It was the first week of May. The temperature was soaring in the vicinity of 40 degrees Celsius. We sat spellbound for around 3 hours at Bicchubhog Watch Tower located deep inside the world-famous Corbett National Park. We kept our cameras on the stand. The atmosphere was serene and calm. We were waiting for that magical glimpse of the big cat.
Across the Bicchubhog Watch Tower, there was a small water body. Suddenly we heard the alarm call from a group of monkeys beside the trees nearby. Soon enough we saw the king of the jungle striding authoritatively past the dense forest towards the water body, probably to quench his thirst from the sweltering heat.
We readied our cameras. The Tiger at first made an assessment of the surrounding environment and slowly ambled towards the water body and submerging half his body underwater, sat down in a relaxed position for some time. Every time the camera clicked, the big cat appeared to be slightly perturbed and stared ferociously at the Watch Tower where we were sitting.
This continued for a good 20 minutes and at last after cooling himself off in the water, slowly began to walk away towards the jungle. My photographer friend Dr.Pradip Das was still in thrall, marveling at what he saw only a few moments back.
Our primary goal of coming to Corbett National Park all the way from Calcutta via New Delhi was to take a few good pictures of wildlife in Corbett.
Three days back at the Field Director’s office we had meet Tony and Leslie who had come all the way from the UK to appreciate Corbett’s wildlife. The Field Director informed us that Tony and Leslie became interested to visit Corbett National Park after reading a few books written by the legendary Jim Corbett himself.
They wanted to know more about the Indian Tiger and were hell-bent to have a glimpse of the big cat even if it involved roughing it out in the wild. We were indeed taken aback by their concern for Indian wildlife and at the personal request of the Field Director, we decided to add them to our party.
We showed our Entry Documents, completed all other paperwork, and started moving toward Khinanawli Rest House. We were granted permission to stay at Khinanawli Rest House for the first three days and at Dhikala Rest House for the next four days.
On 8th August 1936, Corbett became India’s first National Park. At that time Corbett National Park was named after the then United Province Governor – Sir Malcolm Hailey and the park was thereafter named Hailey National Park. However, in the year 1954, the park was once again renamed Ramnagar National Park, and finally in the year 1955, after the passing away of Jim Corbett in Kenya, the park was finally named Jim Corbett National Park as a tribute to perhaps one of the world’s greatest “Shikari” and wildlife conservationist.
Sprawling in an area of 525 Sq. Km, the park initially covered 323.75 Sq.Kms but it was felt that the area was too small for species like the tiger and elephants which at times moved into the adjoining shooting blocks. These shooting blocks, later on, were included in the National Park and today of course there are no shooting blocks as such. The only shooting allowed is with a camera.
In April 1973, the Government of India launched the ambitious “Project Tiger” and out of the eight National Parks that were chosen to be part of the Project Tiger, the Corbett National Park was foremost on that list.
In the year 1974, due to the building of the Kalagarh Hydel Dam, a good 80 Sq. Km of the Reserved Forest (plain grassland) went under Ramganga reservoir. This grassland was home to Elephants, Cheetals, deer, Sambhar, Hogdeer, and Tigers of course. Corbett National Park’s altitude varies between 385 meters to 1210 meters above sea level. The average temperature in summer is 42-degree centigrade and the average winter temperature is 4 degrees centigrade.
A lot of books have been written about Corbett National Park and its adjoining areas by renowned naturalists. Jim Corbett’s – “Man-Eaters of Kumaon” as well as “The Temple Tiger” (1958), Olive Smith’s – “Tiger Lady” (1953), and John Hewit’s –“Jungle Travels in Northern India” (1938) are the most famous.
Jim Corbett was the first to point out that tigers were disappearing in India and symbolizing the end of his hunting days as it were, he buried with the help of two trusted servants, his three rifles and two shotguns, before leaving for Kenya. In his letters to his friends, he wrote that his heart was still in India.
Khinanawli – Day 2
As per our itinerary, we departed for Kandha at the break of dawn. Kandha happens to be the highest point of Corbett National Park situated at a height of 1210 meters from sea level. The natural beauty of Kandha is mesmerizing. Our Gypsy crossed the Ramganga river and stopped at a place called Parh.
Our driver – Muhammed Nabi was a knowledgeable man and he knows Corbett by the tip of his fingers. Having parked the Gypsy by the banks of the Ramganga, he directed us to look into the waters where a giant Crocodile was lazing off in the sun.
Our Gypsy started moving again towards Kandha. Each moment we traversed, the topography changed dramatically as we gained altitude. All of a sudden our driver stopped the vehicle. He appeared to be listening to the sounds emanating from the jungle from his window.
Relying on past experiences of the jungle, we could sense that a herd of wild elephants was grazing in the grasslands to the left of the road. Every now and then we heard the sound of tree branches being broken. Our driver – Nabi thought it would be wise to take the vehicle to the left of the road and accordingly he took a left turn and parked the vehicle in a vantage position from where we could see the entire herd of elephants grazing.
The jungle here was less dense. So there was no obstruction. I began counting the number of elephants and they were 38 in all. There were six young ones and two were infants. The infants would play around and from time to time hurriedly come and take shelter under the mother’s belly seeking protection.
The spectacular sight of infant elephants blissfully playing around their mother reminded me of Scinthia Moss and Katherine Payne’s research work on elephant behavior. They had concluded in their research work that elephants are perfectly capable of emitting and receiving sub-sonic sounds. However, sub-sonic sounds are beyond the grasp of human beings.
The sub-sonic sounds float in the environment for long distances and scientific research has come to the conclusion that elephants can comprehend sub-sonic sounds from a distance of 7 to 8 kilometers.
But, it is noteworthy that such meticulous scientific research with sub-sonic sounds and Elephant behavior was carried out at the Wamboseli National Park in Africa and they took African Elephants (Africana Loxodanta) as their experimental media. Experiments with sub-sonic sounds on Asiatic Elephants are yet to be carried out in India.
It was late in the afternoon by the time we reached Kandha Rest House. The Rest House is located in a sylvan setting. Since Kandha is the highest point of Corbett National Park, it provides spectacular panoramic views of the park. We climbed up the hillock and as the red molten ball dipped into the far horizon, we wondered about the marvelous thing called creation.
We started our journey back to Khinanawli Rest House. Suddenly, a huge tusker came out on the road from the left jungle. There was no way we could go forward. I and Nabi our driver instantly recognized that it was this very tusker that the Forest Department staff had warned us to be careful about. For the past month, this tusker has been creating havoc by way of obstructing vehicles and attacking tourists.
But Nabi was an expert driver and with a few deft turns, he brought the vehicle to a safe place. From a distance, we could see the tusker throwing huge amounts of dust with his trunks and as we once again embarked on our vehicle, we could hear the tusker trumpeting rather ferociously at us. He was angry. Wasn’t he? We reached Khinanawli Rest House and by then it was completely dark.
Dikhala – Last Day
In the months of April and May, elephant rides are very popular which originates from Dikhala. Accordingly, we embarked on an elephant safari that would take us to “Potter Pani” and the “Jamuna Gower” jungle blocks. As our elephant moved rhythmically over the grassland, we saw a herd of Spotted Deer and the occasional Sambhar. Once we hit the road to Jamuna Gower, I noticed that we were entering the Sal Forest.
The advantage of traversing through Sal Forest is that there is very little undergrowth and one can view large tracts of the jungle without any obstruction. The only sound that could be heard was of the elephant walking over the dried Sal leaves that lay on the ground beneath.
We spotted a huge cluster of bamboo trees. Our “Mahut”(Master Rider) told us that there was a water body just behind the bamboo trees and that a tigress with her three cubs was regularly spotted here. There was excitement in the air and I checked my camera for one last time.
Within minutes the tigress suddenly appeared before us, roaring rather furiously. Our elephant too made a weird sound by lifting its trunk in the direction of the tigress. The roar of the tigress and the elephant’s trumpet reverberated the entire jungle. Our “Mahut” shouted instructions to us that we should hold on to the iron bars of the “Howdah”(Seating Chamber) with full strength.
I noticed my British friends Tony and Leslie were frightened. They were trembling with fear and their white skin became pale.
All the while, a spectacular wildlife drama was being enacted by the elephant and the tigress. It was a war of nerves. Neither of them would budge even an inch. I fondly remembered those famous words of Kenneth Anderson – “While you are in the jungle, you have first got to win the war of nerves with the animals. Only then will you be safe”. And Kenneth was dead right for the ferocious tigress did retreat a few steps backward, unable to bear the elephant’s wild forays into its territory.
Our “Mahut” told us that it would be dangerous to disturb the tigress any longer since she was actually protecting her three cubs just behind the bamboo trees.
We started our return journey to Dhikala and all the while the image of the angry tigress flashed back on me and I thought to myself that in this world of ours there is no alternative to the tender loving bond that exists between a mother and child.
In the end, it would be apt to state that preserving the tiger is a big task. It is very straining and nerve-wracking. One has to be constantly alert, hoping for a glimpse of the amber shadow. In Asian cultures, the tiger is a magic symbol, epitomizing power, splendor, and ability. It is also a valuable icon for modern mega corporations selling profitable products in the global marketplace.
Above all, the tiger symbolizes, perhaps more than any other animal the need to protect at least a part of the natural world we share with other creatures of the wild.
A visit to Corbett will open your eyes to the conservation realities of our times.
Traveler’s Fact File
Ramnagar, the headquarter of Project Tiger is an obligatory point for going to the park. Here, besides a regular bus service to Dhikala, taxis are also available. One can approach Corbett National Park by road from New Delhi via Ghaziabad – Hapur – Moradabad and then turn left at the 7th Km. for Kashipur, Ramnagar, and Dhikala. The distance on this route is 290 kms. New Delhi is a hub for many airlines and there are regular flights connecting New Delhi both within India and abroad.
One can also reach Corbett National Park via Lucknow by road by taking the Lucknow-Sitapur-Shahjahanpur-Bareilly and then to Kichha-Haldwani-Ramnagar route. The distance in this route is 160 Kms. Indian Airlines along with a host of private airlines operate regular flights to and fro Lucknow.
A wide range of accommodation is available at Corbett National Park. Rest Houses are located at Dhikala, Khinanawli, Sarapduli, Gyral, Bijrani, Kandha, and Sultan.
For Immersive experiences at Corbett, Jim’s Jungle Retreat https://www.jimsjungleretreat.com/ – is an incredible option.
This outstanding resort works in close collaboration with RARE India https://rareindia.com – a PR & Communications brand that promotes unique and immersive holidays for visitors from a list of truly outstanding homestays, retreats, wildlife lodges, heritage palaces, and forts. The buzzword here is ‘Seek the tiger, find the jungle’.
*Feature Image: Jim’s Jungle Retreat