People usually head to a tiger reserve specially to spot tigers; but how about you get to see and experience many more things as a bonus along the way? Bandhavgarh National Reserve in Madhya Pradesh in one such place where no matter what, you’ll always fall short of time for things to see. It’s spread across 453 sq kms and is home to some of the countries most loved animals, plants and migratory birds. The main base for visits here is the small, laid-back village of Tala, 32km northeast of Umaria city with the nearest train station.

The best time to visit here is between February to June; though April, May and June are very hot with temperatures often climbing above 40°C. The trail usually starts from Tala and heads into the three zones of the national park. Here’s what you mustn’t miss when in the national park:

Look forward to jeep safaris

About a hundred six-passenger safari jeeps are allowed into the park per day, but it’s wiser to make arrangements as far ahead as possible, because safaris can sell out months ahead, especially for the Tala zone. Morning safaris, starting between 5.30am and 6.45am are longer and tend to produce more tiger sightings as opposed to the afternoon safaris which starts at 3pm.

Spot the tiger

One of the most sighted animals in Bandhavgarh National Park is the tiger and travellers can’t help but marvel at the huge variety including the white tiger. Some other animals are also spotted here frequently such as carnivores like asiatic jackal, Bengal fox, sloth bear, ratel, gray mongoose, striped hyena, jungle cat, leopard, spotted deer, sambar, chausingha, nilgai and chinkara along with mammals like dhole, the small Indian civet, palm squirrel and more.

Home to a huge variety of birds

There are both resident and migratory birds found here in abundance: these include the crane, black kite, red jungle fowl, dove, parakeet, crested serpent eagle, black vulture, Egyptian vulture, common peafowl, and the Indian roller. Then there are these special birds as well such as Grey Hornbill, Red Jungle Fowl, Common Teals, and White-Breasted Kingfisher.

Malaya Cafe

This is cafe run by Neelam, an extroverted escapee from the marketing business in Ahmedabad. She does a fabulous job of pure-veg breakfast and brunches that are the perfect finish to a morning safari. Real filter coffee or homemade lemonade, fresh and dried fruit porridge and lentil pancakes with salad or mashed potatoes are some of the real deals here. It not only serves excellent Indian and Western snacks all day but also houses some rare and individual artisan products that you can buy as a takeaway souvenir.

Kolkata Restaurant

Friendly chef and owner Amal Jana is a one-man show at this glorified dhaba (eatery serving snacks and basic meals), where he whips up honest, down-home, extremely tasty thalis – he reckons it’s due to the mustard oil – that can be kicked up a notch with a side of his spicy tomato chutney. Also omelettes, Chinese and limited Continental.

Interpretation Centre

This museum at Bandhavgarh has interesting exhibits detailing the history and legends of the reserve, plus some superb tiger photos in one part of its section. It’s close to the safari ticket office by the main road in Tala.