If you happen to get lucky, a snarling, stereotypically bloodthirsty tiger will spot you and haunt your dreams forever….I missed that experience, sadly. But did I enjoy the rest of Jim Corbett? You bet!
By Harshvardhan Kumar
The first thing that strikes you about Corbett isn’t how huge it is—no, that would be the second thing. It’s the tremendous hush that hits you, whooshing within your senses, swirling around like a whirlpool of fireflies. It is, perhaps, the most accurate way of describing the sound of discipline. Sort of like Brad Pitt’s “Fight Club,” you are first taken through a set of rules which, if not followed to the T, can result in heavy fines and a possible jail sentence, depending on how callous and foolhardy you plan to be. No talking loudly, absolutely NO stepping off the open-top jeep and, in case of a tiger-spotting, no making eye contact with it.
Jim Corbett, the Englishman who lent his name to the park, was, ironically, most famous for being a tiger hunter—there’s a list of man-eaters he is recorded to have killed. Towards the later part of his stay in India, he cut through miles of redtape to conserve the natural wonders of our land. It is warming to note that his life’s work wasn’t in vain—the park is so well maintained, it’s slightly overwhelming.
Inside the Forest
The open jeep scuds into the forest, and our guide begins reeling off a list of wildlife to watch out for, dropping subtle hints that he can identify more species than anyone else. When you realise that the safari is equal parts nature drive and ego trip, you’ll have a smile pasted upon your face for the rest of the ride.
Corbett, I soon learn, has a habit of keeping you in awe of it. With every bend in the road, you come across some awesome sight or the other; a hulking Sambhar deer lurking in the shadows or a petite barking deer imitating a wild dog to scare away the jungle cats. Langoors will pop up between branches and, if you aren’t careful, birds of all sizes will attempt to tear your binoculars off. It’s a role reversal of sorts, where you are a guest in the animal kingdom.
Then there’s the scenery itself, a rugged wonderland that will singe every sense; from looming treetops to colourless shrubs, and manmade observation towers to natural dams and bridges, sights to wake up the most jaded of travellers.
The two-hour safari is filled with interesting sights that would find home in post-apocalyptic art for sure: dried up rivers with ferreting animals, desperate for a drop to drink; herds of wildebeest that seem to have developed technology-sensors, running away from a flash bulb or anything that looks even remotely scary. There are elephants, too, massive ones that block your entire path for minutes on end; some, sadly, are used for safaris, something that didn’t quite go down well with me.
The entire Corbett stretch is a good 1318 sq. kms., with approximately 500 sq. kms of ‘Buffer Area,’ which is where the safari takes you. The remaining 800 sq.kms of ‘Core Area’ is off-limits for visitors. Deep in there is where all the wildlife—and action is. But guess what—you can get beyond the boundaries of the Buffer Area. Only about 20 kms away from the reserve is a gorgeous tourist hotspot, known simply as the Corbett Falls. Barely 15-20 ft in height, the falling water culminates in a waist-high whirlpool. Scores of tourists and locals strip off and bathe under the falls while the water-wary, like me, can get a birds-eye view of them from, get this, right on top of the falls! Watching the play of rock and water from above is an experience of a lifetime.
And if you crave adventure, just scoot behind the rocks to discover a new terrain, covered up with leaves and twigs, that will literally take you places. Be warned, though, that it is extremely dangerous to do so after or near sundown.
Next time, I hope to be within a whisker of a tiger…