The Secrets of Jim Corbett National Park

“The time I spent in the jungles held unalloyed happiness for me, and that happiness I would now gladly share. My happiness, I believe, resulted from the fact that all wildlife is happy in its natural surroundings. In nature there is no sorrow, and no repining. A bird from a flock, or an animal from a herd, is taken by hawk or carnivorous beast and those that are left rejoice that their time had not come today, and have no thought of tomorrow.”
― Jim Corbett, Jungle Lore

The thrill of being inside a national park with forests, grasslands and streams; observing wildlife in their natural surroundings; listening to the calls of the birds and discovering the unexpected is an incredibly exhilarating experience. So engaging and immersive is this experience that you become a part of nature, and you emerge with it and cease to exist as an individual. If you want to experience this up close, then the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand is a good choice.

During its inception, the park was called Hailey National Park. Subsequently, it was rechristened in honour of Jim Corbett, a naturalist and author, who had killed some of the man-eating tigers in Kumaon region. You can even visit his winter home in Kaladhungi, which is now converted into a museum. In 1973 when the Government of India launched Project Tiger; this park was the first to become a part of the project. It is no wonder that the Tiger and Jim Corbett National Park have become synonymous. Did we see the Tiger at Jim Corbett? Read on to find out.

After exploring Binsar, Kausani, Ranikhet and Nainital, we arrived at our resort at Dilkhuli near Kosi River. En route, we had stopped at Jim Corbett’s winter home which is now converted into a museum. The resort had cottages and gardens with lots of trees. The river Kosi flowed at the back of our cottage, and the kids even enjoyed a dip in it. We retired to bed early as the next morning we were to go on a Jeep Safari inside the park.

The park has six eco-tourism zones, and we were to explore the Bijrani zone. We reached the park and saw jeeps lined up to gain entry into the park. Wildlife enthusiasts with their zoom cameras, families like us with young children, youth with the customary attire of military green khakis, sunglasses and binoculars-the excitement was palpable. We were introduced to our guide and got into our open 4WD all charged up about visiting the national park and keeping our fingers crossed that we would sight the ‘Big Cat’. The gates opened and soon one by one the jeeps zipped into the park.

We found ourselves on a track that meandered through the wilderness of forests, grasslands and occasionally streams too. Perched on a tree were the Black-necked Storks. One of them flew in the sky, perhaps disturbed by the noise of the passing jeeps. A Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker was busy hammering the trunk of a tree in search of beetles. A dule of fluffy Spotted Doves was perched on a dry tree trunk. Spotted deer were camouflaged behind the tall grass, and it’s only when they moved that one could easily spot them.  Hoopoe, Pied Bushchat, Red-vented Bulbuls, Long-tailed Shrike were some of the other birds we saw. A monkey scampered on a tree while a black-faced Grey-Languar looked ominously in the distance.

Our jeep then came to a halt at a spot which had a watchtower. The jeep’s noisy engines were turned off so that in silence, the possibility of seeing a tiger would be greater. We were asked to climb the tower to get an aerial view of the park. No luck with tiger sightings. The driver started the ignition, and we soon drove further into the park. We soon spotted a three feet tall anthill in the thick vegetation. Our guide explained how this nest has numerous tunnels and chambers where ant colonies reside.  

Anthill @Rafiq Somani

On a tree was a large brown and white feathered Crested Hawk-Eagle with menacing yellow eyes that searched the terrain for some prey. Indian Robins, an electric blue White-throated Kingfisher and lots of birds were spotted. Time had ticked away, and our Jeep Safari had come to an end. And as luck would have it, we didn’t spot the Tiger. We checked with the guide at which time of the year the probability of seeing the Tiger was the highest, and he replied February. That’s a difficult time for families with children to visit as schools are on.

We returned to our resort and spent some time discussing the Jeep Safari and all that we had seen and missed. The kids were a little disappointed at missing the chance to see the big cat in the wilderness. We had heard that since the jeeps make a lot of noise, this in some way alerts the wildlife of human presence and they prefer to avoid us! We then decided to try our luck with an Elephant Safari which would take us over the Kosi river into the adjoining forests. The elephant isn’t noisy like the jeeps, plus it can go on narrow pathways which the jeeps can’t access. So, the chances of seeing wildlife are higher explained the organizer of the Elephant Safari. The Tiger or not at least the experience of going on an Elephant Safari would be enjoyable to the kids.

An Elephant ride is almost always thrilling and, in some ways, makes you feel like a Maharaja! The children were initially a bit nervous but soon began to enjoy the Safari as the elephant approached the riverbank. A congregation of Black-necked Storks waded through the water in search of fish. Suddenly something moved behind the grass, and we spotted two foxes which hurriedly disappeared into the wilderness.

Black-necked Storks @Rafiq Somani

A flock of black and white Pied Kingfishers were sitting on rocks near the riverbed. They would fly over the waters, spot a fish and then dive in to catch them. The electric blue White-throated Kingfisher is more commonly sighted, so watching the less colourful, though no less attractive, Pied Kingfishers was a treat. A flock of ash-coloured Jungle Babblers were creating a commotion on a tree. These boisterous birds are chatterboxes that are found in a group and referred to as the seven sisters.

We crossed the river and were now on the opposite bank of the river which had a forest. A Grey Languar with its cute baby close to its chest, brought some cheer on the kids’ faces. The elephant mahout plucked some berries from a tree and asked us to savour them. He kept sharing details of some of the encounters he had had with the wild. One of the most evasive creatures that roamed the forests but which he had never seen was the bear!

Grey Langur @Rafqi Somani

Just then, the elephant froze, refused to move ahead and made an awkward sound. It was something it has seen which had caused all the discomfort. The mahout pointed at the ground and there hidden under the foliage was a Python which seemed almost 10 feet long or more! We hadn’t seen anything like this before and watching the reptile, so close was simply astonishing. The children were alarmed and started telling the mahout to hurry and take us somewhere safer.

Python @Rafiq Somani

The mahout then cajoled the elephant into taking a turn and moving away. A handsome Brown-fish Owl perched on a tree with yellow eyes stared at us. It was almost as if it said, “I know you’re watching me, as I watch you!” As we rode further, I saw something on the floor. A python! Was I hallucinating? No, we were lucky to have spotted another python in a matter of minutes, and this time we could see its head unlike earlier. The kids were now beginning to get scared as they felt the jungle was now infested with snakes and owls- all scary creatures straight out of a horror storybook.  

Brown-fish Owl @Rafiq Somani
Python @Rafiq Somani

The elephant rode over the river, taking us to the opposite side, and the children heaved a sigh of relief. We spotted Red Lapwings and River Lapwings sauntering around. A villager with horses in tow crossed the river. The Black Drongo with a long tail, Spotted Doves and the tiny Munias were some of the other birds we spotted.

Villager with horses @Rafiq Somani

Our Elephant Safari had come to an end, and although we hadn’t spotted the Tiger, we were not at all saddened. We had seen pythons, owls, foxes, and so many other creatures that we hadn’t expected.

Going to Jim Corbett National Park in search of a Tiger may leave you a tad disheartened. After all, seeing one is a matter of chance. But the offerings it has in terms of the exotic flora and fauna is truly worth a visit. Surrender yourself to the experience, without any expectation, accept with open arms whatever comes, and you will not be disappointed!  This was a secret and a life lesson the Jim Corbett National Park had revealed to us.

Note: This trip to Jim Corbett National Park was made several years ago when we had a basic camera, so the photographs are not high resolution. Thanks for your understanding.

GETTING THERE-
Nearest Airport: Pantnagar Airport, which is 132 km away, is the nearest airport. The other option is IGI Delhi which is 247 km away. From here you can take a train to Ramnagar railway station which is close to the park or hire a car.
Where to Stay: We stayed at Corbett Wilds at Dilkhuli near the Kosi River. Dhikala forest lodge inside the park is also an option you can explore. You can do a net search for an array of staying options depending on comfort and budget. 
Travel Tip: Make bookings for your Jeep Safari well in advance. Do carry your ID Cards for the Safari Permits.

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