Table of contents for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY
- Corbett and I
“Peace had reigned in the Ladhya valley for many months when in September 1938 a report was received in Nainital that a girl, twelve years of age, had been killed by a tiger at Kot Kindri village..”
This is how Jim Corbett’s tale of the Thak Man Eater begins. Indeed things had been quiet for many months. But Corbett country, bordered by Ranikhet and Almora in the north, Talla Desh, Champawat and kaladhungi in the east, Haldwani and Ramnagar in the south and Kanda in the West, enjoyed such peace from man-eaters for short spells. If not man-eating tigers then it would be leopards shattering the peace in the valleys of Kumaon hills.
The story of Thak Man-eater is instructive. It takes us through a large area of Corbett country and Corbett uses and writes about a long array of skills that made him a unique hunter, very different from his own contemporaries. To me, this is one story that puts a chill in my spine every time I read it. There were of course many other man-eating tigers — Champawat, Mohaan (where Nandan takes you often on his road reviews) Powalgarh and Kanda. I cannot mention all of them. For me the journey to Corbett and my tumultuous, lustful relationship with Corbett begins in my study. I read and re-read and I am with Corbett in his expeditions to track down a man-eater. I spend the night on trees wrapped in a blanket to keep out the cold but can barely sleep for fear that the kill over which I stalk the tiger, might be taken while I am lost in slumber. In the day I track the wing pugmarks on its trail knowing just where what the tiger did and what time has passed since then. Through the villages of Kanda, Sultan (now all in the reserve area, its population shifted) or in Powalgarh, Muktesar and Chaknaki — everywhere I go with Corbett tracking the killer. I have already learned what it means when a kakar calls or when a sambhar bells. In this journey, I see two ruthless adventurers, Corbett and the Man-eater. Since, I look back in time, I know who shall win this battle of patience and meticulous perseverance. The battle between the instincts of a natural born hunter pitted against those of a trained human with huge limitations.
My trip begins in total enchantment with my destination. I am not on a sightseeing trip, I am on a nostalgic trip. I am with Corbett sahib. Looking at those places again where I think, I accompanied Corbett on his purposeful adventures, I see how things have changed. Fortunately, tigers still roam and crawl upto their natural preys here, leaving humans alone for most of the time. We owe this to Corbett, how else could we have understood and conserved this magnificent royal beast. My homage to the master is paid when I take a detour after reaching Ramnagar, crossing the booking office on the road uphill and taking a right towards Kaladhungi.
This is also the road that can take you to Nainital if you so wish. Around 30 km from Ramnagar, I visit Corbett’s winter house in Kaladhungi — his village, where people still worship him as Carpit sahib. This house was donated by Corbett to one of his trusted lieutenants and friend Chiranji Lal when he left for Kenya after India’s independence.
Now, it is a museum where you can find his sundry belongings — his palanquin chair, used by him in old age even on his tracking trips, his hurricane (improvised) lanterns, his dishes and some charming paintings of the country including his portraits with some of his well known kills.
Special mention must be made of a painting, based actually upon a photograph depicting the Bachelor of Powalgarh, dead, spread on his side. His enormous size is not overdone.
the Bachelor of Powalgarh
A full grown male tiger is usually 3 meters long along the curves i.e. not counting the tail. About 10 feet. Imagine that length and you know how big a full grown tiger is. It is essential to understand the majestic size and his natural strength to know why the tiger is a deadly predator.
A painting probably showing the view from Gurkha Sot ( displayed at Corbett’s winter house in Kaladhungi)
Also to know, how a hunter on foot that Corbett was, that he had to outwit the tiger on the tiger’s terms, in the tiger’s area and at such times when it had an advantage over the human. He was not hunting tigers on tanks or elephants.
Having paid my customary homage to the master I keep to my schedule. I have traveled far from Noida. Starting at 3 in the morning I reach Ramnagar at 7:30 and whence to Kaladhungi after having breakfast in Ramnagar. Sometimes I reach even earlier. The Ramnagar bus stand is a mystery to a first timer if you
reach there in the early hours of the morning. You see, from Ramnagar, Shivaliks or Himalayan foothills begin. The road to Ranikhet and Marchula and further up, goes right through Corbett country. The Ramnagar – Amdanda – Dhikuli (most resorts are here) Garjia – Dhangarhi – Mohaan road borders the Corbett tiger reserve right up till Mohaan. For animal safety, heavy traffic on this road is not allowed after around 9 pm till 2am. People who have to travel up (locals and most of them are returning from their army postings and have a long trip ahead ) arrive or wait here till midnight or so and then the bus stop comes alive. Every shop is open and lights shine brightly as if decorated for a wedding beguiling you into believing that some festival beckons you. But a festival it is, every night and any night that you might beseech it. Behold it! It is a sight of people living, throbbing with energy and going about their daily chores in the middle of the night.
I have left Noida at 11 in the night and at times at 3 in the morning. Both have its charms. If you are traveling with plans to stay inside the reserve, with an advance booking beginning that day, you should leave at around 3 or 4 in the morning. The drive is smooth on NH24. Once you have crossed Gajraula on NH24 and taken the Moradabad bypass (which is also a toll road), the moment the bypass finishes you will find a T, and a board announcing Corbett towards the left. If you go straight you will reach Rampur. Take the left and you are on way to Kashipur. The current position of the road from Noida is good except, in patches on NH 24 where road elevation work in small towns by the road is still incomplete. It is here that you have to take side lanes where the going gets slow. Otherwise the drive upto Ramnagar is as good as UP and Uttaranchal can give you on a stretch of 250 kms odd. After Kashipur, and you should be there by about 7 or 8 in the morning, open the car windows and take in the air and feel its crispy freshness. You are not far. Corbett beckons you all the more. By 9 you should be at the reception office. Fill up your forms and get your passes. If you still have time to kill before you get into the reserve and need a place to rest, wash up and have some sleep, go to Dhikuli and you will find some appropriate resort which for a small price will give you all these.
Reaching Ramnagar at 7:30 I go straight to Dhikuli. Where I know a little place, not fanciful or anything, called Tigerstreet. The fellow there usually, Manoj, whom I have informed that I am coming, is ready for me. Manoj is a keen writer and knows enough Urdu for doing popular song writing. He writes his own songs and sings them to his own tune over a camp fire for you. His mate Harpreet, a keen wildlife wanderer can infect you with his energy if he is around. He runs a gypsy service too and I usually get a real bargain out of him. Sitting there at night in the open, under the night sky spectacularly flush with stars twinkling sharply in delight the small-towner will swiftly deflate your big town ego by some volume. Outside the reserve there are many resorts — Infinity, Manu Maharani and many more. These are the really up-market ones and they have Kosi flowing through their backyards. But, forgive me because I just am unable to unwind in such places. Too crowded, too plush, too comfort driven (and pricey!!) and they seem like a refuge for a city slicker.
Who wants to be a refugee? I want to be home and this Corbett country is home. Lush green and sunny, alive and innocent.
“….it is not possible for those who have never lived in the upper reaches of the Himalayas to have any conception of the stranglehold that superstition has on people who inhabit that sparsely populated region…with us we had fifteen of the keenest and the most cheerful hillmen…one of these men, Bala Singh, a Garhwali, had been with me for years….i noticed that Bala Singh was sitting apart near the camp fire with a blanket over his head and shoulders. After breakfast I walked over to him,….Bala Singh saw me coming and made no attempt to greet me, which was very unusual, and to all my questions he returned the one answer — that he was not ill. That day we did our two-mile march in silence…it was quite apparent that whatever had happened to Bala Singh was affecting the other fourteen men, for they were performing their duties without their usual cheerfulness…after a lot of hedging and evasive answers I eventually got Mothi Singh’s story, which, when it came, was short and direct…’while we were sitting round the camp-fire last night and singing… the demon of Trisul entered Bala Singh’s mouth and he swallowed him’ ”
Bala Singh himself told the same to Corbett and told him clearly that nothing could save him now. Bala Singh even showed Corbett the demon’s movement inside his stomach. Corbett did all he could for Bala, medically that is. The civil surgeon of Nainital also visited Bala Singh, finally, an eminent Indian doctor was called who, it was thought would tell Bala that nothing was wrong with him and the doctor being a hillman himself his word might be believed by Bala. But the doctor, having once understood what was ailing Bala, told Corbett that he could do nothing for the man. Eventually, Bala Singh was sent home and while his relatives and friends were gathered around him he announced to the gathering that the demon inside him wished to be released and return to the Trisul, and the only way for this to happen was Bala’s death. So, Bala Singh just lay down and died.
We met Bala Singh again. In better health and cheer.