It was summertime and the temperature was hovering between 25 and 30 degree Celsius. The roads looked scorched and the trees parched. Water in our bottles was depleting in no time. And we were waiting for luck to smile on us.
In Magadi — the buffer zone of Bandhavgarh National Park — since tiger sightings were rare, we did not have high hopes. Mid way in the jungle safari our driver, who doubled up as a guide, changed the route. Since he was well-versed with the path, he decided to park near a watering hole, which had already touched bottom. “It is a hot afternoon, and they will come to drink water,” he quipped.
Our time limit to get out of the jungle was sunset, which was still an hour away. We prayed for a rare sighting. Confined within the jeep, we absorbed the beauty the jungle had to offer — spotted deer nibbling the scarce grass, vultures circling high in the sky, a Blue Jay bird posing for our shutters. The long trees made for a serene, dramatic view.
A few minutes later, what sounded like random jungle sounds to us, were the call of Sambar deer announcing the arrival of a tiger. Our driver jumped in his seat, cranked up the engine and stared into the wild figuring out the source of the sound. “Stay alert!” he ordered but of course, there was a flutter of excitement. He rushed the jeep towards the noise, accelerating and reversing with precision. He again raised his voice to quieten us. But by the time he finished saying, everyone had seen ‘him’ — Bokha, the tiger; the ruler of the Magadi zone. He was a few feet away. Not a single soul moved; the silence was deafening. Petrified, we tried to stand to catch a glimpse. The beast walked past us with poise that could beat a leading runway model. Coolly, he went down to the watering hole and made himself comfortable; in all probability aware of the 10 odd roving eyes on him.
Bokha was one of the senior most tigers of Bandhavgarh. He was named Rajbhera at birth but soon became popular as Bokha – the name given by the locals after he lost a tooth as a cub during a conflict with a tiger. He was usually identified by his giant pugmark. A few more jeeps reached the spot as the news of the sighting spread (the guides have a strong network). The shutter sound was endless, to capture Bokha on camera. For the next 20 minutes, we continued to observe the magnificent beast, who was splashing around and drinking the leftover water in the pool, to beat the sweltering summer heat. A rare sight!
A loud roar and with that he walks back into the forest with the same poise. That was our cue to leave. We had to exit before the sun set. Wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world come to India for a glimpse and most go back disappointed. I was overwhelmed that my first wildlife safari was a success. Nothing had prepared me for an encounter like this.
I glanced back at the jungle as our jeep crossed the outer check post. A sudden rush of emotions flooded me. I was ecstatic and melancholy, but most of all relieved to be back in civilisation, my comfort zone.
Bandhavgarh National Park is located in Umaria district in Madhya Pradesh and was declared a National Park in the year 1968. The park is open from October to June. Peak tourist season is from November to March though chances of tiger sighting are best during March to May due to dried up vegetation.
How to Reach
Bandhavgarh is well connected by road and the nearest major towns are Umaria, Jabalpur and Khajuraho.
Nearest train stations are Umaria (35 km) and Katni (100 km). The nearest airport is Jabalpur (approx 200 km) and Khajuraho (approx 250 km).
Numerous options are available for the budget and luxury travellers. The resorts provide meal throughout the stay as there aren’t any specific restaurants.
Standard resort: Mowgli Jungle Resort
Deluxe resort: Nature Heritage Resort
Luxury resort: Taj Mahua Kothi
Most hotels provide assistance in booking a safari. As there is a limit on number of vehicles, it is suggested that you book them early.