Bandhavgarh National Park

The Maharaja of Rewa set aside this area as a wildlife preserve for private hunting parties so his friends could shoot tigers, leopards, deer, wild boars—but tigers particularly. Each maharaja’s personal goal was to kill as many tigers as possible. After 1968 and independence Bandhavgarh became a no-hunting sanctuary for these and their impressive companions, including hyenas, jungle cats, jackals, porcupines, elephants, and more than 200 species of birds. This enclave of hilly moist tropical woods and grasslands in north-central Madhya Pradesh now is a relatively small but glorious national park.

More than 20 spring-fed streams either rise in or flow through the reserve. Tigers cool off there in summer, swimming, sometimes almost totally immersing, or they drop by for a drink in all seasons. Their half-moan, half-soft roar can be heard in the early morning mist.

Leopards avoid their larger striped cousins, feeling safer on dry craggy ledges which they negotiate easily and where their spotted coats blend so well with foliage they are seldom seen except when they move.

Main prey here for both these are beautiful little chital spotted deer. Also in the lush grasses are sambar deer, shy chinkara, chousingha, horselike nilgai or blue bulls, and occasionally enormous gaur, world’s largest wild cattle, which move down from the hills for fresh grass and water.

Black-faced langur monkeys and sometimes rhesus macaques forage in synchrony with chitals on the ground—chitals following the monkeys’ progress through the treetops, watching for them to drop fruit scraps and succulent leaves.

Stork-billed kingfishers and gray-headed fish-eagles monitor streams. Crested hawk-eagles pounce on rufous-tailed hares. Shikra swoop on well-named jungle babblers. Handsome orange-faced white Egyptian or scavenger vultures look for kills, waiting their turn and sometimes rummaging through tiger droppings.

Jungle bush quail chicks appear in November. Young red-wattled lapwings come out in May. Beguiling jungle owlets raise families in sal tree holes. Jungle fowl, colorful ancestors of all barnyard roosters, and gorgeous peacocks noisily alert all to their woodland presence. Yellow-legged green pigeons gather in fruiting trees, especially pipals. Crimson-breasted barbets offer fruit to their mates. Blossom-headed and rose-ringed parakeets prefer ber trees and bamboo seeds.

Multicolored Indian rollers display iridescent wingpatches to impress mates. Purple sunbirds flash plumage of metallic red, yellow, green, blue or purple-black or all these, foraging at bright flowers and nesting in low shrubs. Bright, plump little Indian pittas fill the forest with rich whistles and trilling calls. Nightjars begin evening serenades in February.

Bandhavgarh has good lodges where jeeps and guide-drivers can be hired, also elephants. Accommodations are also available at a former maharaja’s residence, and there’s a historic fort. Best times January–April. The park is a comfortable drive from Umaria, served by rail, or from Khajuraho, served by commercial airline.

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