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.

Corbett and I

Corbett and I

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.

Corbett's letter to Chiranji Lal donating his house

Corbett’s letter to Chiranji Lal donating his house

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.

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.

Tiger

Tiger

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.

Corbett Country

Corbett Country

Together

Together

Twins

Twins

“….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.

but of that i will tell later. For now I’ll wish that you enjoy the company of this majestic tusker:

Tusker

Tusker

29 Comments

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Welcome, Sanjay. Fantastic beginning but nothing less expected from an author-photographer of your league.

    I will read and re-read it while waiting for the next part.

  • I cannot say anything beyond WOW!! Just like Rajeev, am waiting for the second part as well!!

  • testerrahul says:

    Sanjay,
    Simply amazing.
    1. Could you please you tell me how to reach Kaladhunga(Not Kaladhungi)? I guess it is somewhere near Tanakpur, but, I am not sure about the exact location.
    2. I want to stay at Punyagiri and go for small treks.Would you please suggest some places near Punyagiri?
    Thanks,
    Rahul

  • tiger says:

    rahul,

    you should reach tanakpur for kaladhunga. thak, chuka and kaladungha are all in the sharada basin. so the trick is to reach tanakpur. from delhi the usual way is via udham singh nagar-khatima-tanakpur. now punyagiri i do not know. by the way, a then 10 year old boy had accompanied corbett on his thak and chuka maneater hunt. he lives in chuka or atleast till some years ago he did. thak, i last heard had just one family left. there was a caste correlate to that. the rest migrated to toens nearby.

    now if like minded wish to track corbett on his chuka and thak man eaters trail, just let me know.

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    Excellent post on Corbett country with beautiful pictures. While the whole world is admiring Jim Corbett for his skills, wisdom, unselfishness and humanitarian efforts, there are a handful of people very critical of him.

    One such person is Susie Green, author of a softcover book TIGER published by Reaktion Books, UK (www.reaktionbooks.co.uk) in which she describes Corbett as “an enthusiatic animal slaughterer”(page 151), again on page 73 she states that Jim Corbett was “one of Raj’s chief tiger slaughterers, who manipulated the tiger’s reputation so expertly through his…writing that he himself appeared as an heroic saviour, was in reality a man with a massive lust for power and status”. In another context it states “Corbett loved hunting and as he enjoyed the patronage of the viceroy, if he chose to designate a tiger a man eater, his judgement would not be disputed” (P 75)

    There are more Corbett bashing throughout the book which is is riddled with mistakes an inaccurate statements from the rookie author who appears to have never encountered a wild tiger nor heard of Corbett except from the borrowed book by Kailash Sankhala- another Corbett basher. Even the self proclaimed guru and tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar failed to acknowledge Corbett’s contribution to tiger conservation in Thapar’s 150+ books on tigers. Susie Green’s (could be an unknown teenager with limited access to a library) book is a prime example of some of the books coming out today to make fast money, by avoiding spending time and effort to do a decent research.

    Fortunately, for those of us who knows the caliber of Corbett and how deeply he was concerned about the welfare of the poor hill folks of Kumaon and how often he risked his own life to save others, Jim Corbett will remain one of the great heroes in India and the rest of the world.

    Jerry Jaleel
    Director
    The Jim Corbett Foundation of Canada (1994)
    1306- 39 St,
    Edmonton, Alberta,
    T6L 2M7, Canada.

  • Amita says:

    Being a ardent fan of Corbett National Park myself, I have always been intrigued by the passion of sanjay”TIGER” with the Tiger and the Tiger man of India – Jim corbett.
    I agree with Jerry on the corbett bashers who avoiding spending time and effort to do a decent research and come up with shallow stuff, which any authentic corbett lover can easily make out.
    Sanjay, what we all look forward is, is many more parts of the beautiful story which help bring forward the real Corbett which everyone can relate to and appreciate.
    Waiting eagerly for the next part…

  • nandanjha says:

    the thumb in my internet browser’s scroll-bar doesn’t get un-noticed. With the advantage of looking at Ghumakkar page every day (multiple times), I begin sensing an end before it starts. The thumb gives me a good clue on where we are on the page.

    But today, the story suddenly disappeared, how soever hard I tried to run-past the big tusker, I had no place to go. Save me and let the Part 2 roll.

    Been to Corbett few times (probably 15), for last 5 years never been inside, mostly because of small baby. Guess she is now big enough. If not Sultan or Gairal, at least Dhikala should happen in this season.

    Welcome to Ghumakkar.

  • sanjay says:

    thank you all– amita, nandan, jerry, rajiv and rahul. will be posting the second part definitely by tomorrow.

    @rahul: i think you meant Purnagiri. now purnagiri is a small town in the saarda valley. if i recall correctly, the village of thak was given by the then kings to the priests of purnagiri temple for maintenance. the purnagiri temple is still there and the priests have shifted to the small town from Thak.

    so the deal is to reach tanakpur, it is connected by rail also. in fact while hunting the thak man eater, corbett took a train to tanakpur and walked thence.

    thak, chuka, talla des (lower country),sem are all in the sarda-ladhya valley. the landscape of the area, since Corbett’s time has seen loss in flora which, in fact began at the time jim hunted the man eater. the rivers, were full of mahseer which has dwindled considerably. the topography is largely unchanged.

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    “Scrollbar
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    A scrollbar (Also known as a handle in the very first GUIs) is a graphical object in a GUI with which continuous text, pictures or anything else can be scrolled including time in video applications, i.e., viewed even if it does not fit into the space in a computer display, window, or viewport.

    Usually designed as a long rectangular area on one or two sides of the viewing area, containing a bar (or thumb) that can be dragged along a trough (or track) to move the body of the document as well as two arrows on either end for precise adjustments. The “thumb” has different names in different environments: on the Macintosh it is called a “scroller” [1]; on the Java platform it is called “thumb” or “knob”; Microsoft’s .NET documentation refers to it as “scroll box” or “scroll thumb”; in other environments it is called “elevator”, “quint”, “puck”, “wiper” or “grip”. Additional functions may be found, such as zooming in/out or various application-specific tools. The thumb can also sometimes be adjusted by dragging its ends. In this case it would adjust both the position and the zooming of the document, where the size of the thumb represents the degree of zooming applied. A thumb that completely fills the trough indicates that the entire document is being viewed, at which point the scrollbar may temporarily become hidden.

    Scrollbars can be seen as a computer representation of a thumb, with which you thumb through pages of documents.”

    The Tusker is chasing us. Pull that deceptive thumb up again with the next part so that we can find some headroom to hide in.

  • tiger says:

    all right rajiv.

  • Ram says:

    Simply astounding narrative.

    I have been reading the works of Jim Corbett since my childhood. Kaladhungi, Chamapawat, Kanda, Bageshwar, etc are the names I have grown up with. I must have read the ” Man eaters of Kumaon” at least half a dozen times.

    Working for ATM industry, I have travelled to Kumaon extensively.

    Your beautifully written account has made me nostalgic about our visits to this most exciting part of the country.

    Welcome aboard. Would look forward to your next post.

  • tiger says:

    ram sab thank you for your appreciation. once i am done with (which looks well nigh impossible) with Bhimsen Joshi and malkhaus, i will be ready to do further posts. what abt you? nothing like “in the mystic alleys ..” in the pipeline?

  • Ram says:

    “Fikre Duniya Mein sar Khapaataa hoon,
    Main Kahan aur yeh babaal kahaan.”

    That’s what Chacha Ghalib said and it’s relevent even today.

    Somehow, I have been virtually out of literary circulation. Thanks for shaking me out of this temporary hibernation. Shall try to contribute something shortly.

  • Nanda & Padma says:

    Hi Sanjay

    it is a very good article, very well writtern and gives graphic detailed explaination of the place… all the best and keep writting

    Regards
    Nanda and Padma

  • Neethu & Ayappa says:

    Hello Sanjay ji

    Simply wondeful…your diction, choice of words, narrative flow is truly remarkable…hope to see many more articles from you.

    Regards
    Neethu & Ayappa

  • Mayank says:

    Corbett must be smiling from heaven after reading both your stories. Would love to hear from you more often on ghumakkar.
    I live in Jabalpur and will love to hear rich stories from destinations in MP and Chattisgarh.

  • Ranjan Gorakhpuri says:

    Kamaal ka likhte hain hozoor.
    Ye waqiya aisa hua jaise ki aap kisi teerth pe aaye hain!
    The travalogue has the unique fragrance of your love for wild life and ofcourse Corbett Sahab.

    “…I want to be home and this Corbett country is home. Lush green and sunny, alive and innocent.”

    The above line says all.

    Great photographs and very informative to the ones who are planning to visit this paradise.

    Keep writing…

  • Manish khamesra says:

    Spellbound Sanjay!

    A great story to start the year’s reading. I started with 3rd one, but felt that I have to read the first two to get the feel and here I am left with a beautiful story. Looking forward to finish the triology soon …

  • Sidharth Pandey says:

    Great pictures and nice piece, gives a personal account of the place and a walk down memory lane. Hopefuly it will bring more people into the fold and build awareness on the urgency with which all of us have to pull together for conservation. So keep posting!

    Sidharth Pandey

  • DCPANDEY says:

    OUR VILLAGE FALLS IN CHAMPAWAT THERE IS STILL SIGN BOARD THAT CORBET WS REACHED THERE VIA TANAKPUR AND HUNT SO MANY MAN EATERS AT OUR TOWN CHAMPAWAT. ONE CAN REACH CHAMPAWAT FROM TANAKPUR IN THREE
    HOURS AND SEE THAT SIGNBOARD AND VISIT SAROUNDING ARE OF CHAMPAWAT VIEW OF KRANTESHWAR HINGLA DEVE AND HE CAN ALSO VISIT MAMESWAR lOHAGHAT GUMDESH TALLDESH WHERE THE JIMCARBET VISITED AND HUNTED THE LION.nOW CHAMPAWAT IS A DISTRICT OF UTTARAKHAND
    MORE INFORMATION CAN BE HAD FROM ME IN THIS MATTER.

  • tiger says:

    @sidharth pandey: i am delighted to have your appreciation. thank you very much. with such encouragement i will definitely continue.

    @DC pandey: that is a very significant information. imagine having a board there announcing corbetts arrival or sort of!! will definitely contact you for more information on champawat. thank you for joining and appreciating.

  • alok kotnala says:

    This is total ‘dil se’. i had heard of this story before but never gathered the courage to read it (blame it on the short attention span from which i suffer). loved the lines – “Who wants to be a refugee? I want to be home and this Corbett country is home. Lush green and sunny, alive and innocent.” u cant write this if u are not in love with the jungles and hills and trees and rivers and the wildlife !! Thanks for the travelogue. Will be reading the remaining parts later today or tomorrow.

  • Manish Pandey says:

    Superbly written Sanjay. Gets me interested in taking a trip to Corbett soon.

  • Ajit Deshmukh says:

    This was interesting..having read Corbett’s books many times and being a fan of his, I would definitely love to go on Corbett’s trail someday.
    Sadly we no longer live in those good old days of where the hills were well stocked with wildlife and the rivers with mahsheer. I was greatly saddened after reading the book written by AJT Johnsingh when he revisited some of the places mentioned so vividly in Corbett’s books. Per him, 95% of the habitat and wildlife is now gone (some of the bhabar region which has gone into the Corbett Tiger Reserve, where one can still come close to the aura of Corbett’s stories). Even the well stocked Kala Agar ridge, which he mentions in the story of the Chowgarh man-eater, is now wildlife depleted. Tigers no longer occur in the Mukteshwar region, and poaching from the Nepalese side has destroyed the wildlife in the Champawat, Chuka, Thak, Sem, Kaladhunga and Talla Desh regions. The junction of Ladhya and Sahrda where Corbett would hook enough mahasheer to feed a camp of 30 men does not have a single fish to offer. Upto 10 years back, people of Tanakpur would hear tigers calling from the Nepal jungles, but the roar has been silenced now. The presence of Indian forces patrolling the border area has controlled poaching to some extent, and let us hope that the situation improves at least to a shade of what it was 80 yrs back.
    May be you can help me in my quest to visit these areas..

  • Fernando Quevedo says:

    Nice to hear from Corbetts homeland here. Acctualy Im a Corbett fan myself since I read for the first time his fantastic book “Maneaters of Kumaon” 45 years ago. Im really crary to visit the places where Corbett shot the famous maneaters like Chuka, Thak, Champawatt, Mohan an so on. Im even making a good research on those areas and have a look at it on the google earth. I know that is a long march to reach Chuka since Tanakpur, but it will be the joy of my life to be in those places. Is a pity that no tigers roam that area anymore. I hope to have some advise to my trip here, Best regards.

  • Amit Raaj says:

    Sanjay sir is my senior and he is the one who took me to visit Corbett National park the very first time and really i am grateful to have such a wonderful guide (sanjay Sir). I am amazed that how much he knows about the jungle, birds, ways of the forest, minor noise to alarm call of S?mbhar Deer. we stayed at Mailani deep inside the forest from where the core area begins and that night was wonderful. I have ever enjoyed. Definitely he knows very much about the tendency and behavior of tiger (as his nick name). How he moves where he wish or love to move & where we can see him easily. We had 3 safaris at stay and we saw tiger 3 times. There are 207 tigers in 1200 sq km Corbett national park. It was really for me a home (I want to be home and this Corbett country is home. Lush green and sunny, alive and innocent.). It was wonderful trip which could easily called ULTIMETE. Thank you Sanjay Sir for everything..

  • tiger says:

    oh thank you amit!! nice of you to have come by. It is always a pleasure accompanying enthusiasts such as you to the forest. lets hope to it again!!

  • amita says:

    How can I miss the yearly trip to my teerth sthal! I have to go in winters now!!

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