Amid nature in Camp Corbett, Kaladhungi – Uttrakhand

One kilometre from Jim Corbett’s winter home in Choti Haldwani is a jungle retreat known as Camp Corbett. Take the road going up to Nainital and it is on your left hand side. You might miss the signpost but you can’t miss the imprint of pug marks that accompany it. Here, you will find mud cottages spread across twenty acres of land. Set among numerous fruit trees heavy with bird-song. This property is flanked on one side by the slope of the mountain coming down, covered with sal forest, and, on the other side, by the land rolling down to the Boar river.

Our jungle cottage

Our jungle cottage

The pugmark logo helps us to make the connection – this is Corbett’s “Farmyard” – and it is still alive with tiger, leopard, porcupine, peacocks, red jungle fowl and more. Visitors are cautioned not to saunter around alone but to hire a local guide. You will be much the richer for this experience.
We had just a day and a night at Camp Corbett ( before we moved on to Nainital ) and I tried to get as much out of the stay as was possible.

Our cottage ( named Drongo ) was comfortable and fitted with all modern amenities. Even as we were unpacking and partaking of light refreshments, I became aware that this is very much a bird-watcher’s paradise . Purple sunbirds, orange bee-eaters, humming birds, pintails, wagtails, minivets, flycatchers, jays, bronze green doves, golden orioles, baya weaver birds, hoopoes, woodpeckers, kingfishers, whistling thrushes, drongos, cuckoos and the green coppersmith barbet calling “k-tong ! k-tong ! “ were all out there . A family of transiting langurs were busy shaking trees for fruit. Nowadays, one hears these bird sounds, if at all, only when artificially simulated by the ringtone of mobile phones. What a treat it was to hear them in their authentic setting !

Some little water from the Boar river behind the camp

Some little water from the Boar river behind the camp

Tearing myself away from the compelling association of avifauna, I accompanied local guide Ram Prakash to take a look at the Boar river. We had to climb steep stone steps down to come to the river bed. It was early May, the river bed was dry in this area, but higher up there was water – and this having been redirected into the famous “canal” ( built by Lord Ramsay ) gushed past us to serve the fields of the villagers in Choti Haldwani. A peacock called from the thick jungle on the far side of the river.

forest trail with dry bed of the Boar river seen through the trees right hand side

forest trail with dry bed of the Boar river seen through the trees right hand side

A scrub covered island higher up the riverbed, which has a resident tiger was pointed out to me. The forest fire in Uttarakhand had disturbed the animals, forcing them to come out of the depths of the jungle, seeking water and relief – best not to move around alone even in the daytime, RP warned, pointing out footprints of wild elephants in the dust on the firetrack before us. I expressed surprise at hearing of elephants in hilly areas. “How do they, with their super-heavy bodies, negotiate slopes ? “, I asked. They squat, stretch their forelegs forward and slide down, I was told.

Round thatched dining hall in CC

Round thatched dining hall in CC

A sumptuous lunch served in the round-house ( with thatched roof ) and a little rest – then – I was ready for a walk to Corbett’s museum and village. Our request for vegetarian meals caused no problem because every year, in November, Camp Corbett hosts a large, international meditation group that requires such fare.

Corbett museum I had seen before but the village was first-time . Moti’s house, the Chaupal, the wall that Jim built are all intact. Maggie’s observation that ,there is no more beautiful place in the whole world than this little village with its golden fields of ripe corn and blueish hills yonder holds true even today. We walked along the riverbed, past the Boar bridge and back to our jungle retreat . Dusk was setting in and a red jungle fowl scurried across our path.

By poring over the visitor’s book and asking many questions to the owner, I pieced together, the fascinating tale of how Camp Corbett evolved over thirty years.

Back in the early eighties, the Anands left their life in the tea estates of Assam to try farming in Kumaon. They purchased twenty acres of land ( the whole village of Moti Bagh ) in Kaladhungi . But year followed year with no returns – the crops were consumed or trashed by nocturnal visitors – deer, wild pigs, monkeys, porcupine, elephants. It became clear that they would have to try something else.
The idea of starting a jungle lodge happened more by accident than by design.

Their first “guest “was Chris Salt from the UK. He wrote in the visitor’s book in Feb,1987 , how , being a Corbett fan, he was wandering around Kaladhungi village one morning when he ran into Mr.Anand – who suggested he walk up the kutcha mountain road, explore his surroundings and join the Anands for breakfast in their humble lodgings ( at that point of time, they were living in tents amidst fields and scrub land ).

Two hours later, as Chris was approaching the tents, a big sambhar stag ran past him bellowing and panting. Behind it came a tiger hot on the chase. A badly shaken Chris hid behind a boulder until the tiger had killed and dragged the stag away – then he arrived in camp to tell his story. For the Anands this was not anything new, tigers and leopards regularly prowled around their tents.

Those days, the road that ran up the mountain past their land was kutcha, there was hardly any traffic, no electricity, and pine and oak trees came right down their property. Chris Salt came back the following year to pursue his interest. Over time, the idea took shape that perhaps they could offer an authentic jungle experience to wildlife lovers and charge a price for it. They quit farming and began to build mud huts and plant trees starting with just a few cottages.

The Three Musketeers at Camp Corbett

The Three Musketeers at Camp Corbett

Today there are nineteen double-occupancy cottages plus a few tents. At the owner’s discretion, a third person can be accommodated in a cottage –for-two, at extra cost. Tariff is inclusive of all three meals . But you are advised to book well in advance. See www.campcorbett.net I was a little anxious while planning his trip because I was to take my aged parents along. But my calculation was that my father would love the tranquillity and the birds, my mother would love to meet the unusual people behind this project – and- I , as a Corbett fan , would get what I was looking for.

Inside our cottage - my parents

Inside our cottage – my parents

At dinner time, I was introduced to a shy but trying- to- be- friendly porcupine that comes out of the jungle and upto the kitchen back door every night to eat daal roti. Elephants sometimes walk through this camp on their way down to the river uprooting trees and once even trashing a kutcha hut. I was regaled with stories by my local guide ( backed up by pictures taken on his mobile phone ) of how, a baagh ( leopard ) was spotted on the crooked tree behind our cottage , a headless monkey, freshly killed by a predator was found in a more secluded part of this property in the forenoon. And so on.

Next morning, I woke to the call of red jungle fowl. Although it is only a variation of our common village cock’s cock-ra-coo, the red jungle fowl’s call, as I heard it that morning was evocative and memorable.

Early morning at Camp Corbett

Early morning at Camp Corbett

Early morning jungle walk through sal trees

Early morning jungle walk through sal trees

Another jungle walk ( before sunrise ) up the mountain and into the sal forest with Ram Prakash pointing out the old “ ghodiya” road to Nainital that runs to one side of the main tarred road and the sound of barking deer ( muntjac ). The slope made me a little giddy and nervous so I cut this jungle walk short.
After breakfast, we were ready to leave this place where Jim Corbett’s “jungle lore” came alive for us.

19 Comments

  • Pooja Kataria says:

    Dear Sugita Ji, Let me take the opportunity to be the first one to appreciate this very well narrated post. Indeed, a beautiful put up about the serene place with your poetic words. I am awed by the description of the things happening in the jungle.
    Thanks for writing and sharing your experience!

    • Sugita Vani says:

      Thank you, Pooja for encouraging me and for responding so promptly ! Looking forward to reading your log.

  • Debjit Chakraborty says:

    Its a good story Sugita Ji. The jungle log

  • Arun Singh says:

    ??????? ?????? ????? ?? ????? ???? ?? ?????? ???? ???? ????-? ???????? ?????? ???
    ???? ????? ??????? ?? ???? ??? ???? ?? ???? ????? ?? ????-??? ?? ????? ???? ??? ???? ???? ?? ??? ????? ?? ?? ?????? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? ?????? ????? ???? ?? ?????? ??????

    ????

    • Sugita Vani says:

      Thank you Arun. with the blessings of other writers and readers of ghumakkar, I hope to keep travelling and writing.

  • Archana Ravichander says:

    Very well narrated log, Sugita!
    I could visualize the whole experience and especially the anecdote of Chris and the leopard. Hair-raising and scary for weaker souls, I must say!
    I have never walked through the jungles, except for once when we trekked in Kemmanagundi (in Karnataka). Then, we never spotted animals, but did hear the elephants. I was in class 10 then and I was dead scared! Well, this kind would be a welcome now, I guess :)

    Looking forward to more posts from you!

    Best.

    • Sugita Vani says:

      Thank you Archana. Yes, in this place, interface between humans and animals can happen any time. And it does happen ! Couple of years back, at 9.a.m. the chowkidar at Camp Corbett who was in his cubicle near the entrance gate ( which is kept locked ) got a great surprise when he saw a full grown male tiger leaping across the road and going into the sal forest beyond. It was returning after a night spent making a kill or hunting for food beyond the Boar river.

      • Archana Ravichander says:

        Oh !! It is a state of indescribable feelings I must say!
        For people who look for such experience, this is a sure dreamland :)

  • Rajeev Palsule says:

    Nice write up. Quite useful for off beat traveller. I had been to TYPICAL parts of Corbett, but Camp Corbett seems to be different experience. Thanks for log.

    • Sugita Vani says:

      I was told by the people at Camp Corbett that the best time to visit is after October, after the rains are over.May was not a good time to visit because everything is dry and its hot but we combined it with our trip to Nainital and went in May.

  • Nice description Sugita ji. Corbett is a beautiful place if you take tiger out of your mind. The whole area is very good for birding. I have visited corbett many times and enjoyed all my journey’s.

  • Prema Lina says:

    As soon as I read Uttarakhand I started reading..it’s an area that I love in particular … and the story of the forest…well it remember one of my own lived in the south, around the Nigiri Hills….Ooty..alone in the forest … and the sounds at night coming from the forest…keep us inside the cottage…ah ah
    … Wonderful nature
    thanks for sharing

  • Samesh Braroo says:

    Dear Sugita Ji,
    Namaste! Thank you for taking the time to pen this down. Very powerfully described. What made the reading particularly easy was your tact in writing English as English, something that I do not get to hit on very often.

    Yours is one part of India, that has all but eluded me, and I have remained poor for it. With your unmistakable nudge today, this Indian might finally take himself up and fill this unjustified gap in his credentials. :-)

    I would like to chat with you sometime, if it is okay with you.

    Thank you.

    • Sugita Vani says:

      Thanks Samesh. Sorry for seeing your comment two months after you posted it ! JWish I could express myself well in Hindi too – would enable me to reach a wider audience.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Welcome aboard Sugita.

    I would have passed through this area a lot of times. I frequent Uttarakhand every few months. Though coming from the Moradabad side, we usually go straight towards
    Haldwani/Kathgodam since we are headed towards Bhimtal.

    I do not know whether CC folks know about this story or not, probably they do. From your description, it looks like a great getaway with a right mix of nature and urban comfort. And with all the jungle-guests, it seems like a perfect place for a quick break.

    Thank you for sharing your log with us. I hope to read from you.

    By the way, what is a stric teacher and why you call yourself one ?

    • Sugita Vani says:

      I am really sorry Nandan for seeing your comment-question so late.

      A shastric teacher teaches Shastra I teach the Bhagavad-gita and the Ishopanishad.

      My training helps me to teach in a way that makes Shastra simple, practical and easy to understand .

      Once this much is achieved, I help students to try and apply it in their daily lives.

      Have been teaching for fifteen years , mostly adults, in India and abroad ( Russia ).

  • Col NN Bhatia says:

    I am a die hard Kumaoni- NOT by birth BUT by my profession having been commissioned in the KUMAON Regiment. I have traveled around Kumaon & Garhwal hills and I liked your post. Just few months back we had visited Ramgarh (Mukteshwar) & returned via Nainital- Kaladhungi road. We were out to Shivpuri Retreat 18.5 km away from Rishikesh from 14 Oct to 17 Oct & it was indeed an adventurous trip with my entire family including Happy our lab!
    Your narrative & pictures made me feel going around with you all. Its impressive & pictures are fine. I always am for Dev Bhoomi Kumaon BUT concerned with massive commercialisation, deforestation by contractors, bureaucrats, politicians and forest mafia, construction of multi-storey buildings, making Nainital as air conditioned Karol Bagh.
    I am later comer in Ghumakkar & I do hope you are reading my travelogues too. God bless.

  • Sugita Vani says:

    Yes, Bhatiaji. This Devabhumi is really special . But the commercialization is ugly and unfortunate. Because of work pressure, I don”t always get the time to keep up with the posts on this website. But its a great facility to be able to write on this site and to read what others write.

    I strongly urge all Corbett fans to get hold of a book called “” The Lonely Tiger “” by Hugh Allen. Its been reprinted recently after a gap of fifty years by Rupa Rainlight Publishers. Its based on real life experiences that this author had after independence in his estate in Mandikhera, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh. He was a hunter turned conservationist.

    Unfortunately he wrote only this one book.

  • Col NN Bhatia says:

    Thank YOU Sugita Vani ji for your comments. Man Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett is classic by itself & those who love, like me being a KUMAONI Officer, or live in the KUMAON Hills, it unfolds history, heritage and past grandeur of the KUMAON Dev Bhoomi. Jim Corbett was the greatest environmentalist of his time & for the times to come!

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