Living Edens: Temple of the Tigers Photo Essay: Explore the Bandhavgarh Preserve
As far back as the 12th century, until it was declared a national park in 1968, Bandhavgarh, in the Vindhya Hills of India's Madhya Pradesh, had served as a game reserve and tiger hunting ground for the Maharajas of Rewa.
At the top of the Bandhavgarh plateau lies a fort, thought to be more than 2,000 years old, that includes several Hindu temples. Legend holds that the Hindu god Rama bestowed the fort to his brother Laxmana -- hence the name Bandhavgarh, which translates as "brother's fort."
At the ancient temple at the top of the plateau reclines a statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, thought to have to been carved more than 1,000 years ago. In the Hindu pantheon, Vishnu represents the preservation of life, health, and prosperity.
Bandhavgarh's lush terrain is a direct result of the monsoonal climate. Typically, the monsoon season lasts from June to September, with an average annual rainfall of 50 inches, refreshing the parched landscape.
Ramprasad, a Hindu priest in his eighties, is the lone human inhabitant of Bandhavgarh; only once a year, when thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the temple, does he share the park with anything other than animals. Here, he anoints himself as he does at the start of each day.
Every year in late summer, once monsoon season ends, thousands of Hindus, young and old, stream up the hillsides in an annual pilgrimage to Bandhavgarh's temples to receive blessings from Ramprasad.
For more than 10 years, Bandhavgarh's dominant royal Bengal tiger was Charger, whose name became synonymous with the park. LIVING EDENS filmmakers captured the sequence in which Charger was deposed by his own grandson, B1, as part of the endless cycle of life in the wild.
Jackals -- and elderly tigers like Charger -- can make a good meal of the abandoned carcass of a deer. While carrion birds do not present a direct threat, they are nonetheless dangerous, because their aerial presence draws attention and alerts predators that animals on the ground may be feeding.
While tigers must eat their food where it falls, leopards can carry prey into the treetops to secure it from scavengers and other predators. Among the big cats, leopards' strong leg and neck muscles render them uniquely able to heft something as large as a giraffe or antelope into the branches.
Hanuman langurs, monkeys native to Bandhavgarh, are named for the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. In the wild, they subsist on jungle vegetation. In many Indian cities, they roam free, living on handouts from Hindus who consider them sacred because of their resemblance to the god Hanuman.
The approach of the monsoon season in June is a relief after Nortapa, the hottest nine days of the year when temperatures reach 120 degrees. Luckily, Bandhavgarh's animal inhabitants do not have to wait for monsoon for water. A spring-fed source of water, a pool in front of the Vishnu statue, is full all year.
Tigers are seen as the ultimate predator, with immense speed and strength; they can bring down prey up to 10 times their own weight. They are also among the only members of the cat family to take readily to water. Excellent swimmers, they can be seen dipping into Bandhavgarh's rivers and ponds to stay cool -- as well as to hunt.