It was past 10pm when I finally arrived at Bandhav Vilas after a long drive from Kanha National Park's Mukki Zone. The journey, though tiring, had left in my mind, an image of vast tracts of uninhabited land, long endless winding road and forest in its fall glory. The entrance to the resort looked promising—the ornate gate threw at me hints of luxury I was minutes away from. My host at Bandhav Vilas, after a brief moment of greeting, escorted me to my villa. "We don't have rooms here at Bandhav Vilas, we have villas." Once in a while a woman deserves her own villa, approved my inner voice.
I was handed a flashlight at the front desk. I thought to myself again, "way to my villa hath no street light?" In fact, it was better than that. Entire resort is lit up by small electric lanterns, giving it a rustic feel. I was not going to ruin the aesthetic by flashing my flashlight—definitely an add-on.
My appointed villa, truly a regal accommodation at that, had a hint of rustic and luxury at the same time. Definitely no dearth of space, the 1000sq ft plus villa had a spacious bedroom, a private sit-out, a dressing area, a very spacious bathroom that extended outdoors to a private courtyard with rain shower. Bandhav Vilas didn't beat around the bush when it came to aesthetics. Everything in the room signified something from the wild. From the tiger-printed curtains to tribal artwork on the walls to every small knick-knacks in the bathroom, they all reminded me where I was—right on the periphery of Bandhavgarh National Park, home to the striped king of the jungle.
I couldn't wait for the morning to come, the place made me curious to learn more about my surroundings. With the sound of crickets and an occasional hoot of a distant owl, I retired to my bed.
My day started at 5am the next morning and with it came the glorious surprise. All around me I could see tall trees, bushes, all surrounding the villa. It took me a while to replay the event of the previous day. My first safari to Bandhavgarh's Tala Zone was booked for 6:30am. On my way to the reception, the noticed my surroundings that I was unable to figure out the previous night. A short bridge joined the main reception/activity area to the rest of the independent villas. In front of me was a huge courtyard with a place for bonfire, an outdoor multiple lounge areas and seating arrangements that made the courtyard look straight out of a home decor magazine. Bougainvillea creepers covered every possible corner of the courtyard. It was picture perfect! As I headed towards the main gate, I walked past one very large banyan tree, aerial roots on the ground. That tree was indeed an arresting sight, no wonder it was Bandhav Vilas' icon.
My early morning safari at Bandhavgarh National Park's Tala Zone was quite a success. This was my first visit to the park. The rocky terrain did add a lot of bumps but accompanied by trained naturalist, our rough ride was soon forgotten after we spotted our first fresh pugmark. At the time, unsure about the sex of the tiger, we followed the pug marks and proceeded towards the interior of the park. Bandhavgarh is one of the smaller parks in India but with a good number of tigers, so the rate of spotting is always high. On that positive note and a sudden warning call of langurs, in a matter of few minutes, whole jungle came to life. Someone announced on the wireless about a cub seen near a watering hole. And just like that every safari jeep in that area made a beeline for that spot. After an agonising hour of chase and wait, as we all waited patiently for the mahout and his elephant to track the cub, a in a very dramatic way, I spotted the cub under a beam of sunlight, in a thicket. The moment I informed others, the cub moved deeper into the shade, showing off just its tail before disappearing. I could hardly keep a chuckle at others' attempt to spot, but what a lucky sighting that was. Just then the wireless came to life again about more calls at a different site. The chase continued.
From this exercise I learnt how to differentiate between normal langur activities and a warning call. Almost another hour later, after warning calls of cheetal and langur, just like that, in front our jeep, the tigress Spotty came walking in a slow but deliberate cat-walk. Unfazed by the scurrying jeeps, camera shutter sounds and around 30 people around her, the tigress walked towards our jeep with such an unfazed attitude. We couldn't help but make way for her. That morning was just a series of good luck I suppose. Taking that as a definite good sign, we headed off to explore further deep into the park. Once my mind was at ease after spotting two tigers in less than three hours, I shifted my attention to other residents of the park. Spotting the critically endangered red-headed vulture, followed by an Egyptian vulture, to me, that was the second highlight . Ripe with mammals and birds, my trip to Bandhavgarh National Park came to an end but on such a positive and fun note!
Now back to the resort, I had the whole day to myself. Earlier that morning I walked past a bamboo grove inside the property and I wondered how it would be to take a walk under that. Amidst birdsongs, I decided to take a walk around the wooded parts of the resort. Hoopoes looking for seeds on the ground, white-eyes picking on seeds up on the trees, one spotted dove kept an eye on me as I walked around capturing everything in my camera. On trees outside the villa, I spotted a large flock of coppersmith barbets, white-eyes and and red-whiskered bulbuls. Just standing on the verandah, I began making my e-Bird checklist for the day. Total of 16 species of birds spotted just sitting in the verandah. The birder in me was wildly satisfied.
Later that evening, I sat down with my hosts for an elaborate dinner of traditional food. Under the starlit sky, lanterns all around and talks on the importance of conserving the wild, the rich bird-life inside the resort campus, our morning sightings, along with some great traditional Indian fares, the entire day was a great success. After dinner, my host offered to take me on a night safari to the resort's sister property just a couple of kilometres away. Its close proximity to the national park was the reason why during our impromptu night ride, we came across a couple of wild boars and a jackal. At the sister property, I was shows how close a guest can stay near the forest. So close that there were hoof marks on the then dried mud. I was told that in the past, some guests woke up to pugmarks in front of their cottages!
At the resort, no doubt the luxury is impeccable, but luxury along with the experience you get with the wild and the company of the good folks at Bandhav Vilas, is what that makes this place unforgettable.
Location: Village Kuchwahi, Bandhavgarh (Tala Zone), Umaria district, Guruwahi, Madhya Pradesh.
Accommodation: There are 20 villas in total. Villa Single from Rs 12600; Villa Double from Rs 14500
Contact: +91 8860518887, +91 8860518885; [email protected]; www.bandhavvilas.com