecture we all departed to our resort rooms.After ages experienced a typical "Jungle Stay" with insects creeping into our air-conditioned accommodation on opening the door.
"Khitauli Zone(Gate 3)" of Bandhavgarh National Park.Typical Bamboo and Sal forest .

BANDHAVGARH NATIONAL PARK -Day 2 (Thursday 13-6-2013) :-  A poor sleeper on tours i was the earliest  to wake up amongst the three of us, much before the alarm call. Woke up at approx 0300 hrs and quietly walked to the bathroom/toilet and performed my natural biological  agenda.Denis and Praveen woke up later and  we all were dressed up and ready for our first tiger safari.At approx 0430 hrs we assembled in the dining hall and after tea/biscuits made our way to the  resort entry gate, awaiting the arrivals of our safari jeeps.
KHITAULI ZONE MORNING SAFARI(Gate-3) :- The 'Maruti gypsy' vans arrived  and 6 tourists were allotted to a jeep, the driver and guide occupying the two other seats, a total accommodation of 8 people to a jeep.Tour leader Mr Jogi.Prajapat, Mrs Madhuri.Mhatre, Mr  Romeo.Coutinho,Mr Ameya.Kharulkar and myself were alloted "Jeep Nos MP54TO313" .Our jeep was first driven to the main co-ordination center where the jeeps were registered and a guide allotted to every jeep.Our guide Mr Surendra.Singh arrived and from the here it was a 5 mins drive to the Khitauli Zone.At approx 0530 hrs we entered the "Khitauli Zone(Gate -3)" and after the normal identity verifications were allowed to drive into  the  Bhandavgarh tiger reserve.
Our first mammal sighting was a jackal and the jungle although not very dense was filled with bird calls, the most beautiful and common being the mating calls of the  "Common Hawk-Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius)" popularly known as  the "Brain fever Bird". Thanks to Mr Jogi.Prajapati,Mr Amay.Kharulkar and Mr Romeo.Coutinho that i managed to identify as well as learn about various bird-calls in the jungle.Our jeep meandered its way through a specified route and we all were anxious to view a tiger.At approx 0615 we stopped at the "Forest Camp" where guards and rangers of the forest kept track of tourists and wild-life in the Khitauli zone. After a brief rest at the "Forest Camp" our jeep wandered across the Khitauli forest zone including stopping at a large  water-hole  where a large machhan was erected as well as  a "Camera-trap"  kept for  "Tiger census".Our jeep stopped for quite a while at the  small pond hoping to view a tiger but totally disappointed.Spotted the beautiful Asian fly-catcher bird near the pond, some compensation for missing a tiger spotting.We finally departed from the pond and made our way on the usual tourist trekking path and came across a broken down tourist vehicle, the vehicle blocking the entire narrow forest road.A few minutes were wasted at this spot with our driver and other tourist jeep drivers providing repair aid to the jinxed tourist jeep.Finally it was decided that the vehicle had to be abandoned and our jeep carted a couple from the mechanical failure  jeep onto our jeep back to the "Forest Camp".A bad omen  in spotting the elusive tiger ! My Shikar hero Jim.Corbett always associated certain jungle phenomenon as either "Good Luck" or "Bad Luck" during his legendary hunting of "Man-Eater " tigers and leopards. Every  sportsman or gambler/speculator  would be lying if they said that they were never superstitious in their dangerous sports or monetary profession..A jeep would later pick  these  tourists  at the "Forest Camp".Our only encounter with mammals was the common chital, langurs, macaques and Nilgai's.Among birds we spotted  the peacocks,common jungle fowl, hornbills , the exotically coloured Hoopoe bird and the rare Indian Pitta, this  bird having 9 different colours in its plumage.We finally exited the "Khitauli Zone(Gate 3)" at approx 0900 hrs, reaching our resort at approx 0915hrs.
INDIAN PITTA:- This poster-card photo was taken by our tour leader Mr Jogi.Prajapati. "Wild-Life Photography" requires the most expensive camera equipment as well as skill and luck.We all were in the same jeep viewing this bird, but, this was and is definitely the best bird photograph of our safari tour at Bandhavgarh.

On arrival at the resort  and during discussion at the breakfast table we heard the first hand account of a tourist family sighting a tiger in the "TALA ZONE (Gate 3)". Our entire group envied them and as a speculator/gambler by profession i realized the odds of us viewing a tiger in the "Khitauli  Zone(Gate 3)" and  "Magdhi Zone" were slim , especially with the latest "20% Tourist Reservation" in core area of the zones.My  google research on the park indicated that 99% daily tiger sightings were only in the "Tala Zone(Gate 1)"
Our "Maruti Gypsy Safari Jeep" outside  our resort.

After an excellent breakfast consisting of omelet/bread and vegetarian snacks we made our way out of the dining hall and i explored the resort.The resort was excellent jungle country in miniature, one of the most beautiful natural designed resorts i have visited in India.For the first time in my life viewed a 2- storey  cottage  built  engulfing a giant tree , the branches of the tree protruding out of the house roof, environmental and nature conservation at its unbelievable best.We single tourist travellers got to know each other better in our room and  New York  Citizen  Mr Praveen.Ramaswamy with his "American accent" enlightened me on the U.S.A and its education system..Mr Denis.D'souza's  was a I.T professional  having previously seen a tiger in a national park Denis's wife and  Mr Praveen.Ramaswamy  were relatives, aqnd hence both were on the same safari trip, .The American  Praveen had visited the game parks in Tanzania  having viewed African wild-life and this was his first visit to a National park in India.As for Mr Romeo.Coutinho, he was a "Tiger addict", having a penchant for visiting tiger  national parks in India in order to just glimpse a tiger and feeling the forest life. In  Kanha National park's  he was lucky  to view its most famous tiger resident "Munna" at a handshake distance from his safari jeep..He was  a  married  private media writer by profession and a great mimic of "Ajit  and filmy Jokes", a humorous gentleman.Ultimately, total strangers became acquaintances.The resort had a  tiger souvenir shop which sold tiger  shirts and ceramic  products for a non-profit organization called "Tiger guards" which helped in tiger conservation efforts in Bandhavgarh. In the shop met Mr Amar.Juvekar and we both decided to visit the "Bandhavgarh school of Art" on the main road that had a vast collection of tiger T-shirts and tiger art. It was a 5 minutes walk to the shop and was amazed by the beautiful paintings ,wild-life books  and tiger souvenirs.Purchased a "T-Shirt" costing Rs 300  which  was designed with  3 Indian Roller birds  on the front and two tiger silhouettes on the back.My premonition that our visit would be more of a birding than a tiger safari..Later in the afternoon i made my way to the dining hall   for lunch where Jogi was busy talking to fellow tourists. A gentleman entered the dining hall and Jogi told me that this man had  rescued a tourist from a tiger attack and sure death. Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma, the owner of "Nature Heritage Resort" and a few of his tourists were on a safari in Bandhavgarh in 2003 .A wounded  tigress  had jumped into the tourist jeep and grabbed hold of a tourist causing panic.Every tourist jeep had fled the area barring Mr Rajvardhan who was in the vicinity on another jeep  and  rished to the rescue of his tourist ,hitting  the tigress with a stick, himself being attacked and grabbed by the tigress. The tigress which had a broken jaw  suddenly let go her grip and hence Mr Rajvardha.Sharma became a hero and lived to tell his unbelievable story. Since that incident "Nature Heritage resort" is famous for its owner as for its splendid location and natural forest decor.View this documentary produced in 2016 about  Bandhavgarh Wildlife Park and Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma which i later updated to this blog :-
Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma, owner of "Nature Heritage Resort" and legendary tiger man.

is episode was featured in a "National Geographic documentary" and   a French television team was camped at the hotel during our stay  to do a documentary on Bandavgarh and Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma's  encounter with the tiger.I introduced myself to Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma, clicked his photograph for my blog and asked him about  his encounter, a simple millionaire hotelier  from Agra who risked his life while others ran for cover.He was very much in favour of the "20%  Tourist Reservation" in   core area of tiger reserves stating that rampant tourism was ruining tiger conversation in India. Its not everyday in life that a person meets a man that has genuinely  had an encounter with a wild tiger and also lived amongst the tigers, a genuine tiger conservationist.  and not just a "Arm-Chair tiger conservationist".After the enlightening tiger discussion with Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma  made my way to the dining table and the rest of the group arrived for lunch at approx 1330 hrs.As usual after the  we began our meals after reciting the "Grace-before-meals" in Hindu ritual with co-tourist Mrs Swati.Barve conducting the prayer ritual..The Barve's owned a resort in Alibaug  near Mumbai and Mrs Swati.Barve was a avid outdoors lady, a snake-catcher , later releasing the snakes and also a owner of 3 dogs, two Labradors and a Doberman.The non-vegetarian menu consisted of chicken curry and an assortment of vegetarian dishes ,the food delicious.
.The afternoon safari tour was scheduled for 1500 hrs.After a brief rest made my way to the resort gardens and met most of the group members who were on their way to do some shopping at "Bandhavgarh School of art".I accompanied them and got to know another lone tourist Miss Sneha.Mani, a lady who had recently discovered the joy of wild-life tourism.At the shop  a variety of tiger memorabilia products were purchased by everyone, mostly T-shirts.We later proceeded back to the resort and later boarded our respective jeeps for the afternoon safari ride.
KHITAULI ZONE AFTERNOON SAFARI(GATE 3) 1530-1900 hrs :- At approx 1545 hrs we entered "Khitauli Zone" and into the national park.The vegetation and forest of the Khitauli zone was sparse and the topography mostly flat with  a few small hillocks, a long stream and a large water pond.The musical calls of the "Brain fever bird" or Common Hawk-Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius) was now a familiar signature tune of the Bhandhavgarh forests, the month of June being the mating season of these birds. We spotted a jackal and later the best bird sighting in the park, a magnificent " Crested serpent  eagle" that just flew across our jeep pathway and settled on a tree barely 50 meters from the ground.The hawk stood still on the tree akin to a model posing for photographs and hence  i managed to get the best wild-life photograph of my tour, the model of my Bhandhavgarh safari blog.Our jeep made its way through the same route as the morning safari, stopping at the same pond and waterhole, the usual haunts of the tiger during the dry summer season.We waited patiently for approx 5 minutes at the waterhole, the favourite haunt of the few tigers in the Khitauli zone. Our guide Mr Jai.Prakash told us that the tiger could be sleeping in a cave just above the water-hole, its normal haunt during the day, common habits of domesticated house cats and big cats.They love to sleep the entire day after  meals.A further deterrent to spotting the tiger was that it had rained heavily in these forests   the previous day of our arrival  and hence small puddles of water were in various parts of the park.The tiger and other animals had easy access to water and hence  would not need to venture towards the few waterholes and ponds in the National park. As usual  we were disappointed of not at least getting a glimpse of the majestic tiger.Observed a forest guard on a bicycle and amazed at their bravery and callousness in patrolling the forests on the slowest  and least protective vehicle, a cycle.We finally arrived at the forest camp and was surprised to see a massive tusker munching leaves under a bush next to the camp.Our jeep stopped at the camp as does other tourist jeeps.Seeing the massive chain around its hind leg i presumed that it was chained to a post or tree.
"Banraj" the massive forest elephant along with his mahout.Notice the approx 25 meter long chain that he drags.
                                                                                                      Hence approached it and started photography and videotaping from just a few feet from the animal.After filming i walked away and viewed another side of the jungle.On returning back to the jeep i was surprised to see the tusker "Banraj" walking  along with his mahout towards a pond  approx 100 meters from the camp, dragging a long thick  chain.To my disbelief  realized that the elephant was not chained  to a tree when i photographed him and hence i was lucky to have not agitated him.An encounter with an enraged elephant is worse than a tiger attack This close photography encounter with "Banraj"  compensated for the lack of a tiger view .The forests are patrolled on elephant back to keep a check on the physical health of the tigers as other vehicles cannot get access to remote corners of these forests .Elephant  back tourism of the forest is another attraction in the "Tala Zone" of the Bandhavgarh national park.A 4 hour ride tour on elephant back instead of the normal jeep costs approx Rs 10,000/person . We departed from the camp and  later along the route spotted a unique sight, a pair of jungle fowl with a pair of chicks.The jungle fowl is a real beauty , although smaller in size compared to its domesticated counterpart, the poultry  chicken that is relished as food.Spotted numerous peacocks and Hanuman langurs very common in these forests.Came across a group of langurs with young babies , a beautiful sight in the forests.
Hanuman Langur with baby.
                                                                                                                    Spotted a herd of wild boar along with piglets  at a distance from our jeep. At approx 1900 hrs  we made our  exit out of the gate and into the buffer zone of the forest.Spotted a large herd of chital grazing in the open fields situated  on the right side of the road, the largest chital herd seen by me in a national park.On entering the resort realized that none of us had seen a tiger as also the  other tourist visitors to the "Khitauli Zone".After a hot shower bathe went around the resort and was surprised to see the French television crew filming  Mr Rajvardhan.Sharma, the celebrity tiger encounter owner of "Nature Heritage resort". Dinner was at 2030 hrs, the usual prayer ceremony prior to dinner.The non-vegetarian dish on the menu was mutton curry and i relished the same along with the normal vegetarian dishes.After dinner  had a walk inside the huge estate of  the resort with my torch.Went back to my room and  paid the balance tour money to Jogi.We were now four people in the room as Mr Jogi.Prajapati had shifted to our accommodation, myself and jJogi sleeping on floor mattresses while Denis and Praveen slept on the bed. The  next mornings schedule was the same routine, departure at 0430 hrs .I was all alone in the room , the rest of the group members busy conversing into the late night.Went to bed at approx 2200 hrs and did manage to get some sleep in the cool air-conditioned room.
MAGDHI ZONE FORESTS OF BANDHAVGARH :-The "Magdhi Zone"  has more diversity in forest  topography than the "Khitauli Zone".

MAGDHI ZONE SAFARI :-GATE-2(Friday 14-6-2013):- Woke up at 0300 hrs as usual and after normal routines we all made our way to the dining hall..Tea and biscuits was the early dawn refreshments and at 0430 hrs we made our way to our respective jeeps.The "Magadhi Zone(Gate-2)" was known to have only 4 tigers in its zone, a large male and a tigress with two cubs.Hence sighting of this majestic beast was at higher odds compared to Khitauli Zone which had a slightly larger number of resident tigers.On our way towards the Magdhi  Zone we spotted a jackal in the centre of the highway, confused by the glare of the jeep headlights.Numerous animals fall prey to vehicle accidents in buffer zones of all National parks and hence the buffer zone highway had potholes to prevent  vehicles from speeding, the speed limit being 20Km/hr.A tiger was once killed by a tourist jeep in Bandhavgarh  national park .It was bizarre that the sighting of a  "Jackal" greeted us on all our entry's into the park zones, the previous two sightings being unlucky for tiger spotting.Would we be third time lucky or unlucky with this jackal sighting ?We finally reached the entry gates of Magdhi zone at approx 0500 hrs, ahead of the allotted opening time of 0515 hrs. Alighted the jeep and studied the surrounding terrain on either sides of the buffer zone highway.Spotted a herd of deer in the open fields on the opposite side of the highway.At  exactly 0515 hrs the gate of "Magdhi Zone" was opened and after the necessary legal formalities our jeep headed into the forest.The jungle topography of Magdhi forest was entirely different compared to Khitauli zone with large open meadows and a large  water pond.
A large Wild boar and a jungle fowl :- Photo Co-tourist Mr Amar.Juvekar.
                                                  Spotted a wild boar, another common sighting on all our safari tours, akin to the jackal.The musical call of the "Brain fever bird"  in these forests was as common as the call of Koels near my residence in Mumbai ! At a large open fiels that  partly contained a small lake we got to view the "whistling ducks", a rare sight.We were anticipating to view the tigress and her two cubs as they had not ventured from their hide-outs since days according to the park guards.Spotted a hare darting in the forest undergrowth.The "Magdhi Zone" had a long buffer zone with a nearby village and  we observed a large herd of cattle grazing in the open fields of the buffer zone, easy pickings for a hungry tiger or leopard, the two big cats of Bandhavgarh forests.Villagers are compensated monetarily  by the government if their cattle is killed  by a predator in the buffer zone.There was no fencing just a normal earth mound barricade, akin to demarcation of cultivated fields in  normal Indian villages.This proves that the tiger never ever ventures outside its comfort zones, irrespective of food or habitat.Seeing the easy  availability of cattle it would be common  human sense that the Magdhi zone should have had the maximum tiger numbers as hunting cattle is easier than the fleet-footed deer.In  reality it had the least number of tigers, amongst all zones just four ! The Magdhi forests was rich in vegetation and topography with small ravines and hills within the forest zone.According to Jogi and Romeo the vegetation was similar to Kanha forests.We came across a open area which gave us  a  distant magnificent view of Bandhavgarh hills on which was situated the Bandhavgarh fort.Drove up a hill and discovered fresh  tiger pug marks which according to the guide was of the lone male tiger of this zone.We waited at the tiger pug mark site hoping that the elusive animal would show itself but were disappointed.  The guide told us that there was a cave on this hill that was a frequent haunt of this particular tiger and the animal could be in siesta mood in that cave.This was our last chance of spotting the elusive tiger and tigress and seemed that tiger spotting was eluding our safari agenda. The Magdhi forests was beautiful as also the weather, cloudy and cool with no rainfall.Driving along the forest path came across a forest guard on a cycle, the common mode of forest patrol in Bandhavghar forests.We spoke to the guard and he told us that the tigers were scared of them and would flee on seeing a forest guard on a cycle! A Ripleys believe it or not real life fact of forest life.The only equipment that the guard possessed was a "Walkie-Talkie" for forest communication and a small axe to chop wood and not as a protection againg a tiger.Seeing the guard i was reminded of Jim.Corbett's famous description of the common tiger, a giant beast that is scared of humans or avoids humans unless a man-eater.During Jim.Corbett's era the Indian jungles had numerous tigers akin to stray common cats and yet very few villagers were killed by tigers despite regular work in the forests.The  tigers watched  villagers from their camouflaged lairs never ever harming humans, bizarre and true..We drove to the "Forest Camp" site of Magdhi forest, a desolate  place with less activity compared to the Khitauali camp.It was shabbily maintained with no clean toilet facilities.Observed a deep dry well of the camp, a sign of the water scarcity in the forests.After a brief  rest at the forest camp we drove along the same forest path and came towards a open field .The Magdhi forests had large spaces of open fields, some of them forming the buffer zone with cattle grazing.Spotted the rare barking deer, a small species of deer that roam in pairs or alone unlike the herds of chital or sambar deer species.At the other end of the open field was a small samadhi erected in honour of one of Bandhavgarh's most famous tiger named "Charger".During the 1980's and 1990's a pair of tigers captured the imagination of tourists and world photographers making Bandhavgarh a favourite tiger sighting national park and hence a increase in tourist revenue. These pair of tigers were a tigress named "Sita" and the tiger named "Charger". "Sita' died much before "Charger" and today most of the tigers of Bandhavgarh are descendants of  these two tigers.After passing  near Charger's samadhi known as "Charger Point"  our   tour jeep made its way back to the entrance/exit of Magdhi zone.At approx 0900 hrs we made our exit from "Magdhi Zone(Gate-2)" and drove through the now very familiar buffer zone jungle corridor back to our resort.
Breakfast was at 0930 hrs, a lavish continental breakfast with vegetarian dishes.After breakfast  went to my room and had a quick hot refreshing bathe, akin to a jacuzzi.
DISCOVERING A TIGER KILL IN TALA BUFFER ZONE :- After my bathe i decided to stroll around the forest vicinity of "Nature Heritage resort", my usual  routine on any jungle or wild-life tour.Walked along the narrow road towards the opposite direction of the main town into the forested countryside.As usual the air was filled with the beautiful sound of the "Brain Fever Bird(Common hawk cuckoo)" and i ventured into a thick bush to track this bird with my binoculars. Akin to my hunting hero's i had become a avid naturalist and wild-life conservationist after spending my youth shooting birds with an air-gun.The main road on which there were small bushes and trees was lonely, the occasional villager or forest officials passing along at odd intervals.This was the main buffer tourist zone of "Tala Zone(Gate 3)" in which the maximum number of tourist hotels and resorts were situated.Walking along the narrow  road i suddenly spotted a cattle carcass on the opposite side of the road with crows feasting on the rotting animal.This was a absolutely desolate location on the road, a narrow nullah(ravine)" running parallel to the location on which lay the rotting carcass.I quickly realized that this was a "TIGER KILL" as tigers from the "Tala Zone" were known to occasionally stray into this buffer zone.I was a bit nervous of the tiger still being in the vicinity as the carcass was half-eaten, the complete hind portion below the navel missing.The neck seemed broken and one piece of a leg was lying in the nullah.A small cottage was situated approx 100 meters from the carcass, the entire locality being a buffer zone area of Bandhavgarh National park.
TIGER KILL :- Half eaten carcass of either a bull or cow. The complete hind portion was missing.
Realizing that the carcass was rotten i mustered courage and crossed the nullah onto the field on which the carcass lay.The stench was nauseating and after a quick photo made my way to the main road.A young man attired in a forest guards uniform happened to be cycling towards me and hence i stopped him and showed him the carcass.Mr Sushil.Singh an employee of Bandhavgarh forests told me never to venture alone into the forests as tigers do occasionally stray around this small buffer zone town of Tala.In reply i asked him about his bravery of cycling alone through tiger territory  and prompt came the reply, the tigers recognize the forest guards "khakhi uniform" and hence are afraid of them! Bizarre logic. As a pet owner and at present having two cats i realize that cats recognize their human masters from other humans, besides, cats are carbon miniature copies of the "Big Cats". I  presume  the jungle tigers are accustomed to seeing "Khakhi Uniformed" men in their forests and are afraid of them.Remember, all the tigers in Bandhavgarh forests have grown up as cubs accustomed to seeing humans on cycles  and tourist jeeps, hence they are partially domesticated through sheer habit and routine.Its the occasional stray tiger that attacks  cattle or kills a human either accidentally or rarely intentionally and thereby branded a man-eater.In case of "Tiger Cattle Kills", the villager is compensated if the cattle was grazing in the buffer zone but wouldn't receive any compensation if grazing in the core zone of the tiger sanctuary.There have been instances of villagers poisoning tigers that have killed their livestock by poisoning the carcass.
Went back to the resort, thrilled at my discovery of at least viewing a tiger kill, an identical copy of the shikar books written by hunters almost a century ago!.The beauty of Natural history is that it never becomes redundant  with time and modernization , except that some animals, birds, reptiles, insects and amphibians become extinct over the years  due to deforestation , habitat destruction or  indiscriminate  human hunting..In the case of the tiger, it is definitely on the brink of extinction if its numbers are not increased drastically in the national parks of India, its last stronghold in the wild forests.Would  a naturalist like viewing tigers in a zoo ? As for me definitely not and i have visited some of the World's best zoo's including zoo's in India.
"Bandhavgarh School of Art" in Tala village  founded  by  Wildlife Artist Mr Mahesh.Jangam.

On my way to my room met  Sneha.Mani and she requested me to accompany her to the "Bandhavgarh school of Art" as she wanted to do some shopping.Walking alone in  Tala buffer zone is risky as sighting a tiger is not uncommon , besides, i had discovered a recent  tiger kill barely 500  meters from our resort.We must have not seen a tiger in the jungles but wouldn't be surprised if we came across a tiger in the vicinity of this buffer zone town.It was a short 5 minutes walk to the main road to "Bandhavgarh school of art" a small shop of tiger handicrafts, nature books and tiger paintings.Sneha was a linguist proficient in many Indian  languages besides French and German.She had conversed with the telivizion producer in French and anyone who has visited France knows that the French speak only French and English only in the tourism zones of France!In the shop came across the owner Mr Mahesh.Jangam , a wild-life painter specializing  as  a "Tiger Painter". The entire paintings in the shop were  his own creation.I informed him about the carcass discovery near our resort and he explained me the facts of tiger attacks and tiger sightings in Tala village.Tigers have been sighted on numerous occasions in the village, not  a surprise to the local villagers and residents of Tala buffer zone village. A cycle guard was once killed, his entire body eaten except the hand.According to him, a tigress with two cubs died in a road accident and hence its cubs became man-eaters, killing a few humans in Bandhavgarh forests..He sold his paintings for the benefit of tiger conservation besides encouraging young students to paint tigers.Its through meeting people living in the jungles and buffer zone areas of Bandhavgarh f that a tourist or conservationist can gain some insight into the elusive tiger, vastly reduced in numbers in its original habitat in India.A entire tourist economy revolves around this majestic and noble beast that forms the pinnacle of the predatory species in the  forest Eco-structure.Eliminate the tiger and the jungles will gradually de-generate over the years, least of all "Tiger tourism".Hope the Bandhavgarh tigers increase in population and other protected zones get populated for the benefit of tourists as well as the  tiger species.
After Sneha  finished her shopping we made our way back to the resort.On entry to the resort met the French documentary producer who wished  Sneha definitely surprised of her prowess in French language.I inquired about their itinerary and was told that they were leaving for Africa to continue their documentary on wild-life around the World.Spent the rest of my time  studying the  management structure of this beautiful resort.Power outages were a regular occurrence during our short stay and hence i  went to the generator room situated at a remote corner of the resort.I was filled with "shipping Nostalgia" on seeing the generator room, akin to a "emergency generator" on ships, small and compact with a switch-board.There was also a small  waste product fired boiler to generate hot water for the resort.Marine engineers usually branch out into the "5 star hotel industry " once they quit sea-sailing , the reasons obvious.A large hotel or resort is identical to a ships engineering  structure barring a few factors and modifications.
Went back to my room picked up my back-pack and made my way to the dining hall.This was our last lunch at this unique and beautiful jungle resort.
The entire tour group assembled at the dining hall at approx 1230 hrs, the hall being full due to additional tour package tourists.The Bandhavgarh national park closes for tourists during the monsoon months and hence June 30th was the last date for safari tours in the 3 zones. This explained the rush of tourists, besides, this was one of the best resorts in entire Bandhavgarh.Tour leader Mr Jogi .Prajapati had misplaced his cell-phone and was a worried man as all his transactions/business was through  a internet cellphone, the trend in 21st century communication.. We reassured him that he would ultimately find his phone and things settled down..After the normal prayer ritual we began our lunch, the non-vegetarian dish being egg-curry.Seems a group of tourists had managed to sight the elusive "Khitauli Zone" tiger in  the morning safari and we all were envious of them, the luck factor playing a crucial role. After lunch we all posed for a group photograph, memories of a  been here, seen that, done that but, missed seeing tiger, tiger !
Our cars arrived at the entrance gate of "Nature Heritage Resort" and we all boarded our respective vehicles. At approx 1345 hrs we drove away from the exotic and memorable "Nature Heritage resort" in Tala village of Bandhavgarh national park. On the way in the core area highway we spotted a large monitor lizard across the road and akin to a model it posed for photographs.Our last hope of tiger spotting  was to see a tiger crossing the core area highway  akin to the monitor lizard and that was a 1:1000 chance! The weather was cloudy and we experienced our first monsoon showers during the road travel to Jabalpur station.En-route had a short stop for tea and finally  at approx 1700 hrs reached Jabalpur station .A few train tickets had to be confirmed for coach/seat accomodation , including mine.Tour leaded Mr jogi.Prajapati confirmed our seat/coach nos and we whiled away our time outside the A/C waiting room, the station packed with passengers awaiting or disembarking their trains.

DEPARTURE JABALPUR AND ARRIVAL MUMBAI(Friday/Saturday 14/15-6-2013) :-Finally at  1930 hrs boarded our train "Garibrath Exp"on platform nos 1.Entered coach  G9/ seat 13 and made myself comfortable, an excellent a/c train.Our entire group was booked into different compartments with tour leader Jogi  being in compartment  G15 along with Denis and Praveen.. It was raining heavily on our departure from Jabalpur station.The train departed from Jabalpur at approx 1945 hrs, bringing an end  to  a memorable and eventful tour cum safari . Later in the night Romeo shifted to G15 and it must have been hilarious entertainment within themselves.As for me, avoided dinner and had a excellent nights sleep, the best ever sleep during my entire life-time travel on trains.Woke up at 0600 hrs and after the normal toilet routines made myself comfortable reading the novel "Deliverance" by James.Dickey. I always carry some reading material with me whenever on a tour, normally novels.Breakfast was normal "Vada/Paav(Veg burger)/tea", the typical Mumbai snack.Our train was delayed by 2 hours and finally reached Dadar station at approx 1400 hrs. Alighted my train and was thankful that the rains had stopped.Made my way to Dadar(West) and was unsuccessful in hiring a taxi, finally managing to board a bus ,bizarre!  Reached home to the welcome of my house-keeper Sabina.Dias , parakeet "Mittoo"  and my  small miniature tigers, traditional Persian cats Matahari and Matata. To understand "Big cat psychology" you have to first study the "Small cats Psychology".I was reminded of the hilarious satirical conservation documentary advertisement  on  "National Geographic" where wild-life filmmakers are documenting a normal day in the life of a common house  pet cat , the future of wild-life film-making if  the tiger and other "Big Cats" becomes extinct ! A strong and thought provoking message about the precarious existence of these beautiful  and magnificent animals in the wild jungles.The elusive tiger spotting trail continues and hopefully next year should spot a tiger in the natural wild forests of my country.