CHARISMATIC CORBETT

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Being an avid reader of Jim Corbett , I enthusiastically jumped at the chance of visiting Corbett National Park in Nainital in March 2019. A group of my daughter’s friends were going and I happily tagged along. The tour was organized by Dr. Shashank’s Jungle Sutras. We reached Delhi and the 8 hour journey to Ramnagar was not in the least arduous as the vehicles were comfy and the expectations of the coming excitements were high.

Ramnagar is a bustling town right next to the jungle. It was rather startling to see the buffer forest divided from the city by just a tar road . Our stay that day was in a comfortable resort “Corbett Tusker Trails” . We noticed that the whole resort was securely fenced in by electric fences and we could see the high trees of the dense forest on the other side. The staff of the resort told us that just the day before they had seen 3 tigers prowling about outside the fences. Aha, a frisson of excitement raced through the group – maybe we could start seeing tigers even before we set foot in the forest.!!! On further questioning, they swore they saw them regularly as the tigers were in the habit of visiting the tea stall at the end of the road. I think that was when we realized – it may be a little exaggerated touristy version of the facts.

Next morning was our tryst with Corbett tiger reserve. We set off in jeeps with drivers who would be with us throughout our tour. We were travelling to Dikhala, a guest house right in the middle of the forest. The ride took 3 hours inside the mesmerizing jungle, which was thick with very tall sal trees. The ominous silence was strange to my city-bred ears and my imagination ran wild when I thought of Corbett roaming these forests on foot searching for man eaters. A thrill ran down my spine, the raw beauty of the place has to be experienced, not explained.

We reached Dikhala in the afternoon. What a picturesque place with pure air that was crisp and cool. Situated in the core of the dense jungle ,the high mountains in the background and the Ramganga river flowing sinuously in front of the guest house – this place really satiates one’s love for the wilderness. We noticed that here too the whole guest house was securely fenced in by electric fences. We stayed there for 2 days and it was truly a lifetime memorable experience.. Our afternoon safari started after a delicious lunch, and the first animals we saw were a pair of white throated Martins, I was excited as I had never seen them before and I was told that it was a very rare sighting. We journeyed on and at one point we could hear the growls of a tiger. We sat up straight and craned our necks, but the dense undergrowth prevented us from seeing the striped cat. Hark, the sound of an alarm call, and 8-9 jeeps would frantically hurtle pell – mell towards the sound. . The sounds in the jungle are rather deceptive, and as we were rushing in one direction we would meet another jeep seriously hurtling in the opposite direction. The main objective of the drivers and guides was to show the tourists the Tiger. Some jeeps were lucky enough to spot one and the smug tourists in those jeeps were enviously gaped at by the others. But for us, the elusive cat remained---- elusive.

Next dawn saw our jeep climbing up the mountains with us snugly bundled up in borrowed blankets. We were lucky enough to see quite a lot of animals – sambhar, chital, barking deer, jackal, wild cat (I could see only it’s tail) and elephants. We rounded a bend and came across a whole herd of these gentle giants, so well camouflaged that but for the driver’s keen eyesight, we could have easily passed them. While we were watching them we could hear the growls of a tiger clearly from our left. Our hearts beat faster and our eyes grew keener and our imagination played tricks. But no tiger!. So we rushed off to another destination, only to learn later on that the jeep behind us saw a beautiful tigress with cubs. Such is the luck in nature.

We had a packed lunch in the middle of the jungle surrounded by the twittering of the birds and rustling of creatures in the undergrowth . Beats having breakfast in a swanky five star hotel any day! The rich flora and fauna was truly breathtaking. Vast grasslands gave way to dense jungles of sal trees, so dense that the sunlight struggled to find a path through the branches. There were rivers everywhere, tributaries of the ramganga, meandering through the forest with stones polished smooth on its banks- stones as big as center tables and some as small as marbles all polished to a fine sheen. What a truly wonderful sight, each facet of the reserve was fascinating and so different.

We could see a tiger only on the 3rd safari and what a magnificent experience ! She was sitting in the middle of the path in the grasslands intently focusing on her prey totally oblivious of the jeeps on either side of her. Time stood still , there was pin drop silence, all eyes were focused on her, Suddenly she took great leaping bounds towards the deer, there was a whirl of dust and we heard the piercing death cry of her prey. It was over in a matter of seconds. We were told that it was a tigress with cubs and we waited to see if she would bring her cubs to the kill. But it was not to be.

Returning to Ramnagar, we stayed in another resort which had so many flowering litchi trees . I would have loved to have seen them laden with fruits. We had two more safaris in the Bijrani zone. Of the 6 zones in the park Bijrani is the second most popular after Dikhala. Wildlife sightings are supposed to be as good as Dikhala. We entered from the Aamdani gate and after the buffer zone we entered a thicker jungle. The forest was teeming with birdlife. We were told there were more than 500 varieties, both native and migratory. We drove through the shimmering grasslands and the dense jungles which seemed to be waiting with bated breath for the roar of a tiger! Such is the magic of Corbett national park especially for those who have read Corbett’s books .My imagination ran wild and though we saw just a few animals-boar, sambar and spotted deer, the drive through the jungle was exhilarating. But all good things come to an end and the next day after a brief sojourn into the forest, we left for Delhi to catch the flight back home, mulling over our fabulous trip.

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