The summons arrive on the mobile and we are hurriedly on our way to keep up our date with the tiger in the forests of Corbett . It is our second attempt out there to meet the most coveted denizen of the jungle, having spent an entire day in the wilds . But the tiger probably was aware that almost 20 vehicles would be entering through the Jhirna zone for a rendezvous. So it left us high and dry, leaving behind its pugmarks as we saw several jeeps bringing in all types of tourists including international students who would break into a jig at the very sight of even a deer. We did see several birds, butterflies and smaller mammals, but for the “tiger tourists”, the sightings were just not enough.
As we drive away in the darkness, hoping for an encounter, we have no idea what is in store for us .The experience begins at the government office in Ramnagar.. A couple of members from our group are already waiting there for the last hour to get the requisite permits and documents for the safari. I am told it’s a bit of luck and some push here and there. Then we see the never ending queue for the permits. And that is when I learn a bit about the trappings of tiger tourism . We wait there for what seems like hours.
Finally there are smiles all around as we make our way to the gate. And then the never ending wait begins as another 20 odd jeeps queue up around. Dawn breaks and the sunlight filters as restlessness sets in. The drivers exchange notes and the topic of discussion veers around the recent strike by the forest guides who are demanding more rights. “In fact “says my driver “the opening of the gates was postponed by a few days because of the strike. “ I ask him why we are still waiting and he says some officials have to come. We laugh wondering if there is some form of an opening ceremony and to my surprise, a television crew lands . The interviews with the officials are on ; the cameraman takes some footage of us , sleepy eyed and hungry waiting to enter the national park . And finally after more teas and pakodas, the green signal is given and after almost a couple of hours wait, we enter the national park
As for me, Corbett is more to do with the man, Jim Corbett himself than about the tigers he hunted .Corbett National Park, the oldest in India was earlier known as Hailey National Park before it took the name of the famous naturalist, author of several books. And having grown up on his “Man eaters of Kumaon,” I saw the villages and the forests vividly in front of my eyes, as I had imagined while reading the book.