Magic of Corbett
I am sure many of my readers would have visited the magical land of Corbett Tiger Reserve and many still would be yearning to go there. An incorrigible wanderer in the wild places of India for over 30 years now, I have travelled to places known and obscure, far and near, in the season and out of season.
There is hardly a national park or a sanctuary I haven't set foot upon. But let me confess: Corbett National Park in the foothills of Uttarakhand outshines every other place and has always been my second home with over 300 visits already.
There is hardly any month when I have not gone there to relieve me of work pressures. In fact, the very purpose of this article is two-fold. First, after its annual monsoon break, Corbett National Park has opened again on November 15 for tourists and it's a good time to be there. Second, like most of my life, I have already made my customary round there as one of the first visitors and I am now back to the urban jungle of New Delhi.
I spent two nights at Gairal FRH (the old Forest Rest House) and the experience was simply exhilarating. Instead of putting up at Dhikala — the first choice of most first-timers — I always opt for the secluded FRH situated in the lap of the Ramganga river deep inside the forest.
Aone-of-its-kind location, Gairal is where true wilderness strikes you and nature is at its starkest best. On both my mornings, I was woken up by the alarm calls of chital from across the Ramganga, even before the first ray of the sun had cropped up from behind the Forest Range.
Corbett National Park can be appreciated and enjoyed in a number of ways — and one must not restrict himself or herself to a set schedule. The sheer diversity of landscape and wildlife mandates that one should try out different approaches to truly savour the diversity.
As like many others, Dhikala grassland and Thandi Sarak are one of my favourite zones inside the park. Sandwiched between the Ramganga reservoir and a long stretch of thick forest, the strategically located Dhikala grassland, or chaur as it is popularly called, is the place where most of the "action" takes place.
In summers, I have spotted as many as 200 elephants in the grassland. It is also the place to try your luck with a tiger — though at times, sightings can become rare without any apparent reason. But that is the beauty of Corbett. There is so much of unexpectedness at every turn of the jungle road that most of my visits to Corbett contain at least one unique feature — something which I had never experienced before!
On my recent visit, I came across this unusual scene: a large crocodile and two Ganges gharials sunbathing near the Crocodile Point where the gharials suddenly became victims of monkeys. They disturbed the large reptiles so much so that after enduring the torture for 30 minutes, the poor fellows opted to slip into the river. They returned only after the group of teasing monkeys had left the site. In the recent years, you are not allowed to take your car inside Corbett and an open Gypsy hire is compulsory to travel the length and breadth of the Park.
Elephant rides in the morning and afternoon (availed at Dhikala and Bijrani zones) can pay rich dividends. Any time if you wish to get really close to the real residents of the Park, just get atop an elephant — becausean elephant can go where a Gypsy cannot. And then there is the third way to enjoy the place — not favoured by many, either because of ignorance or impatience. This entails quietly sitting on a watch tower for a few hours.
Corbett offers a number of watch towers to connoisseurs. Some have become quite popular among the chattering crowds, like the one at the edge of Thandi Sadak and the other, the metal one, on the Sambhar Road.
Unfortunately, most of the time there is too much commotion on these towers, defeating the very purpose of letting wild creatures come near you by remaining silent and unobtrusive.
My favourite, however, is Machan No-3. It can only be approached on foot and if you just make a polite request to the Range Officer at Dhikala, I am sure he would depute a gunman to take you to this watch tower.
Machan No-3 is an amazing structure. Situated about 300 yards inside a dense patch of forest from Thandi Sadak, it has a small waterhole right in front. It's here that many of my wildlife-loving friends have had memorable experiences with tigers and elephants. For one, given the secluded corner where this watch tower is located, the wildlife here appears truly at ease (provided, of course, that you do not disturb it with unnecessary sound and movement).
Agreed, the wait on a watch-tower can be long and agonising, at times not even fruitful but it carries the chance of that once-in-a-lifetime experience that may not be possible anywhere else. In a gambler's parlance, place your bet on the watch tower and let Mother Nature be the card dealer. You never know when you will be handed the ace of spades. I wish I could spend as much time in the Corbett Park as I wanted. But unfortunately, my hectic schedule does not permit it nowadays.
Beside Dhikala and Gairal, there are a number of places like Bijrani, Jhirna, Garjia, Mohan, Moreghatti, Pakhro, Kolhuchaur, Saneh, Mudiapani, Rataudhap, Nauri forest rest houses apart from Sitabani FRH in the Ramnagar forest division where one can spend a few nights. And each of these, such as Sarpdauli, Khinnanauli, Mailani, Kanda, Lohachaur, Halduparao and even the much overlooked Sultan are bestowed with a unique charm. So what are you waiting for? Pack your travel bags and enter this magical land.
(For already published stories and films on wildlife by the writer, which have run on National Geographic channel, Doordarshan National channel and Doordarshan (India), please log on to www.rahejagroup.org).