Madhya Pradesh’s second national park, Bandhavgarh, tucked away in the hilly northeast of the state, has one of the highest relative densities of tigers of any of India’s reserves and shelters some fascinating ruins. Although it’s a long haul to Bandhavgarh from either Jabalpur or Khajuraho, it’s worth it – not only to track tigers but also, as all the accommodation is close to the park gates, to watch the array of birdlife from the comfort of your lodge.
Though there are flat grassy maidans in the south of the park, Bandhavgarh is predominantly rugged and hilly, with sal trees in the valleys, and mixed forest in the upper reaches, which shelter a diverse avian population. Bandhavgarh’s headquarters and main gate are in the village of Tala, connected to Umaria, by a road slicing through the park’s narrow midriff. On the whole, jeep safaris tend to stick to the core area where the chances of spotting a tiger (there are estimated to be around 35–45) are high. Deer species include gazelle, barking deer, nilgai (blueball) and chital (spotted deer). Sloth bears, porcupines, sambar and muntjac also hide away in the forest, while hyenas, foxes and jackals appear occasionally in the open country. If you’re very fortunate, you may catch sight of an elusive leopard. Look out too for some very exotic birds, including red jungle fowl, white-naped woodpecker, painted spurfowl and long-billed vultures. Perhaps the most enjoyable way of viewing game is to take an elephant ride in the misty dawn.