Corbett and I (Pt.2)

When you are in Corbett country, wherever, in a private resort or a FRH or in Ranikhet, get out of your bed and walk under the night sky. Look at the stars, at their bright light and look at the dark brooding hills looming in the moonlight and scores of little lights dotting the hillside, where people live and have lived for years, among tigers, leopards, cheetals, man eaters and otherwise. These people form a living tradition. Do you feel one with them? Can you see yourself among them? Will your grandchild see a part of himself in you when you have grown old and he, young? Are we organically connected or muted souls floating in disconnected space and time? You are not a tourist here. This is your land, your country, your tradition that lies before you, waiting to be embraced.

It is morning now and I have had my breakfast at Tigerstreet and have slept an hour. I leave for the reception centre at Ramnagar and get my passes done. I am told I should be at Dhangarhi gate (the one that leads to Dhikala) latest by four in the evening. I plan for a real heavy lunch at Dhikuli with my friend Manoj and that done I am at the gate by 3:30 pm. Having my papers done at the gate is also a pleasure, the man there always tells me the do’s and don’ts inside the park and I listen to him intently nodding my head gravely. I don’t want to tell him I know it all. He is doing his job and doing it rather well. He gives me a jute litter bag and wishes me good sighting. I smile at Jim and he smiles back.


I start off again. This is a journey I never get enough of. From Dhangarhi gate to Dhikala the drive through pure pristine jungle in the fading evening light, darkness aided further by the thick forests along the thin winding road is a delight. Both sides of the road are lined with thick tall vegetation, but occasionally, you suspect that the Ramganga will break into view on the right. It is an expectation worth the waiting. The first FRH along the way is Sultan. This was, in Corbett days a village and surrounding lands cultivated. Corbett walked through this village when going towards Kanda (he even stayed in Kanda FRH while hunting the Kanda man- eater) or Halduparao, having to cross the Ramganaga somewhere. If you notice closely, the trees here are planted too regularly and are largely of one single species. This is because agricultural land was reclaimed for the reserve and that means people living here were relocated to some other place. That should be another story, as it would be of Sarpdulli, Khinannauli and Dhikala which are also along this road, and which were once villages. Now these are all FRHs. Gairal is another, but it is located at a higher elevation. Leopard sighting is more common here. In Dhikala zone these are the FRHs where people book to stay and Dhikala FRH is by far the best equipped though less earthy. While I drive I always stop at Gurkha Sot where we cross a small wooden bridge round a bend in the road. You can stop here awhile and gaze at the first full view of the Ramganaga.

elephants grazing
elephants spotted at Gurkha Sot while driving to Dhikala

On the other side you often can sight some wild animals as I have — herd of elephants and cheetals and occasionally, a tiger resting or lazily walking along the shores of the river. I drive slowly savoring the sight of serpent eagle perched high on a tree surveying the lands below and the crested kingfisher sitting on the boulder by the river. By sundown I am driving on a straight stretch of road that is wide and the light seems to be getting better here. The tree line on either side of the road seems to end in a distance where I spy a right turn in the clearing and as I take the turn, the vast grassland opens up before me! Up and ahead I see the FRH spread over a small patch in this enormous grassland that seems to finish right at the foothills of the Shivaliks. These are the Dhikala grasslands, locally known as Chaurs. I drive into the parking and am surprised by the number of cars and gypsies parked there.

The reception here is neat and some amazing photographs are displayed here. There is a blackboard outside where tiger sightings of the day are listed. I love the little kids scurrying excitedly trying to list their own version of the sighting. I am given the Old FRH that is right at the end of the whole complex. I believe this must have been the rangers’ quarters in the British days when the reserve was known as Hailey National Park. I unload my car and walk behind Corbett towards my lodging. He seems to be enjoying this trail. No gun in his hand only a camera, but the walk is still firm and noiseless as always, just as it used to be.

Night in jungle approaches lightly, then falls rapidly and soundlessly. We step out towards the eateries. There are two here — one is a small shabby canteen run by Kalaji and the other is a bit swanky, buffet driven enterprise almost overlooking the reservoir. I didn’t tell you about the reservoir. The Ramganaga river was dammed in the 1970’s at Kalagarh about 3 km downstream from Dhikala. Suddenly, because of the reservoir, formed in the dam’s wake, a lot changed in this sanctuary. Corbett tells me over our meal at Kalajis, that the area between Dhikala and Kanda was once terrorized by the Kanda man eater and also, that from Kanda village to Dhikala forest bungalow, there were large patches of cultivated land. It is through this that the Ramganga flows. This area, once cleared of cultivation and grazing animals, was reclaimed by vast tracts of grasslands — invaluable fodder and riverine habitat for swamp deer (Barahsingha) apart from other ungulates. Once the dam was built, this pristine habitat was submerged under a lake which at peak, floods an area of 80 sq km. swamp deer completely disappeared from this habitat. However, the habitat otherwise flourished and grew richer in winter migratory birds and mugger population increased. One wonders what the effect was on the famed Mahaseer. I am told they were adversely affected, and Jim nods in agreement.

Kalaji’s canteen is frequented by all guides and drivers and frequent travelers to Corbett. It is shabby by city standards. Corbett and I however have a nice time overhearing the days’ notes being exchanged among visitors and some inflated tales of sightings and bravado by guides and tourists alike. We get up and it’s close to 8 pm and Corbett lights up his pipe as we walk back to our lodge. There is a nip in the early summer breeze and we sit in the verandah of the quaint old bungalow on chairs probably just as old. The FRH sleeps and the forest wakes up. Loud calls of the barking deer ring out intermittently. Corbett reclines and looks up at the starlit sky.

On 12th October, we left Nainital, fishing and hunting small fowl by the days that we traveled by foot. We reached Durga Pepal by the fifth day. Slowly, we made our progress and after crossing the Ladhya river and several days later, ten to be precise, we camped where the man eater tigress had before long killed the aforesaid woman. Corbett went for a walk along the banks of the river and studied the pug marks of the tigress and those of a young male tiger, possibly one of her cubs. Corbett, in spite of being advised otherwise by the villagers, decided to try and lure the tigress by tying buffaloes out. It didn’t work; amazingly the tigress walked by the buffaloes for three consecutive nights, unwaveringly refusing to touch them. By now it was already the 27th of October and getting cold and then word came from the headman of Thak that a man from their village was missing. On reaching the village it was confirmed that the man had been taken by the tigress. Corbett now had a tigress which had an unfinished kill on its hand and therefore, it was planned to track down the kill and stalk the tigress over it. For two hours we tracked her in which we covered half a mile. In time, we found her and Corbett went ahead alone now and he did get a chance for a shot but the tigress disappeared too soon and our plans were laid futile.

Over the years and many man eaters behind, we, in the masters footsteps had honed the skill of tracking and stalking man eaters over their kills. Sometimes though, it is exactly this method that doesn’t work. The Thak man eater had probably turned into a man eater on being shot and merely wounded while being stalked over a kill. Each subsequent failure of killing her on a kill made her even more cautious and lead to a situation where, in all probability, she would abandon her kill altogether after just one meal off it.

Jim shifted on his chair slightly and continued while I looked at him and recalled the incident.

The remains of the man-eaters victim were still to be claimed and last rites performed by the family. By nightfall it was decided to have a machan fixed over the kill and wait. Corbett stayed all night on the machan, an eventful night by all means because the tigress did come, saw Corbett and then went. Another event was that a bear came by the kill and having a keen sense of smell found the kill but not liking human flesh left soon. When dawn broke the villagers were there to carry away the remains for an honorable cremation. The tigress presented a few more opportunities. Once she killed a bullock and was trailed again and yet again a machan was made. The original plan of tying out buffaloes was still being continued and while we stayed for her on the machan, she killed the buffalow tied out at Sem and carried it away. Again attempts to sit her out on the kill failed. It was already November now and though reluctantly, Corbett had to leave for Nainital having secured nothing but promising the villagers from all around that he would soon be back.

Gently I shook him awake and asked him to retire for the night. It was already 11 now and we had a long day ahead. The insides of the Old FRH are sparse, what is neat and lavish is the toilet including a geyser. On the wall of the room is a wall mounted safe like box. The metal is almost as thick as armor plate and the hinge door is welded shut. I gather this must be either the cash box or/and for keeping arms for the ranger in the British days. In the night I woke up to the sound of some screeching owl and cheetal barking in the chaur. Then I slept.

I woke up before light and found the bed beside me empty. I checked the time and it was 5. In about half an hour it would be light. Corbett was already out sniffing the air and listening intently to the sounds of the approaching dawn. In some distance we heard a bull elephant trumpeting. Corbett looked at me and told me that by first light we would see at least two herds in the chaur. Hurriedly, I used the toilet, had a bath and collected my equipment. My tripod and lenses were packed and ready. I handed him my binocs and locked the room. Slowly, with little activity around except in kalajis canteen, we hurried to our jeep and clambered aboard. I warmed the engine for about 2 minutes and slowly headed out of the electrified fencing gate, its doorway already open, as if letting in the sunlight.

dhikala mornings
Dhikala mornings

It was light now and I could see some other tourists reaching their vehicles while some collected at the elephant mount for the morning elephant safari – the best way to roam these jungles. Not for us though, we prefer lying as close to the ground as possible. We reached the chaur taking the Thandi sadak, turned at the old sal (purana sal) that was brought down by lightening and looked at the vast expanse of the chaur. There they were – 3 herds, each with about 10 members grazing away lazily. We drove closer and stopped about 60 meters from one of these. For about thirty minutes we stayed there in absolute silence training our lenses and snapping at them. The matriarch occasionally sniffed at our direction but Corbett had cleverly asked me to approach them upwind. No human scent, little irritation he said. 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.

38 Comments

  • Arun says:

    I visited Corbett long after I read the stories of Jim Corbett. Now after reading your account, I intend to go back to Corbett’s books. Enjoyed the write-up and the first part as well.

  • VINEet says:

    This site is snowballing into a great reference site for visits to different places- great work by all- keep it up.

  • Supriyo says:

    I was looking for some other place in ghumakkar when this story came up. I am an ardent fan of Corbett from my childhood but unfortunately could not manage to visit the national park so far. While reading through your story (both the parts) for sometime at least, I was lost in the soul of the tiger country through which I have walked so many miles with Mr. Corbett in my childhood dreams. I finished re-reading Corbett couple of months back and through your narration it came back to me again. Thanks a lot for the narrations. I hope you have more to share on Corbett experience. This time I am determined to visits Corbett this winter. A small query is that how do get a booking in the FRH of Dhikala.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks for the headroom. You are not allowed to flash a head-light in CTR but the last stretch to Dhikala can bear a speeding Jeep pretty well. Dhikala is actually like a small country. If you are there on Jan 26, there is actually a big celebration.

    Washroom is a modern phenomenon and if you take someone blindfolded directly to the washroom, he would never be able to imagine the living room. And since you first see the living room, after managing to ignore the soot/dust-laden cushions on old chairs, the washroom feel five-starish with glittering tiles.

    Khinnalauli and beyond. My camera is ready as well.

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    re-cap
    Khinnalauli and beyond. My camera is ready as well.

    • amitava nayak says:

      read ur story. can u pls inform which would be the best place to stay in dhikala zone FRH, having best room, best wash room, good food etc..is it old FRH at dhikala or the new one ? i h heard that khinnalauli FRH in dhikala zone is having more better facilities for a fmly of 03 to stay ? can u pls help this sr citizen from Bengal to decide for immediate booking ?? regards

  • tiger says:

    thank you –nandan on your tips, Supriyo, for your kind words and appreciation and VINEet for encouragement to all who contribute to this fabulous site.

    the third and the concluding part of this story by tomorrow evening. nandan too waits with his camera, hurry i must!

  • amita says:

    Sanjay,

    You are a wonderful story-teller and you spin the story such that the reader transports himself to a world you so beatifully created for him/her. Now that you have begun… I wish your pen never rests.
    And the world continues to be charmed by your writings :)

  • Rita says:

    Reading your write-up is like touring and actually experiencing the wildness ,silence, adventure, and rawness of Corbett Park …. your write-up is rejuvenating……
    ………..I am sure this is the beginning and there is lot more to come…… eagerly looking forward to exploring the unexplored…. keep writing!!!!!!!!!

  • chicmagnet says:

    WOW ! Your stories are just amazing! Makes me (hell I am already on the lookout now) wanna buy Corbett books and learn more before I eventually visit the park. Thank you for your amazing stories :).

  • straypet says:

    I am still in jungle, looking for my way out.. Sanjay should be fined for making me trespass me into corbet.. I have never been to jungle before..always turned my Chinese eye to Discovery… Tigers , elephants.. Africa.

    Always thought what people do in a safari trip.. wake up early morning.. catch the first sun.. catch the yawning hippo .. and the crawling snakes.. WTF

    When these things can easily be seen in a ZOO .. why sleep with a tiger guarding your tent ? Anyways i hardly thought about it seriously.. beaches,hills and still life.. was my extra cheese of life..

    Sanjay’s Corbet and I .. added another topping to my environmental pizza.Since 2nd grade i have been reading that we have some national park s in India.. and Corbet was my only answer to that .. Now i know what corbet is..

    Sanjay’s point to point mapping of things and scenery are just amazing.Within mins i am travelling some 2000 KM ( 1500 from kolkata to corbet then inside some 200Km ..and rest i will use to find my way out ).

    There can be no better description of the beauty that Corbet has.. Sanjay has a special attachment to it.. as he keeps going back every weekend as if searching for his soul mate lost in 1879…
    His love with the subject and his cylindrical lens is clearly depicted in the snippet…

    I am a big fan of this man(Legally i am free to write this) and his words… and have already planned a corbet trip with him on 14 Feb 2010 .

  • SACHIN SHARMA says:

    Hi Bhaia,
    Wonderful story… Amazing thoughts… u really put the thing around in such a way that each words of the story contain a specific meaning and the making out live pictures in the eyes.

    After reading your story I would love to go for this thrilling experience of the JUNGLE NIGHTS.
    Your story has a unique value as a single drop of water is enough to quench the thirst in the looms fire desert.

    Look forward to have some more exciting cover pages…

    Regards,

    Sachin Sharma
    (Singapore airline)
    There is something special in the sky tonight! It might b you…

  • tiger says:

    thank you: Sachin, Amita, Rita, Chicmagnet (real attractive ID) and straypet. you are all very kind and appreciative.
    @ Supriya: for getting bookings inside at dhikala, you can either go to KMVN office at Barakhamba Road –103, Indra Prakash Building, 21, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi. alternatively, you can contact the Ramnagar reception of Corbett Tiger Reserve. In the latter case also you must get confirmed reservation before you reach there or you may find yourself out of luck.

  • jitendra says:

    hi dear,read your article,i have been to the corbett and also have read “the maneaters of kumaon”.reading your article for once made me forget that i am only sitting at my computer.your narration is so live and details so minute that i felt like being inside CTR.my previous corbett trip and all those stories of dreaded maneaters have gone through my mind.it has now made me resolute to see the corbett again and from an altogether new perspective.keep up the good work.m waiting for part3.

  • romario says:

    i have never gone to corbett,but after reading this article i can boast to anyone.
    r u from inside corbett or some promoter of corbett?whoever u b,u r a master storyteller.i hve read many travelogues and i should say that this is among top rated.thanx for providing valuable info n entertainment both in one article.

  • shikha says:

    rightly said romario. after reading this travelogue, i think he is neither inside nor a promoter, i think HE is CORBETT!
    and i have fallen in love with him(jim) for the second time.

  • Munnabhai says:

    The beginning in part 1 was superb and the follow up equally thorough.

    Wish there were some tiger sighting snaps in there.

  • Amita says:

    Sanjay,

    We eagerly await the part-3 with all the best tiger sighting snaps you have.

  • Vishal M says:

    It was a fantastic visit to Dhikala with Corbett………Wud like to have more on this good Jungle Nights…..
    Wud corbett allow me to wander around deep inside with him…

  • tiger says:

    thanks vishal. the game is afoot vishal and we shall all hunt — together. some of us however, may not return:))

  • tiger says:

    shikha, munnabhai, romario and jitendra —thank you all very much foryour encouraging comments.

    romario — no i am not inside corbett or a promoter of the same. jus in love with the place, its history and its present. where are you located?

  • romario silva says:

    i m from madgaon,goa.urge u 2 write on goa too.

  • Munnabhai says:

    jumanji kuchh aage bhi to bataaoo!!! hum betaab hain sher ki kahani sunne ke liye!!

  • sapna says:

    Jumanji, lagta hain aap bahut bade ghumakkar hain. Kahi tikenge toh hi to nikhenge. Aapki lekhni ke toh hum diwane ho gaye hain.
    Aage ki kahani ka humein bhi besabri se intezaar rahega…

  • Munnabhai says:

    i m back again on this article. what i can say is that this is one of the best writings on corbett. hats off to you jumanji sanjay.

  • tiger says:

    thank you munnabhai and sapna. i am finishing part 3 and will be posting it soon.

  • tiger says:

    roamario: i have never been to goa. if you are sending an invite i shall run!!
    i hope you do because i am asking.

  • Shailendra says:

    Great Sanjay..
    Read part-1 again and then part-2 in continuation…
    You took me too..I felt almost there..very beautiful narration..and ur words literally makes the things alive..your account for very fine details like Ramnagar bus stand and Carpit sahib lighting his pipe has truly made this reading most memorable in recent years…I too am eagerly waiting for the part-3 and many more…i don’t know when our own trip will materialize..till then I’d like to visit places through your posts.. Great..keep writing..and be, live & remain as u are..

  • Ranjan Gorakhpuri says:

    “Are we organically connected or muted souls floating in disconnected space and time?”

    Perhaps yes!

    Corbett Sahab can never leave the company of such an admirer and native as you are! I am sure that these are not merely ornamental words or style of writing……. A nostalgic adventurer like you must have really felt the presence of Sahab.

    Once again a picturesque description of the area. Simply too good!!!

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    What a narration Sanjay and I agree with everyone else that your writing is among the world class. Reading it I feel proud of being part of Ghumakkar and I am also proud of skilled writers like you who decided to share their experience here :-)

    Great, wonderfully-crafted story. After reading it, I immidiately looked at your author’s profile to know more about you and was still left clueless ….

    Can you please update your profile ? I am sure that many will like to know in detail about you …

  • tiger says:

    Thank you Manish. Thank you all for having such a wonderful site and for nourishing it –you, Nandan and others i do not know.

    i will have a look at my profile as soon as i can.

  • Manish, I would also like to share some credits, as I pulled him in :) Remember me when you roll them;) He is a man on the move. If you click on the photos, it will take you to his flickr pages. And there you will find some of the finest photographs ever to happen.

    Further, I would request Sanjay to adapt and post the “Daal fry at Lamboos” in the form of Travel. It is about a Dhaba on a NH frequented by Engg, Mgmt and Med students. CB can learn a thing or too.

    If he does not, I may be forced to post it ad verbatim.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Thanks Rajeev to you(even more than to Sanjay) for introducing the skilled :-) tiger. After all we believe “Guru Gobind dou khade …”. I am not a Hirwani or Vidhu Vinod Chopra who can afford not to credit the real inspiration.

      Daal fry at Lamboos – The title sounds very interesting. Sanjay with such an interesting title you can’t get away. I am sure many of the readers have already started to lick their fingers in the anticipation of delicious daal fry coming to their way from Lamboos.

  • tiger says:

    indeed, it was rajeev who made me come here. :)

    i will try doing wht rajeev is suggesting about lamboo ka dhaba. i will seek his help in the project. right rajeev?

  • Nanda & Padma says:

    sanjay,
    after being in Kodagu( coorg) for so many years i never thought much about corbett
    your article has made me very curious to know more. you really have a
    flair for writting! keep it up. waiting for your next issue. you will be enchanted by nagarhole/rajeev gandhdi national park i bet! how abot a trip to Kodagu (coorg)?

  • AbhijitD says:

    Awesome Tiger!
    I stayed at Dhikala three years ago. Somehow couldnt make it after that despite wanting to make two trips a year. Now I have booked myself for three nights in March.
    Your descriptions are a great motivation.

    Regds,
    Abhijit.

  • tiger says:

    Thank you abhijit for your appreciation. Did you make this trip that you mention?

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