Corbett – Tiger Tourism anyone ?

It is 4am in the morning and the eyes are still getting used to the darkness around . An icy breeze tugs at you, awakening the silent waters of the River Kosi flowing through our Club Mahindra resort. Standing on the banks of the river, I watch the moonlit ridges of the mountains, towering above, almost touching the jeweled sky. While some of my fellow travelers are star gazing, a few are attempting night photography. I , for one am just lost in the silence.

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.

Today , however as we board our jeeps, there is a feeling of hope. It is an auspicious moment, as the Bijrani Gate of the Jim Corbett National Park is to be opened  today ,months after the monsoons. The other gates, am told are still closed.

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

The sunlight filters through the tall sal trees as we drive along the safari route of this deciduous forests, squinting through the dense foliage . The naturalist in our group Karthikeyan Srinivasan keeps us engaged , spotting birds , spiders and small mammals.  . Corbett he says has about 600 species of birds, of the 1200 recorded in India. We spot a mongoose , while our friends see the rare yellow throated marten ,besides langurs and deer . But then the tiger, probably having spotted the jeep load of tourists, has again moved on , leaving its footprints on the sands of time. As we head back, the birders in our group are happy , but the tiger tourists are a tad disappointed . 

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.

My favourite memory of Corbett is visiting his house, now a museum in Kaladhungi,  walking around it, looking at the paintings and imagining him being on call from villagers when a man-eater struck in their hamlets. And as I walk away , his words remain in my mind .. “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 the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna. “  
However, I am sure,  I will get a glimpse of  this “large hearted gentleman “someday in the forests . 
This article was published in my column, Inside Story in The Hindu Metro Plus today.  I was part of the Club Mahindra Bloggers Trip to Corbett in  October 2011.

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  1. Nikita Vhora 7 November, 2011 at 11:10 Reply

    I’ve always wanted to visit Corbett and you just gave me a peek in to what it is to be there! 🙂 Though I was hoping with every sentence I read that you would say you saw a tiger by the end of the post. Nevertheless you seem to have enjoyed! 🙂 Wonderful pictures.

  2. Anonymous 8 November, 2011 at 18:47 Reply

    lakshami I’ve been following your posts since last month. but i would like to know is there any time around the year when the hassles involved are less.

  3. sachin 11 November, 2011 at 17:04 Reply

    It was really great to know about Corbett and it’s related points of attraction. I have seen your photos and article and i think it can be a perfect vacation destination. I belongs from Madhya pradesh and i am running my own website based on traveling.
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