Monday, March 21, 2011

Bandhavgarh Then & Now

I saw my first male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park in the seventies. The place was called Kill Khunta, since a bait was usually tied there to attract tigers. The baiting practice was thankfully stopped but the tigers do not go hungry at all. In that dusky twilight I could see one of the nature's marvelous creation. The awe and admiration has never ceased since.

Back from from the brink of disaster, the little paradise was not throbbing with tigers as conservation practice had just been put in place. The aftermath of reckless hunting had come to a stop and recovery was on the way. Though isolated and fragmented, the reserve retained its glorious ancient past and amazing Sal forests.

There where few visitors, and the accommodation was limited to the Maharani's Kothi for the privileged and the Forest/PWD R.H - rest house.

Eventually MPTDC stepped in and established the White Tiger Lodge. Then more tourists started to arrive with propaganda so created. The tourism infrastructure had been put in place with number of elephants for rides. The jungle roads were being maintained. This was the hunting reserve of erstwhile Maharajas of Rewa. It was the largest Kingdom in India during post independence period.

The discovery of white tiger in the adjacent forests had already opened the flood gates of popularity. Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is situated in the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the finest places to see the tiger in the wild. The preserve is one of the most picturesque destination - little tiger haven tucked away in the deep recess of India's wild heartland. Under the project tiger the area covered is about 1100 sq.km including neighboring Pan Patha Wildlife Sanctuary. The core now constitutes 600 plus sq.km as against 145 or so earlier.

On our earlier visits we could count around 60 plus heads of gaur or Indian Bison. Gradually we saw the numbers dwindle till the end came somewhere in nineties. This was a major blow to the habitat, the loss of a coarse grazer was irreparable. Rinderpest & FPL was the scourge carried by maddening numbers of live stock in the periphery. Though some gaur have been relocated from Kanha recently, we have to wait for success.

It was obvious from the sightings that the prey base was increasing. The sightings also confirmed that big cats in the park were on the increase. In few years the reserve was a conservation success - it still is.

Another noticeable fact was the increasing number of tourist as well as the hotel resorts. The park became number one tourist draw thanks to high density of tigers. The core area of the park is the finest habitat of the cats. Due to the slush and grass in swampy marshy areas hunting was easy.

The village relocation had taken place from within the core and some were due which eventually did not happen - Kalwa & Magdi. The edaphic grasslands left by the tribal communities inside were overtaken by the prey base. This was like bounty from heaven since the grass was much wanted fodder for the deer and the bison.

Ruins

The remains of ancient civilizations added luster to the splendorous jungle resort. The ancient man made caves still exist with petroglyph and Brahmi script on the walls. The forests experienced many warring civilizations throughout, as history unfolded. The dynasties left their marks on the ruins which are now ruled thankfully by the big cats. The place since evolution belonged to the wild denizens later intruded by humans.

The ancient ruins add esoteric touch to the wildlife haven. Sesh Shaiyya on the way to Bandhavgarh Hillock is right out of the fairy tale. Its pristine surroundings and springs are in reality best described as fairy tale settings. The reclining statue of Lord Vishnu besides the pond makes it a place of religious importance for the locals.

On the way up are the number zoomorphic statues of Lord Visnu some towering. Matsya Avatar - Varah Avatar and so on. The Laxman Temple sits atop the hill facing the beautiful grasslands valleys and neighboring mountains. Picturesque indeed! The Bandhavgarh Hill is steep and about 800m MSL. the hillock are ideal breeding ground for Long Billed Vulture.

Bandhavgarh Fort at the top lies in ruins arch, man made reservoir, statues and temple remains are littered all over. The remains boast of exquisite and colorful sculptural practice & art of ancient India. They are an archeological find dating back two thousand years in the recess of this old country.

The plateau is extensive and give one an eerie feeling a spread of ruined civilization, tall grasslands and a haunting specter of open spaces, mystical and esoteric as of the pristine wild country. The alarm cry or the tiger roar can be unnerving as I have experienced often.

Priest & Tiger

The Old Brahmin Pujari was a legendary figure. He walked about 11 km to the Laxman Temple, under care of his family, since the Maharajas ordained. He must have been the most familiar figure for the tigers that walked aside him. He once told me that his meetings with tigers were often and it was you go your way and I go my way affair, strictly. He died a natural death and I believe his son has taken over.

Hills Glens & Rivers

Mahaman, Chur Bohera, Raj Bohera, Bathan are well preserved grasslands. There rivers criss cross Johilla, Charanganga and Umrar. Must visit for tiger sightings and landscape are Badi Gufa, Ghoda Damen, 10 No.GUFA and Andheri Jhiriya. The terrain is torturous and at places very steep. The safari is exciting over steep climbs, across grasslands and river beds the cliff tower over you all the time.

Forests

The abundance of SAL is evident but the park encompasses some of the finest bamboo slopes and mixed forests. The canopy is dense but withers as one moves along the periphery due to wood logging in the buffer.

Buffer

Once a large contiguous tract of forest the park is now isolated. Neighboring forests are Pan Patha, Gunghuti and the Sihora Forest ranges at some distance. the forests leading to Amarkantak and Achanakmar belt have been badly denuded hence there is no migration path for any species. All around the reserve forest are in a bad state and hence tiger habitat has been reduced. There are village surrounding the buffer and within with a large number of livestock. Except tourism alternative means of survival have not been explored.

Tiger Safari

Tourism in tiger reserves of Central India is monitored and well managed. I have seen tiger tourism grow from infancy and simultaneously the wildlife has increased as well. Tourism has benefited local communities which were until then dependent upon infertile lands. The need for accommodation has brought in many hotels. The established hotels of Bandhavgarh employ large number of youth. Most of these are from the local communities. Many get employment in the forest department as guides, chara cutters, guards and naturalists etc. Plus the park is a nature library many tourists come and go with greater understanding of nature, admiration for other life forms and desire to conserve or valuable heritage.

The Tiger

It has been one hell of a journey for the beleaguered animal. It has been ignominiously pushed back to small pockets along with associates. We have never ceased to destroy nature, we have overpowered other life forms and taken their land away. The majestic cat is silent and helpless observer as the axe continues to ravage his kingdoms all over the country.

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