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A Corbett beyond safaris

If you want to escape the city life - teeming with steel, pollution and stress - the Jim Corbett National Park can be much more than just a safari destination to catch a glimpse of the majestic cats, it becomes a sanctuary for the beleaguered soul

I've been to Jim Corbett National Park seven times and one out of those seven ventures has shown me a majestic Bengal tiger lounging behind the bushes. Sure, a big cat crossing your path amidst the dark green foliage of Uttarakhand's wild reserve is a thrill in its own accord. But what Corbett promises us isn't only restricted to the wild game found in the area, but, it's in the air, the green hills, the deep jungle, the singing birds and the tranquil river, all merging together to form an extremely colourful canvas.

My last trip to Corbett was an eventful one, in the sense that I successfully spent a weekend doing nothing but admiring nature and the richness of the Kumaoni culture in all its glory. As I entered Ramnagar, the vast stretches of Daodars and Shals welcomed me with playful sun rays peeping through its leaves. The Uttarakhand terrain never fails to surprise me. This time, my stay at Taj Corbett Resort & Spa promised me a luxurious pahaadi vacation. But in my case, I wouldn't sum up my time as luxurious, but actually… inspiring.

Nestled on the banks of river Kosi, the huge property dominates the surrounding with 10 acres of land and a limitless contact to nature. The villas at Taj Corbett, resplendent with handpicked furniture and niche colour schemes, invite nature right through its doors and large windows, and also a giant window in the bath for one to enjoy a good scrub amidst the lush surroundings.

Breakfast at the Taj Corbett is something out of a nature book. The grand space overlooks the river Kosi, as one can see occasional horses and cranes stooping by the river for some water. I was pleased to have my meal watching the scenery, with the hills on the background and a serene music orchestrated by the river, the rustling leaves and the birds. A monkey came screeching at me, creeping through the wooden railing of the balcony. Startled, I got up, but the restaurant guard took care of it and all was well.

At breakfast, I was promised local Kumaoni cuisine as lunch and hence, I was a little too excited for my next meal. Post a refreshing spa, I was summoned to the Treetop restaurant, where a grand meal awaited me. With a huge thali in the middle, the chef arranged some 10 odd bowls of multiple, vibrant food items with an aroma too delectable to handle. The picturesque Kumaoni hills seem to have shrunk into my plate that afternoon, as I tasted only some of the huge range of culinary gifts the land has to offer.

The indulgent food caressed my palette with its distinct pahaari flavours, stimulated by mustard and cumin. The chef, noticing my fascination with a greenish paste I couldn't stop tasting, asked if I knew what kind of pulse it was. I couldn't tell but his answer left me pleasantly surprised. It was a paste of cannabis seeds. The untamed Marijuana that thrives alongside other bushes and flowering plants in the hills of Kumaon, is used by the locals for various purposes. This bhaang chutney, I was surprised to know, is not consumed here as a drug but is a local relish and is consumed for its rich flavour and healthy properties. But coming back to the other items – the bhatt ki daal, aloo ke gutke, phanu, sisunaag saag and jhangora ki kheer – each and every one of those was a winner.

With a very full tummy, I was ready to jump into my bed for a nice, long nap. But the hotel had other plans. There was a canter safari truck waiting for me if I was willing to head out for a picnic at a quaint sunset point up in the hills, in a place called Bhuwankhal. This is an exclusive package organized by Taj Corbett. As I mentioned earlier, tiger spotting isn't the only jaw-dropping thrill that Corbett offers. I figured that I could nap on my way to the village the truck was heading to and by the time I wake up, some tea would do really great.

But the whole trip, I kept swaying with the fresh breeze, taking in all the air and the views I could gather. About an hour later, we reached a small village, also in the Nainital district. White clouds shrouded the area as I walked towards the hilly slope. Just before the point where the hill rolled down, was our picnic spot. The Taj Corbett staff efficiently had come before us and arranged the cosy little spot into a beautiful sunset buffet.

Picnic in the Bhuwankhal sunset point was a surreal experience for me. Looking over the hills, as the clouds swam past me and cleared into a rainbow, I was served some hot chai in a kulhar and scrumptious pakoras followed soon.

The serenity was mesmerizing no doubt, but good company in the Kumoan hills, with delectable food and a five-star service replete with a chef and impeccable hospitality, was something I never expected. Here's to the different shades of Corbett and it's relentless strive to always bump you with pleasant surprises.

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