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On a tiger trail...

Tiger or no tiger, the Jim Corbett National Park has matchless moments to offer, says SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY, relating her experience.


THE CRACK of dawn and chilly winds brushing against one's naked face. A few on elephants' back, several in open jeeps, all queuing up at the Bijrani Gate to enter the Jim Corbett National park loaded, of course, with hopes galore to spot at least one Bengal tiger. In fact, the night before when the receptionist at the Claridges Corbett Hideawaybriefed guests to avoid wearing bright coloured dresses for the morning trip, not to even whisper in the jungle, to avoid strong perfumes etc., the excitement had mounted, popping up thus a pack of tiger tales over dinner.

All set now, the registration of visitors begins at 6 a.m at the gate and a sum of Rs.150 is levied for the jeep safari. While all proceed with a guide at the front seat, the thought that crosses your mind is, what happens if the jeep that precedes yours meets a tiger and disturbs it so much that he decides to vanish. Grinning wide at the inference, the guide says, "after crossing the seven km buffer zone begins the thick forest and there are enough routes for all to go separately." The relief instantly turns to more enthusiasm, and going past the resettled villages surrounded by electric barbs, it swells when the first spotted deer gets spotted. Gradually, an Indian jackal, chirping birds, langurs, sambar deer, a wild boar, a flying squirrel, a mountain goat and an Indian pangolin are spottedThe guide starts off, "Grazing deer around means there are no tigers here. The langurs too are not screaming warnings from tree tops."

The big question now comes: So, where is the tiger?


An equally confused guide becomes the navigator, snaking round and round the lanes though thick tree-covered cliffs, grasslands along the Ramganga river flowing right through the park and plateaus covered mostly with lantana weeds. "These weeds with their branches spreading out far and thick are good camouflage for the animals here. But they are gradually eating up the grasslands, the habitat of the tiger," the guide says. Four hours in the wild and yet no sign of tiger. "The tiger has seen you. So time to call it a day," the guide guides. As one returns, the board at the gate saying the last tiger sighted was two days ago on an elephant back, seals the decision: let us return the next dawn to mount on elephants.

Day one continues with a trip to Choti Haldwani, the village nearby that the great hunter and environmentalist Jim Corbett owned.

As night descends at the Corbett Hideaway, the guests meet at the resort garden to talk about, what else, tiger, over a huge bonfire . The dawn cracks and in an hour's time, after paying Rs.650, all atop elephants go into the forest wading through a thick blanket of fog. The excitement returns, dampened rather strongly by the enveloping fog, denying the clear view of, forget the tiger, not even a deer nearby. Close to two hours later, the next stop, of course, is Corbett Riverview Retreat, bang on the banks of river Kosi. A sumptuous breakfast and time to say goodbye to the unseen tiger.

With a heavy heart, one gets into the mini bus for a bumpy five-hour ride to Delhi but a chit-chat among the crowd settle the facts: After all, it was a fulfilling trip with so many birds chirping, trees of all sizes and shapes seen, so many animals spotted, the silence of the jungle experienced, the din of the falling dew heard and a comfortable stay. Does not matter if one did not get to see the tiger, the consolation is, the tiger has seen you!

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