In search of a TIGER at Bandhavgarh National Park

  • A personal experience of the search for, disappointment and joy on seeing a tiger. 

If there’s one word which everyone loves while travelling, it has to be “Safari”. The thrill of seeing the big cats, elephants, birds, bears in the wild is something that has to be experienced atleast once in a lifetime. We Bharatiyas are lucky because we have so many National Park areas in our country that one can easily plan a Safari trip atleast once in a lifetime. 


I have been to Thekaddy in Kerala, a three-day river trip down the Sunderbans in West Bengal and to Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh recently. My visits to Thekaddy were very pleasant and I was lucky to see otters, elephants and the giant Malabar squirrels during my visits there. At Sunderbans, we were unlucky and did not spot the Majestic Tigers or any other animals (other than captive monitor lizards). Though the river trip was pleasant and scenically beautiful, it did not satisfy my desire to see The Big Cat.

Tiger of Bandhavgarh.

Tiger of Bandhavgarh.  

My desire to see a Tiger

Madhya Pradesh has been touted as #BigCats region and has so many Natural Forest Reserves like Bandhavgarh, Kuno, Panna, Kanha, Satpura and more, all having tigers, leopards, monkeys, sloth bears, various species of deer and uncountable beautiful birds.


So this year when we planned a family holiday, we decided to book for a Safari to Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh. What I had not planned for was the tourist rush during the last week of December and by the time I contacted the MP Tourism Office the safari was booked. I had no clue that one had to book a Safari in advance and that bookings need to be made almost three months in advance during tourist season! The Tatkal Safari booking seva is available but on day-to-day basis and based on cancellation of a prior booking. There are few slots available.


Big hotels also have some slots reserved for their guests but these too get filled really soon. Nishika, the lady who helped me with my tour plan realized that I was very keen to do atleast a one day Safari if not more. She worked hard to get me a slot Bandhavgarh.  


As per the tiger census report published in 2019, Madhya Pradesh has the highest population of tigers (526) and Bandhavgarh National Park has the highest density of tigers. It is known for Royal Bengal Tigers. 


Butterflies in my stomach

We had planned our trip in such a way that I would reach Jabalpur by train early in the morning and take a private taxi to Bandhavgarh National Park. Again, I had not planned for the cold wave and the dense fog in Madhya Pradesh, due to which our train got delayed by fifteen odd hours. This meant that we lost a whole day. In hindsight should have flown to Jabalpur. By the time we reached the hotel it was 2 am, we were exhausted.

Fort is on top of the hill, app height 2,500 feet. Cannot visit now. 

Bandhav-Dhish Temple.

Bandhavgarh has the oldest fort in the country. It is believed that Sri Ram gifted this fort to his brother Lakshmana. “Bandhavgarh means Brothers Fort (Bandhav- Brother Garh- Fort).” 


Bandhavgarh forest has the Shesh Shaiya, a magnificent statue of Lord Vishnu lying on the Shesh Nag. It dates back to the 10th century. Because we lost a day of the trip, we were unable to visit the fort and Shesh Shaiya. We, however looked forward to the Safari in the afternoon.

Shesh Shaiya. 

National Parks usually have two zones – a buffer zone that is the outer area of the forest and the core zone which is the innermost area of the forest. 


Tala, Magadhi and Khitauli are the main core zones of the Bandhavgarh National Park. In Bandhavgarh there are 3 safaris that one can opt for- early morning, evening and night. The night safari is only in the buffer zone and in jeeps. One can take the morning and evening safari in a Canter which is an open bus or an open jeep safari. The rates do not differ too much and many tourists prefer the open jeep safari. There are separate gates for jeeps and canters. Both cover almost the same area in the core zone. We took the Canter and enjoyed the open bus.

Deer. Pic by Rajeev Das. 

Those who had gone the previous three days for the safari were not able to sight any tigers or leopards so we were unsure whether we would sight. Our driver and the forest guard were experienced. A little into the forest, they sighted foot prints which meant that one or more tigers had passed that way. They informed the other jeep drivers and told them to keep a lookout for the tiger.


Meanwhile we saw various species of deer like the small barking deer, the huge but reclusive nilgai, sambar with their huge horns, spotted chitals and more. Did you know that Bandhavgarh is filled with sal and junglee bamboo trees which house little birds’ nests? We also saw a huge shy, sloth bear which rubbed itself against the bark of a tree before sauntering away. 


We were almost nearing sunset and had still not seen any tiger so all were disappointed. Suddenly a jeep crossed us which had people in high spirits and it was obvious that they had sighted a tiger. The next jeep which crossed us stopped and the driver told our driver that they had seen Chota Bheem, a young male tiger near the water body. By the time we reached the water body, he had already moved away and only a few jeeps sighted him. The forest guard in our Canter suddenly saw fresh footprints and he said that it was not of Chota Bheem. That meant that another tiger was close by.


Now everyone was excited and vigilant. But our driver said that the allotted time was almost over and it was time to go back. There was total silence in the vehicle as it moved towards the exit gate. Suddenly, the forest guard was able to sight a movement and he told the driver to stop. Miraculously, to our left, a huge male tiger decided to bless us with his presence. Everyone stifled a scream of delight as Bajrangi (that was his name) walked slowly, parallel to us among the trees. Seeing that our Canter had stopped, which meant that we had spotted a tiger, a couple of other jeeps behind us stopped. When the tiger disappeared into the forest, almost all of us shouted in joy! On our return to the hotel, we learnt that about ten vehicles had come across one of the three tigers on the prowl – Chota Bheem, Bajrangi and a tigress with her cub. 


Tourists also book night safaris in the hotels and sometimes spot tigers in the buffer areas. The night safari is for one to one and a half-hours as against three hours during evening safari or morning safari. The rate for the evening safari is less and people feel thrilled to visit the jungle in the darkness of the night.

Gobar plastered on walls of the rooms with Warli Paintings on the outer walls. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost all the hotels in Bandhavgarh National Park are eco-friendly making use of natural materials like ‘gobar’ even for building rooms. 


Where did we stay 

We stayed at the Aranyak Resorts, a beautiful hotel which had many fruit trees where the monkeys enjoyed eating to their heart’s content, vegetable patches from where organically grown vegetables and herbs were plucked for the meals, and other bamboo, sal and mahua trees. There is small curios shop in the hotel from where I purchased some metal showpieces.


How to reach

Bandhavgarh is about a three to four hour drive from Jabalpur which is well connected by road, air and rail.


Author Rati Hegde is a serious student of Bharatiya Samskriti, author and columnist on Indic matters. She visited Jabalpur, Pachmarhi with her family in December 2022.


Read by author Pachmari Travelogue

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To read her articles on Pragyata


To read all articles on India Travels

For a good travelogue – Beyond the Tigers in Bandhavgarh – Covers Sal tree, Birds at Bandhavgarh and Wild Animals.

Places to see in Bandhavgarh -  Baghel Museum, Village Tala, Mahaman Pond, Kethika, Climber’s Point, Three Cave Point, Rajbahera, Shesh Shaiya and  Jwalamukhi Temple.


Guide Rajesh Sahu used by a friend. 91 99266 89675, 93995 46082   


Also see Albums

1. Tigers of Bandhavgarh

2. Marble Rocks Bhedaghat Waterfalls near Jabalpur

3. Chauth Sath Yogini Mandir near Jabalpur

4. Amarkantak, source of Narmada, that is about 3.5 hour drive

5. Temples of Amarkantak

6. Kanha National Park


7. MP Tourism site

8. MP Tourism Hotels  

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