Corbett and I (Pt. 3)

(recap)
The sun rose from our right. Suddenly, we heard a langur call incessantly followed by a cheetal. Corbett didn’t say a word he just gave me directions and I followed them. We went past the Dhikala FRH towards east took the Ramsingh road and then we heard an unmistakable cheetal call at regular intervals moving further east towards Champion road beyond and north of Khinnanauli FRH. Just before the FRH and on the left where the Ramganga flows, we spied a herd of Cheetal. Tense and necks strained towards the other bank lined by thick elephant grass. Stilled by fear and their snouts sniffing the wind for something close by. We stopped and waited — our cameras ready…

truth disappears around the bend
The Ramganga

…we left on the 7th of November and Corbett received news through the DFO Haldwani that the tigress had killed another man in Thak on the 12th. Leaving on the 22nd from Corbett’s winter home in Choti Haldwani we did a double quick march and were able to reach, in the early hours of 24th, the village of Chuka. Corbett’s plan was to tie buffaloes again and had intimated this in advance. Upon reaching we inspected the place where the man had been taken and the headman of Thak, apart from informing us that all inhabitants of Thak had left the village in fear, gave us a detailed account of the killing and subsequent sightings of the tigress by other villagers. The first buffalo we tied up where the man had been killed on the 12th, the second, at a place bordering a lush green meadow and where her pugmarks were found near a mango tree. The third was tied behind village Sem, in a ravine where the tigress had made a killing much earlier. Having done this we had time to think. We all knew of Corbett’s resolution. He had given himself ten days to get the tigress, failing which he would retire, this being his last hunt, leaving other hunters to accomplish the job. The situation was both tense and emotional for all of us who had been with Corbett on his numerous hunts. By his own resolve we knew 30th November was the date Corbett would quit on the Thak man eater tigress. As it turned out, more disappointment was on our way.

We checked on the morning of 26th and it was clear that that the tigress had found no use for the buffaloes that we had tied. When the sun set on the 26th we wore a gloomy look and the weather didnt help. A strong cold wind blew as we tried out sitting on a machan overlooking a path that she frequented and we tied a goat with a bell around its neck to warn us of the tigress’s approach. It rained heavily that night and nothing else was heard while we got ourselves drenched in the bitter cold of the black stormy night…

We are hunters. Once again. A light wind rose from the north, blew through the tall dry grass that fringed the Ramganga, crossed the river and pulled at our shirts. There was the wind, there was the river and the sounds of these. Nothing else. No other sound, a gentle draw of breath from one of us or the sounds of our heart beats. The herd of cheetal, not a single member moved. The only movment at times would be their ear flaps turning and returning like a radar dish scanning and swapping the wide through the northern bank. From the makings of it, I believed that somewhere in the tall grass bordering the Ramganga’s north bank, was a tiger stalking this herd of deer. There seemed to be a bit of mistake though. If my assessment were true, then the tiger stood upwind in relation to the prey. And that was a mistake for a hunter to make. Jim read my mind and shook his head and close to my ear he whispered, “ It isn’t hunting, its just there.”

We kept still and waited as the sun rose and shone brightly now. Corbett patted me on the shoulder and his hand rose and fingers pointed to a place on the other bank in the tall thick grasses. Nothing was to be seen except the swaying of the grass in the strong breeze.
” There it is” he whispered softly.

I took my binoculars and strained my eyes to catch a glimpse. Nothing. Then I caught sight of something else. Something dove into the waters and rose swiftly. A common kingfisher! And it had a little fish in its long beak to show for its diving prowess. Lavishly colored and bright in the now approaching noon sunlight I feasted my
eyes on it as it sat on a branch. Then I let my camera do the work.
common kingfisher

(common kingfisher)

Ten minutes went by. No more alarm calls and the cheetal stood as still as a rock. I looked at Corbett and he smiled back at me. I knew it meant we would have to wait longer.

A bit, probably, 50 meters ahead and to the right of the road is the Khinnanauli FRH. The Khinnanauli FRH is a sort of VIP guest house. It has its own generator for electricity which is worked for a short interval in the evenings. People often wonder why is it a VIP FRH. The reason is not hard to find. Most mammal movement occurs in the vicinity and in direct view of this FRH. Its watch tower or machan is also most strategically located. Around here, it is most convenient to ford the river, have a drink or laze around in the sun or graze in the grasslands.

…we worked the slopes and the hills through dense bushes and sparse foliage, through little streams, nullahs and ridges that dotted the Ladhya valley for the next two days and found her marks almost everywhere. Sometimes, we would spot her at a distance fording a stream or simply crossing the valley. On no occassion did she present an opportunity for a shot. On the night of the 29th we all slept in Sem and lit a few camp fires to keep us warm. I was particularly restless. The Thak man-eater had terrorized the area too long and it was my firm belief that people of these villages –Thak, Sem and other villages in a radius of 15 kms would never return to their villages if she were to remain alive after tomorrow night.

29th, was a clear night with no mist and we were tired and worn out. Totally and thoroughly. Before we slept one of the hillmen, Banwari told us a few stories to shake our despondency and keep our spirits high. I doubt if he succeeded at all. He told us of the demons that roam about the hillsides at night. One of these–the Agiya Betal–or the fire spirit, should not even be seen by an ordinary mortal for it means certain madness and insanity curable only by death. I dreamt dreadfully that night and woke up several times. Finally, I dreamt of an Arihant or an enlightened one walking through the man-eater infested hillside helped by a feeble moon and its oft obscured light by misty low lying clouds. He walked with an unknown, unseen calm and occasionally, he sang a little tune to himself. Unmindful yet aware, with both caution and abandon, displaying a rare quiet and a restrained joy — he moved. Then I saw his face — warm and serene, comforting. Reassuring and wise. A soft smile stayed on his lips and that is the last thing I remember. When I woke up, it was already daylight and the camp was well and stirring.

That day we set out in small bands on the look out for her signs. We found that during the night she had come close to our camp and had waited by a small raised portion of the ground overlooking our camp no more than 150 meters away. She had rested there some time and then moved away, crossing the Ladhya once again. We regrouped in the afternoon with the news that the tigress had started calling near Thak and her movements were traced along a line parallel to the river. She had been calling in regular intervals. November is the mating season of tigers and it could mean that she was sounding out possible mates. Late November is also the time of short daylight and we knew that by five it would be quite dark. It was then that Corbett revealed his plans. He had decided to call on reaching Thak. We would, by our best march, reach Thak by 4:45 and it was decided that the calls would be given then. Our walk was urgent and hopeful and heavy with anxiety. As we neared Thak we could hear her unmistakable calls echoing in the valley. We reached by 4:40 and Jim detected a huge boulder on the path that lead to Thak from the river and decided to sit behind it and give his answering calls while the rest of the men would hide in a bush behind him. At 5:00 Jim filled his lungs and cheeks and gave a full answering call to the tigress. It was immediately answered. We felt she was a mile away and it would take her about 40-45 minutes to reach. Thereupon she made calls at regular intervals to detect our position and Corbett answered her each time hoping there was enough light to shoot her by when she finally appeared. He took careful position, resting his rifle on the boulder and leaning with his left shoulder against it. He took off his hat and waited as the sun started a fast movement towards the horizon slightly south of west.

For some twenty minutes we stayed and savoured the wind and the warmth of the sun. Then I saw something, a faint movement of a grass strand springing up erect as if it had been pressed earlier. And in a moment there it was. The most majestic sight ever. For a few moments we stopped breathing. I saw its right front leg and parts of its huge shoulders as it contemplated coming into view. Shortly it came forward and surveyed the sight in front. That was the signal and herd of cheetal bolted, crossed the river and ran up the hillside towards us, crossed the road and went beyond the rest house.

coming out
there!!

It was just as the master had told us. It was a tigress with two cubs, who shortly came into view. They were less cautious and cavorting joyfully. Their coats stood royally in the sunlight as they stepped forward towards the Ramganga and took a few sips. We clicked ferociously our patience having been rewarded.

disappearing

They weren’t hunting. Suddenly, from nowhere a few more Gypsies turned up and there was total madness for a short while, as each wanted a vantage point for its tourists. I hope each ones wish was fulfilled. They stayed with us for about ten minutes. And then retired into the bushes again. That’s when we realised what we had witnessed. It was only then that I looked at Corbett. A satisfied smile on his lips.

” A large hearted gentleman he is” he said. Only this time it was a gentle woman.

drinking

…it was in this failing light that we waited by and most of us trembled in fear and anticipation. A man-eater tigress in heat was too fearsome a reality to confront at close quarters. While we trusted Corbett’s abilities, we knew he had no powers if light failed him. We prayed that the tigress showed up before our death surety was executed by the impending darkness. Suddenly, we heard a langur call not more than 50 meters away and we heard its rapid leap on the trees as it sounded off and scurried. The tigress called again and its sound was very close and somehow it seemed to hasten a darkening sky for the sun had now set. Minutes ticked by but the tigress didn’t appear on the path under the boulder. Corbett filled his lungs again and waited and then just as the rumble of the tigress’s call started, he let off a final call simultaneously, to the searching mate for final directions. And then, immediately from the left and barely 10 meters ahead she emerged from the bushes and looked at the boulder. We didn’t move. Then we heard the shot. One shot and then another. After the second shot I saw Corbett being thrown off the boulder towards us. He came to rest on his elbow and I was relieved to see him move, get up and reload his rifle. Meanwhile, the tigress’s huge head appeared over the boulder and from there she looked at all of us. Her eyes glazed and faith deceived, she let go and slipped off. We ran behind the boulder and Corbett was already there taking a final shot at her head. Then he reloaded and let go two shots in quick succession to the sky. That was a signal to the people of the whole valley. The man eater tigress of Thak was down!

We drove back to Dhikala FRH in silence. We packed our belongings from the Old Rangers Quarters and had a quick bite at Kalajis canteen where we got surrounded by eager tourists to check our photographs. A thin man of about 40 served us tea and toast and stood over our cameras as we showed our photographs.
He had his sleeves rolled up and displayed a trishul tatoo –mark of Shiva– on his left forearm. Before we left the canteen, the man very strangely touched Corbett’s feet and sought his blessings. Corbett looked at him closely and whispered, “God Bless you man”
i thought it strange but, soon put it aside. Having taken our clearance and bidding adieu to a general bonhomie that follows a sighting, we departed and I drove Jim to Kaladunghi and his winter home. He got down there and lovingly put his arm around my shoulders. Then with a far away look in his eyes that older people have when about to leave, he told me,
“That man in the canteen with a Trishul tatoo, was Bala Singh. I never told you this,” he continued, “Bala Singh had that exact mark on his forearm after he complained of being possessed.”

So saying, Corbett turned and walked into his house.

big cat
will see you again

41 Comments

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    I will read it once I am done with gazing at the pristine stream of ramganga, the uncommon kingfisher and the family d luminaire. pardon the french.

  • amita says:

    Sabr ka phal meetha hota hain! The part-3 is astonishing. Its one of a kind picture story, where you toggle between the beautiful narration and the stupendous photographs effortlessly.

    At last after a loooong wait I have something good to read again and again. I will keep coming back to it to be there with carpit saheb, his special I and the rest of the paraphernalia.

    This is not a travelogue on ghumakkar. This is literature on ghumakkar. What is astonishing is that the original thak man-eater tale has been told in your own words. I think at times it is even better than Corbetts himself.

    Sanjay, Now after this engrossing story, yeh dil mange more! When are you writing the many stories about Benaras, your own city?

  • Ranjan Gorakhpuri says:

    The third part portrays the class writing skill.
    Both the stories are so beautifully woven. The reader finds himself right on the spot witnessing the action.

    I am sure Corbett sahab will feel really proud when he’ll read this travelogue from some distant cosmic world!

  • tiger says:

    thank you amita and ranjan.
    @amita: sorry i kept you all waiting. i hope its worth the wait. and yes, you noticed, the thak man-eaters tale has been retold.
    @amit ranjan gorakhpuri: now you plan a visit to the place.
    @rajiv: kuch to kaho!

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    Sanjay,
    Nice pictures indeed. The text would have been better if it was written based on the your own real experience instead of taking the readers through an imaginary tour typed in italics. I think the original stories of Corbett have all the ingredients of drama, suspense, intrigue and adventure. Today, the tigers are revered and protected, at least in India, and any account of viewing them through the barrel of a rifle is taken with a grain of salt, as there are only about 800 wild tigers left in India. You are so fortunate to see two of them inside the Corbett park and again, your pictures are awesome!
    Cheers,
    Jerry

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Bala Singh lives on, so. Your mastery with words have taken someone like me, who has not read much of Corbett’s work, to where the Thak man-eater story was enacted. And finally, Bala singh too emerges from part 1.

    “Finally,I dreamt of an Arihant or an enlightened one walking through the man-eater infested hillside helped by a feeble moon and its oft obscured light by misty low lying clouds. He walked with an unknown, unseen calm and occasionally, he sang a little tune to himself. Unmindful yet aware, with both caution and abandon, displaying a rare quiet and a restrained joy he moved. Then I saw his face warm and serene, comforting. Reassuring and wise. A soft smile stayed on his lips and that is the last thing I remember.”

    That is some poem. Had Corbett Sahib read this to the lady, she might have left cannibalism and turned sage.

    Sheer pleasure, this series has been, what with the rare photographs and superlative, unmatched prose. This device of intertwining two timelines has been marvelously used to treat us with a professional piece of work.

    Looking forward to more.

  • tiger says:

    thanks jerry and i appreciate your point. all i can say is: its done now. so you must forgive the mistakes.

    @rajiv: i am overwhelmed.

  • nandanjha says:

    I am sure that I am yet to earn the privilege of writing a comment on such a marvelous piece, the road is long but I am guessing that at least I got that part right and over time as I read this again, I would come back and comment.

    At the expense of engaging myself for which I am not worthy, I can only say that this needs a salute. Bow.

  • tiger says:

    come now Nandan. travel the long road quickly and lets have your road review on this one. i am sorry for part 3 getting delayed this much. its a pleasure being on this adda.

  • shikha says:

    Sanjay,
    This part is not only an end to the long wait but also the end of a beautiful story.
    Or do I say that it is just a beautiful beginning of a story which is still in the making..
    You have the power to write your own omnibus. Best of luck.

    Shikha

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    You have left me short of words Sanjay. Such a powerful narration, such a capability to weave stories, you have touched me a lot. And the italics where you quoted Jim is marvellous. In-fact, I have not read any of his novels, but reading its excerpts here, so well interwined with your story has left me with a desire to read a lot and a lot from him.

    Well, I learnt a few tips also how to be sensitive and track the beautiful cats.

    Superb! Superb! Superb! :-)

  • Sachin says:

    Hi Bhaia,

    Today again got time to read the ongoing treasure of your touching stories. Love to see the pictures and i think the last picture is the same which u have shown me in your camera.

    My friends have also gone through this unbeatable experience of the thunder corbett and decided to visit in the month of Feb 10.

    I feel amazed and u made me a attention face towards my colleages that my brother is a suberb narrator.

    Thanks for this wonderful relation.

    Regards,

    Sachin Sharma! Base Incharge, Sales & Marketing!

    Singapore Airlines! IGI APT DEL! TS 110025 e.
    Threre is something special in the sky tonight.. It might be you..

  • Shailesh says:

    i happn to read ths stuff just by chance. My God, what a narration. it almost felt that i was the i in the story.
    why don’t u write a book yaar? i bet it will be a best seller. and i will ask u for my share someday for saying this.

  • Munnabhai says:

    thats a master storyteller weaving his pen like a magic wand. amazing depth and imagination with a beautiful mix of real and unreal, present and history- jumanji is in the class of ludlum jeffrey archer and dan brown.
    those pics are a class apart. is it jim corbett reincarnated as a new AVATAR?
    wow and wow again i dont have words to describe more the magic of this story.
    i m going to write more on this after a couple of rereads and after i get my breath back.

  • tiger says:

    thank you shikha, sachin and shailesh for your appreciation. yes sachin its the same photo tht you saw in my camera.

    @manish: thank you once again for a detailed comment. if you feel inspired to read corbett after reading this i must tell you that the portion in italics is the story of thak man eater but, it is in my own words. so the story is more or less same with some additions and lots of substraction. i find this tale among all of corbetts to be the most fascinating and scary.

    @munnabhai: thank you and i hope this will make you visit corbett NP again when you are here. i am sure you will write more on this and i will wait for it.

  • jitendra says:

    wah! beautiful end of a marvellous story.read all the parts again and also the comments.i think mr. jerry jaleel has missed the plot,had he read part3 in continuation to part1 he would have got the substance better.writer has clearly mentioned there that he is not on a sightseeing trip he is on a nostalgic trip.and boy, while reading i too felt like accompanying mr corbett,tigress appears above the boulder and looks directly into my eyes,dhay dhay, two shots and corbett saves us.
    there are many places where i stop and reread sentences, but two words which really caught my eye were AGIYA BETAL,used to hear stories of that from grandpa type people,that thing having an unclear body engulfed in fire,superior than other betals,worshipped by tantriks to get supernatural power, a mere sight of which can cause death of ordinary man or will turn mad if survived.ha ha ha,just stupendous, keep writing and enchanting us.

  • Rita says:

    Part 3 was worth waiting very well written indeed… keepwriting buddy !!!!!

  • Ayappa says:

    Hi Sanjay

    Simply superb!! I have no word the express this exceptional writing skill…your narration is so gripping that I could see all the three parts unfold in front of my eyes… I can just reading this over and over again without getting bored at all!!…hope to see more of such marvelous work from you

    regards
    Neethu & Ayappa

  • tiger says:

    jitendra, Rita and ayappa&Neethu:

    Thank you all very much for reading and leaving behind such encouraging comments.

    regards,
    sanjay

  • Manish Deva says:

    Corbett & I. !!

    Informative & narrative. Homage to both Corbett and the Tiger. Gripping as well. Leaves space for a sequel too…. What about Balaji Part II ?

    Kudos.

    Love u for this 2.

  • Rajesh Singh says:

    This account is amazing! It recreates the Corbett era! we have been to Corbett several times. Each time is different. Sanjay’s writing immediately transports you to the place.

    We are lucky to have tiger and tiger country enthusiastes, which will ensure the survival of this magnificient animal.
    “Tiger, tiger, burning bright”

    RAJAN

  • Prasad ivs says:

    In 2009, Ihad the wonderful opportunity of visiting the Tiger country for the first time. I was driven there by the Tiger himself. I havenot read Corbett till now. I have visualised Tiger country through the narratives of Amita and the passion with which she spoke of the park. When I read Sanjay’s articles, I am taken back in the time and am able to feel every moment of my journey, the drive, the roads, the Tiger street, the permit office, the reception in the park, the jute bags, the guest house, the canteen, the jeep safari, the grass lands, the elephant safari which showed us the tigress and its cubs.
    In fact, Sanjay did not join us into the park but returned from Tiger street. But now, when I am reading through the articles find him to be with us shoulder to shoulder. Probably, Sanjay was there with us then also and probably he was the elephant rider / guide on the jeep. It appears as if he was narrating our journey. Every bit of it is my journey.
    For me more than sighting the tiger, the environment, the wild, the sounds and the silence, the birds and the beasts on the whole the man’s equation with nature has given me a big kick.

    The narrative, the selection from the adventure and over all the style is very live and Sanjay needs a big hug from me.

    I am intrigued why the forest is full of kadi patha?

    I thank Amita for taking us there and Sanjay for penning my memories alive.

  • tiger says:

    @manish deva: thank you. i doubt if we can do bala singh part 2. :-). i do intend to photograph benares extensively though, with your help.
    @rajan: thank you very much. i hope we always have this magnificent creature to marvel at.

  • tiger says:

    thank you very much prasad. if you think this is a story from your own trip to corbett, i can tell myself i have done a neat job– of both, driving you to corbett as well as writing this story.

    thank you once again.

  • Himanshu says:

    Needless to say it was very nice !!! One question though – was the text in Italics quoted from Corbett’s writing or your version of what he said to you?

  • tiger says:

    thankyou himanshu.

    my version of things as i saw them while i accompanied him. my words woven around the same kernel of facts. at times i have invented some of those as well.:)

  • tiger says:

    prasad,

    sory for answering your query abt kadi patta so late. the answer is quite obvious. corbett is full of sambhar. how on earth can you have sambhar without kadi patta?

  • Sachin says:

    Hi Bhaia,

    Today I must see “AMAZING PHOTOGRAPH” looks like Rakesh Roshan. App nitin se puchte ho na ke smart lag rahe ho ya nahi.

    Aaj main kehta hu “WHAT A PERSONALITY” amazing looks. Keep yourself the way you are looking.

    Recently come to know that you cook Maggie well. Next time due on you.

    Whenever me and chandni will come home. We will let you know.

    I am missing the time a lot to sit with you, How is bhabi and kids.

    Nitin ko to roj pjone kar lete ho. Muj se kya dushmani hai???

    Main bhi chota hu and i also miss the affection of my Big B.

    Take care of yourself and specially of your health.

    Loads Of Love and regards,

    Sachin Sharma.

  • munnabhai says:

    Its been a long time Jumanji- ghummakarwa ke adde par kuch hulchul hoye ke chahi ho.

    YEH DIL MAANGE MORE – TIGER JEE!!!

    “So saying, Corbett turned and walked into his house.”

    phir kya hua sher khan?

  • BVN says:

    ‘How green was my valley’ – A jungle walk along with the mahamanav Edward James ‘Jim’ Corbett, many many years after the relief from the menace of the Thak man-eater – his last shot, one more to affirm the death and again one more along with the four who accompanied his last hunt to make them realize that the Thak mean-eater whose terror made the Thak inhabitants leave their abode and taking refuge at Chuka – is no more, and again two shots in the air as the sign of victory and as the declaration of monsters end, the white sadhu as he was known amongst the poor of the valley went off before the dawn unnoticed and called it a day for any further hunting.
    Great as he was and he is, he left his country – Jim Corbett’s India on the final day of his departure, only some people knew about his departure from his country, he left without disclosing to his rural friends as he knew and was very sure that they would not allow him (their carpit saheb) to leave his country and would weep bitterly as he was their Masiha.
    Only when he was absolutely sure that a Tiger or a Leopard has drifted form its natural pray and has started killing human for his food then only he would agree to kill – The large hearted gentleman.
    During those days the only conveyance through the jungle was to walk, and he used to walk miles together without any expectations, he refused any rewards for killing man eaters from government. When delegates approached him complaining about the tiger killing their cattle, and requesting him to kill the tiger responsible for it, he used to convince them that cattle is tigers natural pray and in no case he would kill the tiger, and compensated their losses from his pocket.
    There are many examples of his kindness, he always had an helpful hand and readiness to serve the mankind at any cost, many incidents can not be written in this small space.
    I myself and my son both are Corbett’s admirers and fans. When I was visiting Nainital in June’10, my son asked me to get Jim’s photograph, I acquired it from ‘Narrains’ and gave it to him, he plans to frame it and put it on the wall of his living room.
    Hundreds of salutes and hats off to this Anglo Indian saint who served this country whole heartedly.
    I also admire your writings and thank you for writing about Col. Jim Corbett, Persons like you will never make him ‘Late’.
    Regards,
    -B V Naoleker

  • tiger says:

    dear BVN,
    thank you for your informative comment. good to see that you are as much a corbett fan as i can wish to be. The reason why i chose the Thak story is because of its inclusion of human elements in a easy non pretentious fashion. Corbett appears as a mortal and the tigress super normal. The frailty of a master hunter is brought out on its own by the episodes. eventually, it turns out that persistence and some good luck brought the villagers some relief.

    as you have rightly pointed out even today people in choti haldwani revere the man.What a man and what a time. And what a place.

    Thank you again BVN.

  • Subrata says:

    One of the best. I have been to all Corbett & kaladhungi and have often dreamed of the things you have written. You bought them alive to me. Thank you. Have you been to Thak & Chuka?

  • tiger says:

    Thanks subrata. haven’t had the luck to visit thak and chuka!! i am sure it will happen in near future.

  • tiger says:

    subrata: where are you stationed? someplace in NCR? we could plan this together.

  • Subrata says:

    I am in Delhi, Mayur Vihar-I to be precise. I would love to plan but got a family and have to take home ministers permission :-). What about you?
    BTW, my dad, now retired and living in Kolkata is mad about Corbett. In fact Im learned all about the great man from my dad.

  • amita says:

    I cant think of a trip without you to corbett :( but i will this time, because i have your innumerable memories to give me company!

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