Away from the crowd packed like sardines, nestling in the foot hills of the mighty Himalayas, lies this beautiful piece of earth called Corbett. River Ramganga quietly flows cutting this valley into two. The upper regions boast of thick vegetation while the lower grass lands sway gently with the cool northerly winds. The birds started their dawn chorus as we drove along the banks of Ramganga, when we heard a throaty bark somewhere inside the forest. Then another!! "sambar-alarm" , our driver whispered, "definetly a tiger" he said. Our hearts skipped a beat while we watched this family of sambars stepping out in the open with Sun at their back, they seem to be very alert, looking around but the play never stopped to cease.
Jim Corbett National park, is the oldest park in India which was established in the year 1936 to protect the Bengal tiger. Initially known as the Hailey park, this park got rechristened after the legend Jim Corbett, who had a lot to contribute towards the establishment of the park.
Tourists are allowed in selective areas of the park. There are close to 70,000 visitors every year and the crowd has been on the increase. Corbett has got more than 488 species of ‘fauna’ and a variety of plants. This makes it one of the best parks in the world.
The easiest way and the most comfortable way to reach Corbett is to fly in to Delhi and then take the Corbett park link express from the old Delhi railway station to Ramnagar in Uttrakand. The train leaves Old Delhi railway station at 22.35 and reaches the small town at 4.55 next day morning. The drive from the Delhi airport through the city takes two hours, so one needs to book a flight which reaches Delhi by 7PM. Pre-paid taxis are available at the Airport for a very nominal price. One can see the stark difference between New Delhi and Old Delhi during this drive. Buzzing with passengers, Old Delhi railway stations is one of the busiest places on earth. To ones’ surprise there is an Mc Donalds outlet in the station where one can indulge in the sins called fast foods!! We can hire a porter, oops!!, sorry, some demanding porters or coolies to carry our luggage. This is recommended as the train is usually shunted on the 6th or 7th platform, and manoeuvring with heavy luggage on the foot bridge amongst the crowd is not an easy task. The 2AC and the 3AC compartments are very clean and the journey is also very enjoyable for the fact that one is dreaming about the elephants and tigers of this magical Corbett.
‘When she can do it, i can do it, when she can do it, i can do it’ is what the train seem to sing all the way long till she chugs slowly into the town of Ramnagar the next day morning at 4.55AM. Summers are pleasant and winters are really cold. Though i love winters cos the landscape is entirely different the Best time to visit Corbett is between Mid Feb to Mid April. There are three well defined seasons, winters are from Nov to Feb, summer lasts from March to June and then it is monsoon time in Corbett. The park is closed between June to Nov . During this time the park receives close to 1400mm of rain fall.
Ramnagar is a small little town, located 65 kilometres from Nainital and it is the district head quarters. It is the gateway to Corbett. Garjiya Devi and Sita Bani temples located nearby also attract many visitors to this place. The Garjiya temple is situated in the mid of Kosi river. Ramnagar played a very important part in Sir Edward Jim Corbett’s life as it was this town where he used to come down to telegram his mother, sister and let them know about his and his targets (man eaters) situation and position. This town now is filled with resorts which can cater to any segment of people. It surprises anyone traveling to Corbett for the first time that the entire town’s main source of income is bcoz of the jungle and every establishment is named after the legend, Jim Corbett.
That most welcoming sight one has in Ramnagar is the sight of the open jeep and one of the most experienced drives/guides who would be accompanying us for the next four to five days time. Early morning drive through this little town is an experience by itself. One gets to see small kids dressed up in their school uniforms rushing to catch their school bus. Gypsys’ (jeeps) all over the place, fresh vegetables and fruits being sold by the road side, Chaiwalas (tea shops) busy making piping hot tea. To beat this all the fresh air one gets to breathe makes one forget all his/her worries in life.
After a quick exchange of greetings, we are on the way to the most desired and sought out places in Corbett, the Dhikala grass lands. Dhikala grass lands offers an amazing and uninterrupted view of the valley. There is a watchtower near Dhikala, which gives more imposing view of the valley. We have to enter through Dhangadi gate. The Dhikala forest rest house is located 30kms from the gate. The one to one and half drive through the forest from the gate would make anyone sit on the edge of their seat. The Sun really finds it difficult to reach the forest floor bcoz of the thick Sal forests (which covers 80% of Corbett). The weather drops by two more degrees and makes it even more cold during winter. Now you are in the jungle!!! The first halt is at ‘Crocodile Point’. The view from here is breathtaking.
Sometimes people are very lucky to find a tiger walking up the opposite bank to drink water. So a clean check of the banks is highly recommended. After checking the banks, we proceed towards the rest house. En route the tall Sal trees seem to bowing and welcoming us.
It is around 12 noon one reaches the guest house. The first look of the guest houses makes everyone feel that they have entered a gated community but the truth is the cottages are in the middle of the forest!!!. “Sir, have a quick lunch and let’s get inside”, says the driver. They are very professional and they enjoy being in the jungle as much as we do. Their primary intention is to show the customers the most sought out King of the jungle. Lunch is served in a common area. After such an exciting drive everyone has a hunter appetite. Only veg food is served inside the parks. But the hot chapattis, dhal, sabzis( vegetables), salad and pappad makes one forget the nonveg.
The afternoon drive starts at 1.30pm. Before the gates open, the only topic of discussion is who and where the tiger has been sighted. There is a sparkle in the drivers’ eyes. Every bend and turn has got its beauty. The drivers stop even at the smallest bird. “Sir, this is Common Stone Chat”, he says.
Stoping at the river side, driving through the dense jungle, hearing for alarm calls, anxiously waiting for the cat to appear, before one returns to the rest house is the best part being in the jungle. Every twig which moves, every alarm call heard, glimpse of the running deers’, the sight of the gentle giants (elephants) at the water holes makes one feel that they are in heaven and it is true!! We return to the rest house as the orange globe descends the western horizon. The place becomes dark pretty fast and dinner is served at 7.30 onwards to 9.00PM. It is advisable to have an early dinner and sleep. Alcohol is not served inside the park, (not to be quoted, people do carry their stuff). The room attender is at the door sharp at 5.30AM with a hot cup of tea. The hot water from the geyser raises everybody’s hopes of seeing the tiger. Following last evening alarm calls the drivers generally take their jeeps to the same jungle tracks cos it is early mornings and late evenings one gets to sight a tiger frequently.
‘Flanked by tall grass on both the sides, i stood up to get a clear view. The morning mist and the cool breeze makes one feel that you are in heaven. The details of Corbett which my driver was giving to me suddenly came to a grinding halt as he jammed the brakes. “Alarm call”, yes it the cheetals’ (spotted deers) who were on high alert. “Sudhir, it is on the ‘thand’ (hindi word for cold) road, go go go”, i whispered as my blood streams raised northwards. We entered the road and we already had company. There were two more jeeps with guests waiting anxiously. The alarm calls grew in sound, and the forest floor started to reverberate with them. “Sir, don’t take your eyes of your camera, she will come any minute”, says Sudhir. ‘come, come, come’ i keept murmuring as my eyes were stuck to the view finder. Then she arrived. The shutters went off like a machine gun, but she was seldom bothered, it was her land and she was the undisputed queen. Like a phantom she vanished into the tall grass and we were all left speechless. I knew i had got my dream shot, ‘The Tigress in the Mist’
The drive along the RAMGANGA river is a different experience. One gets to see the pug marks (both fresh and old), sometimes a tiger or a leopard walking on the banks of the river or basking on the marble white rocks. The blue water is the hunting ground for many birds. The Pied Kingfisher hovering over the river, swooping elegantly to pick up the fish, the lesser fish eagle taking off from a high perch in search of its prey, the small blue Kingfisher sitting on the rocks, patiently waiting for the fish to show up was a treat to ones’ eyes.
There are many routes in Dhikala but Bijrani (another range in Corbett) has got more routes. After a 5 and 1/2 hour morning safari, we get back to our guest house for lunch. After the delicious hot food, one can relax for an hour or so before we are back on our jeeps. Evenings the place turns’ magical. The setting sun shines his golden light over the grass lands making it glow like gold. The predators, especially the tiger are very active during the evening time. They are on their feet, after a day long sleep and it is hunting time now. The deers are on high alert and their calls are heard from far.
Summers are the best time to watch the elephants. They congregate in hundreds near the water hole. The calfs are very playful and watching them is a treat to ones’ eyes for sure.
Next day we are off to Bijrani. It is very familiar of all the three zones in Corbett due to its proximity to Ramnagar. Hordes of tourists do their day safaris in this zone. Bijrani area was once formed part of a shooting block. This shooting block area covers the entire in and around area of Bijrani. This place was most famous during the British time for hunting. Bijrani terrain is drier in comparison to Dhikla and it also has more diverse vegetation then Dhikla.
But i was among the lucky few who got to stay inside the forest rest house, which is 5kms from the gate. The rest house is small when compared to ones at Dhikala, but it is situated in such a place and the view outside is very refreshing.
‘The news on our arrival was the one i was praying for. One of the day safari drivers stopped and asked us to proceed to waterhole number four immdtly. They had seen the tigress and her four cubs just a little while ago. When we arrived, two of the cubs were just disappearing into the tall grass. I did manage to get a few clicks but i knew a lot more was waiting for me later that afternoon. The way Irshad drove that afternoon surprised me, he crossed the grass land where we saw the cubs, did not stop over at the waterhole, but drove straight and he was a bit fast. Suddenly he braked, reversed and he said, “Sir, kill kiya Sir’, ( she has made a kill). Seldom did i notice the drag mark of the antelope horn’s on the ground. He then turned the jeep and came to halt at the waterhole. The silence of the jungle was broken by the growls of the cubs on the kill. Behind the lantana shrubs the cubs were enjoying the meal their mother had provided. Nothing could be seen from where we were parked but the roars and the growls were sending our blood streams turbulent. Then one by one the cubs appeared to have a drink. A sight i would never forget in my life. Slightly bigger than the house dogs, these cute cubs were proving their might. I was sure they would grow into the finest creatures of the Indian jungle.’
After a night stay in Bijrani one can proceed to Jhirna. Jhirna is a rest house which lies inside the south area boundary of the park. This rest house is located on the road from Ramngar to Kalagarh. The landscape in this area is drier than Dhikala. Jhirna was one of the farming village till 1994 and after that it was taken under project tiger.
If one has to explore Corbett and enjoy its beauty , one requires atleast 4 nights (2 nights in Dhikala, one night each at Bijrani and Jhirna). Corbett has a multitude of birds. The great horn bills tossing their seeds up in the air before gulping them is a must see.
Prior booking need to be done if one needs to stay in the forest rest houses. For Dhikala this is a must. For Bijrani and Jhirna, one can stay in a resort in Ramnagar and get to do the morning and evening safaris. But it is highly recommended to get to stay in the forests rest houses.
As one bids good bye to Corbett and boards the train back to Old Delhi reclines in his/her berth, we just get to see the landscape refreshing as cucumber pads for the eyes and the heavens feeling-indeed they were -that much closer!!
Corbett National Park….’The Mother of Wild India’
How to reach :-
Train:- One needs to take the Corbett Park Link Express from Old Delhi railway station to Ramnagar in Uttrakand.
Ariport:- The nearest Airport to Corbett is Pantnanagar airport which is situated 80kms from Corbett, taxis are available from here to Corbett
Places to Stay :- At Dhikala, only place to stay is at the forest rest house. For bookings you need to email to [email protected]. Contact nos are +91-120-4052601 to 99 (85 hunting lines are available) Fax No is :- +91-120-4052699. For the other two ranges in Corbett (Bijrani and Jhirna) you can either stay at the forest rest houses or stay at any private resort at Ramnagar and do the safaris. There are a plenty of tour operators who arrange for the safaris and stay at Corbett.
Typical Food :- Inside the park at all teh forest rest houses only vegetarian food is cooked. This consists of chapattis, sabzis, rice, dhal, salad and papad. They are prepared very hygienically and served in a common dinning place at particular timings. At all the resorts outside the park, all kind of cuisines are available, though emphasize is given to north indian cuisine.
What and where to buy :-
There are many shops along the roadside from Ramnagar to Corbett selling curios, caps, jackets, gloves, hats. One needs to spend time and negotiate for the best prices.