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A tigress on the move

Beauty and the beast

Author: admin

The big cat aside, there is plenty at Jim Corbett National Park for those who wish to walk on the wild side, write Gustasp & Jeroo Irani

 
The chatter of birds and insects filled the silence of the forest as we waited patiently for the star to make his grand entrance. The rays of the rising sun filtered through the trees and cast mysterious shadows on the unpaved road lined with 10 to 12 safari vehicles. With cameras poised and necks craned we waited expectantly for the big moment. And waited.

“Let’s move on,” we whispered to our driver-guide. “But the tiger? He could emerge any minute now,” he protested. “Or not at all,” we interjected. We had been lucky with a prized tiger sighting the previous day on an elephant safari and were keen to meet the other residents of Corbett National Park, one of India’s finest wildlife reserves and the launching pad of the Project Tiger conservation project. We considered ourselves lucky when the tiger, a handsome beast in its prime, emerged growling from the bush and walked a good 10 yards in front of our elephant. It then stopped, turned and snarled its displeasure at us before it strode into the thicket once more, its striped tail waving farewell as it disappeared. But there is more to a Corbett safari than just tiger sightings.

Our driver-guide turned the vehicle, reluctantly we might add, and cruised down dirt roads that snaked across 520 sq km of stately sal forests and rolling grasslands crisscrossed by gushing silver streams and emerald rivers. Later, he would admit that it was a wise move for we were rewarded with close encounters of the amazing kind. A pair of foxes, a curious sambar fawn that did not flee from our approaching vehicle, a jackal scurrying across a wood bridge that straddled a silvery stream, a rare yellow-throated marten leaping over the undergrowth in pursuit of its prey, herds of deer skipping like ballerinas across a grassy meadow, a family of wild boar…. We stopped to let a herd of elephants cross our path and delighted at the sight of a baby manage its little uncoordinated trunk.

The birds, too, were amazing. Bee-eaters plucking insects in mid-flight; kingfishers poised to strike at fish swimming near the surface of a stream; noisy, long-legged lapwings marking out their territory; serpent eagles scanning the forest floor for a breakfast treat; strutting jungle fowls with colourful plumed tail feathers; Indian rollers; wagtails; fantails; sunbirds…. Even if there were no mammals, Corbett, which boasts of hosting over 550 species of birds, would be one of the finest birding sites in the country.

When we rolled into the Forest Department’s lodge at Dhikala, located deep in the heart of the park, the camp was buzzing with excitement. A tigress with two cubs had been spotted just outside its fenced boundaries and there was much jostling and shoving as guests hoped to catch a glimpse of them. At one point, forest guards had to remind three overeager young lads that they were not in a zoo and that death stalked the wilds. Yes, tiger sightings are an all-consuming obsession.

We did get to see big cats up close and personal with only a glass panel separating us from these magnificent beasts. This was at Dhangarhi Museum at the visitor centre at the entrance gate of the park where stuffed tigers and leopards were put on display. Many of these were man-eaters shot by naturalist Jim Corbett, after whom the park is named.

Later, we checked into Leisure Hotel’s picturesque Riverview Retreat, located just outside the entrance of the park, which sprawls luxuriously over 8 acre. We sat for a while on the private sit-out of our cosy cottage overlooking the river and then set off on a nature walk along the banks of the river Kosi that flowed outside the resort. A family of turtles sunbathed on an arm of driftwood washed by waters that fielded the reflections of the forest that draped the slopes of the surrounding hills. Brilliantly plumed birds fluttered about, hopping between rocks polished smooth by the river. We crossed a frail wood bridge to the base of a flight of steps that led up to a shrine perched on the summit of a river island.

And then we heard a roar in the depths of the forest on the far bank of the river. Was that the growl of a hungry man-eater on the prowl? It was more likely the rumble of thunder but we were taking no chances and hurried back to the safety of our resort. As we warmed our hands around a bonfire that blazed as dusk fell, we realised that Corbett, raw and beautiful, had addled our imagination.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE

  • By air: Jolly Grant, Dehradun, is 156 km away.
  • By rail: The closest railhead is Ramnagar, 10 km from the park.

ACCOMMODATION

  • The Forest Department’s rest house at Dhikala is 60 km inside the park. The Forest Department also runs tourist rest houses at four other locations within the park. For details, visit
    www.corbettnationalpark.in/forest_rest_houses_popup.htm
  • Leisure Hotels’ tented camp, Hideaway River Lodge, is the only private lodge within the park. All private hotels and lodges, including Leisure Hotel’s Riverview Retreat (www.leisurehotels.co.in), are located on the fringe.
  • Senior citizens above 60 years are entitled to 50 per cent discount on entry fee, guided bus trip, elephant ride, room rent and museum charges.

ELEPHANT SAFARI
Elephant safaris are organised within the park from Dhikala (for guests staying at the lodge) and Bijarani (for other visitors). For more information, visit Uttarakhand Tourism at uttarakhandtourism.gov.in

Photos: Haresh Patel
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
June 2017