|Bandhavgarh Fort||Bandhavgarh - Paradise Regained||The Land of Kabir Tansen|
Bandhavgarh National Park
Can you think of an open Gypsy and a quite journey in silence through the thick forest trail? Imagine the alarm calls of the Langurs to warn you of the presence of the tiger. As the forest deepens and the quietness thickens, you can actually feel the tingling sensation on your nape of the neck. Then you see next is a sensational figure appearing from the dense bushes that carry majestic yellow and black stripes. The bright morning sun and its rays cast magical shapes from the on the forest grassland and your lungs are filled with fresh air.
This is the true experience of Bandhavgarh National Park that includes some of the Royal Bengal Tiger, which is the pride of the national park and Indian wildlife.
Although Bandhavgarh National park is relatively new nevertheless it holds a very long history. It is located amidst Vindhya hills of Madhya Pradesh and is spread across 168 miles or 437 sq km area. It also has one of the highest densities of Tigers in the region with a rich wildlife fauna. It is also known as the White Tiger Country. Maharaja MArtand Singh last hunted a white tiger in 1951 in the old state of Rewa. This white tiger also known as Mohun is now stuffed and hangs on the palatial walls of Maharaja of Rewa.
Bandhavgarh was earlier a Shikargah for the Maharaja of Rewa and was later declared as the National Park. Although Maharaja and his guests continued their hunting but the park was well-protected otherwise. Shooting 109 tigers was considered as a good omen for the Maharajas. 111 tigers were shot by Maharaja Venkatraman by the year 1914.
Bandhavgarh history and human settlement dates back to more than 2000 years and also has its reference in ancient scripture and books like the Shiva Puran and the Narad-Panch Ratra. Accoridng to the folk lore, Lord Rama, hero of the Ramayan, the Hindu epic, also stayed at Bandhavgarh while returning to his homeland after killing the demon King Ravana in Lanka. It is commonly believed that the two monkey architects responsible for engineering the bridge between the Indian mainland and isles of Lanka and built this Bandhavgarh's fort. Later Lord Rama’s borther Lakshmana was handed over the fort and he later became to be known as the Bandhavdhish or "The Lord of the Fort". He is still said to be the lord of the fort and is still worshipped at the temple in the fort.
The caves dug in sandstone speak of the earlier human habitation at the Bandhavgarh fort and lie on the north of the fort area. Most of these caves carry inscriptions in Brahmi inscriptions that date back to the 1st century AD, Vakatakas of the third century. Thereafter Bandhavgarh was ruled by various dynasties that included Bundelkhand’s Chandela Kings who are known for building the Khajuraoh caves in India. The direct descendants of royal family of Rewa, the Baghela kings also ruled Bandhavgarh and made it their capital till 1617. Later they moved to REwa which lies 7km away from the fort. With the absences of Royal patronage, Bandhavgarh became deserted and the forest manned the area to the extent that it became the hunting grounds later on. These forests now serve to preserve the wildlife in spite of the Maharajas making full use of their property. Each Maharaja set out to kill 109 tigers, which was considered as a good omen.
After independence Bandhavgarh was still a Maharaja;s private property until he later gave it up for the National Park to be formed in 1968. After the creation of the park it controlled the poaching activities, which helped in increasing the number of wild animals. Water shortage problem was solved by building water holes and small dams. Local cattle was stopped to graze on the park grounds the nearby villages that laid around the park boundaries were relocated. As the much-needed forest was preserved, the Tigers prospered and the extension of 1986 extension further provided desired accommodation.
You still need the permission of the Maharaja of Rewa to visit the fort which is conveniently obtainable locally. A trip to Bandhavgarh is complete only when you climb up to the fort.
You can reach the plateau by a footpath or a jeep track. It is advisable to visit the fort by the jeep rather than traversing the path on foot. You can conveniently park the vehicles on the south of the fort where there is lush jungle. This point is also called as the Shesh Saaiya. It gets its names from unique 35 foot or 11 meters long statue of Lord Vishnu in reclined position. It was carved approximately in the 10th century and is believed that river Charanganga flows through it. Spring water in a rectangular pool lies just below the statue and between the path to the main entrance of the fort.
There is 560 acres of grassland that lies across the imposing gateway. There are several turtle-filled tanks and several remains of human dwellings lie scattered on the grassland reminding of Rewa’s troops during the independence war. If you take a brisk walk from towards the south of the Shesh Saaiya, you can see several statues and temples that lay spread but your journey can easily take over more than an hour. On your journey you can see the 10th century carvings depicting incarnations of lord Vishnu. There is a 22 feet high statue of the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu. The Barah Bhagwan incarnation or the Boar carvings, small temple depicting the fish avatar, the tortoise incarnation and many more stand unenclosed flanked together by carvings of the Ganesha and other deities. The charm of discovering all such monuments in the jungle that lay un-spoilt and unexploited is quite enchanting. It is advisable to take a guide with you as many statues lie off the main path. You can also see the 12th century small temples in the premises which are also worth watching. These temples are now deserted but once the famous saint and fakir, Kabir Das lived and meditated in these temples.
The natural fortifications of the fort give magnificent sight of the nearby landscape. Vultures wheel around the cliff that mainly attracts blue rock thrushes and crag martins. There is also a small population of Blackbuck in the fort region that has been given protection from the Tigers and has been reintroduced in the park with the help of repairs to the stonework walls at the boundaries of the fort. Thus Bandhavgarh fort presents outstanding entertainment and bird viewing along with interesting historical remains that are definitely absent in other national parks of India.
GEOGRAPHY FLORA & FAUNA
There are nearly thirty-two hills at the Bandhavgarh park and the fort lies in the middle of these hills. The cliffs at the fort are nearly 2625 feet or 800 meters high and 1000 feet (300 meters) above the surrounding countryside. Sal trees cover nearly more than half the forest area but upper side of the hill is full of mixed forest of comprising of saj, sal, and dhobin. Winter prevails from November to February and temperatures vary from nearly freezing at night to daytime temperature reachinh up to 68 degree Fahrenheit. Nights in summer are also cooler as compared to the daytime temperature that reaches up to 104 degree Fahrenheit. July to October is the breeding season and the park is closed by then. This season also coincides with the rainy or the monsoon season. Bandhavgarh experiences average rainfall of about 50 inches (120cm) annually.
WITHIN THE PARK
Bandhavgarh is more famous for its tiger fauna but you can also experience other rich wildlife sightseeings as well. The undergrowth is not as dense as the terai region and summer is still the best season to see the park inhabitants when water is scanty and the undergrowth also dies.
Elephant ride is the most effective way of tiger sightseeing and it is good if you book the elephant well in advance. You should also carry lot of warm clothes as nights and early mornings can be especially chilly. The Mahouts of the park are well informed about Tiger’s presence on any particular day. Moreover, there is large number of tigers and the elephants can easily take you to steep and rocky hillside as well as down the marshy river beds. Traversing such terrains can be quite difficult.
There are many good weather roads as well in the park where you can travel in jeeps. They can be easily hired from Tiger’s Den Resort and you should always be accompanied by a forest guide. You can enter the park only during the daytime. The best time to go sightseeing is during the dawn and the dusk when the animals come out for hunting or for water.
One of the shyest animals, the Chinkara, can often be spotted on the formerly cultivated land in the southern region of the park. You can also spot the nilgai, wild boar and chusingha and can occasionally hear jackal or fox calls. Sambhar and Muntjac prefer dense vegetations and are seldom spotted. The leopards of the park or the Chitals as well as Tigers are also rarely sighted by chance as they also dwell in dense vegetations.
The black-faced langur and the rhesus macaque are two most common types of monkeys in the park. Drives through the jungle can also occasionally spot reveal hyenas, jungle cats, ratels, porcupines and other different types of mammals. Various migratory birds and preying birds like steppe eagle can also be seen at Bandhavgarh along with a variety of wildfowl.
The afternoon rides can also be as exciting as the morning safaris. You may also be gifted by an occasional sightseeing of the tiger and you can continue till the dusk falls and you can hear the cacophony of birds returning to their nests. It can be quite an enchanting experience.
Enjoy the bonfire nights at the Bandhavgarh National park amidst the callings of jackals and crackling bonfire. You can see the silhouette of the trees against the moonlit sky or hear a deep rumbling roar of the tiger in the jungle.
The whole journey is a mixed experience of ecstasy as well as depression. Ecstasy to experience the rich wild fauna and see the tiger but depression to see the dwindling Tiger population in the forest! It makes one wonder whether our children will be able to enjoy the same experience as ours when they grow up!