Bandhavgarh National Park & Our First Experience with Tigers

DSC_0210Safaris always sound like a fantastic idea.  And so restful.  Since the entire point is to have someone drive you around in a keep all day while you look at animals.

But.  And there is always a but.  I feel like I need to bust your ideals and tell you that Safaris are hard work.

There is nothing restful about getting up at the crack of dawn to spend 6 hours in a jeep followed by 2 hours at the lodge for showers and lunch.  Then another 6 hours in the jeep in the afternoon.  You arrive back at the lodge just in time to eat and fall asleep. And repeat the cycle the next day.

But the scenery and wildlife more than make up for the pain in the backside.  (Literally.  Have you ever spent 12 hours in a jeep for days on end?)  And the people.  I love all of the people at the Mahua Kothi Safari Camp at the Bandhavgarh National Park.  From the cook to the guy who came in to straighten up our rooms every time we left them.  I want to bring them all home with me.

And the rooms are very comfortable.  (I told you I was a spoiled traveler.)

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But back to the park.

The park is divided into three zones.  One entrance is 5 minutes from the camp.  But the other entrances are 30 minutes away down the bumpiest road!  It was easier to ride on the shoulder then to try to survive the pot holes in the pavement.

But once inside the park, the speed slows and the wildlife comes out on parade.

Bandhavgarh is famous for being home to the highest density of tigers.  And that’s what we were on – a Tiger Safari.  But on our first safari, we didn’t find any tigers.  But we did pass:

Deer.

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Birds.

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And peacocks.( by the way, peacocks sound like cats.  Specifically house cats.  ).

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More deer.

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And monkeys.

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And we did learn a very interesting story about this guy:

Turns out that there was a man-eating tiger in his village in the early 1900s.  So this villager, in his infinite wisdom, decided to tie his wife to a tree and use her as bait to attract the tiger.  And the first step of his plan worked.  But then he missed when he tried to shoot the tiger with his bow and arrow.  And by the time he made it down to his wife, she was already dead.  Then the tiger turned on him.  So he had a strong start but failed to finish the deal.

Anyway, the tigers didn’t get the message that they were supposed to be out and available for our viewing pleasure until our third safari drive.

Don’t get me wrong, they did try.  They left their footprints on the road for us to follow.  And they had regular schedule alarm calls from the local deer and monkey populations.  (An alarm calls is the noise that monkeys and deer make when they spot a predator.)

It took a few elephants to really convince the tigers that they needed to head in our direction.

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The three elephants slowly moved through the forest forcing the tigers to move if they didn’t want to get stepped on.  Well, the female tiger didn’t want to get stepped on.  The male was only moving because his female moved.  Silly women, always wanting to move when you want them to stay put.

The first thing you notice when two growling tigers head in the direction of your jeep is their incredible size.  They are at about 4 feet tall – taller than any cat we saw in Africa.  And more than capable of verbally displaying their anger at being disturbed from their mid-afternoon naps.

After a few minutes of running and growing, they settled in for a short cat nap.  The female was shy and settled down with her back to us.  But the male didn’t hide his face as well and you could see him through the bushes.

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By this time, all of the jeeps in the park have joined us.  Jostling for space.  Standing on top of their seats.  Trying to stand on our jeep.  It does rather ruin the viewing experience when you are surrounded by 40 people all trying to see. And talking.  Shouting.  There was even a baby crying.  Talk about communing with nature.

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14 jeeps.  6 passengers per jeep + guide and government official.  That’s a lot of people trying to see one animal.

The elephants made one final push, and the tigers started to head further up the road.  So all of the jeeps raced forward to see.  But they had the opposite effect than they intended and the tigers felt cut off so they backtracked to where we were and ran through the bushes no more than 15 feet from our jeep.

Of course, it happened so quickly that we don’t have a good picture.  So you will just have to take my word that it happened.

But then the sun began to set and we had to race it to the entrance to be out of the park by 6:30.  (Drivers are fined if they crowd to close to other vehicles  – except apparently when viewing tigers and can be banned from the park for 30 days if they are late exiting the park by closing time.)  We made it to the front with 2 minutes to spare.

So clearly, the best part of this stop was finally getting to see a tiger.  Actually, we got to see two tigers at one time.  Even better!

So Bandhavgarh was a success!

Both from a tiger viewing standpoint and from the 5 lbs weight gain challenge!  Unlimited Indian food has also been a success.

Tomorrow, we leave for Khana National Park and the &Beyond Banjaar Tola Safari Camp.

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