Jim Corbett National Park - The Land of Sher Khan

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Image Courtesy : Google
Before starting this post, I would like to thank four of my colleagues, without whose efforts this amazing trip to the first National Park of India wouldn't have been possible.

I could not sleep the entire night of 9th November. My backpack was packed with all the jackets and woolens I would need. I was excited because I knew that within the next 24 hours I would be in the famous Jim Corbett National Park. 

Day 1, 10th November 2011, Thursday: When my flight took off at 5:50 a.m., Mumbai was still sleeping. For the first time in my life I saw sunrise while in flight. When we landed at Delhi at 7:50 a.m., three buses were waiting for us, along with one of the organizers who had arrived at Delhi a day earlier. After a very Delhi-ish fatty breakfast, we started on the 11 hours long road trip to Corbett National Park. At around 11am, we crossed Ghaziabad and entered NH24. Till Hapur the journey was hastle-free. The delay started as we neared Garhmukteshwar. As our luck had it, 10th November was a full moon day and this small town in U.P. was celebrating Ganga-snan. We got stuck in a massive jam along with lakhs of devotees who had come for a dip in the holy river. Our buses moved through the congregation at snail's pace and after near about two hours we managed to cross Brijghat. We stopped for lunch at Meriton hotels and resorts at Gajraula at 2:30 p.m. 

Post Gajraula we crossed many villages. We were on the Moradabad-Rampur road when we finally left NH24 and entered an MDR which lead us to NH74. After few more grueling hours in those uncomfortable bus seats, we passed Ramnagar. Another two hours were spent in impatience before we finally reached Dhikuli, where we had booked our resorts. Dhikuli is a small village in Nainital district, around 7 kms from Ramnagar. We were around 80 people (Big group huh?) and thus four resorts had been arranged to accommodate the whole lot. I was allotted a beautiful cottage at Corbett Wilds resort, overlooking the Kosi river. After dinner by the bonfire, we retired to our cottages early as we had to start for the jungle safari before the break of dawn.

Day 2, 11th November 2011, Friday: This day will be etched in my memories forever for so many reasons. When I woke up at 5:00 a.m., it was shivering cold; so much that just the thought of stepping out of the cozy blanket gave me goosebumps. By 6:00 a.m. we were heading towards our open Maruti Jypsy in the dark. The jeep accommodated seven of us and the driver, who was also our guide. It was dark when we started from Dhikuli. 


Jim Corbett is divided into four zones - Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna and Durgadevi, with every zone having its separate entry gate. As the entrance to Dhikala remains closed from mid June till 15th November, and as we were quite a large group to get permit to any of the other three zones, so we drove down to Sitabani - a buffer zone. By 6:30 a.m. we were inside the gates of Sitabani. Strewn with gigantic tall Sal trees on both sides, the rough road lead us more and more inside the dense jungle. Spectacular, mesmerizing, breathtaking - adjectives would fall short for this place.





Our driver told us it was the same place where the Bollywood movie Kaal was shot.  As we drove deeper into the jungle, we saw giant ant hills, red junglefowls, an Indian grey mongoose, quite a few langurs, a couple of barking deers and hog deers. It was cold - freezing, teeth-chattering. Our hands had gone so numb that we were finding difficulty in clicking pictures. At times we stopped the jeep just because we thought we heard some rustles inside the nearby bushes. It was both exciting and scary at the same time. At one turn the driver stopped our jeep and showed us tiger pug marks on the sand. But the great majestic creature decided to stay elusive. 




The impressive vehicle drove us through a stream to its other side, where we continued our journey till a place where few locals have opened up a tea and snacks stall. While the rest of the group ordered some tea and hot snacks, we explored the area around and found an ancient temple very close to the place. Since there are usually lesser chances to sight any animals when there are many jeeps travelling in a row, we decided to leave the rest of the group behind and started from there without waiting any longer. 




One of the best experience was when on our way back we stopped our jeep, stopped talking to each other and tried to feel the silence of the jungle. There was pin drop silence all around us. No one moved. No one spoke a single word. We could hear the wind, the rustle of the leaves, a stream flowing somewhere nearby, some birds chirping... I could also hear the sound of my breathing and my heartbeats. The silence was broken as our driver turned on the ignition of the jeep. We felt as if we were broken out of a state of trance. We stopped at another tea stall just at the borders of Sitabani, where three of us broke the most important rule of the jungle. We got down from our jeep and walked inside the jungle, following a herd of spotted deer. We left the well defined tracks and ventured into the wilderness - deeper and deeper. I even tried climbing a bent down tree, fell down on the first attempt and then climbed up again - all these just to pose for a picture. 

When we reached back the stall, the owner narrated a few months old incident when a man eater tigress had killed seven people right where we had ventured into the forest. This did send a chill down our spine, nevertheless we were feeling a little proud of our mis-adventure. After having delicious hot maggi and scrambled eggs, we left Sitabani and made our way back to our resorts. 

At 11:00 a.m., we drove down to Garjiya where there is a suspension bridge across the gushing Kosi river. We were here to get some adrenaline rush. Across the bridge there is a natural rock wall, around 30 feet in height. We did both Rappelling and Rock climbing on that vertical structure. The former just took 10 seconds, whereas the later almost consumed 10 minutes and loads of my energies. Catching up some breath, I headed for Ziplining across the Kosi river. After the strenuous rock climbing, this one felt like child's play. The worst and yet the best was yet to come. After most of the people left, eight of us prepared for a free fall into the Kosi river from the suspension bridge. We had seen the local boys do it and couldn't control our thirst for the rush. Once the harness, carabiners and all other safety equipment were in place, I passed through the struts and stepped out of the deck of the bridge. The instructor asked me to bend backwards holding onto the rope. With elevated heartbeats, I bent backwards till my back was arched, and then he released the rope. A shrill scream came out my mouth as I felt the pull of the gravity and plunged towards the river. Few seconds of rush and then I hit the ice cold water. I had gone few feet inside the water, when another man on the bank started to pull the other end of the rope to pull me out. The current was so strong that without his help it would have been impossible for me to swim to the banks. 




Every time I think of that moment, I realize how alive I am. Reaching the road was another task as part of the dried up river bed (which we had to cross) was strewn with sharp pebbles and we had left our shoes on the bridge. Once we were back in our shoes (someone threw them down to us), we hiked back to our resorts dripping Kosi all the way along.

Day 3, 12th November 2011, Saturday: We started for Ranikhet early in the morning. The entire journey proved to be disastrous as many suffered from motion sickness as the buses gained altitude. The best part about being from North East is that you become unsusceptible to these winding mountain roads. We reached the tiny hill station by noon and headed straight to its Golf Course, known as Kalika golf links. The 9-hole golf course sprawling on both sides of the road is maintained by the army. We headed to a watch tower towards the edge of the cliff from where one can get clear views of the mighty Himalayas. 
Met this beautiful puppy at Ranikhet Golf Course

Ranikhet is famous for being the setting for Bollywood movies like Raja Hindustani, Kisna and many more. Post lunch, we went to the Chaubatia Apple Orchards. Around 10 kms from Ranikhet, this place has a fruit research center and is extremely rich in vegetation. The air was laden with exotic fragrance of the fruits - apricot, chestnut, peach, pear and what not. Since the day was clear, we could see the snow capped Trishul and Nanda Devi peaks from the garden. The place has a persona of its own. We watched in awe the colors that surrounded us. 



We were back at Corbett Wilds by 10:00 p.m.. Dinner was followed by bonfire and antakshari, until everyone was content, sore-throated and drop dead tired. 


Day 4, 13th Novemver 2011, Sunday: Quite an uneventful journey followed as we left from Jim Corbett at 6:00 a.m., stopped for lunch back at Meriton (Gajraula) and reached Delhi by 4 p.m.. My flight back to Mumbai which was scheduled to depart at 7:00 p.m., finally took off at 11:45 p.m., thus stranding us at New Delhi airport for more than four hours.

One thing I understood at the National Park is why Sir Jim Corbett fell in love with these forests. 
An excerpt from Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett - "The steel blue of the fern-fringed pool where the water rests a little before cascading over rock and shingle to draw breath again in another pool more beautiful than the one just left - the flash of the gaily-coloured kingfisher as he breaks the surface of the water, shedding a shower of diamonds from his wings as he rises with a chirp of delight, a silver minnow held firmly in his vermilion bill - the belling of the sambur and the clear tuneful call of the chital apprising the jungle folk that the tiger... is out in search of his dinner. These are things that will... draw me back to that beautiful valley, as yet unspoiled by the hand of man"  
Though we did not get to see the majestic Sher Khan, it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. And I did fall in love too.... 

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