Jim Corbett National Park - How Not To Plan A Wildlife Safari

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Image by Soumyajit Nandy, via Wikimedia Commons
When my flight took off early on a November morning, Mumbai was still sleeping. This vibrant maximum city is my new home after eight years of Chennai. I was on my way to the Jim Corbett National Park, India's oldest national park, famous for its flagship species, the Bengal Tiger. It is also one of the first National Parks of India to join Project Tiger, upping its conservation efforts. 

The destination mattered to me as I had grown up listening to the stories of Edward James Corbett from my maternal grandmother. She would transport me to the jungles of the early 20th century with her fascinating storytelling. In later years, I would read the book Man-Eaters of Kumaon and thus comprehend that Jim Corbett was not merely a hunter. He was a naturalist and a conservationist and resolved human-animal conflict through hunting only when an injured tiger or leopard turned into a man-eater. He loved the big cats and influenced the establishment of this tiger reserve - India's first - for their protection. 

So when an office trip brought the opportunity to visit the setting of those extraordinary stories and the home of the magnificent felines, I held high hopes in my heart. As the plane gained altitude, I saw a sunrise from the air for the first time. It was an ethereal start to a trip that was about to be an anticlimax in comparison. 

What went wrong? We couldn't spot a single tiger. It was a misplanned trip in more than one aspect. Here is a rundown on how NOT to plan a trip to the National Parks or Tiger Reserves of India if tiger spotting is on your agenda - 


Not many would face a situation like this. But if you do, keeping low expectations would help counter the disappointment that may follow.

At the IGI Airport of Delhi, three buses were waiting for us, our transportation onwards to Uttarakhand. We were a group of 80 people - the entire department of Human Resources Management of my office, heading for an annual trip aimed at employee engagement. At the tiger reserve, it took 15 gypsies to fit that convention. 

In retrospect, tiger spotting was probably never a priority of the organizing team. Even if it was, the size of the group in the row of jeeps moving together deterred tigers from crossing our path. Like some of us humans, tigers detest a crowd. It would have been a different tale if we were gazelles (Jim Corbett theorized that healthy tigers are not man-eaters).

The group size caused another major problem - more on that later.


Dry summers are when tigers shed their camouflage of the jungle and approach the water bodies more frequently during the day. It helps quench their thirst and reduce body heat with a dip in the water. With other animals congregating near the waterholes, it also gives them the opportunity of an easy hunt. 

Image by Jean Beaufort 

The winter months, when we visited, are comfortable and more appealing for humans. Post-monsoon, the temperature is not harsh, and the landscape is lush and more aesthetical. But with denser vegetation, spotting an elusive tiger became more difficult. 

Furthermore, we were there on November 11, before the scheduled opening of core zone Dhikala in mid-November. The park then stays open till June 15 every year, giving you a choice to visit in either winter or summer. Although off-seasons have a lesser crowd and better prices, the tactic is counterproductive in the case of National Parks. A visit to a National Park is incomplete without venturing into a Core zone which is the actual protected area with maximum biodiversity.


The day after, we started in our open-top Jypsy before the break of dawn while shivering in the morning cold. By the time we reached the reserve entry gates, there was enough light to see our surroundings. Lined with tall Sal trees, the rough road led us inside a dense jungle. We saw giant anthills with no pangolin in the vicinity. As we drove deeper, we spotted an Indian grey mongoose, a pair of Rhesus macaque mother and child, and multiple species of deers - barking deers, hog deers, and Chitals or spotted deers. The sighting of hog deer was the only rare occurrence, as the animal is considered Endangered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with its population constantly decreasing.

Occasionally we stopped the jeep, misinterpreting sounds in the bushes nearby. The silence of the jungle enhanced the sounds we often miss in our cities - the wind whooshing, the rustle of leaves, a stream gurgling, birds chirping, the sound of our breaths, and the distant alarm calls of barking deers. Their barking was a sign of a predator lurking near them. It was exhilarating to chase that sound, but a part of me was disappointed when we couldn't behold those vibrant stripes of a Bengal Tiger. The closest we came to feel the presence of this majestic creature were a set of faded pug marks trampled over by jeep tracks.  

We continued our journey across a stream to a tea and snacks stall operated by the locals. It was a red flag, as a National Park, by definition, cannot have human economic activities within its perimeters. We had already realized our blunder and convinced our driver cum guide to separate from the convoy, but our efforts were futile as we were in the wrong zone altogether. 

Corbett National Park has four core zones - Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna, and Durgadevi, with a limited capacity of park entries issued per day per zone. Dhikala was yet to open, and the arranging team couldn't get a permit for the other core zones due to the size of our group. Instead, they had directed us towards Sitabani - one of the buffer zones. A buffer zone isn't always devoid of tigers. But the zone ideal for tiger sighting can change as per the tigers' migrating tendencies, and without an expert tracker's knowledge choosing any random zone can turn into a wild goose chase. 

We sought solace at Dhikuli, a small village within the core area of Corbett Tiger Reserve, where we had booked our resorts. My spacious cottage at Corbett Wilds Resort had a balcony overlooking the Kosi river, where an occasional herd of elephants would come to play in the water. 


In the afternoon, we stayed within the core area of Corbett National Park at Garjiya. But instead of another wildlife safari, we were whisked off to a suspension bridge over the Kosi river for adventure activities. 

It was fun, nonetheless, trying Rappelling and Rock climbing on a natural rock wall and a variation of bungee jumping that we saw the local boys reinvent. The difference was the absence of recoil, and I hit the ice-cold water straightaway and dipped beneath. A man on the riverbank, holding the other end of a rope tied to my harness, deftly pulled me out. 

The next day again, instead of a safari, we went on a day trip to Ranikhet for what seemed like a defunct Golf Course and the Chaubatia Orchards. The orchard was a sensory overload, surrounding us in fragrances of apricots, chestnuts, peaches, and the sight of autumn, with the backdrop of the Trisul peaks.

The organizers, in good faith, had tried to jam as many activities as they could into our three-day trip and covered many places to visit near Jim Corbett National Park. But as much as I loved jumping into the Kosi river and witnessing the falls colors at Chaubatia, I would have preferred to focus on one thing at a time. Corbett Tiger Reserve in this case. 

Chances of tiger sighting increase with the number of jungle safaris taken over a couple of days, with two safaris being a bare minimum. We went on one, with our fate of no tiger sighting sealed at the planning stage of that trip. Meeting this canine was my consolation prize for missing the feline.


There is an additional reason for reduced sighting - the ever-decreasing tiger population. It is a conservation issue, with the tiger population hitting an all-time low four years back in 2006. Habitat Fragmentation and the absence of wildlife corridors connecting those fragmented territories are to blame.

Five tiger habitats within close range  - Jim Corbett National Park, Rajaji National Park, Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary, and Sitabani Wildlife Reserve - were parts of a single forest stretching across Kumaon and Garhwal. Encroached by humans in the quest for territorial expansion, fragmentation of this wildlife habitat destroyed the natural migratory routes of tigers (and other animals like elephants). 

Without human-like consciousness, neither the animals could not defend their home nor understand the imposed human concept of a boundary in their search for food and mate. The result is either human-animal conflict or - if they remain confined within spaces of our definition - unfeasible survival needs. Habitat Fragmentation particularly prevents breeding between animals from different regions. It increases inbreeding, decreases genetic diversity, and negatively affects the growth of a healthy population. 

To counterbalance the disparities, we need to give them access to Wildlife Corridors or Green Corridors. These corridors are sections of protected lands that help animals migrate between wildlife areas separated by human development, like roads, farmlands, or human settlements. Each ecosystem would thrive with a better population and higher density of endangered tigers, among other animals, if such corridors connect two fragmented habitats. 

A Wildlife Corridor in Brazil, Source: Wikimedia Commons
Building such corridors would help India uphold the resolution it signed at St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation last year to contribute to double the global tiger population by 2022. It will also fulfill our hopes to easily spot Bengal Tigers in their natural habitat when we commence a well-planned trip to one of the tiger reserves of India in the future.

An excerpt from Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett - "A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage…when he is exterminated — as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna."  

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  1. Almost felt I was living those memories with you. Very well narrated Sanghita.

  2. excellent post and it cleared many of my misconceptions bout jim corbett national park.

  3. Hi Ma'am -

    I have been following your blog for quite long and I love your writing. I am a great fan of yours and want to make you my Mentor. Please let me know if you are okay.


  4. wow! beautifully narrated!!
    brought back fond memories of my visit in october.. you can read about it at http://www.clubmahindrablog.com/naturally-corbett

  5. Interesting!!
    What I found striking is how you remembered the minute details of every hour/day. It sounded very professional.

  6. @Santanu, Debajyoti, Magiceye - Thanks for visiting the blog and for the feedback.

    @Debajyoti - What were the misconceptions?

    @Shekhar - Good to know that you like my blog. But I'm definitely not apt to be a mentor yet...

  7. @Sudip - When you love something, your mind is at its best when you are doing that ;-)

  8. Oh man! I'm so so jealous... You should visit a couple of more times and write a novel - Corbet Diaries :) Its just perfect... the snaps make it score 11/10 :)

  9. Thankuuu... I would definitely like to visit many more times... Haven't been inside the main Park areas this time... The idea of writing Corbett Diaries sounds tempting to me ;)

  10. Beautiful pics, beautiful narration, beautiful background, beautiful blog... Don't think you need any more adjectives... :)

  11. Delhi has some of the finest accommodation choices.The newest additions are the wonderful Luxury Accommodations in Delhi Ncr which leave no stone unturned to give world-class facilities and services.Great infrastructure coupled with lush greenery are the USPs of these ultimate accommodations in and around Delhi.

  12. Terrifically written sweets sis...!!! it felt like actually experiencing the whole atmosphere there....grt going...keep writing !! Love u....

  13. absolutely.....fantastic sanguine masi..............bt dunno wry.....u vl smeday meet a real "sher khan"............nd i lykd ur pics:)...:):)....

  14. @SunShine - I really couldn't guess who you are, but Thanks :)
    @Rohan - Thanks :) Hope there are cage wires between the tiger and myself the day I meet him...

  15. Golfing in India is the new rage with some of the Indian players making big on the global stage.Thankfully, being in the capital city of India, Golf course in Delhi is really world-class in nature and what a scenic lush greenery !! Amazing and truly awesome..

  16. Vey well written.... Very interesting. I have never been there, just wandered nearby area visiting Nainital - Mukteshwar. Your blog inspired me visiting this place.



  17. @Himanshu @ Alam Thanks for visiting the blog.
    @Himanshu Hope you visit Jim Corbett soon and get to see a tiger when you are there :)

  18. Jim corbett wildlife sanctuary, is a true adventure holiday destination.
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  19. The Ramganga offers splendid Mahseer fishing during spring and summer months. Jim Corbett National Park

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  22. Naintal with its pristine beauty, emerald colored Naini lake, malls, shops, restaurants, markets and much more. Jim Corbett adventure resort and other places. Places which are worthwhile visiting in the lake district Of Uttarakhand are Ramgarh, Haldwani, Kaldhunghi, Ramnagar, Mukteswar, Bhimtaal and, Sattal. Nature Walks, Farm Holiday, Wildlife Safari are the main attractions of the Corbett Adventure resort. Visit Jaagar Village Resort for best hospitality and Wildlife experience in Uttrakhand, India.

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  24. Nice post !!!
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  25. Jim Corbett National Park is known for the tiger tourism and eco tourism. The Jim Corbett National park packages are good enough to make you visit one of the most talked about and renowned National park for tiger tourism in India. Visit the National park and plan your weekend stay at Jaagar Village resort. The best resort at Jim Corbett to stay and spend your weekend near Delhi. Visit http://www.jaagarvillage.com/ for best resort and Wildlife experience in Uttrakhand, India.

  26. Really Lovely Place to See Tiger(Sher Khan).

  27. Jim Corbett National Park is the oldest national park in India and was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park to protect the endangered Bengal tiger. It was named after Jim Corbett who played a key role in its establishment. In recent years the number of people coming here has increased dramatically. Presently, every season more than 70,000 visitors come to the park from India and abroad. Many travelers who prefer to stay at Wildlife Corbett Resort.

  28. Great Post. Would like to visit this place soon.

  29. This is an wonderful post you have published . I appreciate your article . Thanks for shared .

  30. The beauty of this place is unbelievable.

  31. The beauty of this place is unbelievable.