The magic of Corbett
SHOBHA MENON journeys through this exclusive stronghold of the tiger.
THE air is pleasant and cool. The muddy track ahead meanders into groves of majestic century-old sal trees splashed golden yellow in parts by the beautiful Indian Laburnum. Prominent in the thick undergrowth, a painted signboard states simply, "Wild Animals have first right to cross the road".
I'm at one of India's richest wilderness areas, the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), the first of its kind in India, whose area also includes the Corbett National Park, India's oldest national park. Today, it probably holds the second largest population of free-living tigers in the world.
Nestled in the Uttaranchal Hills, the Corbett National Park was established on August 8, 1936 with an area of 521 sq.km. In 1973, when "Project Tiger" was launched, the park was the first tiger reserve in the country. With the Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary (an area of 301 sq.km.) adjoining the park on the west, and the buffer zone of reserve forest of 466 sq.km., later brought under the ambit of the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), its area is now around 1,288.34 sq.km. over an elevation from 400 m to 1,200 m. It is also one of the last remaining strongholds of the majestic Panthera tigris tigris.
For reservations, contact:
Director, Corbett Tiger Reserve
Ramnagar-244715, Nainital District
Ph: 91-05947-251489, 251376
* * *
Chief Wildlife Warden
87, Rajpur Road,
* * *
With a rich bio-geographic diversity, due to its position in the Shivalik terai at the foothills of the Himalayas, this forest country houses 50 species of mammals including the elephant, the tiger, the leopard, the jungle cat, the leopard cat, the sambar, the chital, the hog deer, the barking deer, the goral, the nilgai, the wild boar, the sloth bear, the Himalayan bear, the civet, the marten, the hare, the mongoose, and the otter.
Around 600 species of birds have also been recorded in the CTR, besides 26 species of reptiles. The vast water reservoir formed by the dam across the Ramganga at Kalagarh attracts to many bird species that migrate from Central Asia, Europe, and China in winter. Flocks of wintering water birds include the thrush, the kingfisher, the robin, the shama, the barbet, the bee-eater, the flycatcher, the sunbird, the bulbul and the drongo. As one ardent birdwatcher queried, "Did you know that this area has such an amazingly rich avifaunal diversity that it represents nearly six per cent of the total species in the world, which is also incidentally, more than the total bird diversity of Europe?"
Flora in the CTR include 51 species of shrubs, 27 species of climbers, 37 species of grasses and bamboos and 110 species of trees, of which the more prominent include Sal (Shorea robusta), Haldu (Adina cordifolia), Asna (Terminalia tomentosa), Shisham (Dalbergia sisoo), Amaltas (Cassia fistula), Amla (Emblica officinalis), Jamun (Syzigium cumini), and Pipal (Ficus religios).
Corbett has five tourism zones, of which the Dhikala, Bijrani and Jhirna are more popular.
Several rest houses are positioned at picturesque spots in the park at Dhikala, Khinnanauli, Sarpaduli, Gairal, Sultan, Bijrani and Kanda providing accommodation and other facilities to the visitors at reasonable rates.
Dhikala, the heartland of the park with the Ramganga at its feet, is the main tourist complex at the northern edge of a vast elevated grassland where herds of wild elephants are, according to one guide, "as common as herds of chital". Besides good accommodation facilities, it also has a restaurant, a library, a first-aid centre, and an open-air theatre. Elephant rides into forest country are also available at Dhikala, Khinanauli, Gairal and Bijrani, which are open only to visitors with resident permits obtainable from the office of the Field Director, Ramnagar, Nainital district. The Corbett Tiger Reserve also organises conducted tours. Well-maintained private resort facilities are also available around the CTR.
When to visit
Dhikala: between November 15 and June 15 (entry only to visitors with permits for night stay)
Bijrani: between November 15 and June 15 (both night stay and day visits). Day visits between June 16 and June 30.
Jhirna: between November 15 and June 15 (night stay and day visits). Day visits through the year.
By air: Phoolbagh (Pantnagar) is the nearest airport.
By rail: Ramnagar is connected with New Delhi and Lucknow by overnight express trains.
By road: State transport buses from Delhi, Moradabad, Dehradun, Haldwain ply regularly to Ramnagar. Tourists can engage jeeps from Ramnagar to enter the park.
At the end of an elephant ride through swaying tree branches and tall scrub, across streams and rivulets in search of the elusive tiger in Dhikala, Vikas, our guide, said, "Sometimes we see tigers every other day. Once we sight a tiger, we know it'll be somewhere in the vicinity on successive days. Then we're able to show our visitors on jeep or elephant back. At other times, months go by without tiger sightings. One man came for 16 annual visits before he saw one! Others come casually and see rare sights like a tigress playing with its cubs. It's all a matter of luck!"
The forest authorities ensure that tourists respect the sanctity of the forest country. Their rules and regulations, among others, ensure that all visitors carry their own bags for non-biodegradable litter to be disposed of in bins outside the CTR. Smoking and consumption of alcohol and non-vegetarian food is prohibited. Playing transistors and tape recorders is not permitted, nor is walking or trekking alone through the reserve. Their "Tips for Visitors" aim to instil sensitivity even among the uninitiated.
Things cannot be predetermined in a natural environment. Treasure such moments because they will be unique.
Do not expect to see wild animals and birds as a matter of right. Be patient and understanding.
Wear shades that blend with the natural environment.
Do not assume you know all the answers. If you ask questions, chances are you'll leave a more informed person.
Do not expect privileges. Remember, you are only one of the many visitors.
* * *
A film show on tiger country organised for visitors at Dhikala showed a picture of mahout Subedar Ali. Half of his face was torn when he went alone into the forest on elephant to collect fodder. Many difficult surgeries later, he returned and, to his colleagues' amazement, begged to get back to his old job within the forest. As he said simply: "Kyoonki mujjhe ye bahuth accha lagta hai (because I like it very much"). A former chief wildlife warden of the State echoed this fascination for the forest and spoke of being drawn to Corbett Sanctuary "Jaadu sa (Like magic").
And I realise that this is common among wildlife enthusiasts in India and abroad for the Corbett Tiger Reserve, an eternal magic that has never ceased to enchant.
Send this article to Friends by