There cannot be a wildlife lover who has grown up without reading Jim Corbett’s book. You do not just read them; you walk along with Jim Corbett as he explains you every scene. If he takes his camera, you take yours out. If he hides, so would you and if he takes his gun out, well…let us not get there!
Visiting Corbett Tiger Reserve for a wildlife lover is almost the same as visiting the Holy Ganga for a spiritual person. Like most of my wildlife expeditions, I went with a very open mind waiting to grasp whatever Corbett Tiger Reserve offers.
My partner Ram and I reached Ram Nagar Railway Station by 5:30 in the morning. This is the closest railway station to the forest and the most accessible one in terms of public transportation and taxi services. It was the month of January when we went and the entire sight of the town was made hazy by a mist and for a moment I raised a hand to my face to check for my spectacles. They were there. This de-focused world was there for everyone and not just reserved for me. It was cold, sorry biting cold! Quick, hasty steps led us to the taxi stand and the closest tea shop.
Our Taxi driver was a rather unique character. In the one hour drive we had from the Railway Station to the place where we were staying, he acted as a story teller. One particular story keeps haunting my mind even now. He went on saying “Sir ji, Madam Ji (‘ji’ denotes respect in Hindi); Three months back, we had a couple just like you. They were here for a holiday and were staying closer to Ram Nagar town in a guest house; but they were fool enough to venture in the wee hours for a walk, thinking it was safe. Suddenly, from nowhere a Tiger pounced on the lady and ripped open one side of the face. She fell on her husband and the Tiger started attacking both of them back to back. The Tigers mouth was filled with blood and only after it attacked enough, it left the spot. Here this is the exact spot of that horrifying incident”. His car came to a sudden halt, as if he had timed his narration as we reached the spot. What a story I thought! Removing the exaggeration bit of our driver and looking at the incident as such, it is always the men who pave way for such conflicts. Why would someone go for a walk on the fringe of the forest?
Speeding east along with the mist, I was disentangling myself from the story that I just heard, struggling myself to focus on the jungle way right ahead of us. I was reminded that much of my life has been spent this way—escaping from cities and taking the forest paths. I wanted to see the glimmering spaces in the distances that lay between big cities, the road that unrolled before me. The landscape was so stark and dramatic, the pebbled paths that seemed to lead nowhere, the bleak and beautiful backdrop that looked as though no one had laid a hand on it, with lively colourations and the dampness on the soil as a result of the mist thats passing by. I have never seen a beautiful forest road like this.
We reached WelcomHeritage Corbett Ram Ganga Resort by 7 AM. The first word that came to my mind as I glanced through this place was ‘Enormous’. You need a real wide-eye to grasp the beauty that lies on all the four sides of the property. The resort is comfortably snuggled in the Shivalik - foothills of the mighty Himalayas in Uttaranchal. To add beauty to the already breath taking resort is the river Ram Ganga that flows right in front to it. Even before someone from the resort came to attend us, there was this gush of wind, that brought along with it all the goodness of mother nature. The Reservation Office is a very simple structure with a huge storage shelf full of book on wildlife and books on Corbett Tiger Reserve. Just within fifteen minutes, we checked in to our room, which was the ‘Cottage’ category overseeing the swimming pool. We were soon given a huge flask filled with tea along with biscuits - the perfect snack to eat in such an environment. The rooms were quaint and the layout was very well planned and executed. At the cost of becoming insane from the chillness, we refused to stay indoors even for ten minutes. All you have to do is to step out of your rooms for a picturesque view of nature.
WelcomHeritage Corbett Ram Ganga Resort is the second oldest resort in this area. Spread across 20 acres of land, it has close to 3000 trees and close to 250 bird species have been recorded by guests and the in-house Naturalists just around the property. It is also the biggest in terms of size and no other resorts in Corbett Tiger Reserve is as big as this.
The owner of the resorts are Mr. Ashok Bahl, and Mr. Madhukar Bajaj. How they bought this piece of land is rather interesting. In the 1970’s, three friends had come to this area for fishing. They found themselves coming back to the very same spot so often that the idea of owning a piece of property popped up in one of their minds. The three of them eventually bought this large piece of land and continued to use it for feeding their fishing passion. We were told that the three friends would erect huge Swiss Tents and camp by this river for few days. It was only in the 1990’s the decision to run a resort was taken.
We wanted to walk for a while just around the property, just to shake off the travel fatigue from our sodding heads, so we requested to be taken for a ‘Trip to the Village’. There are two villages around the Resort and a market that sells very basic groceries and vegetables on certain dates. We hiked uphill for close to 5 Kms and reached a beautiful looking village. Anyone could mistake this village as a movie set. There were hardly 50 homes with a lovely garden space and a cattle shed. Between every house, there was close to 500 metres of open area and the homes were meticulously kept clean. Children who live in this village walk close to 8 Kms everyday to go to their schools and return home. When we asked them if it was tedious to do so, especially considering the walk is mostly on pebbled stones, which could prick your legs constantly, they said walking is the best part they enjoy. The children mostly travel in a group of ten and one can imagine how much fun it is to go as a gang. We were lucky enough to walk with these children as we reached the village and all they spoke was about the forest, their family and pets and sometimes what was taught in the school. The main occupation of the villagers are farming and working in the resorts. One side of the village has been marked aside for farming and this space is also used as cricket ground for young enthusiasts.
The entire visit to the village took us about 3 hours and we were famished by the time we reached the resort. We were politely invited by one of the employees in the resort to the lunch room. Since the property is big, it takes few minutes to reach wherever you want to go. The restaurant looked very elegant with a cosy fire area in one corner. It was then it occurred to us that it will be extremely cold at nights. We were literally treated as the king and the Queen by the Food & Beverage Team. The food that they served tasted like food that Gods would eat. They stuck to Indian food for us, which was what we wanted and we went on feeding until we were tired of eating. Feeling a little guilty for having eaten like a devil, we squeamishly walked out and decided to go for a walk within the property.
The property is spread across 20 acres and has about 30 rooms which are classified into cottages, super deluxe rooms, suites and tents. The other facilities offered in the resort are huge conference halls, banquet hall and a recreation room. There is a huge lawn area which looked like it can be used for playing cricket, volley ball and soccer. The property was highly rich in bird life and within just ten minutes of walking around, you can spot close to 15 bird species. The Ram Ganga river flows merrily with many fish species. We were also told that this area used to be famous for angle fishing. However, this has been banned for conservation purpose. The river was not flowing to its full capacity, it was not flowing with rage either but with a lot of peace. Both the sides of the river had innumerable pebbles and from afar the river and the river bed looked like a parade of angel. Now and then there was a drizzle, adding a dramatic effect. There was a huge swimming pool right in the middle of the property and it felt ecstatic to swim with one of the ranges of the Himalayas to look at as you swim. As we headed back to our rooms, we were greeted by a friendly employee with a flask of tea and cookies again. Can somebody host better than this? No way!
As the dusk drew closer, the Shivaliks were surrounded by mist and slowly the birds were getting back to their nests after a hard days work. We heard constant calls from the nests near our rooms, probably from the chicks - more beauty added to the resort. We slowly started to shiver and took turns to use the heater inside our rooms to keep ourselves warmer. Suddenly, we had this gentleman walking towards our room. He was tall and looked very authoritative, yet happy. He introduced himself as Mr. Surender Pal - General Manager of the WelcomHeritage Corbett Ram Ganga Resort. He took us closer to the river, where they have set camp fire. We could not have asked for more. A lovely evening in one of the worlds best resort, cold yet we had the fire to protect us and in the company of good people.
When we asked Mr. Pal what are the other attractions in the property, he said besides bird watching and visiting the local village, the resort offers trekking and hiking in the nearby Shivaliks. However the key attraction seems to be the drive to a place called Manila, where one van view the Himalayas. The resort has 40 employees and all of them are from the neighbouring villages. The management has been considerate to even take care of the medical expenses of all the employees. Like Mr. Pal, lot of other employees are working in this resort from the day it began to function and whoever has joined later continues to work here, which clearly shows that the employees are contented to be working here. The resort has also adopted two schools and takes care of the operations and maintenance of the school. Besides this the resort involves itself in various community services which addresses the villagers mostly.
We learned from Mr. Pal that the resort has 60% of Indian tourists and 40% of foreigners, mostly from Europe. He believes that the tourists adds life to the place and it gives him immense happiness when the tourists spend time outdoors appreciating nature. The property has also hosted several Maharaja’s, Diplomats and wildlife film makers. The association with WelcomHeritage group happened around the year 2000 and Mr. Pal said that it has been great every since it happened. The employees are exposed to a lot of training in hospitality and it helps them to fine tune their skills. After an hours chat with Mr. Pal and a wholesome dinner, we decided to knock the bed as we had a early morning drive inside the jungle. On the way back to our cottage, Ram pointed out a shooting star on the Shivaliks range and not just that - the sky was filled with millions of stars. It looked so clear, a sight that I have never seen before. Though we wanted to hit the bed, we decided to look for constellations in the stars and did not realise it was 11 PM already!
It was 5 AM when we got on to our gypsy which took us to the main forest gate. There are about 5 distinct forest zones spread across 20 Kms and each have their own entry point. The names of these zones, not in any particular order are Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna, Dhela and Durga Devi. The fifth zone is supposedly a trekking zone that will be inaugurated soon.
Corbett Tiger Reserve is a large valley with a long axis extending from the outer Himalays, referred as Shivaliks, which runs through its middle from east to west direction across Patli Dun to the foothills of the Middle Himalaya. The Shivaliks are distinct from the Himalaya, being formed from the latter’s erosion products of sand gravel and conglomerates, but are scarcely distinguishable here in the Western Kumaon because they are almost falling directly onto the Himalayan chain. The elevation ranges between 400 metre to 1210 metre. Ram Ganga river flows right through the park and attracts visitors immensely. The flora essentially consists of Sal trees, which occupies nearly 75% of the vegetation and the river area is clothed with Sisham and Khair trees. The other notable trees in Corbett are Amla,Ber, Mahwa, Jamun, Bakli and Khetwa. During the monsoons the roads are washed away by heavy downpours and one can notice sudden gush of waterfalls in random places. When the sun does shine, the jungle steams with humidity and the river Ram Ganga shrinks considerably, showing off the pebbled surface on either sides. The park is quite famous for its Elephant and Tiger sightings. However this forest is largely famous for its rich avifauna which includes a variety of woodlands, wetland, grassland birds and an amazing array of raptors. According to a recent survey, the park teems with 110 species of trees, 51 of shrubs, 27 climbers, 37 types of grasses and bamboos and 50 endemic species of mammals, more than 550 species of birds, 26 of reptiles and 7 of amphibians. The total area of the forest is 1288 Sq.Kms (Corbett - 521 Sq.Km, Sonanadi - 301 Sq.Km and Reserve Forest - 466 Sq.Km). Corbett is also the first Tiger Reserve to be established in India.
Safari inside the jungle is either in a gypsy or cantor. In Dhikala zone, the safari happens only in the cantor. There is a restriction on the number of vehicles that gets inside the core area of the forest, just like other forests in India. Every vehicle has a naturalist who very clearly and patiently explains every aspect of the forest. In the three days we stayed, we went to Durga Devi, Dhikala and Bijrani zones. We saw many breathtaking landscapes inside the forest, crossed many streams and rivulets which took off from the main river - Ram Ganga. We also saw close to 60 bird species, Fox, Deers, Elephants and a Tiger.
The highlight of the trip was on the last day of our trip, when Mr. Pal took us to a spot called Manila, from where one can see the Himalayas. We started at 5 AM in the morning and snuggled in the cosy car that Mr. Pal drove. He must have drove for about an hour and stopped in a particular place which was quite open. There it was! The queen of all mountains, the Himalayas looking huge yet elegant. The distance between the mountain range on which we stood and the Himalayas would have been 250 Kms but it looked so near and it is only because of the enormity of the mountain which gave that illusion. We did not take off our eyes for even a minute. Even though Mr. Pal showed us few birds around that area, mainly raptors, we just could not shift our focus from the view ahead of us. Here we were standing in one of the most beautiful place on earth, feeling one with nature. As the sun came up, we could not stay for too long and drove back to the resort to read some material from the library.
Like i had mentioned earlier, the library has some of the great books written by seasoned authors. To be more specific, a lot of scientific data about Corbett was available for tourists who take their trips seriously. I spent the rest of the day reading, bird watching until it was time for me to head for the campfire.
It was our last night in Corbett. Gazing the fire, I was thinking why should i leave the resort? Travel usually implies seeing a place once and moving on; but this became a trip in which I did not want to leave. It is the enormity of the forest and the hearts of the employees in the resort that kept running in my mind. As I walked my way into the darkness, heading closer to the river - i began to recollect my stay in the resort. A clean environment with all the facilities that one can even imagine of, a paradise for bird watching and a breathtaking landscape right outside the room. We spent our time reading, writing, star gazing and appreciating the flora around. Such a quality life we led for four days and it was coming to an end soon. A drop of tear rolled down by cheeks, only to be frozen by the chillness around me. I looked at my calendar to check when I can return back to this place again.
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