If you still had any doubts on whether you have indeed arrived in tiger country, they are promptly dispelled as you hit the last stretch of the Ranikhet road through Dhikuli village. Tiger motifs roar back at you from the signboards of safari operators, road signs, t-shirts hanging in a souvenir shop and what not. Further ahead, the park’s peripheral areas are immediately distinguishable by an increase in the elevation, even as tall conifers rush upon you. The road falls away on one side, into a valley where the Ramganga river skirts along for company.
Resorts on the outskirts of the national park appear whichever way you look, each one promising a more magnificent view of the region than the other. However, a stay in a Forest Rest House inside the jungle is preferable if one wants a real experience of the Jim Corbett National Park. Only select areas in the 521 square kilometers’ expanse of the park are open to tourists. These are classified into five zones named Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna, Domunda and Sonanandi.
Dhikala comes highly recommended and is arguably, the most popular. From the gates of the Jim Corbett national park, it takes about two hours on a rocky road to reach the Forest Rest House.
Landscapes and beyond – The misty Himalayan foothills cupping the horizon; the white sandy banks along the cobalt blue Ramganga; the grasslands sparkling in the golden hue of dusk; the bright flares of the sun piercing their way through the thick jungle foliage – arguably no other park in India offers such a breath-taking diversity. As night falls, the jungle comes alive; the serpentine Ramganga gleams under the moonlight and lights twinkle from the villages atop the foothills.
Flights of fancy – Corbett is home to a staggering 600-odd species of birds. A trip to Corbett is satisfying even if one only gets to see the spectacular diversity of woodland, grassland, waterside, air and predatory birds. On a morning safari, the stillness of the jungle is broken by the distinct melodious call of the cuckoo. A family of fishing eagles rest on the desolate branches of a withered tree in the midst of the grassland. A sleepy spot bellied eagle owl frowns at you, probably on being disturbed out of its siesta. Lapwings dart ahead of your 4×4, flying close to the ground and almost helping you navigate through the muddy tracks. You can spend hours trying to point out one bird’s calls from the other in the harmony that only jungle sounds can compose.
Slow and Steady – One can opt to see the jungle on an elephant safari, a completely different experience from the 4×4 rides. Put aside any fears of losing your balance atop the pachyderm, they have years of training and experience to gently plod through the jungle. While 4×4 safaris ply on the tracks, it is only on an elephant that you can get an opportunity to go deep inside the forest. Patience is certainly an occupational hazard, as the area covered by an elephant is far lesser – but it offers a unique and almost refreshing perspective on the jungle. The towering trees, the whirr of the crickets, the heady smells of the flowers; an elephant safari literally and figuratively gives you a high!
The eye of the tiger – Corbett is home to several many tigers now, with the population having gone up in recent years thanks to Project Tiger and other conservation efforts. However, the chances of a spotting one are rare given the abundant cover the forest offers. At this point, it is important to reemphasize that a trip to Corbett or any other forest should not be centered on spotting a tiger alone. While tigers are undoubtedly majestic creatures, a jungle needs to be enjoyed for what it is – a veritable treasure trove of diverse flora and fauna. Deer, jackals, wild elephants, nilgais – though more commonly spotted are no less marvelous. And as responsible tourist, one must learn to take in all these sights than lose sleep over the tiger you couldn’t spot. Because only when you start appreciating the different sights, smells and sounds of the jungle, can you really understand the joys of being in the very lap of Mother Nature!
How can you get to Corbett? – From Delhi, you can take the Ranikhet Express, an overnight train from the Old Delhi railway station to Ramnagar, the nearest railhead. Otherwise, you can drive down about 295 kilometers through Hapur, Garhmukteshwar and the Moradabad bypass.
Where can you stay? – You can book accommodation through a reputed safari operator (Tigerland Safaris is a good option) or online at -http://corbettonline.uk.gov.in/. The accommodation at a Forest Rest House is basic but comfortable and comes with all meals included. Please note you cannot take your own vehicle into the Park. Only a limited number of authorized 4x4s are allowed inside at any point in time – so plan and book in advance!
Important – If you see nothing wrong in chatting away on a safari, shrieking loudly on seeing a wild animal or throwing away plastic bottles, packets and other such rubbish, you are best advised not to visit Corbett or (for that matter) any other national park.