My son pointed out the headlines, Tigress in Sultan area of Corbett National Park had been declared a man-eater”. A glint of adventure appeared in our eyes as it was only after three days that we were leaving for the same place.
It is one of the oldest national parks, which is situated in the Himalayan foothills. Initially (in 1936) it was known as Hailey National Park, later as Ramganga National Park; and finally it was ascribed to legendry hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett. Corbett National park is one of the nine tiger reserves created at the launch of the Project Tiger in 1973 and today it is considered to be the largest abode of the endangered specify.
One has to reach Ramnagar, Uttarakhand to enter the world famous tiger reserve surrounding the national park there are numerous private resorts ranging from one star to 4 stars but nothing compares to spending the night inside the forest reserve. This is what we aimed for when we submitted an application for reserving rooms in Dhikala and Gairal (forest rest houses) for 4 nights in October. Due non transparency of the booking methodology we only came to know about the status of our reservation through phone call 15 days prior to our choice of dates and we were fortunate that we could get the reservation for three rooms in Dhikala for the 3rd week of December for our entire family. One can get the details of other forest rest houses, the rail and road route to reach Corbett from their official web site www.corbettnationalpark.in
The count down had practically begun from 1st of December and most of our discussion and dreams weaned around the tiger. On the D day we caught the train from Delhi at 10.30 pm and landed at Ramnagar Rly station at 4.30 am. Even at this odd hour and chilly weather the passengers ranging from infants to grandparents, getting down at the station were all vide eyed and full of energy.
To receive us at the station we had already arranged two open jeeps which would be with us all the time during our stay at Corbett. Our guide cum driver IkRam enthusiastically welcomed us and pepped us up by declaring that only yesterday there was a great tiger sighting near Dhikala. The immediate task at hand was to find the accommodation before we could enter the gates of the tiger reserves. Packed under layers of numerous clothes with piles of baggage we reached the accommodation for a short nap and shower. While we were busy in stuffing our stomachs with hot and delicious paratahs my husband and brother-in-law was standing in the queue to procure the gate passes from the reservation office of Ramnagar which opens only after 9.00 a.m.
At 9.30 a.m. we entered the Corbett through Dhanghari Gate and we could immediately feel our pupils dilated and heart beat pumped up a bit. Our first encounter was within twenty minutes, we saw three jeeps hustled near the edge of a bridge pointing excitedly towards the bushes nearby. We were amazed to find in the bushes a coiled python about 15 feet long and 15cm thick. We patted our backs for the great start. Dhikala was about 30 km inside the forest reserve and it took us about 2 hours through thick forest to reach there. It was nestled near a big lake and surrounded by elephant grass and thick forest beyond. The rooms were reasonably comfortable and with all modern facilities .The rest house had a very spacious and beautifully located restaurant which served only buffet Rs. 200 lunch/ dinner and Rs 150 breakfast per head which at first instance we thought was a bit on the costlier side, but the moment we had our very tasty and sumptuous three course meals with variety of dishes the same thought instantly evaporated.
As we were relaxing under the Sun kids were trying to be friendly with monkeys. The blackboard kept at the reception with the details of the yesterday’s tiger sighting seemed like an appetiser before the feast. For the safari, park opens from 6.30 am to 6.00 pm and closes from 12.00 hrs to 13.30hrs for lunch; one can only venture out on vehicles and cannot get down from the vehicle on foot. Sharp at 3.00pm we all got geared up to venture into the forest again in search of the tiger.
Ikram who had experience of innumerable tigers sightings meticulously explained about the art of increasing the probability of tiger sighting called “following the tiger call”. When ever tiger is on the move a deer is always watching it and literally follows it at safe distance and lets out a sharp bark at an interval of about every 30 seconds. The moment the tourist vehicles register a call, they rush towards the forest jeep track closest to the call so that if the tiger crosses that track from the bushes on either side it can be spotted.
On our first evening in the forest we saw many more animals. Pack of Sambhars, Cheetals, and barking deer gazed at us as we passed by them and posed for perfect photographs. A family of wild boars crossing a river was a delight to watch and Crocodiles basking in the sun at Crocodile point. We were back to our abode by 6.00pm and planned our next move for tomorrow. The glimpse of a tiger which could be of only few seconds had eluded us today and we renewed our energies overnight with a resolve to wake up early at 5.00am so that we are out of the rest house exactly at 6.30am.
Next morning with temperatures running into single digit and fog all around us we groped our way to the group of tourist waiting with their respective vehicles warming up for the adventure ahead and the gates to open. The moment the gates opened, out rushed about ten jeeps packed with tourists like us, excited in anticipation standing on the jeep floor, holding the supports on the open modified jeep looking for the unknown. We passed some amazing grasslands which were covered with mist upto only 1 m from the ground with the head of the Sambhar jutting out into the air.
And then suddenly “Kuuk…… Kuuk……..Kuuk……” the sharp reverberating sound of the calling deer attracted us and immediately all the jeeps went brusque and turned towards the tracks where the sound was emanating from. After crisscrossing for an hour at different location the fact slowly descended upon us that yet again the tiger had dodged us. But sight of Cinereous Vultures which are disappearing now and different kinds of eagles like Crested Hawk Eagle, Himalayan Grey headed Fishing Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and Stork billed Kingfisher, White breasted Kingfisher and many other variety of birds were all treat to our eyes.
To increase our chances of sighting , the next day we had another mode of transport to follow the tiger trail and this time not on the beaten track of the jeeps but into the dense grasslands and right into the thick foliage of the forest, it was on the back of the elephants with far better telescopic view. Our ride started at 4.00 pm and was for 2 hours and we plunged into the thick forest to check out the tiger in its own territory. The ride was a one to remember a lifetime and again this time we had to be satisfied with the call of the deer. Till now kids were quite disappointed as we were in the last phase of our adventurous trip.
As we were about to leave the FRH we decided to stay a while at another FRH named Gairal. I suppose we were not ready to leave that exploratory environment. Although in the game of hide and seek with tiger we we’re the losers, but our spirits were high. We pledged to come back for the hunt before our final parting.
As we bid adieu to Corbett Park and passed near the exit gate, we could not help buying few souvenirs to remind us about that moment. We reached back to Ramnagar to catch our return train but not before submitting an application for booking another encounter with the wilderness in spring.