Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve
November December 2017
wilderness of india s oldest national park
On the foothills of Himalayas, the Jim Corbett National Park in Nainital district of Uttarakhand, spoils visitors for choice with its abundant wildlife. Encounters with its Bengal tigers, leopards, elephants, deers and fish-eating crocodiles, will undoubtedly leave you with numerous tales to narrate.
With the holiday season setting start in most parts of India it was the perfect time to pack our bags and throng the place to quench our thirst of spotting the rare. And what could have been better than the country’s oldest tiger reserve? – the Jim Corbett National Park, in Uttarakhand.
After a 90-minute drive from the Ramnagar railway station, as soon as we entered the forest area around the Tiger Corbett Reserve in the Jim Corbett National Park, spread over 1,318 square km, elephants taking shelter from the rain, deer crossing roads and wild boars and monkeys showing us the way, enthused us for the journey ahead.
On the way, sign boards reading ‘don’t walk inside the park’, ‘drive slow, animals have first right to cross the road’ and ‘no honking inside the park’, welcomed us – as we found ourselves surrounded by safari jeeps, tiger motifs roaring back at us and tiger T-shirts hanging outside souvenir shops.
“Corbett Tiger Reserve was named after the famous British hunter James Edward Corbett (also known as Jim Corbett), whom the locals admired for hunting tigers that preyed on people,” informed our driver and guide Ayyub Shifi, as we drove further. However, the hunter-turned conservationist later became a prominent voice for conservation of the wild. The Tiger Corbett Reserve was established in 1936 as the Hailey National Park, which was then renamed to Ramganga National Park. It was only in 1957 after the demise of Edward Corbett that the park was named after him.
Entry into the park is divided through four gates: the Jhirna zone, Dhikala, Bijrani and the Durga Devi zone, also known as Loha Chaud. Upon entering the reserve through Jhirna, light raindrops rolled out a rather wet carpet for us, as we started our journey for a safari experience, tossing about in the back of our gypsy.
Driving into the forest area dominated by Sal trees, various types of deer including the spotted deer, sambhar and the barking deer chewing on grass and soft leaves became a common sight, soon joined by peacocks and wild boars in their natural surroundings. “Deer do not run away after seeing humans or cars anymore. However, don’t talk loudly or shout on seeing them and be careful not to leave any garbage inside or outside the jungle”, said Shifi.
The forest department doesn’t allow hurting or disturbing animals and their natural cover in any way. Visitors are also not allowed to use a torch to look at animals inside or even outside the jungle during night safaris as it may disturb the animals.
As we rolled our eyes in search of the wildlife, our guide told us not to waste our time looking on our left where the forest was full of Lantana leaves. “These leaves are warm and dry and so animals do not generally venture here during summers. They can be spotted here in winters, but for now, it is likely that the animals rest on Java Plum leaves,” said Puran Pradhan, Manager – Kunkhet Valley Resort, who being a good naturalist and a resident of the place for more than 20 years, enhanced our safari experience with his knowledge.
Upon steering inside the deep jungle, we spotted a dead deer, perhaps killed by a tiger and began to follow the tiger pugmarks. While the search for the largest cat species was still on, our guide began informing us about it. “Tigers can be spotted easily during the dry, summer days when they usually come out for water. They don’t attack unless they are with their cubs, even when they roam in groups during November-December,” he said.
Although, to our disappointment we couldn’t spot the big cat and only enjoyed the tiger encounter narrations by people who had managed to catch a glimpse. “There are 40-50 thousand deer and around 250 tigers in Corbett. Tiger spotting is not easy as the park’s tall grass provides a great camouflage for tigers, making them hard to spot in the yellow-green grassland,” said Anurag Kumar Sharma, coowner of Kunkhet Valley Resort, who also accompanied us for the safari.
Compensating for our disappointment, the silence in the forest was soon broken by chirping of various birds. That’s when our guide informed us that the unbroken jungle, especially the Jhirna zone, is a hotspot for bird watchers and is home to more than 600-odd species of birds that makes about half of the total species found in the entire Indian subcontinent.
“Indian hornbill, kalij pheasant, paradise flycatcher, Himalayan kingfisher, as well as a host of colourful bee eaters, along with woodpeckers, eagles, vultures, parakeets, owls, bulbuls, cuckoos, doves and robins, can be spotted here without a hitch and even binoculars,” said Pradhan, as he kept on directing his finger on one bird to another and kept informing us about them.
“For witnessing otters, mongoose and snakes like cobras, vipers, pythons and kraits, a safari in the Dhikala zone is the best option from where the Ramganga River flows,” suggested a tourist who had done the route just a day earlier.
Jim Corbett is also one of the few national parks in the country where visitors can stay at forest rest houses inside the jungle and opt for an elephant safari. Though the area covered by an elephant is much smaller, perched on an elephant back offers a unique perspective of the jungle – towering trees, quick movements of the crickets and scent of flowers in the air – which cannot be experienced in a jeep.
We did not spot any tiger during the safari, but luckily ran into a leopard on our way back to the resort. He entered into the jungle after crossing the road unmindful of our vehicle around and as soon as he entered the forest – sounds of spotted deer and monkeys broke the silence. “Monkeys, deer and birds seem to have this friendship where they apparently make calls to each other upon seeing meat eating animals; to hint of its presence around,” said Shifi.
In and around the park
The national park is not just about the wild joys, but also the riverine vegetation growing alongside the Ramganga and Kosi rivers that meander through the park and various other destinations around the forest area.
A major part of the park is situated on the banks of River Kosi, where visitors can enjoy rafting and bridge slithering, starting from the Jhula Bridge, which goes up till the Kosi River. However, prior permission is needed from the park authorities. For the anglers, there is a lot of golden mahseer, a large Indian fresh water fish (carp) in the gleaming waters of Ramganga and Kosi Rivers. The Mahseer also attracts a large number of migratory birds. However, fishing is only permitted outside the park premises.
Another famous destination situated near Ramnagar on the outskirts of the Corbett National Park, is the Garjiya Devi Temple, considered a sacred shrine, believed to have been formed naturally by the mud and clay that came along during a flood over 150 years ago. Surrounded by the Kosi River tributary, the temple holds a rich, religious significance and the locals have a book full of stories associated with its formation and existence.
Sitting on a large rock in the middle of the river, the temple was not really popular till 1940, though in the recent years, it has been protected and reconstructed many times by the temple management and has begun to see an increasing number of visitors.
“One night before a flood that hit this area 150-200 years ago, a saint saw a dream that something along with water will come flowing in this region and he has to stop it. The next day, the area was hit with the flood and the saint saw a big mountain of clay and mud that was constantly getting collected in one place with the flow of water. He then meditated to stop the mountain on that place itself. Since then, the 100 metres hill is there and over time devotees established effigies of idols – that later came to be known as the Garjiya Temple,” explained Pradhan.
Moving ahead, about 26 km from Ramnagar, Corbett waterfall on the Ramnagar-Kaladhungi highway, surrounded by dense teak wood forest is an ideal location to appreciate the beauty of the place. This waterfall cascades from a height of 20 metres; although the fall is not very huge and bathing in the falls is no longer permitted, the natural beauty around the place compensates for it. The visitors have to take small trek of around 1.5 km from main road to reach the cascade.
If you’re interested in knowing about the life of James Edward Corbett, the house where he lived, at Kaladhungi, is just 26 km from Ramnagar. The 1881 building, located near Nainital Lake, was the residence of this legendary hunter who brought the region international fame with his book, The Man-Eaters of Kumaon. His work desk and other objects of daily use are still housed inside the cottage, with portraits representing his transformation from a hunter to a conservationist, along with framed information about his life.
Driving ahead, approximately 30 km from the Corbett Park, the Himalayan View Point is a beautiful tourist spot, from where one can have a glimpse of the mighty Himalayan ranges and lower forested ridges, for a complete Corbett experience.
How to reach
Ramnagar, the nearest railhead to Jim Corbett, is well connected by road and rail to major cities like New Delhi, Moradabad, Nainital and Bareilly. The park is 295 km away from Delhi. Overnight trains like Ranikhet Express and Sampark Kranti Express from Delhi railway station to Ramnagar run daily.
Kunkhet Valley Resort
A haven on wellness in the Himalayas
One of the best aspects of visiting the Jim Corbett National Park is that it blends the excitement of staying in the jungle with all the comforts of a hotel. Located on a picturesque spot by the Kosi River, the Kunkhet Valley Resort offers accommodation options ranging from five star cottages and tents to walled rooms.
Bestrewed by vegetable and fruit plantations, the property bore a perfect blend of calmness and wellness in its pure, mountain air that had freshly been washed by rain. Surrounded by water streams, birds, butterflies, jackfruit and banana trees, and other vegetable and fruit plantations, most visitors preferred sitting across the balcony of their tents as it rained outside. “Everyone in my family is working, so we wanted to just relax and since the place is so soothing with the view of the mountains and river, we have decided to enjoy and explore only the resort this time,” said Bhavika Miglani, a resident of Bengaluru in Karnataka.
The management at the resort is known for its warm hospitality and it seems to have earned its reputation. The manager helps guests with nature trails like plantation walks, jungle trekking with naturalists, bird watching, agricultural fields, and experiencing a typical village life in the vicinity of the property. The hotel staff pays a great deal of attention to details, making guests feel special.
As the sunset neared, the sky above our tent played with red, yellow and blue hues, which were soon replaced by a jet-black sheet with innumerable shining stars, something that we had not experienced for years, thanks to the city life and, of course, the pollution. We sat cross-legged beside the river staring at the night sky, with the cool wind playing with us for hours. The place is undoubtedly great for some stargazing and even for bonfires with the sound of gushing waves and chirping of various types of birds. In fact, according to the locals, bird watchers throughout the year frequent the area around the resort, which has also made the place well known amongst directors of various Hindi television reality shows With both international and local chefs, the resort serves pure vegetarian meals and culinary highlights range from typical Indian food to Chinese and Italian, amongst other cuisines.
Catering to Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR), the resort also supplies water to the only school in the adjacent Kunkhet Village, and employs people from the village for posts as high as of managers to uplift them. Also a part of the resort is a cricket training ground run by former BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) selector, who also happens to be the co-owner of the resort. During afternoons, all over the place were young aspiring cricketers who would practice in the ground and tell us about stories of when they met players from the Indian cricket team, who also stayed at the resort.
The resort provided the kind of luxury we were not really expecting in a forest. The rooms were well appointed and the food was good. Moreover, the property is approximately an hour away from the Ramnagar railway station and about a half an hour from the safari.