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 the temple 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 main entry point of the park.
How to Get There
Air India and Spicejet fly directly to Jabalpur from Delhi, then it’s around four or five 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, about two and a half 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, where Bandhavgarh fort is situated) and adjoining Magdhi (located on the fringe of the park and excellent for seeing tigers), plus Khitauli separated by a road (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 spread over Umaria and Katni districts. They are Dhamokhar (adjoining Magdhi zone and entered from Parasi), Panpatha (adjoining Khitauli zone and entered from Pachpedi), and Johila (entered from Cechpur/Gajwahi). Tiger sightings have occurred in these buffer zones.
Jeep safaris are conducted in all zones. Safaris in the buffer zone continue throughout the monsoon season. Johila has a couple of waterfalls within it.
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.
Making a Safari Booking
Safari permit bookings for all zones can be made online on the MP Forest Department website. Single seat bookings are only offered online for core zones though. Book early (up to 90 days in advance) because the number of safaris in each zone is restricted and they sell out fast!
When booking online, you will only be charged the permit fee. This fee is valid for one zone, which is selected when making the booking. The guide fee and vehicle hire fee are to be paid separately at the park before undertaking the safari and will be distributed equally between the tourists in the vehicle.
At the time of booking, you will see the number of seats remaining in each zone. You may also see that some options are displayed with a "W". This means that you'll be placed on a waiting list and will only get a confirmed permit if it clears. If this doesn't happen at least five days before the start of your safari, your booking will be automatically canceled and you'll be given a refund.
All hotels arrange safaris but at a higher rate. Luxury properties conduct private safaris in their own vehicles, using their own guides and naturalists.
Other Activities and Attractions
Canter (open-air mini bus) safaris are also conducted at Bandhavgarh. These can't be booked online though, and they only go through Magadhi and Khitauli zones (not Tala). If you stay at Madhya Pradesh Tourism's White Tiger Forest Lodge, the hotel will take care of the booking and you'll be picked up from the hotel. Otherwise, you'll have to book seats yourself from the office at Tala, on a first-come-first-served basis.
Shesh-Saiya, which has a reclining 35 foot-long stone statue of Lord Vishnu dating back to the 10th century, is worth visiting in the Tala zone. It's situated deep inside the forest about halfway to the fort and requires a short walk to reach it. A stream known as Charan Ganga flows from the statue's feet. Nowadays, visitors aren't permitted to go beyond this attraction to the fort.
Elephant rides are possible but they're not easy to book and are costly. Preference is given to those who have booked a special full-day jeep safari. Expect to pay 1,000 rupees per person for 30 minutes. A 50% discount is available for children under 12 years of age. Contact White Tiger Forest Lodge for assistance.
There's an Interpretation Center located behind the safari ticket office at Tala. It showcases the history and story of Bandhavgarh, and has some captivating tiger photos.
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 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 about 10 minutes from the park's Tala gate on a sprawling estate surrounded by forested hills. They specialize in providing private safaris 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 (and exclusive). For a really romantic experience, stay in a Treehouse Hideaway from around $200 per night.