Cousin: Child of one’s uncle or aunt, a person in one’s extended family, to whom one is not closely related.
Extended family to whom one is not closely related ….Are you kidding me? 🙂 We are a bunch who are mysteriously bonded by some crazy genes. When such a bunch of wild people decide to explore the wilderness, adventure is a foregone conclusion. This write up is to extend that experience of a jungle, the adrenaline rush during the search for the elusive Bengal Tiger, along with a sneak peek into the joyous moments of 12 passionate souls ( my cousins and families) which will leave you craving your childhood again.
History of Jim Corbett
Jim Corbett National Park is situated in the Nainital district of an enchantingly beautiful state, Uttarakhand. Spread over 520 sq km at the foothills of the Himalayas, it was established in 1936 and is the oldest tiger reserve in the country. It was initially called the Hailey National Park, then named as Ramganga National Park in 1954-55 and finally renamed to Jim Corbett National Park, as an honour to Jim Corbett who played a key role in the creation of this reserve. The park boasts of more than 586 species of resident and migratory birds ,33 species of reptiles, 7 species of amphibians, 7 species of fish and 36 species of dragonflies( source: Wikipedia). It’s popular for the Bengal Tigers which are plenty in numbers but a rare sight due to the thick foliage and camouflage.
Our trip to the famous Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve was planned way in advance to avoid any last moment hiccups. Hotel rooms were booked, 14 seater bus booked, jungle safari booked, music playlists prepared, cameras charged, ice box arranged, wafers/biscuits stocked, music speakers packed and Maggie inventory (a story which I will share some other time) topped up. In a nutshell we were all prepared, excited and eagerly awaited the departure. We scheduled to flag off from Delhi at 4.30 am to avoid traffic on the highway, which was expected to be heavy owing to the extended weekend Christmas break.
At the break of dawn, as we all geared up for the journey, our spirits took a deep dive. The bus we pre-booked failed to show up and our incessant attempts to contact the driver failed. We were stressed even before we commenced but my brothers managed another bus within an hour during the wee hours of the morning. Although I am still clueless on how they found an alternative but they say crazy people always find a way out in difficult times.
By 6.30 am, we were loaded on a new bus and got rolling. Our first stop was at Shiva tourist dhaba on the highway where we dug into piping hot aloo and paneer parathas and steaming cup of masala tea. What more do you need on a bright sunny winter morning? As the sun rose high, so did the volume of music inside the bus. Felt like one of those school picnics where all of us would be singing, dancing and laughing at every silly joke being cracked. The countryside was fresh and vibrant with mustard and sugarcane fields (a common sight in the north of India). We invaded a sugarcane field, plucked a few (I am sure the owner would forgive us for this small prank) and devoured it exactly the way it should be eaten, right out of the fields. To avoid delay , we continued without any further halts and reached our destination, Rampur by 2.30pm, just in time to grab lunch at the hotel.
Ours was a lovely hotel with individual cottages and a swimming pool. Although it was not a lavish resort but had the perks of one. The staff was very warm and courteous and I would personally recommend Corbett Leela Vilas for a mid-budget stay in Corbett. Late evening we decided to venture out to the river bank in the vicinity but was informed by the hotel staff about the risks involved. They warned us of the wild animals who usually strolled by the river during these hours , so we decided to play safe and dropped the idea. I always believe, when in a new place, always pay heed to the locals. Never be too adventurous! We decided to stay back and as evening set in, we had a great karaoke night around the bonfire under clear starlit skies.
Day 2- It started with an early morning exploration. A 10 minutes ride took us to the Jhula Pul, a 150 year old suspension bridge over River Kosi. Breath taking sight it was…. Nestled between the mountain ranges a meandering shallow river with crystal clear water, clean rocky waterbed and dense green surroundings. The walk down the river bed in the cold winter morning with the gurgling sound of the water, birds chirping and basking in the morning glory along with the innocent laughter of my cousins, life seemed to have dropped a few years back. Times when we were kids, times when life was not so fast and times when places we lived in, were not spilling with people. Like a bunch of excited kids, we ran around posing for pictures. As the rest of the group walked up the pathway towards the suspension bridge, I along with my younger brother decided to take a short cut across the river bed, only to find a huge wall at the base of the bridge. It was more like a rock climbing and rappelling experience getting over the vertical wall to reach up to the suspension bridge. The view from atop the suspension bridge was magical. The soft rays of the sun breaking through the mist and glistening over the flowing river, nature waking up and unfolding right in front of your eyes….such moments can only be experienced, no amount of adjectives can describe the feeling.
On the other end, situated at a distance on a giant rock amidst the Kosi River was the Garjiya Devi Temple. An ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati, also known as Garjiya Devi, it is one of the most famous temples in Nainital district attracting thousands of devotees during the festivities of Kartik Poornima. We decided to visit it the next morning and headed back to the resort where scrumptious breakfast was waiting.
After satiating our urge of craziness and diving into the chilled water of the swimming pool with the outside temperature at below 10 degrees centigrade, we all got ready for the most awaited jungle safari. Our jeep had arrived at the resort to pick us up and we set forth for the Bijrani zone in the jungle.
In an effort to provide a safe zone to wildlife with tourism activities, the Corbett Tiger Reserve has been divided into four divisions, Dhikala Safari Zone, Bijrani Zone, Jhirna Zone, Durgadevi Zone. The cost for the Jim Corbett safari depends on the zone and starts from approximately INR 3500 for Indian nationals. The safari timings depend on the zones and can be either in the morning or evening. Mostly the morning ones are at 5:45 am, 6:00 am or 6:30 am. Whereas the afternoon, ones are at 1:00 pm, 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm. At any point of time, 30 jeeps are allowed inside the jungle for which permits are required and the duration of safari is three hours. It’s mandatory for every safari jeep to have a guide/naturist along with the driver. Maximum of six adults and two children (below 12 years) are allowed in one safari jeep apart from the driver and a guide.
Into the jungle
Our safari guy had already done the formalities of the permit, so without wasting time, we entered the land where animals ruled. The topography of this zone is primarily of dense Sal forest, large grassland (Chaur) known as the Laldhang Chaur, deciduous vegetation, narrow valley and various channels of the Ramganga river. The Ramganga River is considered as the lifeline of the forest which enriches the rustic beauty of the wild and nourishes the flora and fauna of the Corbett. Our driver told us it was the same place where the Bollywood movie “Kaal” was shot. A small drive and we reached the forest watch tower, which provided an amazing opportunity to sight animals grazing in the grasslands or roaming near the Ramganga river banks. Not to miss this glimpse, I started climbing the stairs which were steep and broken, but was stopped midway by the locals. They warned us its precarious condition and broken stairs since an elephant crashed into the base of the tower a few day earlier.
We drove deeper into the jungle along the dusty trails, crossing streams and enjoying the silence in the atmosphere. On our way we saw giant ant hills, Spotted deer, Sambar deer, Crested hawk eagle, Red jungle fowls, Rhesus monkey, Elephant and quite a few Langurs. Watching the animals up close was a different experience. The thought that we were the visitors in their land, their kingdom and completely at their mercy gave us an adrenalin rush. Our guide was very informative and shared stories of the famous tigress Sharmilee , the current Queen of the Bijrani zone. She was so called because of her shy nature and now aged she was unable to hunt with broken teeth and is often challenged by another tigress. Laws of nature “Survival of the Fittest” is universal 🙂
Our driver and guide were trying to follow bird alarm calls which could ascertain the presence and position of the predator but even after 2 hours we weren’t lucky. He showed us the pug marks on the muddy trail, which proved that Her/His Highness had crossed that path a short while ago. We stopped in that area, switched off the engine and waited. Silence…the only sounds we could hear were the leaves rustling, birds chirping, and our own breath. Once we absorbed the silence, the eerie feeling settled in .We were in the middle of a dense forest in an open jeep, waiting to have a coffee with a tiger, rather scary than funny !
They say, you have to be patient while you are in this jungle. It’s not that you would meet a nonchalant tiger around every other turn, but if you even caught a small glimpse you would be considered extremely lucky. Amongst all the other Tiger Reserves in the country, Jim Corbett residents are the least friendly. We were running out of time, so with a heavy heart, we headed back towards the entrance. As we retraced, the same jungle looked like a painting, it was the golden hour. The mighty sun was retiring for the day, lending a golden hue to the grasslands and a glimmer to the water in streams which made our drive further scenic and memorable. Back in the hotel the day ended with another bonfire, music, cheer, laughter and fun.
Day 3-We had decided to visit the Garjiya Devi Temple in the morning before we started back for Delhi, but most of us woke up late. So, we instead visited the suspension bridge again. Being city dwellers, we had fallen in love with this serene river side.
Check out a small glimpse of the early morning at River Kosi
Come afternoon and our bus engine growled as we settled in it for our journey towards Delhi .We ensured not to have any dull moments, although most of us were a bit worn out due to the hectic trip. We stopped by the mustard fields this time and reminiscent the scenes of an iconic Bollywood movie “Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jayege“, ensuring not to spoil the fields. Despite trying hard to miss peak traffic, we had to battle our way back and finally reached our respective dens for a good night sleep.
Next morning, it was the same mundane schedule- kid’s school, office, traffic, smog , corporate hazards, bills to pay , groceries to buy , food to cook ,in-between a minuscule time for ourselves but no time for the child in us. This trip helped rejuvenate and rediscover ourselves in many ways. We realized that shedding inhibitions is relaxing, letting your crazy side show up occasionally instills courage and confidence. It was a reassurance that in “Craziness” you let go of fear, fear of being judged or of failure. In the lap of nature the animals accentuated the meaning of freedom, taught us the lesson of living life at your own will but at the same time, reiterated the laws of nature. My coffee with the tiger is pending….maybe next time but till then I am happy that they have a safe haven in the Tiger Reserve.
“If the greatest happiness one can experience is the sudden cessation of great pain, then the second greatest happiness is undoubtedly the sudden cessation of great fear”– Jim Corbett in his book “Man-eaters of Kumaon”
Read about rediscovering and rebooting yourself in Hit the Pause
P.S – A warm hug to the crazy team of bros/sis and their families for this wonderful experience. Let’s remain this way ♥♥♥♥ bonded by our crazy genes !