If you want to see a tiger in the wild, one of the best places to go to is Bandhavgarh National Park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. If you have been watching wildlife channels and think you know what to expect, you will realize how difficult it is to actually see anything at all in the thick Indian jungle. Tigers are particularly difficult to spot because of their secretive nature and low numbers. During an earlier trip to Jim Corbett National Park I was able to get a fleeting glimpse of a tiger after trying for three days.
Experts say that the chances of spotting the tiger is highest just before the monsoons when visibility through the dry undergrowth is best and the wildlife tend to crowd near the few remaining water holes. It pays to carry a good pair of binoculars and you may click this link for advice on how to choose one. I was visiting during winter and was a little apprehensive about my chances. On the first day of safari, I started chatting with the driver of my 4x4 vehicle to get a feel of what every day life was like in the nearby villages. A woman had been killed by a female tiger the night before as she was returning home after sunset. The villagers were unable to retrieve her body because the tigress and her two cubs were still guarding their kill. Elephants had been despatched to scare them away and that was why there were no elephant rides available in the park.
As we drove along the track following pug marks made earlier in the morning, we came across what looked like an abandoned village. I was told that this village has been reclaimed into the park recently and the villagers have been resettled somewhere else. It was nice to know that the wildlife was fighting back and actually winning! We drove to Bandhavgarh hill at the base of which lies the famous 10th century statue of lord Vishnu known as Shesh Chaya and went hiking up the hill to the historic fort of Bandhavgarh. If you have a weak heart, this adventure is not recommended, especially because it is right in the middle of tiger territory!
After two days of safari and still no tiger sighting, I was under some pressure. One part of my mind was telling me to give up while the other part was expecting to see a tiger at each turn of the jungle track. On my last day, as we drove along, I noticed that we had not seen or crossed a single vehicle for quite some time. My driver told me that probably there has been a sighting and all the vehicles have stopped somewhere. We drove as fast as we could for about ten minutes and finally could see a long line of stationary vehicles with all the passengers looking in one direction. And sure enough, there were two tigers mock fighting each other in the distance. You can only get a true sense of their huge size when you see them in the wild. What also stuck me was that unlike any other species, tigers showed no fear of either humans or anything else as they are truly on top of the food chain. We were very lucky because this special show lasted for about twenty minutes and I had finally earned my bragging rights as a wildlife photographer.
Bandhavgarh is a paradise in the middle of the ocean of humanity that is India. This protected park is a true national treasure where wildlife and ancient history still survive. Make sure you visit this place at least once in your lifetime.