Bandhavgarh is timeless. If there is any yardstick that can measure the beauty of Mother Earth’s best creation, this place ranks very high. A dream destination, Bandhavgarh is the one of the world’s last strongholds of tigers- Tiger density is very high here, second only to Kaziranga and sightings are also frequent making it a popular terminus for tiger lovers.
The essence of my hobby (now a full-time engagement), wildlife and nature photography introduced me to this patch of Eden. I followed the scent of my dreams and landed here more frequently than any other park. With each visit I left a piece of me at Bandhavgarh and instead what it offered me was unquantifiable- a lifetime of memories.
In the heartland of India, this place has been long documented and many striped wonders have evolved through the films of BBC and Nat Geo. It gave the world some of the most popular Tigers revered for its bravery and pride. These tigers have grown under the watchful eyes of the forest department, public and filmmakers as over the years and the fearlessness has been factored into their genes bringing them alive from the alleys of mystery. Here the Tigers love to walk on the soft sand roads and many a times are found sitting or sleeping on the tracks unperturbed by the world falling apart on the other side.
The Tiger here is an indication to the rich bio-diversity the park carries. There are no Elephant or Gaur to disturb the Tiger (though Gaurs were re-introduced a few years ago). With over 22 species of mammals and around kinds of 250 birds Bandhavgarh is a hot spot of India’s varied biodiversity.
Stepping beyond the wildlife, Bandhavgarh is also rich in history and mythology dating back to Ramayana. It is believed that lord Rama gifted this fort to his brother Laxmana to keep an eye over Sri Lanka and hence the name Bandhavgarh (Brother’s fort). Many dynasties have ruled here – This place was the erstwhile game reserve of maharajas of Rewa as the first White Tiger was captured here in 1951.
Home to some very famous tigers in India, Sita and Charger have left their legacy and stories for ages to come. All Tigers in the park today are considered to be of the same gene pool. There are many videos and documentaries on this pair but the most famous Tiger from Bandhavgarh that has awed us is B2, son of another famous Tigress Mohini. Charger died in the year 2000 and my sojourn to Bandhavgarh began in 2003 when B2 was in his prime. I was lucky to see him in my first trip and there was no looking back from there.
The raw wilderness of my early years at Bandhavgarh was simply mesmerizing and I made a few quick trips in the first few months. I remember Mr Rajvardhan (a famous conservationist and hotelier) told me this on my second trip “Sandeep, you are now hooked on to this forest”. I sure was and then my series of regular visits to Bandhavgarh started. Most times it was a phone call from my guide or driver which prompted the trip but any excuse to get there was executed to perfection. My family is been there multiple times with me and they have enjoyed being there each and every time.
Bandhavgarh has been a perfect spot for me to learn. It has taught me patience, observation and behavior as I have watched and understood closely the behavior of Tigers along with its various other inhabitants.
What makes this forest a photographer’s delight is the varied landscape, numerous water bodies, mountains, old caves, vast grasslands and an imposing fort. Since this forest is visited by photographers from around the globe, one needs to find ways of getting creative in capturing and presenting his or her work. Knowing Tiger behavior is very imperative in capturing the right moment. Some old and experienced guides here can make out if you got or missed the shot by just hearing your camera shutter. I have personally experienced it once when after the safari the guides from other vehicles came to look at my picture, upon casually asking why they said our guys missed the shot as the shutter was not sounding at the right moments.
Bandhavgarh has three zones and different route in every zone. The routes are planned in such a way that Tiger sighting is easy, especially around the water holes in summer. Knowing
Tiger behavior and patience is the key. This helps you decide the placement of vehicle and shooting angles as you are not alone, there are many other vehicles and photographers. Information on sighting comes from locals and guides and is critical in deciding which gate to choose for the next drive. I remember in 2011, Sukhi Patiha 1st litter was sighted regularly around Charkhwah water hole which is an hour’s drive from Magdhi gate at Bhadrashila. My driver suggested we try spot booking at Gohri gate which is just 15 minutes away from the spot. The gate was far and we reached there after an hour long drive on broken bumpy roads but the end result was sweet. We got to the spot first, had an exclusive 45 minutes with the tiger family before any other vehicle showed up. The street smartness and on the spot decision making helped us get some exclusive frames of Sukhi Patiha mother and her two grown up boys.
I have had some great experiences and moments in this park which is etched in my memory for ever. It has been a wonderful journey through these years – Bamera with first battle scars when he picked up fight with Bokah, Tiger drinking water at Rajbehra, B2 at Ghoda Damon, bumping into Bhagoda, Banbei with kill, Rajbehra female as a cub years ago and her growing up through the years or Sukhi Patiha third litter playing in water and doing a ramp walk few days later, Mirchaini in her cave and Bamera walking behind my jeep for a few KMs. These are memories as if it happened only yesterday..
The other thing that is also critical to my mind is focus. We must stay focussed on what we want to see and here is one of the many examples. We once heard that Mukunda Male is seen near Mahaman water tank and I never had pictures of this shy male. While there were a lot of sighting of Mirchaini and Sukhi Patiha family, we decided to stay focused on this male. We did not find him for the next four safari drives and kept hearing stories from others over dinner about the sightings in other areas. We did not move away from our plan and decided to take a chance for the next two safaris. And it surely paid off – We stopped at Mahaman dam as usual and after all the other safari vehicles moved on, this guy came out and sat right in the middle of the road; as if he was waiting for the rush to get over and here we were, with the most handsome male exclusively for the next one hour. He sat for a while, walked gracefully, scent marked a tree, got down to mahaman tank and gulped down a truck load of water.