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Bandhavgarh National Park.

A wildlife retreat where history and nature meet, Bandhavgarh is too far away from Kanha. Set amidst the Vindhyan ranges, the park has a series of ridges running through it. This park was the former hunting preserve of the Maharaja of Rewa and at present is a famous natural hub for White Tigers. White Tigers, now a major attraction around the world's zoos, were first discovered in Rewa, not far from here. The terrain is broken, with rocky hill ranges, running roughly east west, interspersed with grassy swamps and forested valleys.

Much of the park is covered in Sal forest, replaced by mixed forests in the higher elevations of the hills. There are extensive stands of bamboo and grasslands. Generally the forests are less dense here, with less undergrowth than in North India, thus offering better sightings of wildlife, notably mammals, including the daylight sightings of Tigers in the grassy 'maidans'. Tigers are estimated for the park.

Other inhabitants of the park include the Muntajac, Jungle Cat, Ratel, Jyena, Porcupine, the Rhesus Macaque and the back-faced Langur. The park also has numerous ancient caves and rock shelters, with shrines and inscriptions. About 150 species of birds known from the Tala area are also found over here including the Brown Fish Owl, Grey-headed Fishing Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbill and Shahin Falcon.

The National park is dominated by the ancient Bandhavgarh Fort, located on a plateau and reached after a steep climb. The fort is now in ruins, its monuments and tanks beings gradually reclaimed by the forest, thus providing additional shelter for wildlife such as Black Bucks .


Flora and Climate: When orig­inally formed in 1968, Bandhavgarh was a comparatively small park of only 40 sq miles (105 sq km), but in mid-1986 it was extended to include two large areas of forest adjoining it on the northern and southern sides. These extension areas consist mainly of sal forest. In the north a series of ridges, inter cut by perennial streams, runs parallel to the main Umaria road which runs through the park. To the south, gently undulating forest is interspersed with grazing areas, formerly agricultural land.

Currently the central area of the park ­the original 40 sq miles - remains the principal viewing area. There are 32 hiils in this part of the park, which has a large natural fort at its canter. The fort's cliffs are 2625 feet (800 meters) high, 1000 feet (300 meters) above the surrounding countryside. Over half the area is covered by sal forest although on the upper slopes it is replaced by mixed forest of sali, saj, dhobin and saja. Towards the north there are large stretches of bamboo and grassland. Most of the bamboo flowered in 1985 and the old clumps died, leaving the ground covered with new bamboo growth. Many streams run through the valleys but only three are perennial. One of them, the Charanganga, has its source at the fort.

Winter temperatures (November-mid­ February) vary from almost freezing at night to around 68 0 F (20 0 C) in the daytime. Summer nights are also cooler than the daytime temperature which rises to 104 0 F (40 0 C). The park is closed during the breeding season, which coincides with the monsoon (July-October). Rainfall in the park averages 50 inches (120 cm) per year.

The oldest signs of habitation in the park are the caves dug into the sandstone to the north of the fort. Several contain Brahmi inscriptions dating from the 1st century B.C. From that time onwards Bandhavgarh was ruled by a succession of dynasties including the Chandela kings of Bundelkhand who built the famous temples at Khajuraho. The Baghel kings, the direct ancestors of the present royal family of Rewa, established their dynasty at Bandhavgarh in the 12th Century. It remained their capital till 1617 when the canter of court life moved to Rewa, 75 miles (120 km) to the north. Without royal patronage Bandhavgarh became more and more deserted until forest overran the area and it became a royal hunting reserve. This helped to preserve the forest and its wildlife, although the maharajas made full use of their rights. Each set out to kill the auspicious number of 109 tigers.

At independence Bandhavgarh remained the private property of the maharaja until he gave it to the state for the formation of a national park in 1968. After the park was created poaching was brought under control and the number of animals rose dramati­cally. Small dams and water holes were built to solve the problem of water shortage. Grazing by local cattle was stopped and a village within the park boundaries was re­located. The tigers in particular prospered and the 1986 extension provided much needed forest to accommodate them.

Within the Park: Bandhavgarh
is justifiably famous for its tigers, but it has a wide range of other game. The undergrowth is not as dense as in some northern terai forests, but the best time to see the park's inhabitants is still the summer months when water becomes more scarce and the undergrowth dies back.

Chinkara, still rather shy, can be sighted on the grassland areas of the park, parti­cularly on formerly cultivated land in the southern extension area, on the edges of the main viewing area. Also to be seen in the grasslands are nilgai, chausingha and sounders of wild boar, as well as the occasional jackal or fox. In March and April gaur, or Indian bison, move down from the higher hills to the southeast of the park and make their way through the southern extension area to the central meadows of the park to graze. The need for water and good grazing draws them to the park and they return to the southeastern hills at the onset of the monsoon.

Muntjac and sambar prefer denser vege­tation. The main prey animal, however, for the tigers and the park's rarely sighted leopards are the chital, which now number a few thousand.

The Fort The fort still belongs to the Maharaja of Rewa and permission is re­quired to visit it. However permission is available locally and no trip to Bandhavgarh can really be complete without making the effort to climb up to the fort.

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