Nov 26, 2006

...In the Forest of the Night

Going To Jim Corbett National Park?
(an edited version of what I submitted to BritannicaIndia)

Death rules supreme in the woods. Thick cover of sal trees, unabated growth of lantana bushes, and dense long grass — nowhere does life sit as precariously as it does here. There are patches that even daylight cannot penetrate, where the vision is minimal and where one has to rely on instincts alone. One slip of toe, single faulty step, or one bad judgment can send you reeling into the jaws of death. Even predators can become the prey. But, is there no possibility for the man to watch these mysteries of wildlife unfold, from a self-inflicted periphery. Mercifully, there is…

Welcome to the wild stretches of Jim Corbett National Park, the first wildlife reserve of India, extending over an area of more than 500 sq km in the Himalayan foothills. Thanks to trained guides and State tourism department, you need not be too adventurous to stay in the middle of jungle — now strewn with lodges — and witness the wildlife in jeep/elephant safari. But must I disappoint you, it is as difficult to sight a tiger here as in a nearby town. Despite being a resident pahari, having seen boars, jackals, even a leopard at my very own village in Harda, in my 37 years of existence the closest I have come to a tiger is an angry grunt, 'fresh' paw marks, pee shots (fresh, of course) and nail scratches on the wood... once in a jeep, a friend pointed to a striped tail but till date I am not sure if it really belonged to a tiger :)(

Nonetheless, a brief stay at the park should remain a fond memory. For, to spot a leopard perched atop a tree or licking his paws; to watch a regiment of elephants frolicking at Dkhikala site; or to even hear a tiger growl late in the night, indeed make a gripping bedtime story for your grandchildren. First two months of the tourist season that begins in November are ideal for bird watching. While I could never spot a tiger in Corbett despite close proximity, I have been able to watch at length what amon bird-watcher as the tiger-with-wings — great Indian hornbill. Just to watch this super-bird loudly flap its wings is a sight to cherish. Infact, if one were to believe the experts or a guide, one can spot over 500 species of winged creatures here; prominent among them being greylag, barheaded goose, grepe, snipe, sandpiper, gull, hornbills, warblers, finches, and a series of wagtails (I have seen so many that I have lost count and desire to classify).

Timings Are Important: The onset of March thereto is best suited for animal viewing. Corbett Park is considered to have the highest density of Tiger populace in the country, approximately one every 10 sq km. Nonetheless, tiger is an elusive cat, and its sighting is rare for amateurs. One may come across alarm calls made by birds and monkeys, indicating the presence of a predator in the vicinity, but to spot this majestic animal remains an ambition for me. Even those groups who camp overnight near a waterhole on full moon nights, lament that the closest they came to a tiger was its growling voice in the dead of night.

Guides are an expert in building the suspense, by showing you a week-old pugmark and gesturinga sssshhhhh, telling you to "be patient and quiet" but all that is a well-rehearsed drill to earn their bread. Not every pugmark leads you home.

Elephant herds on the other hand are easier to spot if you have entered from Dhikala. Mind you, in a pachyderm family, calves are the most enjoyable to watch. But one should also not forget that elephants are more possessive of their young than a tiger. There have been many instances when they charge at the jeep and it is not a mock charge as those of tigers. A safe distance is always advisable.

Leopards in Corbett are well fed, thanks to a regular supply of the simian prey, but just as elusive as tigers. Other feline species found in the Park are jungle cats and caracal (again pretty elusive because of their size). Wild boars, jackals, spotted deer and hog deer are easy to be spotted though.

Survivors Will be Prosecuted: Reptiles basking in the swampy banks of the Ramganga are also a delight to watch. But more than cocodiles or gharials (gavialis gangeticus), large size geckos are easy to sight, espcially near the river. The Ramganga river flows through the entire length of the park and little forest streams and rivulets tumble through the ravines. The river is rich with mahaseer — a sporting fish prized by anglers, though angling inside the park is not permitted but allowed by several resorts on the periphery. One notice at Ghairal that warns against swimming in the Ramganga needs a mention here. It says: “Survivors will be prosecuted”.

Brave as a Tiger (Corbett's Profile)
A word about the early years of this park, and also Jim Corbett, the legendary hunter-turned-conservationist, would not be out of place here. It was in August 1936 that the British Government, on the advice of Jim Corbett, declared this foothill region of United Province (now Uttar Pradesh) as Hailey National Park, naming it after the UP Governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey. After Independence, in 1952, the Park was rechristened as Ramganga National Park, situated as it was on the banks of the river Ramganga, one of the major contributory of the Ganges. Five years later, the forest reserve was renamed yet again as Jim Corbett National Park.

Corbett, a middle-level officer of Scottish origin, had rid the Kumaon and Garhwal regions of man-eating tigers and leopards. Known as Carpet Sahib among local paharis, he became a folklore even during his lifetime. Brought up in the Kumaon administrative district, Corbett, the eighth child of a postmaster, gave up on academics early, proved his prowess at the gun at the age of eight. In his early days, hunted peafowl or boars for family kitchen. Gradually, he was drawn into big game. His splintered career included working as a storekeeper, contractor, as well as captain in World War I. But it was his way with the jungle that earned him recognition.
Stories of his bravery in prose and verse ran far and wide the UP hills. He was revered as a deity by most and considered a White Brahmin by all in the hills. During his last days in British India, Corbett transformed into a conservationist, hung up his boots, and worked for the betterment of Indian wildlife. A national park after his name was a befitting tribute to this hero.

The sleepy town of Ramnagar attached to this park is now home to a host of local tour operators, who earn an honest living by organizing quick safaris in the park. Cheap accommodation is therefore no problem for budget travelers. And for the luxury oriented, there are up-market cottages bording the park with most modern facilities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, good stuff on Jim Corbett. I'm a fan of this place. I've been there 25 times and I know how exasperating a tiger-mission is. But believe me, i've seen some 20 tigers, including five in one day and none in five trips. I feel blessed. It's a place where I forget my city tensions and completely unwind. Take care. HW. (