The strip of pristine Sal forests was once the hunting reserve of Maharajahs of Rewa Estate during the pre-independence period. The last Maharajah was a hunter turned conservationist, and is credited with discovering and nurturing the white tiger. Mohan, the white tiger cub was found in the forests of Sidhi an hour's drive from Bandhavgarh then contiguous.
Mohan was raised at Govindgarh Fortress by the Maharajah, and all the white tigers around the World are his progeny. Without much scientific pursuit, Maharajah Martandsinghji raised and increased the population, thanks to his understanding of big cat behavior and diligence. The strip of Sal forests where the cub was discovered is now known as Sanjay Dubri National Park. Both parks are situated in Central India in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Bandhavgarh Civilization Where Time Stands Still
Much before the white cub was discovered in these contiguous forests tribes had found succor in the deep confines of the Sal forests. There were two prominent reasons for the existence of civilization in the inaccessible forests of Bandhavgarh.
Primary reason was based on the security provided by the steep cliffs and tabletop mountains without access. The reason was to avoid conflicts with neighboring tribes, and kingdoms. Bandhavgarh Fort at the height of 800 plus MSL provided an easy lookout to thwart invasions.
It was the Gond Tribes aligned with Rajputs that built the first structures, this was perhaps more than two thousand years back. The mention in ancient Hindu Scriptures date around two thousand years. As the story goes Lord Ram during his exile gifted the Fort to brother Laxman hence the name.
At heights, time stands still and you can experience the ambiance as it was back before humans arrived. Now your company will be zoomorphic idols and wild animals.
Recent Archeological Discoveries at Bandhavgarh
Most of the structures are carved out of the igneous rocks prevailing in the region. The civilizational remains are spread out over a large region covering more than 2000 sq.km. While Fort Complex was known from earlier times including the magnificent idols of Lord Vishnu in zoomorphic forms new artifacts and structures have been discovered recently by the ASI or Archeological Survey of India.
Based on newspaper reports, Hindu Temples, idols, inscriptions on stones, and cave walls have been discovered recently. ASI has also found Buddhist Stupas in the region authenticating Buddhist influence in the region.
Recent discoveries include:
26 Hindu Temples Two Monastries 19 Reservoirs Votive Stupas 24 Inscriptions 46 Sculptures 26 Caves
More is expected to be discovered making Bandhavgarh a treasure trove of ancient civilizational remains. The period mentioned dates to Raja Bhimsena, Maharajah Potteseri & Maharajah Bhattdeva of Kalchuri Dynasties. Some remains date back to the 2nd or 3rd Century AD. Some of the manmade caves date back to the 2nd Century BC highlighting civilization dating such a long time back.
Turbulence in Sylvan Surroundings
The remote and peaceful confines of the Bandhavgarh Forests were not very peaceful as such due to the constant internecine battles that raged between different dynasties that had come to rule the Bandhavgarh Fort, now in complete ruins. Stables, courts, ramparts, and cave shelters are all suggestive of an expanded turbulent era.
The Baghels were the last to rule this tribal refuge, and Maharajah Martandsinghji was the last ruler of the region. The Baghels had shifted their capital to Rewa a long time back, but the fort complex was well looked after. A Ram Laxman Janki Temple still stands as a testimony. However, most of the remains were out of human capacity to preserve due to inaccessibility and extreme climatic conditions. Air and water erosion brought lot many structures and artifacts to dust.
The royals still pay for the priestly service at the Hindu temple. The old Pujari a legendary figure who trudged the tiger-infested forests for the temple's upkeep is no more. His son now follows the same routine without fail.
Most charismatic sights greet tourists now, especially the spectacle at Sesh Shaiyya or reclining Vishnu. The fort complex is out of bounds, but the zoomorphic idols of Lord Vishu are well preserved. I was lucky to visit the fort complex a couple of decades back.
The destination is now a tiger reserve and a National Park and is home to enchanting biodiversity and the Bengal Tiger. Only the forest staff shares accommodation with the big cats and the civilizational structures are completely bereft of human presence.
The tiger rules over the dizzy heights of the park's 32 steep cliffs and breeds in the panoramic landscape. The reserve is a biodiversity hub with more than 22 Central India Mammals, reptiles, insects, and avians. The floral habitats and the mountain rivers support incredible wilderness in an area comprising more than 1100 sq. km.
Except for the forest guards and tourists in 20 % of the core, the belligerent erstwhile soldiers and their rulers are nowhere in the picture, the only conquest that is slated at Bandhavgarh is the conservation of the endangered species.
Tourism is organized at Bandhavgarh National Park every year. You can explore the pristine paradise by booking a permit at MPOnline Portal belonging to MP State. Day and evening safaris are organized in open jeeps and canters. But please book well in advance including the hotel accommodations in the buffer region.
Park is closed during the monsoon from 1 July to 30th September. You can reach the destination from Jabalpur Airport at 170 km or from the neighboring cities of Satna and Katni. Jabalpur provides the best access for inbound tourists from overseas.