Tigers are shy animals and avoid humans as zealously as humans avoid them. I have spent time in a number of tiger reserves without even one sighting. Well, we did sight a family in Bandhavgarh from afar. But you can hardly call that sighting. Meeting a tiger close quarter in the zoo is not thrilling. Catching a fleeting glance of a tiger bounding across while driving on country roads also does not qualify as a sighting. I was therefore thrilled when I was told that we had won a three nights and four days free stay in a coming up resort (I forget the name) close to Corbett National Park. I grabbed the opportunity. Alka and I checked in at the resort after a pleasant 300 kms drive via Gajraula (where we had lunch at the famous dhaba) and Moradabad. The resort, still under development, had cottages spread on a sprawling plot of land. The dining hall with a thatched roof had a rustic look about it and was quite charming. The resort also boasted of a swimming pool. We were to spend long hours in the scorching June sun and would not have survived without the excellent air conditioning in our cottage. Our batteries would be recharged after a long night’s rest.
Corbett National Park is the oldest tiger reserve in Asia. Established in 1936 as Hailey National Park, it was renamed in 1956 to honour Jim Corbett, an eminent environmentalist and hunter. He is better known as a hunter of man-eating tigers. (Read ‘Man Eaters of Kumaon’)
Entry to the Park is regulated. Visitors start queuing up early in the morning to buy entry permits. Private vehicles are not allowed in the Park. Open jeeps and elephants can be hired for the day. We opted for an elephant. The mahout, an old man, kept us spell bound with his anecdotes of the area. He told us that we would have to be extremely lucky to sight a tiger, this being the end of season. The summer had been particularly dry and the tigers kept close to water holes away from crowds. Disappointed, we had to be content with sightings of minor game.
We were told of a spot just outside the reserve where we could possibly see a tiger or an elephant late at night. After a couple of hours’ wait, lying with binoculars under a tree and sighting only an elephant, we returned to our cottage. The elusive tiger had evaded us again.
We met our guide, with whom we had a date to go trekking, early the next morning. The long trek through the forest was at once tiring and exhilarating.
A visit to the National Park is incomplete without a visit to Jim Corbett Museum. We had a leisurely breakfast and drove to the museum. For most of his years in India, Corbett lived in a small cottage in Choti Haldwani, a small little hamlet just out of Kaladhungi. The cottage is now a museum showcasing Corbett’s personal effects. He migrated to Kenya after India’s independent in 1947 where he died in 1955.
It was the last day of our stay and time to return home. A few kilometres short of Ramnagar Alka drew my attention to a temple. A fascinating sight. The temple built on top of a huge rock appeared to be inaccessible. Wondering, we parked and walked across the rocky bed of river Kosi to its base. A long steep flight of stairs led to the temple dedicated to Garjiya Devi, another name of Goddess Parvati – consort of Lord Shiva. Architecturally, the temple is not much. Marvelling at the superhuman effort of its builders we drove on.