(Excerpted from a travelogue published in Deccan Herald)
If you come to Jim Corbett National Park with the single-minded aim of sighting the tiger you may be disappointed. Corbett with an area of 1318 square kilometers and 520 sq km of core area has the highest tiger population ( over 150 according to some estimates ) but you have to be extremely lucky to see any.
But this doesn’t seem to bother the thousands of tourists who flock to this oldest Indian national park from all parts of the country. Tiger unfortunately is often the last thing in the mind of the Jim Corbett tourist.
As I book myself into a resort located on the fringes of the park it soon becomes clear that free wheeling revelry is what most visitors come here to enjoy. Corbett is barely 260 kilometers away from New Delhi and offers a quick getaway for the harassed city dwellers. And they come in all shades and stripes. Most of them are families, many college students and others office goers and general picnickers who seem to be more keen on the swimming pools and the dj consoles of the resorts than on anything of nature.
“That’s what the tourists want so we have to play it’’ says my resort manager when I enquire about the loud music being belted out every evening in the resort.
But it is not just my resort. Joining the chorus are many others. I can hear the distant boom of the music (Sheela Ki Jawani) across the forest valley well after light out. Tourists drink and dance till wee hours of the night. And in the morning they don’t care too much if they miss the safari.
True tiger lovers are aware of this rampant commercialization at Jim Corbett and avoid these luxury resorts mushrooming on the fringes of the park. They instead book themselves into the modest rest houses deep in the park itself.
The rest houses run by the Uttrakhund government’s forest department have very basic amenities at a very nominal price but the experience is priceless. Here you exchange the pulsating beats of the disco with the eerie sounds of the jungle. Those who stay here usually get lucky and have many tales of their tiger sightings. The others usually get to see the usual – tiger footprints, markings on trees and dried tiger feaces. Jim Corbett National Park has been divided into five zones with each zone having an entrance gate. Each of these zones has the forest rest houses. Dhikala rest house is the most popular choice among wildlife enthusiasts. To book oneself here its best to make reservations much in advance. The others are Sarapduli rest house, Sultan rest house, Gairal rest house, Khinnanauli rest house and Kanda rest house.
The best time to visit Jim Corbett or any other National Park for that matter is the peak of summers when the pools are few and animals are forced to head for the few water bodies that remain. The forest undergrowth is also less dense making for easier sightings. With the mid-day temperatures touching 45 the tiger can often be seen at the edge of a lake or pond half immersed in water.
Its usually after the sighting of the tiger that one starts looking at other animals in the forest. Until then everyone gives a cursory look at the deers, the elephants and the other abundant animals and birds at the park. The safari drivers and guides know this too and they will drive past the animals in the mad chase for the elusive tiger.
For those who don’t come with the tiger or nothing approach, Jim Corbett is a haven for wildlife. There are over 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species. Jim Corbett is also a paradise for plant life with over 488 different species of plants including 110 different tree species. With this thick green cover is it any wonder that the tigers and many other mammals at the park remain elusive to the safari tourists?
If you are in Jim Corbett for many days , the authorities make sure you enter a different zone each day. Which is great because you get to visit a different landscape each time. Unlike Bandhavgarh National Park or Ranthambore National Park the tigers in Jim Corbett are not identified by any nick-names .
Its not just the tourists most of the villagers living on the edge of the park have only heard stories of the tiger and the leopard but never actually seen any. The tiger- man conflictin Jim Corbett is the least -a far cry compared to the beginning of 20th century when its founder made a reputation for himself killing the dreaded man-eaters. Tigers however do sometimes wander off on the roads and highways in the buffer areas. During my stay a tiger had been hit by a speeding car and a massive search party had been launched to track the tiger to see how grievously it had been injured.
How to get there:
By Train: The nearest train station is located at Ramnagar. Ranikhet Express is one of the regular trains operating from Delhi to Ramnagar.
By Road: The road journey is best only if you are driving an SUV. The roads for long stretches of kilometers are riddled with potholes. From Delhi to Jim Corbett the best road route is New Delhi- Hapur- Muradabad- Ramnagar.