For an avid nature lover and an adventure enthusiast, a visit to Jim Corbett National Park is a must. This place is the oldest national park of India and comprises 520.8 km2. area of hills, riverine belts, marshy depressions, grass lands and large lake; not to mention the diversity in the flora and fauna present. I recently had a chance to visit this place as part of a trip to North India with close friends and become a part of an incredible experience.
To reach the national park, we boarded Ranikhet Express from Delhi to Ramnagar. After an overnight journey, we reached Ramnagar in the wee hours of the morning with cold winds and misty breaths welcoming us. Hurriedly boarding the jeeps waiting for us at the station, we reached the Corbett Motel. It is a small yet a beautiful place in the heart of a mango orchid. There are about 16 adequately furnished rooms with tent facilities at request. The place definitely goes easy on your pocket as well. The motel has its own restaurant which serves some of the best Tandoori dishes I have ever eaten. The Aloo Jeera and the Malai kofta ought not to be missed! Needless to say that we looked forward to every meal :). We settled down in our rooms comfortably for a small nap.
After refreshing ourselves with a sumptuous breakfast we set out to the first destination of the day, Corbett Falls by 2 open air jeeps. The journey lasted about half an hour and we spent it by singing our favorite songs loudly while the driver tried to point out the several view points. On getting off the main road, we had to walk about a kilometre on a meandering trail with rocks and grass to reach the falls. The 20m high waterfall cascading down in all its purity and the lush green environ was a sight to behold. This rapturous water body seeks to breathe fresh life and energy into any visitor and this vista is indeed too inviting to resist. Also the scene resembled the one in the video of “Thanga Thaamarai Magale” from Minsara Kanavu :D. We quickly climbed down a couple of rocks and jumped into the water. Once we got used to the ice-cold water, we started playing in the water and morphed into vestiges of our childhood selves. Luckily we had the entire place to ourselves and hence the ruckus we created became immaterial 🙂
It was soon time for to get ready for the first jeep safari. Excitement was high among the group as it was a novel experience. To make it convenient for the visitors, the huge forest has been divided into 5 zones namely – Dhikala, Jhirna, Bijrani, Sonandi and Domunda, each with its own entry gate. For that afternoon, our safari was in the Bijrani zone. At the entrance to this zone, after verifying all our identities, we met our guides Gaurav and Girish.
The guide informed us about the rules to be followed within the park. We were asked not to get out of the jeep without instruction, not to use flash on cameras and to strictly refrain from teasing animals. He then proceeded to talk about the park and said that it housed over 110 tree species, 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species. The star attraction is of course the endangered Bengal Tiger, around 200 of which are present in the forest. The ease with which the jeep traversed the hard and rugged terrain of the park astonished us! Whether it be big pebbles or steep inclines, the jeep almost carelessly cut through all this as if it were just another normal road. So impressed was one of my friends that he vowed to buy one such jeep for himself in the future 🙂
Soon after entering the park, the first animal to grace us with its presence was the spotted deer. The herds seemed to be intent on running deeper into the grasslands whenever jeeps passed them by. After travelling deeper into the forest for a while, the jeep took a sharp and quick turn to the left and stopped near a small cliff. The guide then proceeded to point out a small group of elephants moving down in the valley. At such a height and distance, these huge creatures appeared no bigger than a clump of trees. When we asked him how he spotted them, the guide cheekily replied that he saw them with his eyes! He then went on to elaborate how important it was that their instincts be sharp to detect any movement or sound. Following this we proceeded to a rest house to for a short break to refresh ourselves.
After the break, we drove deeper into the forest and given the density of the vegetation, it became harder and harder to spot animals. One of us asked the guide if there had been any tiger sightings recently and whether they had attacked the tourist jeeps in the past. He immediately launched into stories without leaving out any details of how there had been close calls and that tigers sometimes do attack jeeps. In case of any such attack, he advised us to go under the seats of the jeep for cover. Then he remarked casually that if the tiger is angry well nothing could possibly be done. Needless to say that these stories unnerved us a bit but the prospect of a tiger sighting kept us going. Next, we saw the Sambhar Deer, the biggest of its species and the favourite meal of tigers. Soon after, we came across the smallest of the same species, the barking deer. The animal had camouflaged itself almost perfectly except that one of us spotted something small and orange moving. True to its name, this deer literally barks! And for its size it is astonishing that it could bark so loudly. Nearby we saw our “ancestors” the langurs jumping merrily from tree to tree and goofing around. (Too much similarity I must admit ;))
The guide then went on to explain how the animals in the jungle communicate when they spot danger. Firstly, when the barking deer smells the tiger, it starts barking loudly at regular intervals. On listening to this, the langurs go to the tree tops and start looking for further signs. The moment langurs start screaming it can be confirmed without a shred of doubt that there is a tiger lurking around. The birds immediately respond to this and start flying from haphazardly and chirping loudly in the process. The guide remarked that the call of a langur had never gone wrong in all his experience. Then we came to stop at an artificial pond of water, that ended in tall grasslands lining the bank of a dry stream.
This is where it all started! Suddenly, we heard the call of the barking deer some distance away and it sounded quite frantic! The guide was timing the interval of the barks and the driver started looking for other signals to confirm whether it was indeed a tiger on prowl. After a minute, the langurs started making noises and the birds started flying around. The guide looked at us and said “Hold on tight! This is it!” ,just as the driver revved the jeep and rushed to the bank of the dry stream. The words of the guide and the manner in which the jeep was being driven left us with no doubt. We could feel our tongues go slightly parched , excitement border with anxiety and crossed our fingers hoping this would be it. The moment we reached the dry stream, the barking deer stopped and the jungle fell quiet. The guide signalling us to be silent pointed out something to the side of the jeep and lo!
Tiger paw prints! So the call had indeed been right and a tiger WAS on the prowl. The excitement and expectation rose automatically on seeing this evidence. We could end up seeing a tiger after all!! 🙂 Soon other tourist jeeps came to the same area having heard the barks. The guides from various jeeps discussed on the possible locations where the tiger could have hidden himself. After a small chat, the jeeps went their own way. Our guide was convinced that the tiger was hiding in the tall grass at the bank of the dry stream and hence directed the driver to go back to the pond. We couldn’t refrain from talking and started discussing in whispers if there could really be a tiger or not 🙂 The guide and driver got a tad annoyed and asked us to be still and not make any noise at all. We fell silent immediately and waited for a good 5-10 minutes. In such a situation wrought with expectations, you find that your are too aware of your surroundings. Your senses constantly on the edge trying to pick something up. The silence was so absolute even the minutest of movements sounded like gun shots and was sending our hearts into a frenzy. Out of the blue, the guide pointed behind us and said “Look there! A tiger!“. We turned back at the speed of light, with barely concealed joy and fear only to discover that he had feinted 😦 Though a bit put off for having fallen for the prank, we chuckled at our own reactions realizing how uptight we had been 😀
The wait continued and time seemed to stretch on forever when a bark resounded again. We strained our ears trying to pinpoint the direction of the sound and as soon as the langurs started calling, the rest of the jeeps came back *noisily* to the scene resulting in the barks stopping altogether. We cursed our luck and the other noisy jeeps which had come into the area, but could do nothing! Both our guide and driver seemed adamantly convinced that we were in the right spot and that if we could wait patiently with minimal noise, there was a strong chance for the tiger to show itself. For the next one hour we desperately tried to nail down the position of the beast. Our hopes were rising and falling with the barks and noises of the animals. Just like we were on a tiger-watch, looked like the tiger was on a human-watch! Time was running out for us as the park would be soon closed. We were forced to drop the “hunt” as we rushed back to entry gate to make it out just in time.
On the way back to the motel, we discussed the entire chain of events spiritedly and agreed that the experience was mind blowing and beyond what we had expected . Though we were disappointed for not having seen a tiger, the feel of adrenaline surging, heart thumping aloud and living on the edge was invigorating! And top it all, to have shared it with close friends was an added bonus indeed! 🙂