Bandhavgarh: Home of Tigers, with Meghana Dharmapuri
Updated: Feb 18
When you think of traveling, Madhya Pradesh seldom comes to mind – despite the massive Incredible India campaign which calls MP Hindustan ka Dil. But you will be surprised at what all this state has to offer to the wander bug in you. With more than one-fourth of the state covered in dense deciduous forest, it comes as no surprise that most of the tourism is centered around its national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Bandhavgarh National Park is probably one of the most well-known wildlife reserves in India and rightfully so. With 1,536 sq km of foliage- the forest hosts, 300 known species of flora and over 500 species of fauna, there’s never a dull moment on the forest floor.
How to reach:
The closest airport to Bandhavgarh is the Dumna Airport in Jabalpur. From there, it’s a 190 km drive. So, you can hire a taxi or there are several trains that travel till Umariya, the closest town to Bandhavgarh (A 5km away from the start of the reserve).
Budget: Always the primary decision
That’s the first thing I decide when I want to make any travel plans. Since I was stationed at Jabalpur itself, my travel cost was barely the cost of petrol in my car, amounting to ₹3000. Other than that, the overall cost for 2 people to stay in Bandhavgarh for 3 nights and 3 days may be around ₹25000.
The breakdown would be:
₹14k for the stay and food
₹7500 per safari jeep (so divided by the number of people occupying your jeep)
Where did I stay in Bandhavgarh
You’ll find an abundance of Jungle retreats in and around the area. There are price ranges to make every traveler content- from really high-end getaways to the ones that give you the authentic rustic experience.
I stayed at Aranyak Resort, which is barely 2km away from the main Tala Gate of the Reserve. I stayed in their independent cottage. It isn’t very spacious in itself, but it’s got everything you need. It also had an “outdoor shower” which is basically a roofless showering area. It gives you the view of the sky and the towering bamboo foliage around the resort – a unique experience.
The resort had a huge area to its name where you could go cycling (they keep a lot of cycles that you can just pick and go exploring) and check out the bamboo jungle and their organic farmlands. Their staff was super attentive, making sure you are comfortable at every step of the way. It’s rare to find such good service!
Caution: Do not expect anything more than the local cuisine- since you are practically in the middle of nowhere. There are no fast food joints or even independent restaurants in the area. Though I felt the hotel food was quite satisfactory- the local food is delicious!
Pro Tip: You’ll find a lot of offers on websites such as Agoda, Make My Trip, etc. However, if you call up the hotel/resort directly, you can negotiate prices and even get better rooms within your budget. For me, that helped reduce the price of my stay by around ₹5k (while including all 3 meals of the day)!
Best time to travel:
The reserve is open to the public between the months of October to June. It is closed during monsoons when it becomes nearly impossible to navigate through the forest due to constant rainfall. However, most of the buffer zones are open all year long. I would recommend that one travels here between October-November (when it hasn’t gotten too cold) or February to April (when it hasn’t gotten too warm!). Most of the safaris happen in the wee hours of the morning, so in any case, it will be pretty chilly. Make sure to ask your hotel to pack you a blanket in your jeep before you start.
What all you can do in Bandhavgarh
I won’t be giving you a day-wise itinerary since there aren’t many things in number to do in Bandhavgarh. I will, however, tell you what all you could be doing there.
The main attraction- the safaris.
The way Safaris work in MP (whether it is Bandhavgarh, Pench, Panna, Kanha etc.) is that you need to first get a permit to go for the safari. Each national park has its own government website where you can easily navigate and get the permits.
You have 2 options- hire an entire jeep for yourself (if you are going with friends/family, this is a good option as you get more space and privacy) or take a share basis jeep (better if you are traveling alone or with just one person- this is the more economic option).
Further, you have the option to choose either a morning safari, an evening safari (or both), and in some cases a night safari. Most recommended is the day safari. Even though you need to get up really early in the morning (~5 AM) on a vacation, the chance to sight any animal is most since they are most active during twilight.
Night safaris are least recommended. Since the foliage is pretty dense, it is already tough to spot animals during the day itself. At night, the only way you’ll spot anything is if it is walking right in your path. In saying that, people still have spotted tigers in the night safaris as well, since tigers prefer the tracks worn down by jeeps, giving them soft loose soil to walk on – and the fact that they are too used to the presence of humans to actually be bothered by them.
Bandhavgarh is divided into 3 major zones: Tala, Magadhi, and Khitauli. Tala is the largest zone, and along with Magadhi gives you the most chance to spot tigers. And since tigers are the main attraction, make sure to do the day safari in both zones, and try to squeeze in an evening safari as well.
While tigers are what the guides will make you focus on (with the recent surge in numbers, they have become fairly easy to sight), make sure you ask them to tell you about the other flora and fauna in the region. Your jeep driver and safari guide are a treasure trove of knowledge. They will help you spot the different birds, orchid species (you’ll be surprised how many types of orchids grow in these wild jungles!), etc.
If you are in the Tala zone, make sure to get the driver to take you to the Bandhavgarh fort (it is mostly ruined- but has a rich history) and the Shesha Shaiya statue.
Khitauli zone houses most of the wild elephants. However, the guides do not recommend trying to spot these, since they are quite violent and unpredictable in their behavior. With their size and speed, it would be tough to outrun them even in a jeep. This zone is also known for magnificent birds.
Hot Air Balloon ride on a Safari?
There’s one more type of safari recently introduced in Bandhavgarh. This is the only National Park in India where you can do a Hot Air Balloon Safari! This is done by a private organization with internationally certified pilots.
The only downside for me was the cost (₹15,000 per person). But if you think you can squeeze it into your budget, I’m sure it would be one wild experience!
What should I pack?
This trip doesn’t need more than 3-4 days. So make sure to pack the essentials:
2) Basic first aid
3) Sanitary pads/tampons/cup
For the safari specifically:
1) A light fleece jacket or windcheater (for the morning safari)
3) Sun cap
4) Woolen cap (if you are going in the winters – the cold jungle wind can ruin your safari if you’re not warm enough)
5) A cotton balaclava (the trails are very dusty – for those who are mildly allergic)
Make sure to dress comfortably. It will be quite cold (10-18°C) in the morning, while as the day progresses, it will get very warm. Not just that, the sun is pretty harsh in the tropics, so make sure you cover yourself well, to prevent sunburns. You’re going to be sitting in the jeep for 5 hours- so make sure to choose function over form.
Ensure that your hotel packs you your breakfast because the safari goes on from 6 AM to 12 PM. They have an hour-long breakfast pitstop, where you can get down and grab a bite. Apart from that, eating during the safari is mostly prohibited so as to not attract the monkeys and langurs.
For all my female travel buddies out there!
While it is always better to be prepared, I have personally found MP to be a very safe state for women. The people are extremely warm and welcoming. Since I drove down from Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh, I stopped several times for chai (ask them to add ginger and you’re in heaven!) and not once did I feel unsafe. However, I still recommend wearing full pants, since people are slightly conservative. But it helps protect you from sunburns as well, so I didn’t mind that part.
General precaution: do not venture out on your own outside your resort, especially at night. Most of these resorts are built in the buffer zones of the forest. So if you want to step out, do so in a vehicle. There have been times that predatory creatures such as tigers and leopards have been spotted near the resort areas for a “quick bite”.
To all the budding photographers- make sure to carry your cameras to capture wildlife in action. This is one trip that’ll get you so close to nature, that it might just change your perception of life.
Covid regulations in MP
As for covid restrictions, MP state itself has the regular restrictions (if you are coming from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, you’ll need RT-PCR negative reports). But when you are registering for the safaris, they may ask for your fully vaccinated certificate. Make sure to keep that handy.
Hoping you all liked the blog and it helped you plan your trip better!