Bandhavgarh is best known for its spectacular setting, as well as having the highest concentration of tigers at any park in India. It's relatively difficult to reach but it offers an outstanding chance of seeing tigers in their natural habitat.
The park features dense green valleys and rocky hill terrain, with an ancient fort built on 800 meter (2,624 foot) high cliffs. It's a relatively small park, with an area of 105 square kilometers (65 square miles) that’s accessible for tourists.
In addition to tigers, the park has a large array of wildlife including sloth bears, deer, leopards, jackals, and birds.
Kabir, a famous mystic 14th century saint poet, spent time meditating and writing in the fort. Unfortunately, these days it remains off-limits, except when it opens for religious purposes a few times a year.
In Madhya Pradesh state, almost 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast of Jabalpur. The nearest village is Tala, which is the entry point of the park.
How to Get There
Air India and Spicejet fly directly to Jabalpur from Delhi, then it’s around 4-5 hours by road from there to Bandhavgarh.
Alternatively, Bandhavgarh can also be reached by rail from India’s major cities. The nearest train stations are Umaria, 45 minutes away, and Katni, around 2.5 hours away.
When to Visit
March and April, when the temperature increases and the tigers come out to cool themselves in the grass or by a watering hole.
May and June are also good months for tiger sightings, except the weather is very hot at this time. Try to avoid peak months from December to January, as it's extremely busy and the weather is also very cold.
Opening Hours and Safari Times
Safaris operate twice a day, starting at dawn until late morning, and mid afternoon until sunset.
The best time to visit the park is early in the morning or after 4 p.m. to spot the animals. The park's core zone is closed from July 1 to September 30 during the monsoon season. It's also closed for safaris every Wednesday afternoon, and on Holi and Diwali. The buffer zone is open all year round.
Bandhavgarh is divided into three core zones: Tala (the park's main zone), Magdhi (located on the fringe of the park and is excellent for seeing tigers), and Khitauli (scenic and less-visited, although tiger sightings do occur there. It's particularly good for birding).
Three buffer zones were also added to the Bandhavgarh in 2015, with the aim of reducing tourism in the core zones and providing an opportunity for people who cannot afford to visit the core zones to experience the park. The buffer zones are Manpur (adjoining Tala Zone), Dhamokar (adjoining Magdhi Zone), and Pachpedi (adjoining Khitauli Zone). There have been tiger sightings in these buffer zones.
Jeep safaris are conducted in all zones. There is no cap on the number of safari vehicles allowed in the buffer zones.
Fees and Charges for Jeep Safaris
The fee structure for all national parks in Madhya Pradesh, including Bandhavgarh National Park, was substantially overhauled and simplified in 2016.
The new fee structure became effective from October 1, when the parks reopened for the season.
Premium zones with higher rates no longer exist. The cost of visiting each of the park's core zones is now the same. In addition, foreigners and Indians are no longer charged different rates. It's also possible to book single seats in jeeps for safaris, rather than having to book a whole jeep.
The safari cost at Bandhavgarh National Park consists of:
- Safari permit fee -- 1,500 rupees for a whole jeep (seating up to six people), or 250 rupees for a single seat in a jeep. Children under five years of age are free.
- Guide fee -- 360 rupees per safari.
- Vehicle hire fee -- 2,500 rupees per jeep.
The safari permit fee is only valid for one zone, which is selected when making the booking. The guide fee and vehicle hire fee are distributed equally between the tourists in the vehicle.
Safari permit bookings for core zones can be made on the MP Forest Department Online website. Book early (as much as 90 days in advance) though because the number of safaris in each zone is restricted and they sell out fast!
Jeep safaris through the buffer zones can be booked at the entry gates. All hotels can arrange jeep hire and tours, but at a higher rate.
Elephant rides are possible. The cost is 1,000 rupees per person and the duration is 1 hour. Children aged from five to 12 years pay 50% less. Children under five years of age ride for free. Bookings must be made at the Permit Booking Counter in Tala.
Where to Stay
Most accommodations are located in Tala. There are plenty of basic budget rooms on offer there, although they're not particularly appealing in terms of cleanliness and comfort.
The Forest Department provides rest house accommodations for 1,500-2,500 rupees per night. They can be booked in advance by phoning 942479315 (cell) during office hours from 10.30 a.m. until 5.30 p.m.
Otherwise, The Sun Resort is a recommended budget hotel. Sometimes excellent deals are available online for 1,500 rupees per night.
In the luxury category, Pugdundee Safaris King’s Lodge is 8-10 minutes from the park gate on a sprawling estate surrounded by forested hills. They specialize in providing jeeps for couples or families, and each comes with a trained naturalist. For unsurpassed luxury you can't go past the Taj Hotel's Mahua Kothi resort, from around $250 for a double room per night. Samode Safari Lodge, from $600 per night, is also superb. For a really romantic experience, stay in a Treehouse Hideaway from around $200 per night.