The Indian civil servants are generally made to serve in various parts of country during their service span with the usual term of two to three years at a place. Depending upon the temperament and perspective in life, some treat it as an opportunity to enrich learning and experience social and cultural traditions, flora and fauna in various parts of this rich land while some others look at it a disadvantage because frequent transfers also cause social and emotional disturbances for family often affecting education of children.
I recall during the year 2008, I was empanelled under the Central Staffing Scheme of the Government of India and was already in the offer list for the appointment as Joint Secretary in that year. At that point of time, I was serving at Lucknow and in the given scenario; the natural choice would have been northward movement to the national capital either on deputation or en-cadre posting.
Contrary to expectation, when order came from Delhi for my posting to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh as Controller of Defence Accounts (CDA), many well-wishers in the cadre and outside advised me to make representation, instead of going to Jabalpur, in a bid for Delhi posting. Though I was not happy with the order but making representation was against my own conviction and working ethos because I have always held that place of work and nature of duty assigned is not anybody’s prerogative, and that one should dutifully work for whatever duties and responsibilities assigned. Incidentally but for the professional compulsions, I never had a fascination for a life in Delhi. Accordingly, I had assumed the charge of CDA in next few days without any complaint or loss of time. This was one decision which I never regretted and, in fact, fully enjoyed working and living at Jabalpur for almost two years.
One of the main reasons why I liked so much my tenure at Jabalpur, is that Madhya Pradesh is so rich in its cultural heritage, flora and fauna. Almost one-third of the state land is under the forest cover with so many forts, monuments and historical places all over. As the jurisdiction of my Controllerate spread over the entire state with subordinate offices located in all major cities, I had many occasions to travel officially various places and simultaneously experience rich cultural heritage, flora and fauna of the state. Madhya Pradesh among other things boasts of having a few finest national parks and sanctuaries with rich wildlife and greenery.
In one such trip, I happened to visit Bandhavgarh National Park. This is one of the famous national parks in India located in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh. It was declared as a national park in 1968. The park was named on a prominent hillock of the area, which is believed to have been given by Lord Rama to his brother Lakshamana. Umaria is located in the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh which lies in the Central India. Geographically Tiger Reserve is spread over Vindhya ranges that spread through Central India and is well known for the forest belt harbouring a variety of flora & fauna.
There are many convenient rail and road routes to Bandhavgarh. There are three ways to reach Bandhavgarh from Jabalpur viz. via Kundam - Shahpura, Katni and Sihora - Kleemabad. We had taken the shortest route via Sihora-Kleemabad which is about 170 Km from Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh with a journey time of about three and a-half hours. I was accompanied with my daughter, son and an officer well acquainted with that area.
This was early December and the journey from Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh was quite pleasant, adventurous and exciting. The road was good for most of the way but for the last few kilometers. The driver was familiar with the road. While approaching the main forest area, it was nearing sunset and we had opportunity to watch flocks of deer and monkeys in the open near water reservoirs on the road side. By the time we reached the Forest Rest House, Tala, it was already pitch dark. Staying overnight within the forest area and enjoying jungle meals itself was a fun particularly for my both children. In the late evening, a senior forest official came and briefed us about the arrangements for the scheduled following morning visit in the National Park Area. Among other things, he explained about various entrances into the forest and possible sight-seeing, and that the Tala entry was desirable as it provided better chances for tiger sightings.
We were ready by 6.00 AM to move with the packed refreshment. As expected, both children were quite excited about the tour through the forest area. As advised, we had taken an open jeep and checked in at 6.30 AM from the Tala entry gate in the main forest area. Both the driver and guide were thorough professionals, acquainted with the things to minutest details. The guide asked driver to drive through slowly in the Park area so that we could have opportunity to see and enjoy flora and fauna to the fullest extent. Well versed with the forest area, they followed only the specified roads and trails while driving. The guide politely explained us that this is necessary to avoid trampling growing plants and cause disturbance to resting animals in their habitat.
During conversation, the elderly guide gave us certain tips which I observed he was speaking through genuine conviction.
That we need to respect the privacy of wild animals by maintaining a safe distance from them, forest being their home where they must get due consideration and priority.
That all efforts are made for the tiger sighting but one should not be disappointed even if unable to see it in view of rich fauna there with opportunity to see many other interesting animals and birds.
That any non-biodegradable litter (cans, plastic, glass bottle, metal foils etc.) are not permitted inside the park area with a view to keep it pollution free. In case one carries any of it, he or she should keep it in own bag after use and dispose it off only on way out.
That one should not smoke or light campfires in the park area because even an accidental fire can cause heavy destruction to the forest and wildlife.
It is advisable to take assistance of a Nature Guide in the park area. They are of great help in explaining wildlife and foliage besides ensuring that you don’t lose your way in the forest.
While slowly driving through the park area with occasional halt here and there to watch wildlife and foliage, it was like a dream come true. During next three and a-half hour’s adventure through jungle, we had many memorable experiences. We were fortunate enough to have sighting of a tiger in its natural habitat near a water reservoir as also an arranged sighting on an elephant safari near a marshy patch. The tiger is considered to be the king and royalty of the jungle.
On the first occasion, there were enough forewarning and signals like a quicker movement of vulnerable animals like deer and monkeys with their peculiar distress sound as also fluttering and chirping of birds indicating that the carnivore of the highest order i.e. the tiger is in the vicinity. Tigers usually visit ponds or other water reservoirs particularly during the morning and evening hours to drink water as also find an easy prey for meals. We had the clear sighting of a healthy tigress near a water reservoir for several minutes among thin bushes from a distance of about hundred yards.
The second sighting was arranged by the forest officials. It was that of a fully grown healthy male near a marshy patch who appeared to have been resting as if tranquilized. Out of sheer enthusiasm, we saw it from the back of an elephant from a distance of hardly five yards and took photographs. I found it quite surprising, but disappointing too, that the king of jungle could be so submissive despite you encroach upon its privacy from such a close distance and it would not even grunt or growl.
Besides the tiger sightings, we had ample opportunity to see various animals including wild boar, leopard, deer, monkeys and langurs in abundance and a variety of birds besides fascinating flora including trees of sal and bamboos. Around 10.00 AM, we drove up to a hillock; a monument called Vishnu Shaiyya and took our breakfast there, before commencing our return journey around 10.30 AM back to our forest rest house.
Open Jeep Safari at Bandhavgarh National Park has added thrill and excitement to the visitors to explore the flora & fauna. Besides, Jeep safari provides the flexibility to explore especially those places, which are difficult to travel by other modes of transportation.
The foliage in Bandhavgarh National Park is usually of dry deciduous type. The area has relatively moderate climate and favorable topography supporting the growth of a rich and varied flora and fauna in the forest area. The entire captivating landscape is spread over 32 hills, cliffs, plateaus and meadows, some of which are indeed very exciting and adventurous.
Those who are true nature lovers and love to watch untamed nature and unspoiled landscapes, find the Bandhavgarh National Park as an ideal destination. The vegetation of Bandhavgarh is specially populated with thick Sal forest in the valleys and Bamboo growth on the lower slopes of the region. The flora consists of mixed vegetations ranging from the tall grasslands to other common plants and trees like Amla, Palas, Mango, Jamun, Babul, Banyan, Ber, Dhak, Saj, Tendu, Arjun, Dhaora, Kadam, Khajur, Khair, Mohua, Neem etc.
As already mentioned, this park is equally rich in fauna too, with variety of wild life species. The density of the tiger population at Bandhavgarh is one of the highest known in India. The park has a large breeding population of various species of deer, monkeys and leopard. Sambar and barking deer are a common sight everywhere and one can see nilgai in the open areas. The Indian wolf and stripped hyena are occasionally seen. The tiger reserve area has a rich population of cheetal or the spotted deer which is also the main prey animal of the tiger and the leopard.
The other common species include mammals like white tigers, wild boar, chausingha and chinkara, grey mongoose, jungle cat, spotted deer, dhole, the small Indian civet, palm squirrel and lesser bandicoot rat etc. Fauna is rich in birds' species too with egret, sarus crane, black kite, crested serpent eagle, black vulture, common peafowl, red jungle fowl, dove, parakeet, Indian roller in abundance. Reptilian fauna include snakes like cobra, krait, viper, rat-snake, python, turtle and a number of lizards. Forest area is vulnerable too in certain patches as villagers and their cattle poach in the adjacent region posing threat to habitat of the tiger and other species.
Besides Jeep and elephant safaris, there are several other attractions and places of interest for visitors. Within the time available with us, we were able to visit only two such place namely Shesh Shaiya and Sita Mandap. Shesh Shaiya lies on a hill top with a steep ride.The place is remarkable for a 65 feet horizontally laid idol of Lord Vishnu, and an origin of the river Charanganga. The statute of lord Vishnu is reclining on the seven hooded serpent Sheshnaag. There are many fruit bearing trees in the vicinity. Sita Mandap refers to wedding ground of Sita, the wife of Lord Rama. It is a single rock which arches over like a bridge. The mandap also looks similar to this rock arch.
The other famous places include a holy temple of Sidhbaba, a large meadow area inside the park Charkadhara offering fairly good chances of tiger sighting, and Bari Gufa. Bari Gufa is one of the biggest caves in the Bandhavgarh National Park region which dates back to the tenth century. This cave is made by carving the solid rock of sandstone.
The old fort of Bandhavgarh is visible from almost any point in the Tala Range. Our guide told us that the fort visit gives a fabulous sighting of the hills of Bandhavgarh. We had scarcity of time, besides to visit Bandhavgarh fort, prior permission was required from the relevant authority. The fort is at the height of more than 800 meters and the approach road is quite steep with sharp turning points.
Sensing my inquisitiveness and interest in history, the guide informed us that the Project Tiger was started in 1972 along with the notification of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Initially, only about 100 Sq Km area was declared as protected forest for the tiger project. Later other ranges were also included and now four main zones of the national park namely Tala, Magdhi, Khitauli, and Panpatta constitute protected tiger reserve. Tala is the richest zone in terms of biodiversity, especially for tigers. Together, these four ranges comprise of a total area of about 695 Sq Km of the Bandhavgarh National park.
Majority tourists visit Tala and Magadhi ranges of the National Park, which has the highest concentration of wildlife in Bandhavgarh. The best time to visit Bandhavgarh after monsoon season is from Late October to mid-May.
On return journey, we started from the forest rest house around mid-noon and followed another route. We visited Sharda Devi temple (popularly known as Maiher Devi) in Maiher, Distt. Satna in the afternoon and returned back to Jabalpur via Katni same day.