Bandhavgarh National Park in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh is a treasure trove of wildlife, history and mythology. Among the several caves, at least one of them dates back to the first century while Brahmi inscriptions can be found in some of them.
The Bandhavgarh fort is a great place for bird watching even as it houses some ancient sculptures of deities that include a 65ft reclining statue of Vishnu (Shesh Shaiya). Apart from having one of the highest density of tigers, it is also rich in other fauna like the barking deer, nilgai and sambar. Sightings have also been reported of the striped hyena and the Indian leopard.
In 1993 Bandhavgarh was declared as the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Tracing its name from Ramayan as the place where Ram asked his brother (bandhu) Lakshman to watch over Lanka from the top of a hill, Bandhavgarh continued this association by naming its most famed inmate – Sita.
Sita along with the male tiger Charger, made a significant contribution to the tiger population. A star attraction, she was eagerly sought out by wildlife photographers and safari tourists. Her awe inspiring presence was avidly caught on camera in 1996-1997 by Michael Nicholas after days of patiently observing her movements captured by strategically located cameras on cliffs, caves, water holes and other tiger trails.
Pug marks were skillfully tracked that lead to the remnants of a kill. Some old-fashioned detection lead to the glorious sight of Sita frolicking with her cubs. The vision of the maternal tigress gently carrying her cub with her mouth adorned the cover page of the 1997 December issue of the National Geographic magazine making her an international celebrity.
Sita’s moment of glory was also her last. She was last sighted in August 1998. As the park reopened after the monsoon season, Sita had disappeared. Theories range from natural death to being killed by locals to falling victim to the poachers. Regal in life, enigmatic in death – Sita was truly the star of Bandhavgarh.