Bheema: The Peaceful Warrior of Kanha National Park passes away

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park
Bheema in Kanha National Park

It was in September 2016 that I wrote of the The Big Four Tigers of Mukki in Kanha. These Tigers had attracted the attention of all the Tiger lovers worldwide in the last 3 years. The most commonly sighted Tiger amongst them was Bheema, the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park.

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha Nationa Park

Almost everyone was beginning to reconcile that the Tiger behavior was changing in Kanha. Their belief stemmed from the fact that the four big male Tigers had accepted each other in a small area of under 300 sq kms. There were skirmishes on and off in the last couple of years. They all got injured, and recovered too.  But deep down few knew that Kanha Tigers are fighters and not quitters. They live and die like Tigers in territorial fights. It was a matter of time before they would show their true colors. Come October 2016, and we saw departure of Rajaram in a fatal territorial encounter with Umarpani male. You may read the same in the below link:

Rajaram (Kingfisher) Tiger dies in a territorial fight in Kanha National Park

Umarpani male is a huge and a powerful Tiger in his prime with some extra-ordinary lineage. You might like to read about him here.

People were still coming to terms with the death of Rajaram when Bheema was found in a condition bordering death. The Mahouts found him gravely injured while patrolling on their elephants. Such was his condition that the department could not even think of tranquilizing him lest he succumb to his injuries. He was lifted and placed on a stretcher by the forest department while conscious. I do not recall any incident when a Tiger has been lifted without tranquilizing in the wild or even in a zoo.

He was taken to a natural enlarged enclosure where he was put under observation and treatment. Apparently the damage to him was considerable, and he was in no condition for a surgery. A team of expert vets were summoned from across the country.

Bheema was born in July/August of 2011.

His father was Kankata and mother was Budbudi. He was one in the litter of four. One of his siblings Bajrang is still doing well in another zone of Kanha. Bheema was frequently sighted in Mukki and Kisli zones. He was one Tiger who was not shy of tourists, and gave ample photo opportunities, sighted almost twice a week if not more in his peak days, i.e. until summer of 2016. Usually his sighting was not just a glimpse. He was often seen walking on the vehicle tracks for kms. After his sighting the tourists would go back satiated and delighted always.

My personal experience with Bheema; the Peaceful Warrior

It was 11th June 2015, an afternoon safari. I had just finished an amazing sighting / session with Umarpani male which lasted about 30 minutes when we decided to go and wait at the Babathenga waterhole. We had zero expectation of any sighting. The weather was a bit humid, and suddenly we hear a sambar alarm call. For a moment I did not believe my ears, I looked at Naren on the wheels and the second alarm call.

Now, when a Sambar deer calls it is most certain that he has sighted a Tiger. And if he calls twice in succession then it means that the Tiger is active. We started our vehicle and headed just 50 meters ahead from where the call came. As we reached the area, the sambar called again. We switched off the ignition and waited.

Anxious moments…

I always advise my guide, and whoever accompanying me in the jeep never to stand up, just stay seated. Reason being, that more often than not the Tiger would see the standing eager people before the people will see him. When everyone’s eyes are eagerly searching for the big cat, there is a lot of nervous energy around. The Tigers are highly sensitive and would usually change direction when they notice anxiety. Hence everyone was seated, calmly active and actively calm in my vehicle.

Then Raju our guide pointed in one direction and murmured the most anticipated word, “Sirji Tiger”. His face was seen  from the tall grass. As everyone was seated in the car, the Tiger found a conducive atmosphere to make an appearance. We waited for him to come completely out of the grass. Once he did we started our vehicle and turned right where we expected him to follow us. Sure he did like an obedient son.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema coming out of the grassland near Babathenga

Tete-a-Tete with Bheema

Then started my vigorous clicking. We maintained a safe distance. I kept giving him mental assurance that “i love you my handsome boy”. He followed us, and did everything that a Tiger on his territorial round would do. Scratching, marking, spraying, flehmen, sit, roll, everything. In about twenty minutes that he followed me i clicked close to 400 shots. He was not leaving our trail. Finally Naren said, “Sir, it is time to go, we have only 30 minutes left for park closure time and we must move”. With a heavy heart i confirmed and we changed course.

On our way back, i started to think of various safaris i had done in my last 27 years in India. Two memorable sightings are, my very first Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore in 1990. And, second would be this sighting. Though there are many memorable ones, but getting two different male Tigers, and both head on for a considerable time in less than one hour is unusual.

Why i called him the Peaceful Warrior;

I called him the Peaceful warrior because he peacefully carried many combat medals (injury marks) on his shoulders with pride of a warrior. If I was to compare him with Link 7 aka Chotta Munna, or Umarpani male, Bheema was the most peaceful Tiger. He never unnecessary challenged any other Tiger for territory.  Stayed mostly in his own territory, and defended it pretty well till almost the last 3-4 months of his reign. His skirmishes with Chotta Munna in 2015 were quite one sided where he chided him away comfortably.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema carrying the trophies of many battles he fought and won.
Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema with many injury marks on his shoulders was a warrior who fought many battles.

But Chotta Munna has genes of Munna  (a legendary Tiger of Kanha). At 15 Munna is still fighting, and surviving. Chotta Munna started to give Bheema some tough time toward middle of 2016. On 1st October 2016 when the park reopened for tourism Bheema was sighted with a limp, and it seemed he had lost considerable amount of weight. He looked a much smaller version of his former self. Subsequently his sightings reduced.

Was he unable to hunt? Was he carrying some injury? Or, was he ill? There was nothing of consequence visible on him. There is no protocol to interfere in the lives of wild Tigers in India. The department only intervenes when they feel that the injury is serious and can disable the Tiger.

The passing of the Peaceful Warrior

On 4th December he was found by the patrolling forest staff. He was frail, his forelimb badly eaten by maggots. And he was found in the territory of Umarpani male. It is possible due to the constant disturbance by Chotta Munna he left his area and ventured into Umarpani male’s territory. I have always maintained that Umarpani male is the biggest surviving Tiger of central India right now. Not only in size, but in strength, and confidence also he is unmatched. The fact that he has dominated Mukki practically since 2011 speaks volumes about his demeanor.

Bheema was also not a diminutive Tiger by any yard of imagination Afterall he was given his name Bheema for a reason. He would have been a dominating Tiger in any other landscape besides Mukki. It was unfortunate that he got stuck between the two sons of Munna (Umarpani and Chotta Munna), else he would never have gone in his prime.

His fans including me were praying that he survives. But when i heard that the chances of survival are minimal i prayed for his ordeal to end.

Having seen Tigers for some decades now, i think, Tigers are born to fight. They survive because they fight. Choice is either they fight or they die. The end is mostly they fight and they die. Such is the life of a Tiger.

Sharad Vats

 

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The Biggest Tiger of Central India; the Umarpani Male of Kanha National Park

Tigers of Kanha are known to be big in size. And, i am putting my neck on the block by making such a statement. But having observed Tigers for close to 28 years in many nationals parks (specially in the Central India highlands) i think this guy has it all going for him as far as size, strength, and stealth is concerned. Umarpani male, slightly premature to crown him as the future King of Kanha as there is some serious competition on the cards from Chotta Munna who is taking his father’s legacy very seriously.

A lot of this has to be dedicated to his genes. His forefathers have been dominating Tigers in Kanha for past generations. Let us see which lineage does he come from.

The lineage of Umarpani male:

Father is Munna, the legendary Tiger who has CAT spelt on his forehead. At 15 years of age, Munna is still controlling the main tourism zone of Kanha. The world knows him, and he needs o further introduction. Munna’s father also known as the Limping male was one of the dominating and a huge Tiger before Munna.

Tigers of Kanha
Limping male, father of Munna, and grand father of Umarpani male
Tigers of Kanha
Munna, father of Umarpani male, photo by Naren

Mother is Umarpani female, the daughter of Banda, the dominant male Tiger of Kanha before Munna, and Sonapani female, who in turn is the sister of legendary Laxmi (not same litter). This is the reason for her size. Her size confused people with a male Tiger quote often. So her genes come from dominating male and popular Tigresses of Kanha.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpnai female, daughter of Banda and mother of Umarpani male,. Photo by a past guest of ours.

Umarpani male:

He was born around Nov 2009, they were two brothers and sister in the litter. The other male cub was even bigger than him. He was shaping up well until about 2 years old when tragedy struck. When and where he disappeared alongwith his sister none know. Umarpani male is the smaller of the two brothers. At times i wonder if his brother was around what would have been his size.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male in 2014 (5 years old)

My first sighting of Umarpani male was in December 2014. I mostly followed him from behind, and only for few seconds i was able to take some of his side flanks. He was about 5 years at that age. His muscular build was very obvious.

Tiges of Kanha
Umarpani male in June 2015, 6 years old

Then i saw him in June 2015. Behold, I was in a state of shock when he turned to look at me. I skipped a heartbeat or two. Never before any Tiger seemed so big to me. From close quarters lot of Tigers look big. But this fellow’s largeness was evident even from a distance. It was not only his size that stole my heart, but his looks, and presence are of a killing machine. I am not sure how many people have had the opportunity of photographing Umarpani male for 30 minutes or more. But after that sighting i thought if i do not see Tigers for next 2 years i am fine, as i thought i had seen the best.

Who is bigger Munna or Umarpani male?

Today when i sit back and compare both these big Tigers, Umarpani male outshines Munna very comfortably in size, and semblance. And this i am comparing Munna in his prime. The skull of Munna is big, but Umarpani male’s skull is bigger, wider, and with a larger circumference. Though the height and length of both would be similar, but sheer compactness and crassitude of Umarpani puts him in a class of his own. His overall bone structure, bigger limb bones, and wider skeleton puts him on a pedestal where his huge father starts to look minor in size compared to him.

After all Umarpani male has the advantage of his mother’s genes as well. She was one of the largest Tigress of Kanha ever.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male; the sheer size of his skull is matchless

Umarpani vs Bheema

Bheema is thinner, infact much thinner compared to Umarpani male. They might seem to be of same height and length but girth wise Umarpani male outclasses him. Bheema’s bone structure is lean, smaller frame compared to Umarpani. And his skull lacks the monstrosity of Umarpani. Bheema weighed 225kgs when he was just 2.5yrs old  (vs Jai 220kgs full grown). Bheema with his winter coat would be 280kgs plus, and yet Umarpani male outmatches him in summer. Now again for a moment think about Umarpani’s brother who was even bigger than him. What a loss to Kanha by his mystifying disappearance.

Tigers of Kanha
Bheema, June 2015

Umarpani vs Rajaram (Kingfisher)

I have been a fan of Kingfisher too as he was a peaceful Tiger who in terms of size looked similar from a distance. He like Chotta Munna gave ample opportunities to tourists to see him from close quarters. But as one would look at him closely he seemed like a Tiger on steroids. He was shorter in height compared to Uma male. Maybe hence he lacked the core muscles and his belly literally touched the ground. Length-wise also he was smaller than Bheema and Uma male. When someone saw him with a full belly he looked like a big Tiger, while he was actually a big belly Tiger. Also from the Tiger point of view he did not have the cuts and contour of a competitive cat. He seemed to be lot of fat, and lacked muscular manifest.

The fatal fight, October 2016: Umarpani male vs Rajaram

Umarpani had a close skirmish with Rajaram in January 2015, wherein he got Rajaram to retreat. Though both seemed to have some injuries, but Rajaram left his area, and stayed away. So Uma male had a measure of him from the past fights while Chotta Munna did not. So had it been Chotta Munna in the territorial fight even he would have sustained injuries. But Uma male had the knowledge of the mass and might of Rajaram so it was most likely him, and only him who could have given the fateful bite.

Another point that would point towards this direction is that the fight most likely did not last long. Uma male nailed him fast and furious, cause had it lasted long even Umarpani male would have sustained injuries, which he did not. He was sighted a couple of days later moving quite briskly by the forest department.

Tigers of Kanha
Rajaram aka Kingfisher male
Tigers of Kanha
Rajaram and Umarpani male in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik

Above fight between the two was in January 2015.

No one has any evidence of the fight of October 2016, as it was seen by none. But the past records, and strength of Umarpani male tilt indication towards him. He usually avoids limelight, and prefers giving the tourist vehicles a skip. Uma male is mostly sighted crossing the tracks, even if he follows a vehicle it is not for a great distance. But this behavior might undergo some change now and people might start seeing him more. As killing Rajaram has given him extra expanse in territory, and confidence for sure.

Umarpani vs Chotta Munna (Link 7)

This will be the comparison for the future, or fight for the No 1 slot. Chotta Munna has the attitude of his father. He has gained in size over last 4-5 months. But being younger to Umarpani male would most likely be a tad deficient in strength as on date. But Chotta Munna seems to be catching the eye balls of everyone as he is one tourist friendly Tiger. On the contrary Umarpani male is shy.

Tigers of Kanha
Link 7 Tiger Photo by Naren Malik

With Rajaram out of the equation, it is but natural that Umarpani and Chotta Munna will expand their territory. It cannot now be ruled out that Kanha might witness another superiority sparring between these two males in the near future. It is unlikely that anyone will lose easily without giving the other some serious agony. I would pray that they both survive in case such a situation arises, as both are very strong contenders to be the next Legend of Kanha after Munna. May the strong genes of Tigers of Kanha prosper far and wide.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male

I would like to thank Minh Ha and Naren Malik for providing some crucial information on lineage, and Naren for some images as well. A special mention here for Minh Ha whose knowledge on Tigers of India is nothing short than encyclopedic. He is an inspiration to many.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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Rajaram (Kingfisher) Tiger dies in a territorial fight in Kanha National Park

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram, not sleeping but territory marking.

Rajaram (Kingfisher) 2010-2016

The inevitable has happened, the unprecedented has ended. It was building up for a little over last 2 years. Rajaram, a.k.a Kingfisher’s body was found in Mukki zone on October 28th morning. Apparently, there were injury signs on his neck and shoulders. So it is concluded that it was a territorial fight. Well, there couldn’t have been anything else in this case. The area where his body was found is right in the heart of the tourism zone, which is monitored well by the forest guards and the tourists too. So, no untoward incident or accident could have happened here.

Since almost 30 months Mukki zone was prowled by 4 big male Tigers. Umarpani male, Bheema, Link 7 (Chotta Munna) and Rajaram aka Kingfisher. There were territorial tussles, devilish roaring, blood drops, naked claws, wounds and some scared to death tourists.

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram and Umarpani male in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik

It was expected in 2014 itself that a fatal fight is round the corner. But all the male Tigers despite the differences had begun to give space to each other. Their intensity and frequency of fights had reduced over last one year. Many thought that these males had accepted each other. But how wrong was everyone in defining the behavior of these Tigers.

A very handsome male Tiger in his peak, Rajaram was 6 years old. He belonged to the Neela Nallah litter.

Sighting Rajaram during a Safari in Kanha

I can never forget the morning of December 13th 2015. We had just about crossed Andh Kuan, when we see this male Tiger walking briskly towards us. We started to retreat. His walk had a purpose. Naren said, this is Rajaram. I threw away (within the vehicle of course) all the winter layers, and was on the starting blocks like Usain Bolt. He walked behind us for over 2kms, and gave me plenty of opportunities to shoot him.

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram walked 2kms with us, and made eye contact several times

This particular sighting was possible due to my dear Naren Malik, and Preetam the forest guide. A brilliant team effort which saw us cross the line, and gave me immense pleasure.

Rajaram a family member to many

Sad part was that the news of his death was broken to me by Naren Malik, who sounded shattered on phone. He was unconsolable. For Naren, this is just not a loss of a Tiger. It is loss of a family member. People like Naren are bonded with their Tigers, as they track and see them often, and for years. Day in, and day out, weeks, months, and seasons go by, seeing, appreciating, and photographing these Tigers. It is a personal loss for Naren and other naturalists who love Kanha and it’s Tigers like family. And also for all those whom he showed Rajaram, me included.

I feel your pain Naren because of this loss. But my friend, it is a actually a gain. Tigers like Rajaram have left such an indelible mark on people’s mind that those people are today Kanha lovers.

Rajaram Tiger in Kanha
Rajaram aka Kingfisher in Kanha

Please don’t be distraught, the journey is far from over. Banat Banat Banjaye (keep on keeping on).

Who fought and overpowered Rajaram?

I am writing this when there is incomplete information on, with whom was the fight? Which Tiger? Hopefully in next few days the Tiger who killed Rajaram will show up with some injuries. For sure Rajaram would have gone down fighting till his last breath. Hence he would have wreaked some serious damage to his opponent. Is that opponent Chotta Munna (Link 7), unlikely, as he was sighted just today morning, absolutely fit. Was it Bheema? Maybe, but again unlikely as he was a bit frail over last 10-15 days, and also injured. Though Bheema had the power going for him, but in current situation it seems tough.

So was it Umarpani in that case? Most likely, as in the past they have both fought, and mostly Umarpani male has come out triumphant in all past fights. Besides, Umarpani male out-matches Rajaram in size, strength, and stealth.

Rajaram in Kanha
Hulk of a Tiger; Rajaram

While writing this piece I can see Rajaram’s eyes looking at me. Rajaram was one Tiger who looked you in the eye peacefully, plainly and assuredly. There were moments during my last sighting that we (me and him) were on same eye level, and not once i felt threatened.

Rajaram you will remain in my heart till it beats. You were not beaten my friend, you are liberated.

Have a peaceful onward journey.

Sharad Vats

P.S. He was aka Kingfisher for the sign of a flying Kingfisher just above his right eye.

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Tatkal scheme in Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore National Park is an ideally located national park in India. Taj, Temples and Tigers is considered quintessential India experience. Ranthambhore provides the Tiger, while Taj and Temples are taken care of by Agra, Jaipur and Delhi.

Plenty of tourists plan their tours at the last moment. And with huge demand of safari permits, these last minute tourists were going disappointed. Hence to ensure that most of the last minute tourists get to visit the park the Forest management has started the Tatkal scheme in Ranthambhore National Park.

Ranthambhore National Park
T64 in Ranthambhore National Park

In this scheme there is an additional quota of 20 Jeeps kept aside for the last minute bookings. Maximum 6 guests are allowed per Jeep. The permit cost under Tatkal scheme is Rs 10000 per Jeep, over and above the usual charges of Rs 4400 per Jeep. The total cost is high, but if one is willing to pay there is a guarantee for a safari. Simultaneously this is also expected to reduce the black marketing of the safari permits.

The tatkal scheme was implemented on 1st October. And the sale in the first 10 days has generated an additional revenue of Rs 5.7 lakhs. The management plans to use this additional revenue for Tiger conservation. These are surely good signs from revenue perspective for the park.

New changes in the Ranthambhore National Park tourism policies

The park management has also opened a new zone No 11 next to Keladevi sanctuary.  This zone will accommodate the last minute bookings without adding any pressures on the existing zones.

To better manage the tourists near the entrance during the personal verification process they have segregated the tourists as per the zones. The entry and exit points of zone, 1, 4, and 5 have been realigned to facilitate tourists flow, and reduce waiting time at the gates.

Full day safari permits are also being issued. There are couple of eco-shelter facilities being developed at Amli deh, Depura Bandha, and Balash chowki. The guests can wait at these spots before restarting the safari.

Half day permits are also being issued and 5 additional Jeeps are kept aside for the same. The costs for the full day and half day safaris is higher than the normal safaris. But for the devoted, and sincere lovers of nature who wish to be inside the park longer it is a good opportunity to avail if one can afford it.

Ranthambhore National Park
Tiger in Ranthambhore National Park

Lot of people might say that this is excess of tourism. Honestly speaking it is not. If well managed and regulated, tourism is a huge tool for conservation. How? Well, tourism increases awareness, and awareness increases a will to conserve. Besides, it also generates extra revenue. This additional revenue if used judicially for benefit of local community and the forest can be a wonderful thing for Ranthambhore.

I think this will be a great thing to practice for rest of the national parks also. Regulate responsible tourism, generate addition revenue and conserve the community and the forests.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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Will Panna be doomed?

I am beginning to feel for the soul of Panna National Park. It has already suffered a lot. In 2008 Panna lost all it’s Tigers to poachers. Panna became a closed chapter for many. But for one man, ably supported by his team, Mr Murthy revived Panna by his ironical will, and determination. It was an uphill task for him to bring Panna from ZERO to THIRTY FOUR Tigers. And now when Tigers had started to roar again in Panna, the news comes of a large chunk of Panna being drowned due to Ken-Betwa river linking project.

What is this river linking project? Our former Prime Minister (Mr A.B. Vajpayee) decided to mitigate the drought in the hilly regions of Bundelkhand. The whole region was practically parched, and agriculture was suffering. People had begun to leave their native towns and villages in search of work. Lot of farmers from Chattarpur area now work in metro cities as labour. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to link the two rivers of the region, so that excess water in the basin of Ken river could be diverted via a canal to the Betwa river thus irrigating lakhs of hectares of land.

But to divert this water the Daudhan dam is required to be built.  This will submerge a substantial habitat of our national animal, the Tiger. Infact, the wildlife experts like Mr Ranjitsinh feel that Panna National Park will be bifurcated. If this comes about to be true, then nothing and no one will be able to save Panna. The river basin has lot of grass and food for the herbivores, when this area gets submerged due to the dam, the herbivores will move on. This will affect the quality of habitat in a big way and what happens to the Tigers then is anyone’s guess.

What is being done in this project?

A 230km canal linking the two rivers is a humongous task. This will take a few months and few thousand men working round the clock to complete. Does so much of work in the heart of the forest disturb the wildlife? Without doubt, considerably, and beyond reformation.

But a bigger question arises now, what is the solution and how we can fulfill the needs of humans and Tigers both. Is there one, if at all?

I was in the region this May (2016), and again in August (2016). As luck would have it, i saw both the rivers in May. To my surprise it was Ken which had far lesser water compared to Betwa. I spoke to some locals in the region, and they all confirmed that Betwa has more water compared to Ken year round. But it is Ken which gets more water during the monsoons. So, if the project is to divert water during monsoons only then it is perhaps a good thought. But at what cost? Tigers? Forests? Too huge a price to pay i guess.

In August 2016 when i visited, Ken was brimming with water this year. But that was also because this year the rain gods have been more generous in this area.

My personal opinion

Nature is almighty supreme. It will find a way around this man made misadventure. Nature has survived without man for eons, and if we do not change, nature is prepared to survive alone. The experts and activists have tried a lot but could not convince the Government to stop this river linking. As of now there is little that we can do, but hope and pray that good sense prevails and the Government let’s go of this project.

Let us remember the fact that the human population is only increasing, and the forests and glaciers are only shrinking. From the forests of India around 300 rivers originate. Would someone not think that if Ken has more water today, then does Panna contribute to it? Logically, scientifically, yes? So if we take away the forest will the water not reduce? Isn’t this an elementary conclusion. What if these 10000 crores are spent, and Ken just dries up? Is there any insurance that the Govt will claim, and get the river back. I doubt it.

Praying for Tigers of Panna, and i am optimistic that they will be fine, as nature when it falls sick takes an antibiotic just like us humans. It is sad that those antibiotics are floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes and everything that harms humans than it benefits.

All, i can say at this point in time is, Lord, let thy will be done.

Sharad Vats

 

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Bandhavgarh of bygone times.

There is a lot of history hidden in the forests of Bandhavgarh. The Bandhavgarh Fort inside the national park is considered over 2000 years old. There is a mention of the Bandhavgarh Fort in Narad Panch Ratra, and Valmiki’s Ramayana. It is said that after killing the demon King Ravana, Lord Rama stopped here. He asked Nal and Neel, the two monkey architects to make this fort. It was these two who had also made the bridge to go to Lanka in the Indian ocean. The idea to make this fort was basically to keep an eye on Lanka from here, as this is one of the highest hills of central India. He made his younger brother Lakshman as resident deity of the fort. So the fort gifted to a brother (Bandhu in Hindi), came to be known as Bandhavgarh. Lakshman is also called as Bandhavdeesh after this.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort entrance
Bandhavgarh Fort
Inside the Bandhavgarh Fort

History of Bandhavgarh

Around the fort there are caves dug in sandstone which are over 2000 years old. One can see the Brahmi inscriptions on the walls of these caves. It is said that many saints and sages meditated in these caves. The Maghas, the Vakatakas, the Chandels inherited the seat of this fort. Finally in the 12th century the Baghels laid their claim on this fort, and until 1969 the Royal family of Rewa ruled this fort. The Royal family played a big role in conservation of Bandhavgarh. Though they did some hunting in this area, but they overall protected it as well. Once it was declared as a national park in 1969, they vacated the fort. Inside the fort one can still see the remains of the court, the treasury, the temple, the horse stable, and the school etc.

You can also see the statues of the Dashavatar (the ten incarnations) of Lord Vishnu here. There are two big lakes in the fort. The story goes that the water from these lakes seeps in, and then emerges from the foot of a 32 feet reclining Vishnu statue at Shesh Shaiya. Thereon this stream is known as Charan Ganga which flows through the Chakradhara meadow, alongside Siddbaba, and out of the park).

Bandhavgarh Fort
Brahmi inscriptions considered over 1000 years old
Bandhavgarh Fort
Caves where the saints meditated few centuries back
Bandhavgarah Fort
The Statues in the Fort

Kabir in Bandhavgarh

The famous mystic poet saint of 14th century, Kabir also spend quite a few years in the fort meditating, and writing his famous Dohas (the couplets famously known as the Kabir Vaani). There is a Kabir hermitage in the fort. On my visit here i was shown a secret escape from a room in this hermitage which apparently Kabir used often to move out from the fort. This escape used to take him to Kashi (Varanasi) to meet his Guru (Master). The Kabir panthis (followers of Kabir) gather here in the month of August every year for a two day celebration. This is the largest gathering of Kabir followers worldwide. They walk on foot till the Fort, stay put there, and come back after two days.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Kabir Ashram (hermitage) inside the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Matsaya (Fish) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Varaha (Wild Boar) Avtar statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Kurma (Tortoise) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Buddha Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The workmanship

It is indeed sad that after the Supreme Court decision in 2012 visit to this fort has been prohibited.  The reason is that this fort is right in the heart of the core zone of Bandhavgarh, and to go up to the fort one has to trek about 25 minutes from Shesh Shaiyya. Needless to mention that there are Tigers and other wildlife in and around the fort, hence it is not considered safe to walk up. Besides it does disturb the wildlife too. I have personally seen Sita with her cubs close to Shesh Shaiyya way back in 1996-97.

Meeting B2 enroute to Bandhavgarh Fort

For me a visit to Bandhavgarh was incomplete if i had not visited the Fort. Way back in 2004, once while trekking up, i encountered B2 in his early days on this route. There were four of us on foot, and at a bend, we see B2 come up from the valley on to the track of the fort. We froze right there, and so did B2. He paused for a moment, gave us a glimpse, and without bother left the track to go down the valley. What seemed like eternity was actually just 5 seconds.

This was my first encounter on foot with the Tiger in his own backyard. I breathed a sigh of relief. The trek is steep so the camera was around my neck. With B2 looking into my eyes from about 10 meters in front of me, i forgot that i had a camera, so clicking a picture was totally out of question. But the image imprinted on my mind of that moment is still fresh like it happened yesterday, thought it was almost 12 years ago.

The Temple priest

From 1997 till 2008 i trekked upto the fort atleast 4-5 times every season. Not only I loved the hike to the fort, but the view from the fort, the feel of the fort, and more than anything else it was meeting and talking with the resident priest of the fort that i always looked forward to. A very old man, tall, with a broad frame, deep voice, and an intense look in his eyes. How he stayed in this temple all alone in this national park always surprised me. No company, no radio, television i doubt if he ever knew it existed. He would give Charnamrit (tulsi water) pronouncing the sacred Sanskrit shloka:

अकालमृत्युहरणं सर्वव्याधिविनाशनम्।
विष्णुपदोदकं पीत्वा पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते।।

Meaning, “whosoever takes this sacred water is protected from any accidental death, deadly diseases, and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death”. This chant in his deep voice in the corridors of the temple would resonate in my ears for a long long time.

His story

He would walk down to the Tala village to secure his provisions and by late evening he would get back to Bandhavgarh. Once while going back he had an encounter with a Sloth bear. It is said that a Tiger emerged from the nearby grass, and fought the Sloth Bear away. Then the Tiger walked with the priest for some distance to ensure that he reached the temple.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Temple in the Fort

He once told me, “the Tigers are my family, and I know all the Tigers of the area around the fort”. We would sit in the corridors of the temple, and he would make tea for us. Then we would share our lunch with him. There were times we just slept off in the corridor of the temple. As he grew quite old, he became unwell, and was brought down from the Fort much against his wishes as there was no one to take care of him inside the Jungle.

What all is bygone, and will those days return?

Though Charger, Sita, B2, have all gone, and they have been replaced by many beautiful Tigers of today. But the enigma of the priest, the temple, and the fort cannot be replaced by any. For people who have seen the Bandhavgarh Fort miss it still. And those who have visited Bandhavgarh after 2012, know not what they have missed.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Yes, this is true. Just two Jeeps entering the Tala zone for a safari

The above photo is not photoshopped, yes there was a time when Bandhavgarh hardly had tourists. I recall sighting 10 different Tigers in 2005 in one morning safari of 4 hours. But the popularity of the Tigers and wildlife photography through social media has made wildlife tourism a big business everywhere.

Many resorts have sprung up in the area, Tala a small village now is a place where you will get everything you need, including a broadband, wi-fi, and a spa treatment. Do not expect the standard of the Spa to be anywhere close to a city hotel. To an extent if handled well, tourism can be a big conservation tool, but if gone awry, it can be a very disturbing factor for wildlife. So yes, those silent, peaceful days of less tourism are also bygone.

The rush of tourism has been regulated to quite an extent by opening of some more zones, and also buffer zones. Yet, one thing that has not reduced is the kind of Tiger sightings that are still taking place in Bandhavgarh. There was a lull year when there was a marginal drop in the Tala zone, but it seems the golden years of Bandhavgarh are almost back as far as Tiger sightings are concerned. The Tiger sightings of Bandhavgarh will never be bygone.

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

 

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When is a good time to see Tigers in India?

A very important, and an often asked question to me by almost all guests wanting to do safaris in India. is “When is a good time to see Tigers in India. My answer is, “Depends on what is your motive?

Good time to see Tigers in India
Tiger in morning golden winter light in #Kanhanationalpark.

If you are a wildlife enthusiast, who really enjoys nature, and is wanting to see maximum wildlife, then anytime from October till June is good to see Tigers. All national parks in India are closed from July till about September for monsoon.

Good time to see Tigers in India
Misty winter evening #Tiger and an #Elephant in #Dudhwa National Park

If you are a nature photographer and wants good light to photograph Tigers, then December and January is perfect. As the morning golden winter light is perfect for Tiger and nature photography. The morning mist also adds to the beauty of the image.

Good time to see Tigers in India
Tiger in water in peak summer month in #Ranthambhore National Park

If you are a serious amateur or a professional photographer, then  April to June is fantastic. It gets hot in the these months, the mercury soars above 40 degrees celsius. So if you can personally handle such temperatures during the safaris then you will be rewarded by some amazing Tiger sightings. June is also onset of monsoons. Most of the national parks would get some pre-monsoon showers in early June.

Is monsoon a good time to see Tigers in India?

The national parks are closed from 1st July till Sept. Infact Corbett is closed from mid June until mid November for monsoon. Some parks open their buffer zones in the monsoon. The beauty of a national park in monsoon is pure magic. The colors in these months are intense. It is like the national park has just undergone some spa treatment. The green backdrop in the sal forest with Tiger in front is a dream image for many.

You can do safaris in the core zones even in June when the park is open. But if the pre-monsoon shower is heavy then the national park can be closed for the safari to avoid your vehicle getting stuck in a slush. Not all national parks close in showers. It all depends on the type of soil in the park. For example light showers in Bandhavagarh will do no harm to the tracks. But in Kanha due to black clayey soil, the tracks become slippery, thus making it risky to do safaris. Therefore the park authorities close down certain routes in the park. Hence it is important to know all this, or book with them who all this so that you get maximum returns for your resources and efforts.

So when you choose your safari operator be sure that they know when is a good time to see Tigers in India.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

www.naturesafariindia.com

 

 

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Mode of safaris in National Parks of India?

safaris in national parks of India
Jeep Safari

For first timers traveling for safaris in India, it is important they understand how the safaris in national parks of India operate. What types of vehicles, and what are the benefits of each type of vehicle. Does the vehicle serve your purpose of safari? If you are an amateur or a professional photographer what type of vehicle is good for you?

Below are the various types of safaris in national parks of India.

  1. Jeep Safaris
  2. Canter (open safari bus) Safaris
  3. Boat safaris
  4. Canoe safaris
  5. Walking safari
  6. Cycle safaris
  7. Cycle Rickshaw Safari
  8. Elephant Safari
  9. Camping Safari

Safari timings

In almost all the national parks in India where tourism happens there are 2 safaris in a day. Except in Gir National Park there are 3 safaris in a day. In certain bird sanctuaries you can be inside doing birding from sunrise to sunset. The first safari starts at sun rise, and is usually of 4 hours. In Kanha the morning safari is 5 hours. The afternoon safari commences about 3pm and lasts until sunset.

Depending on the sunrise and sunset timings the safari timings change practically every month. So in winter the safari might start at 0645hrs, while in summers the safari might start at 0545hrs. Similarly as sunset in summers is late, hence the safaris start around 4pm until 7pm, and in winter from 3 till 6pm.

Some parks have full day safaris as well, these safaris cost almost 4-5 times more than a single safari. You are allowed entry 20 minutes before sunrise, and you may exit 20 minutes after sunset. Photographers generally prefer to experience full day safaris. But i will recommend these safaris for either professional photographers, or people who wish to experience how it is to be inside the national park for full day.

Gir national park has 3 safaris in a day, the first one starts at sunrise for 3 hours, the 2nd one immediately after the first one ends, and the 3rd safari at 3pm for 3 hours.

Jeep Safaris

This vehicle is ideal to experience the safaris in national parks of India. The model used for safaris in most of the parks is the Maruti Gypsy. it is a 4X4 vehicle, very silent, and comfortable. In some parks Mahindra Thars are also used for safaris. They are diesel vehicles, hence a bit noisy. But they are also all terrain vehicles and comfortable. Maximum 6 people are allowed to sit in the Jeep besides the guide and the driver. But as it is a bit compact hence ideal for 4 guests. In case of professional photographers carrying camera equipments just two guests are recommended.

Safaris in National Parks of INdia
Jeep Safari in Ranthambhore

Some Lodges have recently started a modified version of a Jeep also. It is much more comfortable than a Jeep as it has bucket seats. But it is a slightly bigger vehicle, so not so easy to maneuver in the safari. But this also seats 6 people only.

Please see the video i shot in the park to understand this vehicle.

Canter Safaris

In some busy parks like Ranthambhore, Nagarhole, Corbett they have Canter safaris. Lately this has started in a very limited way in Kanha and Bandhavgarh also. Canter is a open safari bus which seats 12-20 people depending on the model and park. There is only one guide in the canter. For a serious wildlifer this is not the ideal way to do a safari. But if there is a group of friends, or family, then Canter works very well as it keeps everyone together. To avoid getting a canter safari you must book yourself atleast 120 days before the safari. But if it is a last minute booking, then you will have to be content with the Canter. Interesting part is that wildlife does not discriminate between a Jeep and a canter, it shows up nevertheless. But a Jeep is far less disturbing to wildlife compared to a canter.

Safaris in National Parks of India
Canter Safari in Ranthambhore

Elephant Safaris

Kaziranga, Corbett, Dudhwa, Nagarhole, Satpura, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Panna, Pench and a couple of more parks have Elephant safaris. These safaris are of one to two hours duration. it is worthwhile to experience atleast one such safaris during stay. It is an amazing way of seeing Wildlife. For guests who have never experienced an Elephant back ride, it is a great experience you must do atleast once. It is very fruitful in Kaziranga, and Dudhwa when you go for a safari to see Rhinos. Best part about an elephant safari is that it cuts through the Jungle. These pachyderms do not follow any fixed routes, hence you experience a Jungle in it’s true sense.

Safaris in National Parks of India
Elephant Safari in Bandhavgarh
safaris in National Parks of India
Elephant Safari in Kaziranga.

Walking Safaris

Satpura National park in Madhya Pradesh has walking safaris too. One goes on a trail of 5kms to about 10kms. A forest guide, and a couple of hotel staff also accompanies you as you are entering the Tiger country.

Cycle and Cycle Rickshaw Safaris

These are best for bird watching in Bharatpur. You can hire a cycle for yourself, and go around the sanctuary cycling and watching birds. This is perfect when you do not need guides, and you are an accomplished birder yourself. But if you need a guide, then Cycle Rickshaw safaris are the best. Most of the rickshaw drivers have been working in this sanctuary for decades. They know exactly which bird is in which area, which tree and which branch.

Safaris in National Parks of India
Cycle Rickshaw Safari in Bharatpur for birdwatching

Boat Safaris

These are commonly done in Chambal, Dhaulpur, Bharatpur, Ranganathithu, Katarniaghat, Nameri, Panna, Nagarhole, Pench, and Satpura. The boats get close to the birds, and then the boatmen cut the engines for you to peacefully spend time with the birds. If one wants to take photos then it is important to stay as still as possible, as the water does not make it easy for the boat to go still in water. One can also see Crocodiles, and Gharials in most of the above parks via boats.

Safaris in National Parks of India
Boat Safari in Dhaulpur

Camping Safari

This mode of safari in national park of India is used when you are tracking the Snow Leopards in the Hemis National Park. One has to camp on frozen rivers, valleys in search of this elusive Himalayan ghost. It is serious camping, hence precautions must be taken in carrying enough of winter warm clothings. One encounters temperatures of below 20 degree celsius.

Above are the various modes to do safaris in national parks of India. Should you have any further queries regarding the same, please write to us on info@naturesafariindia.com

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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Which is the best national park to see the Tigers in India?

Best national park to see Tigers in India
Male Tiger sighting in Kanha

Which is the best national park to see Tigers in India? This is the first question asked by almost all tourists who want to see the Tiger in the wilds of India. The answer to this question is easy and tricky simultaneously. In India we have 49 Tiger reserves, out of which 15 are very popular due to good Tiger sightings. This does not mean that there is no Tiger sighting in other parks. I would like to share an image here of a sighting i had in Dudhwa national park. Not this park surely does not feature in the top 15 parks for Tiger sightings in India.

Best national park to see Tigers
A Natural History moment captured in Dudhwa National Park

What i am trying to say is that Tigers are present in all the Tiger reserves, and they can come out anytime, all you need is patience. The Tiger reserves are huge. You have to remember that you are visiting a national park and not a zoo. So to expect to see a Tiger in few minute after entering the park is not fair.

Chances of Tiger sightings are in all these parks. The frequencies are a bit different and ever changing. At times things can change so fast that within a month an area of a national park can be vacated. For e.g. if a Tigress gives a litter, she practically withdraws for some time from the tourism areas. This could mean that the Tiger sightings in that area or the zone can go dry for sometime thus disappointing lot of tourists.

Also, this is a fairly individualistic perception, and analysis also. For e.g. someone visits Ranthambhore more, and less of Tadoba, so in his opinion Ranthambhore could be good for the affinity he has for the park. It is tough to get sighting data of all the Tiger reserves. But if one travels regularly in these, gathers information, data from social media as well then one will get to know what is happening where.

We give a lot of emphasis on quality of sightings, than the quantity. Now this may include for how long was the sighting? How many vehicles were around when you were seeing the Tiger? The lesser the vehicles, the least disturbed Tiger is. If all this is ticked, then i would say it was a good sighting.

There are healthy chances that you will sight Tigers in your visits to Ranthambhore, Tadoba, Kanha, Pench, Bandhavgarh, and Corbett, not necessarily in the order listed. But when i say a visit, it implies at 3-4 nights stay, and doing about 5 to 6 safaris atleast if not more. If luck is by your side then you will sight Tigers on more than one occasion in these parks. Last but not the least important factor is that you must have the right guides, and drivers with you when going on a safari. So still want to know the best national park to see Tigers in India, write to us on email below.

Do let us know if you wish to see Tigers in India or Indian Wildlife. Write to us on info@naturesafariindia.com

Sharad Vats

 

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