Friday, July 5, 2019

Bandhavgarh Hidden Jewel of Central India

The peaks rise startlingly from the horizon as you drive towards Tala Village, an astounding view...and more has to come. Bandhavgarh is a land of surprises and a charismatic destination. An eerie feel hangs around, and chilly air of expectation runs down your spine, and your mind is in a state of fantasy. This is tiger land, India's primal forest home to many of these magnificent animals. 

Encapsulating diverse habitats and amazing biodiversity the tiger reserve is also a National Park.  It is managed under the aegis of Project Tiger a GOI initiative. Situated in the remote confines of Central India or the State of Madhya Pradesh the tiger land keeps its promise. Expect a safari exciting and soul stirring as never before experienced in the hinterlands of the long stretching Vindhyan Mountain Ranges.  

Bandhavgarh Meadow

The reserve comprises of marshy grasslands, dense Sal and mixed forests, bamboo slopes and rivers that twist and turn agonizingly all over this ecosystem eventually draining out of the park into chaotic human civilizations.  

Jeep Safari
The salient feature of this paradise are the steep cliffs covered with dense canopy scarred with scarps and protruding spurs at many places. In between the cliffs the safari vehicles move steep uphill and then slide tortuously downhill in between the deep glens. The drive is strenuous with bumps and jerks, negotiating sharp bends on the incline and slippery slopes tests the drivers skill no end.  

All this makes the safari exciting especially whence you climb up the hill at literally an obtuse angle. A chance meeting with a tiger and other exciting animals like the leopard, gaur, sloth bear and wild dog is always on cards to keep adrenalin pumping and the heart missing a few beats.  

Bandhavgarh Mountain

From the top of the mountains the panoramic grandeur unfolds. The landscape changes correspondingly as the angle of view changes and you gaze mesmerized. The tree tops, marshy grasslands and surrounding cliffs with rivulets and pathways snaking in between are a sight to wonder at from the dizzy heights.       

A tiger safari at Bandhavgarh is truly stupefying and thrilling on an open jeep. The sightings of tigers and other mega fauna is very high in this little paradise and tourists flock round the open season to film and photograph these amazing creatures, some of which are endangered and nearly on the verge of extinction. 

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

Whence you enter the park from the Tala Gate across the meadows the steep cliff encapsulating the fort wall on the ascent and the Ram Janki Temple accords an exotic view. The distance plays around with dimensions and the ancient temple appears as a tiny speck.  

In midst of pristine forests the telltale signs of human architecture is an esoteric experience. The stone wall stretches long for more than a miles and was used to prevent intrusion into the Gond Fort at the height of 800 MSL. This hill is named after the reserve and is the tallest.  

In the Tala Zone at Sesh Shaiyya or reclining Vishnu time stands absolutely still. After an unnerving climb up the hill the twenty feet idol lying adjacent to an ancient pool shaded by a grove is a mesmerizing sight. The grove shelters the pool and the idol, trickles like a misty curtain flow down the walls covered with ferns and shrubs. The curtain of tiny falls literally sliding down towards the idol through eroded walls covered with a slippery carpet of moss and lichens extols the creativity of ancient tribe it enhances the age of the edifice which could be around two thousand years ago. The situation is fairy tale setting, and cool brisk air from the grove invites slumber even in the torturous heat of the summer.   

Silence and serenity prevails transporting you back in the time, a moment whence a troupe of soldiers came to rest here before climbing up to the fort. The intruding roar of the tiger awakens you from a fantasy day dream and fetches you back into reality of the contemporary. 

The climb up to the fort passes through numerous horse shelters, courtrooms and caves entrenched in the mountain wall. The grand stone arch after a strenuous climb is welcoming, from here you enter the fort complex. The fort itself is in ruins but the zoomorphic idols of Lord Vishnu are spectacular and well preserved. So are the huge reservoirs meant to sustain the large entourage of soldiers and the royal households.    

Langur Monkey
The large vacant spaces also contain numerous ancient architects in form of run down structures. On one end as you climb up, the temple manned by an old priests sits isolated but accords a magnificent view of the whole reserve.  

The whole park is an ecosystem that supports more than fifty tigers and they can be seen during the safari in the tourism zones. Herds of Gaur or bison and chital can be seen in the company of langur monkeys, sambar and the peacock in the grasslands. 

Hindu Priest
The leopard is illusive but is seen often along with the sloth bear and the wild dog. Barking deer and saunders of wild boar are often encountered near the waterholes. In open areas herds of Nilgai antelope can be seen peacefully grazing  in the grasslands. 

Tiger safaris are organized in the day and one in the evening. Tourists can also book full day safari especially the wildlife photographers.  

Best way to reach Bandhavgarh tiger park is via Jabalpur Airport which is a four hours drive, and also from Kanha Nationa Park which is more than five hours drive. The overseas visitors should book the holiday through the tour operators and opt for the jungle plan which is all inclusive.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Planning A Tiger Safari at Ranthambhore

Wildlife Tour Planning Ranthambore!

Before you do get some facts right. The safaris are organised in Ranthambore with the sole aim of giving you a wildlife experience. Wildlife experience or interpretation is part of your holiday at the tiger reserve in Rajasthan in India. During most of the excursions tourists search for the tiger. This is the main focus of the holiday for most of the visitors except the birders who seek a more holistic experience. The birdlife is simply fantastic!

Little attention is paid by others towards the common animals in an ecosystem which has so much to offer. Hence when you visit the destination enjoy the sights and sounds of all the creatures and not only the big cats. During the game rounds you can see the leopard, sloth bear, Nilgai antelope, sambar and spotted deer, hyena, jackal, wild boar and the langur monkeys.  

The destination has number of ancient historical monuments some of which can be visited. The picturesque lakes create a magical splendour and offer thrilling sights of animals and the tigers that hunt there.    

The park organises two safaris one in the early morning and another around three in the afternoon. These have to be booked in advance. The park is divided into various tourism zones which have to be selected during the booking. Remember book the zones in the core area which offer the best sightings of the wild animals.

The permits are charged and photo identity is required to be mentioned whence booking. During the entry the photo identity has to be presented by each and everyone. The options you get is a visit on an open jeep or a canter. The former is more private but the latter is cheaper and the ride has to be shared with other tourists.  Anyway book in advance is my advise! The option for current booking is also available at the Gate if  entry is not fully booked. Do you wish to take a chance? 

For longer duration of stay a large number of high end, heritage, luxury and budget resorts are available. These are situated near Sawai Madhopur township out in the buffer area. You can book them online if you wish. Choose the one that offers modern amenities and good service. Read trip reports or reviews or seek reference from a friend who has already been there.

The entry is fixed as per the time set by the forest department. The exit is also fixed by the department. Jeeps are available for excursions in the park and some hotels provide naturalist services to enhance your experience. All this cost money so be prepared to spend. The rewards are worth the expense.

There is a limit for the entry vehicles in the core zones for excursion. There is a  full day safari at Ranthambhore option available online. In this format you enter early and exit late while you spend the whole day in the park. This is best suited for wildlife photography and filming. Book any tiger safari but do it in advance is my suggestion. In case of rush you will not be able to avail an entry in the core zone.    

Carry quality binoculars and some books on wildlife. Warm clothing in winters is essentials. And yes make purchase of all essentials at Jaipur before you depart for Sawai Madhopur. The park is closed during the monsoon from July to September.  

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Pachmarhi A Pristine Holiday Retreat

Pachmarhi Resort 
As the taxi negotiates agonizing twists and turns of the rugged climb I look at the changing landscape - astounding verdant greenery. We are negotiating the Matkuli Hill Range and driving up towards the Pachmarhi Township. Nestled in the Satpura Range Pachmarhi is part of the Satpura Biosphere Reserve which encompasses Satpura National Park and Bori Wildlife Sanctuary.    
Hilly Landscape

The sharp turns and twists, and the deep glens we leave behind make me dizzy, and my innards shaky. You are conscious of a fatal slip but the driver is at ease and that is comforting. 

Pachmarhi Hillside

We stop at Denwa Darshna the mountain river which intersects the biosphere reserve.  From the dizzy precipice the river looks like a snake wriggling through steep walls of ancient mountains. The boulder strewn pathway gives way to fine sand filled beaches, and the waters sparkle bright in the sunlight. This is our first introduction of this pristine paradise. 

Unspoilt and in perfect state of preservation, Pachmarhi was saved from the axe by its notification as a wildlife sanctuary, and being a Cantt it was saved from rabid urbanization. Unlike other holiday resorts in India the destination is untouched, unspoilt and charming albeit tourist pressure and township reconstruction is have a telling effect in a small area, but nevertheless it still is one of the finest retreat in India. 

Daru Haldi Exotic Shrub a painkiller of note
The most stunning and captivating waterfall I find here is the Silver Falls. Not yet motorable, one has to trek through dense forests to reach the fall. The misty cascade created by the seven hundred drop to the enigmatic valley below gives rise to a silver curtain and hence the name. On the way we come across a paleolithic cave with paintings dating back to 20000 years. The next stop is at the Fairy Pool, crystal clear and absolutely still, the pool is fed by an enchanting spring that emerges from the forest clads mountains.  Other interesting places to follow are the Handi Cove, Bee Falls, Irene Pool and Reechgarh Caves. There are more....     


On one visit you realize that terrain was in a constant state of upheaval since ages with forest clad mountains dotting all over the surroundings. Incidentally the highest point in Madhya Pradesh is Dhoopgarh about nine kms from the township. The hill rises steeply to a height of 1350 MSL. At the lap of this mountain sits a quaint resthouse deserted but in a state preservation. This was the favorite haunt of the British Sahibs during the Raj, and they used to indulge in hunting and revelries best imagined in the summer capital. The destination in the contemporary era is still the summer capital of MP Government.  
Highest Point Dhoopgarh

Rest House At Dhoopgarh

As you climb up to Dhoopgarh the vegetation changes giving rise to a distinct ecosystem which supports myriads of life forms especially migratory birds. Another towering mountain is Chuaragarh with four thousand steps to negotiate if you dare to climb. Atop this mountains sits temple of Lord Shiva and is a point of pilgrimage for devout Hindus.
View From Dhoopgarh
Milestone at Dhoopgarh
Some of the valleys are deep beyond expectation and are often visited by botanists to explore the goldmines containing rare plants and shrubs. The place contains floral species of immense medicinal value besides being ornamental.     

Pandav Caves
In a small area surrounding the township i.e. the wildlife sanctuary and Satpura tiger Reserve there are a number of natural occurrences like waterfalls, pools, glens, mountains and natural caves. Overriding these iconic spots are cave formations containing Shiva idols, Bade and Chote Mahadev, Jata Shankar and the Pandava Gufa.

Though overcrowded the township has some of the finest old bungalows stamped with exquisite British Architecture, these are in a perfect state of preservation and inhabited. Some have been turned into hotels like the Golf View Hotel in the periphery. Signs of tourism fatigue are obvious but thankfully limited only to the township.   

Golf View Hotel
The periphery being part of the biosphere is rich in wildlife and leopard sloth bears, sambar and bison are often encountered by trekkers. An occasional tiger from the reserve finds its way here as well. Due to the varying altitude and immense floral wealth Pachmarhi is soon to become a birding hotspot. One small trek we came across contained more than twenty five species and a fresh pawprint of a tiger.  
Tiger Paw Print Pachmarhi

There are many resorts at Pachmarhi Township, and some luxurious properties owned by MPTDC in the outskirts for accommodation. Street food joints are in plenty along with small shopping centres.

The hills station lies near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. It is five hours drive from Jabalpur Airport and is also accessible from Bhopal Airport. It lies at a drive of two hours from Satpura Tiger Reserve entrance at Madai.

By Rail: Stoppage at Piparia Station ( 3 hrs from Jabalpur) and one hour drive uphill to the township.