The jungle story

The jungle story

wild notes

The jungle story

My mandatory list of preparations for a visit to the famed Jim Corbett National Park recently included a reading of Corbett’s enthralling writings on his live encounters with wildlife in India in early 1900s. The Corbett corpus, I can assure you, brings home some of the most rousing, raw adventures any human would have ever encountered.

Whether it is Jungle Stories, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, My India, Jungle Lore, or The Temple Tiger and More Man-Eaters of Kumaon, among others, Corbett provides graphic descriptions of the Lower Himalayan forests and the hunting of tigers and leopards, which he bravely undertook, mostly on foot, to save hapless people.

But even more gripping is his narration of the knife-edge living of the villagers in terror-filled natural surroundings that take us to an unsafe world, which existed not too long ago (when around 40,000 tigers freely roamed at the turn of the before last century), but, of which we are relatively unaware of.

As the train from Delhi chugged into Ramnagar town, on the outskirts of Corbett Park in what’s now known as Uttarakhand, and as we checked into the local forest guest house for the overnight stay, my mind was full of the excitement created by the Corbett stories.
At the crack of dawn, when we set out in the open-top Maruti gypsies on a week-long adventure trip, I did not have the faintest inkling that, apart from encountering some rare species of birds, we would be lucky enough to be served with the trump card on Day 1 itself!

After a quick lunch at the Dhikala forest guest house, the 20-odd gypsies with their eager tourists/photographers scrambled to the pond across Ramganga river, as word had already got around that the 8-year-old tigress, Parvaali, was cooling herself in the waters.

For someone whose past sighting of a tiger in the wild was confined to a fleeting glimpse of the familiar stripes of the animal in Bandipur, before it disappeared into the forest, the relaxed viewing of Parvaali playing in the water was a sight to behold.

As the vehicles teeming with wildlife enthusiasts with their telescopic lenses settled on either side of the pond bed, driver Wasim told us that Parvaali was bound to cross the dry, rocky channel in front of us, as the tiger’s previous day’s ‘kill’ was lying upstream.

The cat walk

With the temperature soaring to 45 degrees, Parvaali was in no hurry to leave the cool confines of the pond. After nearly 90 minutes’ wait, everyone scampered to their feet as Parvaali got out of the water. She slowly walked past us for almost 200 yards, with her mesmerising stripes shining in clear blue skies. She came as close as 5 feet from our vehicle, disdainfully looking at us now and then, as she carried on with her most majestic cat walk ever imaginable.

Two days later, we had another sighting of Parvaali, (and 2 other male tigers subsequently), from very close range, as she emerged from the forest and walked down the narrow road, giving us a good frontal view, as our vehicle quickly backtracked, making way for her.

The Corbett Tiger Reserve, which spans over 1,318 sq km (of which Corbett National Park occupies 520 sq km), but only a tiny part of it is open to the public, has become the country’s most popular sanctuary because of the increased sightings of the tiger, especially during summer.

Close encounters

Summer months of April and May also bring over 600 Asiatic elephants to Corbett, as the dry grasslands provide plenty of food to these giant animals. We had plenty of unhindered sightings of groups of elephants wandering majestically, tuskers on the heat looking for mating opportunities, young ones indulging in playful fighting, while the female elephants constantly kept a watch on the calves, and charged at those who appeared to threaten them. At the onset of monsoon, we were told, that these elephants migrate en masse to the neighbouring Rajaji National Park. Corbett is home to leopards, Asiatic black bears, hog deer, barking deer, spotted deer, sambars, sloth bears, jackals, peacocks and also rare species of gharials, mugger crocodiles and otters.

Bird lovers won’t be disappointed either, as Corbett has recorded some 650 species of resident and migratory birds, including great-tied hornbill, white-backed vulture, Hodgson’s bushchat, golden oriole, Indian pitta and scarlet minivet among others.

In order to promote tourism, Corbett National Park is divided into 5 different zones, Bijrani, Jhirna, Dhela, Dhikala and Durga Devi, with marked buffer and core areas where visitors are allowed safari rides in designated vehicles of the forest department.

Dhikala, which has a forest lodge established over a 100 years ago, is the most sought after destination, as it can accommodate about 80-90 people for overnight stay, based on advanced online reservation. But there are a number of private hotels and resorts on the periphery of the forests, which can house more tourists for the season which is open only between November 1 and June 15.

There is a good collection of books and a small exhibition room in Dhikala, which give a fairly good account of Corbett’s efforts to establish the Hailey National Park, which came up in 1935. It was fittingly renamed after Corbett following his death in 1955.

Colonel Edward James Corbett, an Irishman born in Nainital in 1875, spent most of his life in these forests and seemed to be familiar with every ravine and every blade of grass in the areas he traversed. He was an expert hunter (later turned into an avid conservationist), who often responded to distress calls from villages ravaged by man-eating tigers.

Corbett gives a gripping account of man-eating tiger Champawat, which had reportedly killed 434 people before it was tracked and shot down by him in 1907. Records show that he shot around 19 tigers and 14 leopards, which had together accounted for over 1,200 humans, but he gave up hunting in 1938, and turned to conservation.

Tigress Parvaali, who we encountered from the safety of our wheels and marvelled at her majestic beauty, is one of only around 2,20­0 tigers (around 3,400 worldwide) left in India, and Project Tiger, launched in 1973, has helped in arresting the steep decline in their numbers.

Corbett prophetically remarked, “....a tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and that when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be, unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be poorer, having lost the finest of her fauna.”
One can’t agree with him more.

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