Traveller's Tales II: Jim Corbett National Park

I am a frequent traveler but most of my journeys don't account for much- being the routine simple to-and-fro motions between Agra and Delhi. But this time around, I took a little detour and landed up in Uttarakhand- Jim Corbett National Park followed by the small, starry-skied town of Kausauni. It was an amazing trip and like a good, curious traveler, I took two gigabytes worth of pictures and kept a journal. Here are some memories I brought back.


Companions: Mom, Dad, Bua, Cousin sister, Driver Saab, Adrenaline.

 26/12/12 -
Reached Ramnagar, passing Aligarh and Moradabad on the way. There wasn't much to look at outside the window on the way except for fields laden with mustard and wheat which, by the way, were very welcome after the city grime. It was late in the evening by the time we settled in our rooms so we just went for a walk by the riverside. Kosi flows through the eastern part of the National Park region. It's floor is strewn with boulders it's carried from the mountains. The flow is swift, with the water making a pleasant sound where it meets the bigger rocks on it's path. We dip our hands in the water and I find it to be surprisingly warm- at least warmer than what we had been getting in our sinks at home. Later, we watch a movie on tiger conservation in the resort's grounds, warming our feet by the bonfire and make plans for imminent adventures in the jungle.



I love the cottage style rooms we got- wooden floors, slanting ceiling, small balcony and stairs leading you to another, smaller room upstairs. It was the kind you would want to live in when you retire, so we brought some books on wildlife from the library and retired to lap up the luxury while we could.
 

 27/12/12 -


It's a beautiful, clear morning, with the Sun peeking through the clouds. We get up for a walk by the river. It is actually green in color, due to the algae colonies, but it's very clear- you can count each boulder on the bed. We walk carefully, trying not to trip on the rocks or twist an ankle while looking out for the birds that frequent this place. We notice stone-pitched embankments on the sides- an indicator that Kosi could be quite the angry river when it wanted to be.





The people at the resort tell us that they're finding it difficult to arrange a jungle safari for us because of the rush at this time of the year. This comes as a major setback and we are left with no choice but to drive down to the forest office and see what can be done. And we emerge victorious! Fixed arrangements for stay in main forest area (Dhikala) for one night. The Director told my dad that a lot of VIPs were vying for those rooms but we were getting it since we'd faxed in our request way earlier than all the VIPs (we'd actually sent it a month in advance).
After lunch, we went for a trek in the forest around the resort with a guide provided by them. He said it'd be an 'easy' on the difficulty level, but pretty soon we were crossing drains with a fallen log for a bridge and climbing up and down rough terrain.
We came to the edge of a cliff from where we could see big Mahasir (literal meaning: big head) fish swimming in the river. The water looked so beautiful from there that for a moment one could be tempted to just dive into it. But, the rocks could be dangerous. So, we dive into the forest instead and  are greeted by a family of Axis deer (Cheetal). A bunch of local women meet us on the way and warn us against too deep into the forest- they had just spotted a wild elephant. We divert a little from our path, after noticing the wrecked vegetation which the elephant must have stomped through. Spot a  big black Sambhar deer and a lot of birds- Kingfishers, Egrets and the rare, majestic Hornbill with it's yellow beak, white wings and brown body. My cousin sister, Michelle, is a biologist and asks a lot of questions regarding the vegetation in the region. The trees are mostly Sal here.The guide also showed us the drains the elephants use for hiding, recounting a tale where he'd come face-to-face with a tusker on a similar tour with another family. Just as we are getting out of the forest, we discover a peacock dancing by the river in all it's glory.

                                 





Clicked lots of photographs today- taking back the scenery with me but wish I could take back the scents and the sounds too- the chirping of the birds, call of the wild animals, the gentle gushing of the Kosi river, the smell of the teak, the lemony smell of cyprus- everything pleasant and rejuvenating- like the stillness of the clouds descending down the hills, the anticipation of meeting something wild, the excitement of being in the wild.
Only distractions are the TV and the newspapers- I wish they weren't around.

 28/12/12 - Elephant Safari.

 Couldn't sleep too good at night because of the excitement. Got up at 0530 , before any alarms could ring, and got ready for the day. Our ten-and-a-half feet tall elephant- Laadli, was waiting to take us on a ride through the Sitavani forests. It was biting cold when we started but soon the Sun came out. It was a clear day- in stark contrast to the foggy ones we'd been having in the plains. Laadli went up and down cliffs, trampling through the undergrowth, brushing past bushes and trees, (which wetted us with the morning dew) and crossed the Kosi river four times to reach the forest.



Once inside, we immediately spotted a group of deer- a family of  the spotted Axis and a couple of Sambhars. Continuing down the forest path we saw a small Sambhar deer running. Our heads turned in the opposite direction instantly in anticipation of a beast chasing it, but all we heard was a low growl. The mahout told us that it was a Tiger, a female one most probably, making a sound while walking. That got our heart beating real fast! We strained our ears to listen better and the Tiger seemed to be moving through the thick bushes. We followed it and a couple of other elephants also came behind us, which created a commotion and made us lose track of the sound. We continued through the jungle and saw pug marks. It was a young Tiger cub, probably twelve month old, looking for it's mother and other sibling. We searched through the thick foliage as Laadli crashed through the forest, bringing down plants and bushes in the process. We heard the sounds again and stopped to listen but couldn't trace the exact direction. Laadli wasn't quick enough for a swift Tiger cub, I guess. The mahout informed us of the Tiger activity that had been taking place in the area in the past few days. He showed us the carcass of a bull the Tiger had killed and dragged across the river. A little later, we saw the carcass of a young deer the animal had devoured. Only the legs were left uneaten. Our time was almost up so we collected some wild berries and started making our way back. Mom's cap got caught in a tree and fell down but was quickly retrieved by Laadli through her snout. A mishap happened on the way back. A couple of adventurous young dogs started messing with Laadli and she got mad, charged away in rage, making a trumpeting noise. The mahout had to beat her with a stick which was a bit of a mood dampener for all of us. But, anyway, she calmed down and gave us a nice salute when we got down.

 The next thing on our checklist was the Jungle Safari for which we had obtained the permit for a night stay in the jungles of Dhikala. We travelled around thirty kilometers inside the national park, in an open jeep. Then we went on a Tiger sighting expedition. The guide told us he'd seen a Tiger in the morning itself, but, from my experience I can say that all guides say that. So, well, we started out hoping for the best. We made our way to the grassland and were greeted by a phenomenal sight! A huge herd of elephants stood by the Ramganga reservoir- the females with their cute little young ones and the male tuskers a little away from the group. We stopped around twenty meters away from them and observed them pick up the grass with their snouts, dip them in the water to clean it and then put it in their mouths. We turned around to see an even bigger herd of deer feeding on the grass. There must have been close to a hundred deer quietly grazing the field. It was simply breathtaking. The animals, blissful in their natural habitat, the brilliant blue of the reservoir and the hills in the background.





 Then we went on the tiger trail, the guide made us all stand still for a minute so he could figure out the calls of the wild animals. Unfortunately, none of them screamed tiger, so we went ahead and did some bird watching- Stork, Changeable Hawk, The Fantail, Weaver birds and their nests. After that we made our way to the road where the tiger had been spotted most recently- the 'Thandi Sarak'. We saw some deer and as we were driving along the road, Michelle and I saw a pair of slender mustard feet in the bushes. We swore it was a cat, but the guide would not agree with us. He thought it to be a monkey. He was probably right, though. We then went to a tree house. It was pretty tall and we had to climb three sets of ladders to get to the top. But the view was wonderful.






 A little way down the road, we heard the alarm call of the Barking Deer in the grassland. It kept calling and calling and we guessed it had spotted a Tiger. So we parked the jeep on the road and climbed on the rails. Tiger sighting is a job for the patient. You have to be very still, very alert and very silent. We stood there for around thirty minutes but didn't have any luck. Our two hours were almost up so we made our way back to the rest house.
 The rest house was pretty basic and gave us a good idea of living in the forest. It was awfully quiet and dark and well, there was no water in our cabin, so we were 'roughing it out'. But it had a splendid view of the reservoir and the full moon night made it even more beautiful. 



 29/11/12 -

 
Woke up to another Elephant Safari. Slept pretty soundly in spite of the chilly jungle night. Got up at 0530 again. It was still pitch dark, with the moon high in the sky. Full moon. Our elephant this time was shorter than Laadli- around 8 feet. Sonpari she was called. Went into the Dhikala forests through the grasslands. The sun was rising on end and the moon was up on the other. It was quite an enchanting morning. Dew was settled on the grass, frozen into icicles. Fog had descended down the hills to settle in the flats and over the reservoir.
Heard the Sambhar call as soon as we entered the jungle, and followed it in all our early morning excitement. Ran amok a herd of wild Elephants instead. They were probably only two hundred meters away and we were afraid they might get enraged seeing us, but they left us alone and made their way inside. They had their young ones with them. The Sambhar was not calling now, but we were still continuing in the direction of the earlier call. We tried to reason with the Mahout that it could have been a false alarm- maybe the Sambhar was just communicating with it's young.  But he assured us that he knew that particular sound signified the presence of a dangerous beast in the vicinity of the deer. We decided to let it go and turned our attention to the pug marks he was showing us. Some of them looked pretty fresh and we started following them. Once more, we were crashing through the jungle, storming through bushes and weeds, up and down ditches and holding on for dear life. Finally, we reached a sort of clearing and saw a pair of Sambhar deer. I saw some movement in the bushes near them. It was a pair of feet, brown and yellow, a stomach and a tail! My heart skipped a beat but I realized a few seconds later that it was a jungle cat. But it disappeared into the thick lantana bushes even before we could alert the other members of our group.




The tiger was close by but hidden in the thick foliage. Then we went back to the grassland, slightly disappointed. Spotted some birds, more deer and discovered that the grassland was full of Cannabis.





 Quick breakfast and we are back on the safari- this time by jeep. But no luck again. No elephants either. Just some deer, a Stork and a body of water. The landscape of Corbett is beautiful. Every moment, every step has something new to offer. Turn your head in any direction and you will be greeted by the beauty of the unhampered wild. The water of the Ramganga, so clean, creating a brilliant reflection of the blue sky and the green trees, donning a multitude of colors in different regions of the forest.


 On our way back from Dhikala, we drove down to the Crocodile point. Saw a couple of Gharials lazing around in the sun. Also, a jeep got stuck on our way back, blocking the path for us. So we got to walk outside! Nicked a few pebbles as souvenirs. I should probably not be writing this on the web as it is completely forbidden for tourists to get down from their vehicles at any point of time, but, anyhow, it was just harmless fun. The real flouting of rules is done by the VIPs who come barging into the National Park in their fancy, private vehicles, breaking the speed limits among many other things.

At the entrance to the National Park, there is a small Museum with stuffed animals, bones, maps and other kinds of data pertaining to the forest. So, we finally get to click a tiger. 
 Back to the hotel, back to civilization. Got the sad news of Damini passing away just as I switched my cellphone on. The holiday mood evaporated in an instant and sullen thoughts filled my mind all through lunch.
 In the evening, we hiked to a Shiva temple built in the reign of the Pandavas.
Muscles were cramped and aching, but spirit of adventure just won't subside.


And that's the end of the first part of the trip. Curious to know more? Go hither: http://medhakapoor.blogspot.in/2013/01/travellers-tales-ii-kausauni.html


For a read on my journey through a lesser known but immensely beautiful part
of Himachal Pradesh, go here:
http://medhakapoor.blogspot.in/2011/06/travellers-tales.html




9 comments:

  1. Thanks for taking me to Corbett NP virtually Medha. I had a plan of visiting Corbett this feb, but it got cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Felt nice reading your experiences and seeing your clicks. The lone elephant shot is just wow!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're most welcome Arnab! Now that you've taken a virtual tour, you should definitely go for the real one as it is an experience not to be missed. The lone tusker was the highlight of our stay in the forest, we stood observing it for a good fifteen minutes.

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