Entry to Bandhavgarh is via the tiny village of Tala, where a number of lodges and resorts, a handful of dhabas (snack shacks), and several souvenir stalls are the only distractions from park activities. Try to get any information you require in advance, but you can pretty much rely on your chosen lodge to make all local arrangements for you. Contact M. P. Tourism at the White Tiger Forest Lodge at Bandhavgarh (tel. 07627/26-5366; www.mptourism.com) or the Project Tiger Field Director in Umaria (tel. 07653/22-2214).
By Road -- Set aside an entire day for road journeys from destinations within Madhya Pradesh; surfaces are terrible at best, consisting of little more than endless potholes linked by clusters of asphalt and islands of sand. The nearest town of tourist interest is Khajuraho -- a rather bumpy 5-hour drive away and would cost you Rs 6,000 -- we suggest you opt for an Innova or Scorpio which are best suited for MP roads.
By Air -- If you can afford it, take advantage of the helicopter trips from Delhi offered by several of the upmarket resorts in Bandhavgarh. If you decide to catch a commercial flight, Jabalpur is the nearest airport with most big cities connected to it. It is situated 165km (102 miles) away; the 4-hour onward taxi trip will cost upward of Rs 4,500.
By Train -- Umaria, 45 minutes from Tala, is the nearest railhead. The best train from Delhi is the Kalinga Utkal Express, which leaves Nizamuddin Station at 12:50pm and arrives in Umaria the following day at 6:15am, a little too late for early entry to the park. Taxi rides to Tala cost around Rs 1,000; Om Prakash Shukla has a reliable service (tel. 94-2534-4226 or 94-2534-4227) and is used by most of the resorts. Other nearby railheads are Katni and Jabalpur (if you're coming from Mumbai).
When to Go
The park opens as early as October (depending on the monsoon situation), but sightings are best February through June, when the heat forces more animals to search for water. Although the park attracts smaller crowds than Corbett and Ranthambhore, avoid Bandhavgarh on weekends and the week before and after Diwali, Holi, and New Year's holidays, when the park is filled with queue-jumping VIPs and noisy families.
Organizing Your Safari
Regarding entry fees and permits, the best plan is to book accommodations that include everything; the resorts and lodges we've reviewed below will take care of all your safari arrangements. Get to the park first thing in the morning, when you will join the line of open-top jeeps and other 4WDs waiting at the entrance for the daily rush, which starts promptly at dawn. If you've hired a vehicle and driver privately, you will have to pay a small fee for the services of a park guide who will accompany you; this and other charges for entry permits, cameras, and such are all paid at the park entrance. Jeep safaris can cover a relatively large area within the park, but most sightings occur as a result of information shared among the various drivers and guides. Drivers must take a lottery-decided route to a central point where a token is collected; this token then allows access to the rest of the park. In particular, the token enables your jeep to join the queue for the much-anticipated elephant-back tiger-viewing experience. Elephant-mounted mahouts head out early to search for tigers; once they locate them, they wait at the nearest road until the jeeps begin to congregate and word spreads, ensuring the arrival of other vehicle-driven visitors. Rs 600 buys you an elephant-back ride for an unnervingly close-up view of the tigers, usually encountered minding their own business deep within the sal forest. You then have around 3 minutes to capture the elusive cat on film before your elephant returns to the road to pick up new passengers.
Tip: Being at the rear of the queue of jeeps may involve some waiting, but mahouts usually allow the last elephants-trippers a few extra moments with the tigers. During the afternoon, the park offers more-substantial elephant safaris that are as much relaxing as they are a good opportunity to see more tigers in the wild, this time without feeling like you're part of a tourist conveyor belt.
With any luck, your guide will be as interested in showing you the terrain, which is rugged and beautiful, as he is in finding your tiger. He may point out other species such as the chital, blue bull antelope, and sambar; and the many bird species such as spotted black kites, crested serpent eagles, storks, ibises, hornbills, white-eyed buzzards, black vultures, golden-backed woodpeckers, kingfishers, and dove parakeets. If all else fails, there are plenty of black-faced langur monkeys and rhesus macaques ("red-bummed monkeys") to keep you amused.
Note: There is no doubt that seeing a tiger in the wilds is one of the most amazing experiences, but the manner in which all the jeeps gun for the poor animal is a little disconcerting. It is obvious that the inevitable "tip" is calling the shots and all ethical conduct generally takes a back seat. If you prefer to experience the park in a sensitive manner, then we advise you to go with Mahua Kothi or else make it clear to the guide and driver that you don't wish to partake in behavior that effectively "corners" these magnificent, critically endangered cats.
Park entrance is at Tala. Park fees: Rs 2,180 admission; Rs 1,500 vehicle entry; video and still photography is complimentary; Rs 600 tiger viewing on elephant per person (3-5 min.); Rs 25,000 for 1 person with an additional Rs 10,000 per person up to maximum 3 guests for a 6-hr. elephant ride; last-minute cancellations are allowed. Daily 6:15-10am and 3-6pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.