Spot the stripe

Spot the stripe

There is little chance of spotting a tiger at the Jim Corbett reserve. Your best bet would be to stay at a rest house in the park, where you might get lucky enough to recount tales of tiger sighting, says Sanjay Austa

 The safari ride at Jim Corbett National Park; (below) sighting birds along the way. Photos by Author

If you come to Jim Corbett National Park with the single aim of sighting a tiger, you may be disappointed. With an area of 1,318 sq km and a core area of 520 sq km, Corbett has the highest tiger population (over 150, according to some estimates), but you have to be extremely lucky to see any.

But this doesn’t seem to bother the thousands of tourists who flock to the oldest Indian national park from all parts of the country. Tiger, unfortunately, is often the last thing in the mind of a Jim Corbett tourist.

As I book myself into a resort located on the fringes of the park, it soon becomes clear that freewheeling revelry is what  most visitors come here to enjoy. Corbett is barely 260 km away from New Delhi and offers a quick getaway for harassed city dwellers. And they come in all shades and stripes. Most of them are families, many, college students, and others, office colleagues and general picnickers, who seem to be more keen on the swimming pools and the DJ consoles of the resorts.

“That’s what the tourists want, so we have to play it,’’ says my resort manager when I enquire about the loud music being belted out every evening in the resort.
But it is not just my resort. Joining the chorus are many others, whose distant boom I can hear across the forest valley, well after light out. Tourists drink and dance till wee hours of the night. And in the morning, they don’t care too much if they miss the safari.

Catch a tiger by the toe

True tiger lovers are aware of this rampant commercialisation at Jim Corbett and avoid the luxury resorts mushrooming on the fringes of the park. They instead book themselves into the modest rest houses deep in the park itself.

The rest houses run by the forest department of the Uttarakhand government provide very basic amenities for a very nominal price, but the experience is priceless. Here, you exchange the noise of the hoi polloi with the sounds of the jungle. Those who stay here usually get lucky and recount tales of tiger sighting. The others usually get to see the usual — tiger footprints, markings on trees and dried tiger faeces.

Jim Corbett National Park has been divided into five zones, with each zone having an entrance of its own. If you are in Jim Corbett for many days, the authorities make sure you enter a different zone each day. This is great because you get to visit a different landscape each time. Each of these zones have forest rest houses. Dhikala Rest House is the most popular choice among wildlife enthusiasts. To book oneself here, it’s best to make reservations well in advance. The others are Sarapduli Rest House, Sultan Rest House, Gairal Rest House, Khinnanauli Rest House and Kanda Rest House.

The best time to visit Jim Corbett or any other national park for that matter is during peak summer, when the pools are few and the animals are forced to head towards the few water bodies that remain. The forest undergrowth is also less dense, making for easier sightings. With mid-day temperatures touching 45 degrees, the tiger can often be seen at the edge of a lake or pond, half immersed in water.

Wild angle

It’s usually after the sighting of the tiger that one starts looking at the other animals in the forest. Until then, everyone gives a cursory look at the deers, elephants and other abundant animals and birds at the park. The safari drivers and guides too know this and they drive past these animals, while chasing after the elusive tiger.

For those who don’t come with a ‘tiger or nothing’ approach, Jim Corbett is a haven for wildlife. There are over 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species. Jim Corbett is also a paradise for plant life with over 488 different species of plants including 110 different tree species. With this thick green cover, is it any wonder that tigers and many other mammals at the park remain elusive to safari tourists?

It’s not just the tourists, most of the villagers living on the edge of the park have only heard stories of the tiger and leopard but have never actually seen any. The tiger-man conflict in Jim Corbett is minimal — a far cry compared to the beginning of 20th century, when its founder made a reputation for himself by killing the dreaded man-eaters. At times, however, tigers do wander off onto roads and highways in the buffer areas. During my stay, a tiger had been hit by a speeding car and a massive search party had been launched to track the tiger and see how grievously it had been injured.

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