It was in 1996 that I first visited #Bandhavgarh National Park. We went on an Elephant to see the Tigers in the bush. A Tigress with two cubs was sitting in a bush near the #SheshShaiyya statue. The Mahout told us that this Tigress is “#Sita”. My first sighting of the Legendary Tigress from Bandhavgarh. In today’s terms she could also be called as the “Angel Investor” in Bandhavgarh. At the same time the dominant male of Bandhavgarh, namely, #Charger could be termed as the “Seed Investor” in this start up called Bandhavgarh. Very few people had heard of this national park, until these two Tigers decided to put this park on the world map. Sita disappeared in 1998, some said she was poached, while some said, she had left her territory, it was tough to believe the later, as those were the days when poaching was a stronger possibility.
I returned to Bandhavgarh in April 2000. This time again atop the Elephant I saw an aging Charger sitting at the opening of the cave. He visibly looked tired, and weak. I knew deep down that this was the last time i was seeing him. In the same monsoon he died on 29th September 2000. I am told he was 16 when he died, an unusually long life for a Tiger in the wild. He was rightly cremated in the park where he ruled. There is an area dedicated in his name known as #Charger Point. The next day, I saw a young cub who later came to be known as #B1, the sibling of #B2.
It was B2 who single handedly rocked the wildlife world. For the first time in the history of Indian wildlife people were coming to see a particular Tiger in a particular national park. Making Bandhavarh famous would be an understatement. B2, started an Economy. Mindset for wildlife tourism took root, not only in Bandhavgarh, but in many other parks simultaneously. My visit to Bandhavgarh was not complete if I had not seen B2 resulting at times in my overstay. I can proudly say that B2 initiated me into Wildlife Photography.
My photography journey started with a Zenith manual camera. Those were the days of film rolls, maximum 400 ISO, only SLR’s existed. B2 inspired me to buy the newly launched Canon DSLR with a 70-300mm lens. The days of memory cards, image stabilizers, and ISO options upto 5k started. Now I did not need to think before clicking, as I could delete an image instantly if I did not like it. Gone were the days of the film rolls where every click was precious.
In the subsequent years I visited Bandhavgarh practically every month. Saw the other big Tigers, B1, B3, very briefly, and observed their mother #Mohini, aka #Bacchhi from close quarters. The sad end of #Mohini in March 2003 and #Jhurjhura female about 9 years later are a blot on Bandhavgarh.
It was sometime in 2003-04 that I developed a liking for #Challenger, a sub adult who had everything going for him. His territorial range started to expand, until one day in his early years he died. It was a heart breaking moment for me, not only because he died on my birthday, but also that Bandhavgarh had lost a very strong Tiger. My interest in Bandhavgarh shook. Visits to Bandhavgarh reduced.
An important park to me personally, I kept a close eye on the sightings through news that I would get from friends in Bandhavgarh. B2 was perhaps one link that kept me interested in what was happening with Tigers in Bandhavgarh. I also got some nice moments with Bokha, an assertive Tiger. B2 passed away in 2011, thereafter, the rest of the Tigers, namely, #Bamera, #Kankatti, #Jhurjhura, #New Male, #Blue Eye, and #Bhagoda, just became names. I knew the Tigers were showing up, and very regularly, but it was tough for me to gather myself to go back to Bandhavgarh after the loss of B2.
But as they say life must go on. The news of new buffer zones opening in Bandhavgarh again ignited my latent love for the place. I set off in Feb 2016 to Bandhavgarh once again. Nostalgia took over when I entered Tala zone. My mind was replaying all my sightings of all my favorite Tigers when I entered the gate. All the places in the Tala zone right from #Sidh Baba, to #Chakradhara, #Giraiyan, #Banbehi, #SitaMandap, #GhodaDemon, #Rajbehra, #Sehra, #Mahamman etc had a memory. Yes, this is where I saw B2 charge at a #sloth bear, and this is where #Mohini used to kill etc..#Raghu my favorite naturalist, and #Jagat another gem of Bandhavgarh. These two boys (now men), are encyclopedia’s on Bandhavgarh.
Few safaris in #Magdhi gave me an idea of how the tourism had divided the park. But I think it is a step in the right direction at the right time. To regulate tourism is important, perhaps as important as tourism itself to the park. Parts of #Tala are now in Magdhi zone. #Khitauli yes was a new area altogether, as was the beautiful #Pachpedi and #Dhamokar buffer. Did not get time to visit the #Manpur buffer but I have not a cent of doubt on it’s beauty as well.
It was during a safari in Tala on 13th Feb that Raghu heard a distant monkey call, we started towards the area, and behold, we spot a Tiger walking right in front of us on the road. Raghu said, this is PD1, aka Spotty. She saw some Deers and entered a bush while stalking. We waited at a distance, and after about an hour she decided to come out of the bush again. Now we were ahead of her, and managed to take some shots. Then she did something spectacular. She started to walk alongside the fence, carefully ascertaining the height, and from where she could take a leap. I was ready, and so was she. What a beautiful sight of a Tigress jumping an 8 feet fence. Beauty, power, agility, all combined in one super predator.
My short 4 days, 8 safaris trip seemed to have gotten over faster than expected. But before I left Bandhavgarh, I promised to myself that I will makeup for the lost years.
See you soon Bandhavgarh!