Exploring Sitavani and Mohaan in Corbett

When I was young, my father said, Son, I have something to say and what he told me I somehow forgot and halted by corbett trips. He said, son you be a bachelor boy and thats the way to stay, ay ay, ye, happy be a bachelor boy untill you run out of urge to have a day (at corbett). :)

In 2002, we must have been to Corbett many times. We would start very early, mostly cutting through Delhi-Fog and then Hapur-Fog and then Moradabad-Fog and then… hmmm probably by then you start to get some sun. We had fun. Get the pun. I know Cliff Richards wont be too delighted.

Get back to senses. See, the very thought of keyboarding a trip of my youth starts to put me off-balance, I start to lose my co-ordination and sway, even though its just mid-week. Ok. I dont think any of you are any more interested so lets get back on track.


We started early, it was May but Delhi Heat fails to miss you even at 4 in the morning. We got out of Delhi and reached the booking office by 10ish. We were driving a Wagon-R and were three of us. The plan was to stay in a FRH (Forest Rest House) at Mohaan, which is just a little away from the main gate of CTR (Corbett Tiger Reserve) viz. Dhanagarhi Gate. Mohaan FRH is this few acre rich old property where not many people stay. You can’t buy your way in and you would need to get a permit from ‘Project Tiger’ folks to stay. There are 3 odd rooms, ill maintained furniture, a security-guy who also acts as your cook (if you want). Typically these FRH have all the kitchen equipment, quilts etc etc and they were originally meant to shelter traveling execs (or babus or goras or whatever). So we went to office and asked for Mohaan and were told that its not available for that particular evening. There is no documented way to get permits, you get them by talking your way into them or by just impressing them by saying that you are wildlife enthusiast and really deserve it. One of us was working in “Discovery Channel” at that point of time and that sort of helps a lot.

So Mohaan was out but we were offered another FRH which is at Sitavani but were told that its a little off from civilizations and because of heat the streams are already getting good water so we would need to cross some rivulets on our way. We agreed. We took the permit, paid the paltry rent of Rs 30 or Rs 70 or something and started on. Folks who are familiar with the area would better understand this. Sitavani is on the other side of main Corbett. So from booking office, you take right. Its been a while but I think its the same route which also goes to Kaladhungi. After a while you take a left and reach a barrier and show your permit and get in.

So we showed our permit and the guy refused to believe that we are actually going to Sitavani. Why three young boys in shorts and Tommy Netty T-Shirts would be interested to go to a place where there is nothing. Furthermore, he was more aghast to see that we are going to reach there in a small car like Wagon-R. Apparently he cautioned us about the rivers which we would find on the way, and there would be at least two (or one) where we wont be able to get through, so why go in the first place. The beauty of this country is that everbody has an opinion. Had it been some where else, they would have asked us to present the permit and move. We had to somehow convince him by saying that we will most likely come back after first such opportunity so he noted our vehicle no, our names and there we went in. He looked at us, with that smile and he was saying to himself that we will meet again in couple of hours. I am making it, I didn’t know mind-reading till then. I still don’t.

So we went in, in a different world. Try to imagine a hard sun, on a cobbled or no track with nothing around except those sun-tanned bushes, trees, rocks, an occasional animal. And it remains same even after 40 minutes of drive when we were stopped by a river. We were in the river’s way which didn’t seem too dangerous.

We got out of car. Crossed it over foot, cautiously. It was about 100 odd feet wide. Current was not intimidating but sometime the rubble under the water sort of slips and we didn’t want to be stranded. We remember the barrier-guy and our promised. We thought more and made up our mind to cross it. I think I was playing the navigator by giving directions to Rabbie (he was driving) which you would realize later that it was of no use (I think I realized it at that moment but still continued playing, didn’t want Rabbie to leave the steering and run), Chand was on the other side with his eyes at about few inches over the ground, and moving his hand to sort of tell me that where its deep and where its shallow. Alert readers would have already guessed that it was of equally no use. I honestly think that Chand never realized it, probably to this day. Dont tell him. And Voila, we have done it. We enjoyed our time in water. We were able to cross that thing with no pain and Sitavani seemed closer. I know you are already thinking ahead and going by the length of this story, you know that its not yet over.

We drove for another 20 odd minutes and boy, we noticed something crossing our way. A river. Just like last time but this one was many times fierce then the one we just did. And we all looked at our selves and told each other without actually speaking a word that we are a bunch of fools who spent all their fuel on outer signal. This was the one which the barrier guy talked about. We got out, looked around. Went in to feel the cold and moving water. Got back. Got in the car, rev’ed the engine and drove it through. As simple as that. The car swayed, skidded, sort of stuck, few more things and thats about it. Since we have also exhausted our celebration-energy-quotient, you know acting like school-boys, at the last one, this time we grew up. Looked back and moved ahead. We drove for another couple of hours, crossed couple of more rivelets w/o getting out of car. By now we were starting to act like locals, not getting fancied by those wild flowers, spanking sun or about anything. I think we were all too immersed in the whole of it. We reached Sitavani a little before dusk. Tranced by the sheer magnanimity of the jungle, where everything sub-dues after a while.

Sitavani is a small area which has a FRH and a small temple. On an average about 10 odd people spend the night there if there is no one in the FRH and thats about it. Everything around is a jungle. There is no phone, no electricity and no water. There is a river so you take your bucket and save the water. As with most of the FRHs, the kitchen equipment has gone rusty but we could find some of them working so we lit up and cooked some food. The FRH seemed to have been built in 1940 and stands atop a rising so you get very good views. There were 2-3 rooms but I think we all settled in one room with the old worn out dining table as the storage area for anything which can be eaten.If you get stuck for something in the evening, it would take at least five minutes for someone in close-by temple to hear your call, perish the thought of getting any real time help. It got dark in a while. We were carrying our supplies (solid/liquid food) and for next many hours we just sit and chatted and had our much earned sips. After a while, it was just us, a few million cricket cries, a large spider which we boo-ed but didn’t kill and many more million galons of thick darkness, it was like that fluid which sticks to you and moves with you. Someone else would need to pierce that darkness to actually make note of you. We just lost ourselves and we loved it.

Morning time. Enjoyed that nice and crisp breeze. Even corbett has ‘May’ during ‘May’ in Delhi so cold was good. Clicked some pics. Went to temple. Moved around, paid some tip to the care-taker and moved on. Our next day booking was in Mohaan which was like New York in comparison to Sitavani. There are some stories on why this place is called Sitavani. What I remember is that is has to do something with Sita and thats about it.

While we really liked the drive on the way, this drive was even more killing. I told you that now we were acting like locals so we stopped many times and clicked pics. It was like getting the whole jungle in legacy or something. On the way, we did find some villages with scanty habitat. We stopped at a small tea shop and got back on road. For some time we actually drove on a dried river bed. One of the few times when we would have seen such a fewer no of people, esp in a country like India.

We finally reached Mohaan and had more fun. I am tired now so I would stop here and share more pics.
Here’s my tent and Rabbie’s Car.

Also, I need to finish this story fast as my wife would be here any moment to pick me up. I know between writing a story on Sitavani and having your wife wait in the car, what you would prefer (but do the opposite) but thats for another day.

Comments – ?

11 Comments

  • backpakker says:

    Ah ! the spirit of adventure … Nicely written post..You seem to be in a very nostalgic mood

  • manish says:

    Is there a garment shop in the jungle. I was just wondering from where your friends purchased the shirt, T-shirt the next day :) ? You have also not warned that if one forget his Pants, he cannot find it in that shop too ;)

    Beautiful description, enjoyed it a lot.

    I know between writing a story on Sitavani and having your wife wait in the car, what you would prefer
    ———————————-
    You were lying that even now you don’t mind reading, weren’t you ?

  • nandanjha says:

    backapakker – I think I got into one while writing this. Later I remembered many more things like meeting the only guy in Corbett (ever) who admitted that he hasn’t seen a tiger even though he was a forest guy (he was yet to be corrupted by being in Sitavani most of his life) or for that matter, the local staff not being willing to do pettty jobs so as to earn a good tip, guess same logic as above.

    Manish – We later discovered that the bag which we packed for the last trip was still in trunk of the car so we were saved. We dont carry pants in May :)

    And for that writing vis-a-vis waiting, guess thats for another day.

  • bikerdude says:

    Nandan, it felt like I was there myself… a certain Mr Kipling would have company in these words…can even picture you re-living the entire experience…

    If most of us could write like this…. Imagine what a treasure trove of reading material Ghumakkar would be…

    Manish

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

  • rabbie says:

    The memory of that trip is as fresh as the fruits we picked up from Ramnagar.
    It is a right turn from Ramnagar, over the barrage on the river Kosi and an immediate left into the jungle, some 20km inside, some part of the path are nothing more than piles of boulders.

    The forest guard’s comment about the Tiger, it still rings in my ears, may be not in the exact sequence, but i remember ‘ Sher! sher kuch nahi hota hai, wo to sirf ek roshni hai, ek chingari jaisa, khoob chamakta hai, aur logon ko andha kar deta hai, sher weir kuch nahi hai!’ till this date im not sure if he was making a fool of us , or narrating his belief.

    I miss that car, it was a small car with an even tinier engine, but it faithfully took me to corbett more than a good dozen times apart from solang, jaipur, goa, manali, mandawa, udaipur, agra, bombay, ahmedabad, the tals, just to name a few places.

    The thing i miss most, about India is the inextinguishable stock of explorables.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    And if you remember then we discovered that how you can create music by holding out a empty small juice/flavored-milk bottle while driving from ramnagar-cobett. There is no traffic in evenings to shunt any sound.

    When you visit next time, we can go again.

  • Ravijit says:

    We just returned after a 3-day sojourn at Sitavani on May 26. We stayed at the Forest Rest House, built in 1940 and renovated in the last 3-4 years. The place is reclusive and isolated. Except for the old temple and a scattering of low houses (the rest house being a little higher up and enclosed by a boundary wall), there is peace and a sense of solitude. However, a friend accompanying us had first visited this place in 1996 and was dismayed to see the commercialization at the temple. The original temple, a heritage site, is rather small and unassuming. It has now been overshadowed by new structures around it. Most visitors to the temple are loud, brash and appear to be more out on a picnic than visiting either a temple or appreciative of the wildlife around.

    Nonetheless, for nature lovers, it is a pleasure to walk down the underbrush to the adjoining river where one can splash around or walk through the forest in the valley hoping to see a tiger, elephant or just a neelgai. A late evening walk through the forest can be creepy and exciting as one hears a twig cracking underfoot somewhere or the cry of an indistinguishable animal. Inside the rest house, one could encounter an occasional scorpion or large spider.

    Shopping? Fortunately, there is no market at hand. If you have forgotten your toothbrush, you need to drive around 10 kms to Kotabagh!

  • Chand says:

    Some good old memories. I did not know then that Corbett will become such a passion. I am still living the Corbett life, hope you are too.

    Nandan – Great job.

  • nandanjha says:

    How did you find this Chand ? :-). Pleasant surprise.

    After our those drives, I did go there few more times but now its mostly once a year kind of thing. My daughter is now 4+ and the plan is to stay at Dhikala sometime next year.

    • Chand says:

      Nandan – you have mastered the art of writing good stories. Like reading them, keep it up.

      We should get together for another trip my friend…

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