Written by shobhanaj on 23 May, 2006
Our last trip to Bandhavgarh (April 2006) was another learning experience. It is amazing how in spite of the fact that this was our sixth trip in just over a year, there is always something new to learn about the jungle and its inhabitants. While…Read More
Our last trip to Bandhavgarh (April 2006) was another learning experience. It is amazing how in spite of the fact that this was our sixth trip in just over a year, there is always something new to learn about the jungle and its inhabitants. While we were on a safari ride into the jungle, Dhruv—our friend and resident naturalist—gave us an insight into the behaviour of animals.While driving through, we decided to stop and turn off the car engine and just listen to the sounds of jungle. We stopped near a family of monkeys that to us seemed to be playing and jumping among the trees. That’s when Dhruv began explaining what was actually happening. Now monkeys have a hierarchy and follow the system of one alpha male with many females and their babies. The babies are known as black babies (these are very young infants, and still haven’t developed their coat of hair and are just black in colour), and the others are the older ones but fully developed adults. The alpha male is easy to spot, as he is huge compared to the females. The alpha male is the guardian of the rest of the group and has to time and again ensure that the rest of his family is safe. All the children in the group are fathered by him. Every now and then, this group is attacked by a band of monkeys who are all male. They basically try and drive the alpha male away so that they can take over the group. While we sat there watching the group, a band of males were trying to lure the alpha male into a fight. In this case, the alpha male emerged the winner. The females had huddled around the black babies, forming a protective ring around them. The young males were shaking and screaming in fear, and egging their father to do something about the situation.The alpha male goes chasing the band and drives them away, either by fighting them or making sounds that are aggressive. Now, in case the alpha male is unable to protect his family and emerges as the loser, he is driven away from the area. He eventually joins another band of male monkeys, but this time is of the lowest rank. Meanwhile the females, who are taken over, are raped by the band of male monkeys into submission, and one among them emerges as the leader and drives the rest of the males away... and thus takes over as the new alpha male. Then follows one of the cruelest behaviour in the animal kingdom. The new alpha male kills all the black male babies—the females are spared. And the older male babies either manage to get away and join a band of male monkeys or are killed by the new alpha male. The pregnant females, because of the stress caused by the entire episode, hang by trees and bang their stomachs against the trees and induce self abortions.This was a revelation to us, and made us look at the monkeys in a completely new light. We can’t wait to go back and learn something new about other animals. And we found out on our way out of the park, as we passed by one area that we had just missed by less than 10 minutes, the rarest fight between a bear and a female tiger! Close
Written by shobhanaj on 16 May, 2005
A typical day at Churhat Kothi begins with a cheerful, "Good Morning," along with a steaming cup of tea from one of the help. That leaves you with no choice but to be up and wonder why anyone would want to wake up so…Read More
A typical day at Churhat Kothi begins with a cheerful, "Good Morning," along with a steaming cup of tea from one of the help. That leaves you with no choice but to be up and wonder why anyone would want to wake up so early on a holiday. But then you listen to the silence and it all comes back – you’re here for the jungle. After tea and a wake-up splash, one heads out to the jeep and into the jungle. The anticipation and hope of seeing a tiger begins at the moment.
The Elephant Ride
The national park has three elephant camps, and each day, in the early morning, two to three elephants with their mahouts set out to track the tigers. Once a tiger has been spotted, the mahout relays the information of its location at the main gate. Thus, when you reach the main gate, you hope there is some news about where one could possibly see the king of this jungle. Each jeep is allotted a guide and a designated route. This ensures to a large extent that there is no overcrowding at particular areas. The mornings are beautiful in the jungle. The mist gently rises off the ground, and all around the birds are at their vocal best. Yet, one tends to wait and listen for that alarm call that gives away the presence of a tiger in the vicinity. And with each jeep you come across, you want to know if they have seen the big cat or have any idea about its location.
There are times when you forget about the tiger as the beauty of the jungle is realized. You start paying attention to the birds and the other animals. But then suddenly there it is – a langur screaming because it has seen a tiger. The impact is really felt when the deer send out alarm calls. One can see the alertness in their body language – ears at attention, body tense and ready to run, and the tails of the chital up, showing the white side indicating danger. A major part of the excitement as far as tigers are concerned is about tracking it and listening to alarm calls. This information is then passed on to the mahouts, who then follow the alarm calls and look for the tiger.
As the day warms up, the tiger tends to find a cool shaded spot and rest. This is where the elephants really play an important role. Once a resting tiger is found, all the jeeps somehow gather there. This is an incredible feat considering they are spread out. Yet, when a tiger is spotted, somehow word spreads around and all gather at the spot. Now begins the controversial "tiger show." Each jeep is given a token number on a first-come, first-served basis. If it is your lucky day, you could be among the first few, but if not, your token number could be in the late 40’s. The whole experience provokes strong opinions from environmentalists and certain tourists. Depending on that number, everyone is either thanking or cursing their luck. Two elephants are part of the tiger show. Each jeep’s occupants are taken on the back of the elephant into the dense part away from the road to where the tiger is resting. The tigers usually don’t give the elephants a second glance. You hang around there for a couple of minutes and are then taken back to your jeep. Then the next jeep’s occupants are taken and the entire process is repeated. Now, if you are scheduled to go on elephant back towards the end, get ready to spend an hour waiting for your turn. This is where you really curse your luck and wonder why all those people who go before have better luck that yours.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, it is your turn to climb on the elephant. The ride feels minutely like being on the back of camel and involves dodging branches that come your way. As you are busy moving branches out of your way, suddenly the elephant stops and the mahout points out the tiger to you. The tiger leaves you spellbound. Then, suddenly, you remember you want to take pictures and aim your camera and start shooting away. By then, the mahout has turned the elephant back and heads for your jeep. This leaves you with mixed feelings – happiness on seeing a tiger (finally!) and unhappiness at the short duration of your sighting. Sighing, you head back towards the camp for some sympathy and a delicious breakfast. This is when stories between all guests are exchanged and invariably there are some who say they spent an hour at some place viewing a tiger. You just mope, curse your luck, and hope the next ride will bear fruit.
On a day your luck holds out, you may have the opportunity to see a tiger completely unexpectedly. Your senses are looking out for the alarm calls and that tension in the air when, lo and behold, there is the big cat crossing the street in front of your jeep. The guides then try and figure out the path that this one will take and will take you to that area. The elephants are back and tracking the tiger as well. And if you are really, really lucky, you will be on that elephant’s back. Occasionally, while the tiger show is on, a tiger decides that it doesn’t want all this attention and heads out to another spot. The mahouts then follow this tiger for however long it takes – till it sits down again. As far as seeing tigers are concerned, this is probably the best way to see one. You end up following it on the elephant’s back and lose track of time. You feel like you are in an Indiana Jones film and that you are Indiana Jones himself. Short of screaming something that Indian Jones would, you love every second of the excitement. And, for once, when then elephant heads back to your jeep, there is no unhappiness. Now, if you take a moment and look at all those still waiting for their turn, you want to stand up, do a victory dance, and make them feel worse than what they are already feeling. The tables are turned at this point – they cannot imagine what better good you have done than them to deserve such a long elephant ride following a tiger. You feel you have conquered the jungle. With that wonderful blissful feeling, you head back to the camp to boast about your sighting over a delicious breakfast.
The afternoons at the Kothi are about contemplation and reflection. After the initial hullabaloo of either seeing or not seeing a tiger, one spends the afternoon soaking in the jungle. The tents are ideal, as each is secluded and makes you feel like you are the only one staying there and the place is yours and yours only. Being there at the Kothi and the jungle draws you into your inner self even if you hadn’t planned to. You feel and find that your senses are keener and sharper. Every sound is distinct. Sometimes one can even hear the wind moving – you can hear it coming and leaving. You forget about the tiger, the birds, and other animals. All that matters is the silence. With this feeling, you head out for lunch. One of the best things about Churhat Kothi is the food. It is like eating out of any Indian home. There is no menu, so there is something different to sample every day. With a full stomach and some rest, one then heads out to the jeep for the evening ride.
The scramble of the morning safari and the focus on tiger sightings gives way to the serenity of the afternoon jungle. The jungle appears mellow, softer, and peaceful. The jeeps and drivers are not pressured to show tigers, and it is the perfect time to enjoy the silence. The different facets of the jungle can be explored. The meadows at Raj Behra and Sehra are particular favourites. The grasslands contain waterholes frequented by the Sambars, cheetal deers, langoors, and storks, and the meadows are a perfect spot for reflection, contemplation, and observation. In the background lies the Bandhavgarh plateau in the distant horizon.
Written by shobhanaj on 20 Apr, 2005
One of the reasons we returned to India was to discover and travel in our land. Our first itinerary was to experience the jungle. Nothing for us yuppies living in concrete yuppiedom prepares us for it. The excitement of waiting for the gates to open…Read More
One of the reasons we returned to India was to discover and travel in our land. Our first itinerary was to experience the jungle. Nothing for us yuppies living in concrete yuppiedom prepares us for it. The excitement of waiting for the gates to open reminded me of the Jurassic Park entry. Once you are in as the alarm call goes off, the nerves stiffen, tension is palpable, and all eyes and heads turn in the direction of the impending entry of the king. Concentration is intense as all the senses stay alert to catch a glimpse of the magnificent and lord of the Indian jungle, the tiger. After 15 minutes and despite the incessant alarm calls of the langur, the beautiful cat fails to make an appearance. We move on, but those moments get ingrained. The mystery of the moment, the unpredictability of the next occurrence, is defined by the law of nature, where each cycle of day and night brings with a unique experience. In fact, in a world where man's effort to control nature has reached dangerous proportions, the National Parks in India is one of the few commendable efforts where man has allowed nature to flourish. It was after all individuals and Indira Gandhi who conceived the idea of India's national parks to conserve and sustain pockets of land where nature is allowed to express itself and conceive life and death.
The jungle is about moving from a mechanical, digital world full of artificial and shallow constructs to understanding the primal forces source of what sustains us i.e. air, land, ether, water, fire, wood. Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh was such an experience. In the afternoon, the jungle speaks very softly, stillness abounds. The word deafening silence acquires new depth. Morning the symphony is played out by the birds - parakeets and the green bee eaters. The parakeets dominate the sound extravaganza. The deer mating resonate in the background. But all the jeeps keep the ears open for the proverbial alarm call for the king of the jungle. The langur's alarm calls for the leopard and the tiger are different. The tiger call has a guttural steady ring to it while the leopard's staggered. The excitement is tracking the tiger through pugmarks, alarm calls and trails more then makes up for the lack of seeing one. Tiger sightings in the jungle is destiny and therein lies the beauty. The cycle of anticipation, excitement, and disappointment can go on for days.
So it is crucial one visits Bandhavgarh for the majestic jungle and less as the marketing brochures prominently display the tiger. We went for the tiger and fell in love with the birds. Anticipation centered on the tiger safari but the safari turned into an education of the diversity of the Bandhavgarh forest for trees, birds, deer and stunning terrain. In fact the rare sighting for us was two wolves that strolled on the side. The sightings of the wolf or wild dog triggers more buzz then the tiger for experienced naturalists. Bandhavgarh is an ornithologist's dream. We documented 20 different species of birds, the most beautiful of which was the kingfisher, the flycatcher, and the parakeets. The long-necked vulture and the king vulture looked eerie. The large Sambar of the deer family is extremely shy and would scamper away or peek from behind bamboo trees. Bandhavgarh's terrain is stunning. Flat marshlands, dense Sal forests and grand plateau on which is the 1,000-year-old Bandhavgarh fort. During the drive up to the fort, we saw the beautiful bird the Malabar pied hornbill with yellow curved beak. The view from the top offers a glimpse into the lungs of India, the largest forest cover in the heart of India. The fort on the plateau is home to 1,000-year-old temple where prayers are offered to this day. We discovered writings in the ancient Brahmi script with Buddhist and Hindu influences. Massive water tanks are what remain of the fort where the queen, after bathing, would offer her respects to the Lord, accompanied by her consorts.