After a prolonged gap of five months when I decided to pen down another of my travel experiences; I had Corbett National Park on the top of my list. I had visited few wildlife parks before Corbett and visited some after it, but for me none was as entrancing as Corbett. The wildlife experiences and the serenity of those landscapes left a special mark on my mind.
Jim Corbett National Park; sometimes also referred as Corbett Tiger Reserve is the oldest national park in India. The park is located in Nainital district of Uttarakhand and has great ecological features of the Terai region. The park came into existence in 1936 as Hailey National Park and later named as Jim Corbett National Park; in the honor of late British hunter, conservationist and naturalist Jim Corbett. This park is the first one to come under the Project Tiger Initiative; with the goal of protecting endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. The park spans over an area of 520 sq. km and the terrain mostly consists of grasslands, hills, riverine belts, marshes and large lake. The moist deciduous forest mainly consists of Saal vegetation. The flora and fauna of Corbett National Park includes the hundreds of species of plants and the abundant fauna including almost 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and more than 580 species of birds. Together these numbers and diverse variety of terrains; makes Corbett National Park highly rich in biodiversity. The area got its fame as the place of Jim Corbett’s encounters with man-eating tigers and leopards; mentioned in his novels.
In May 2017, when I decided to plan for this park; I had my own reasons and bird watching was on the top of that list. The park and its nearby areas are a virtual haven for birdwatchers as they host the abundant number of migratory and resident birds; some of which are quite rare. Another reason was that the Corbett National Park is one of the few tiger reserves in India which allows overnight stays inside the core zone; in the midst of the wilderness.
Ramnagar city was my first stop on the way to Corbett. The gates of Buffer zones of Bijrani and Jhirna are easily accessible from Ramnagar. In the morning before leaving for Dhikala; I visited the river bed behind the hotel. Here the main attraction was to photograph Crested kingfisher. I didn’t get what I hoped for but was lucky enough to sight River lapwing, Common kingfisher and a pair of Egyptian vultures flying overhead. After a quick breakfast, I started my journey towards Dhikala. Dhikala is the largest zone in Corbett and is famous for its abundance of exotic sightings. I had booked 2 nights stay in the Dhikala Forest Guest House; a highly recommended place for hard core wildlife lovers. The entry gate for Dhikala is Dhangadi gate and the distance to the lodge is 30 km from the gate.
At the entry gate, there is a statue of Jim Corbett after whom the park was named. For me the sighting started the time I entered inside the gate; a bold Crested serpent eagle sitting atop the tree branches. The journey from the entry gate to Dhikala guest house is a small safari in itself, especially for birdwatchers. After the eagle, I got the Long-tailed broadbill; a beautiful bird endemic to the Himalayas and North-eastern India. Few meters away from the Broadbill nest, I got a true lifer and one of the world’s smallest falcons; Collared falconet. The species is found at the Himalayan foothills and is only 18cm in size. The journey also gave me my first ever sighting of an owl; a preening Tawny fish owl. The owl rarely moved its gaze and gave some of the memorable shots of preening and winking. By the time I reached Dhikala for lunch, I was very delighted by the sightings and was eagerly waiting to see the wonders which Corbett held in stores for me.
Being located in the core zone, the services and amenities at forest guest house are limited. But these things get compensated by the landscapes that surround the resort. The river flowing in the backyard of the guest house and the herds of elephants roaming on the banks is a tranquil scene in itself. An important thing to remember for the first-timers who stay at Dhikala resort is that there is almost no mobile network here. You get very patchy network in some areas and that too for limited service providers. Another important thing is the consumption of meat, alcohol and tobacco is strictly banned inside the guest house and in the surrounding area. All the meals served here are vegetarian. Staying outside the rooms at night is not recommended (due to personal experience) as you are staying in the core zone and the jungle is unpredictable in its own ways.
After lunch, I left for my first safari. The Tiger eluded me in the first safari and also the Asian elephant for whom the park is renowned but I was lucky to see a Tusker in the far away grassland. I also got the opportunity to photograph Barking deer or Indian muntjac; an omnivore deer species whose calls sound like barking. The first safari proved to be more of a Bird safari; with sightings of Blue-tailed bee-eaters, Crested serpent eagle, Brown crake, Crested kingfisher and two very well camouflaged Brown fish owls. The highlight of the evening was Pallas’s fish eagle, an endangered eagle species which breeds in Northern India. The pictures came out poor due to low lighting conditions, nevertheless, it was a pleasure to see this magnificent raptor trying to hunt fishes in the river.
The next morning dawned with a sighting of tiger’s pugmark on our way to Dhikala grassland. The grassland is known for its beautiful landscapes and number of elephants and deers roaming around in the wilderness. What I saw at the place was truly a sight to behold. Herds of elephants comprising of females and calves moving towards our gypsies. The elephants have a matriarch society; that is the herd is headed by a cow elephant and usually consists of male calves and females. The adult males are solitary and approach the female during mating season. The calves performed the dust bath in the grasslands; a ritual followed mainly to remove parasites from the skin. I was also lucky to witness the mock fight of two young tuskers. From the grasslands we headed for Sambar road; a place where one can see the elephants crossing the river. Elephants usually consume a large amount of water and also spray it onto the body to keep cool during summers. The crossing was followed by a dust bath of the herd. Later we proceeded for tracking the elusive big cat of Terai; the Royal Bengal Tiger. The tiger sighting in Corbett is a fantasy for many people as the sighting is rare in the park due to tall elephant grass which can easily camouflage the big cat. We headed for the Paar; which means an area beyond the riverbed and known for a legendary tigress Paarwali or Paro.
On one particular turn in deep forests, we came face to face with Paro; walking head-on towards the gypsy. After a few seconds, the tigress sat on the track to take the nap. Getting the roadblock by tiger for 20 minutes and that too in Corbett was pure luck. I clicked several pictures of Paro showing her beautiful expressions and body language. Later, on our way back we saw some more Blue-tailed bee-eaters and River lapwings. In the evening safari, I was blessed to see an adult Tusker in Musth. In Asian elephants, only the males have tusks and hence the name tusker. The Musth is a phase in tusker’s life characterized by a high level of aggression and rise in Testosterone levels which contributes to the highly violent behaviour. Elephants in musth discharge a thick secretion called “temporin” on the sides of the head.
In the next day’s morning safari, we saw a Spotted deer stag rubbing his antlers on the branch. This behaviour is known as rutting and is done to remove the velvet from the antlers. The Sambar road is covered with dense foliage which gives an opportunity for clicking the elephants in the tree canopy. Photographing the dust bathing elephants in canopy illuminated with soft morning sunlight falling on them is a dream frame for any wildlife photographer. From there we left for the beautiful tar road surrounded by plush Saal forest. Here an adult tusker mock charged on our gypsy; an experience which was thrilling as well as quite terrifying in its own. During the evening safari; as we were tracking tiger; we reached the spot where the lone Sambar deer was giving frantic alarm calls for a well-camouflaged tigress hidden in the foliage.
With the sound of gypsies, she lifted her head and looked straight towards us; a cold, stunning gaze of the big feline. She left the bushes as the crowd increased and vanished into more deep vegetation. The day ended with the sightings of a pair of Grey-headed woodpecker and a beautiful Indian pitta. The last night at Dhikala guest house gave me an amazing sighting of a pair of Golden jackals right in the resort at midnight.
On our last safari in Dhikala, we headed for the Sambar road to get the last glimpses of elephants crossing the river in the morning golden light. On our way back to resort, we were lucky to get a glimpse of a male tiger sitting on the opposite river bank and peeping through the dense foliage towards the gypsies. We also photographed a male Kalij pheasant; a pheasant species found at Himalayan foothills. During our safaris, I tried my best to find several of Himalayan bird species like Green magpie, Red-billed leiothrix and others but was not lucky to spot them. On our way back to Ramnagar, for the last time, we came across a huge tusker walking head-on towards us. The Corbett journey ended on a fantastic note of Tawny fish owl’s sighting; perched on his usual tree.
At the end of this journal, I wish to share some important tips. Whenever you are in the jungle, please follow the rules and maintain the silence; especially if you are staying in Dhikala Forest Guest House in the core zone. Don’t get disappointed if you don’t see the tiger. The jungle holds much more beauty apart from tiger sightings, so spend your time watching the other fauna of jungle and above all enjoy the feel of the Jungle.
With this, I bid adieu to all my readers and I will be back soon with another Journal.
Details about Corbett National Park:
Nearest airport: Dehradun Airport (approx. 148 km) or Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi (approx. 248 km)
Nearest railway station: Ramnagar railway station.
Best time to visit: The park is open from November to June for tourists and is closed during the monsoon period.
Species sighted in the park:
Mammals: Asian elephant, Royal Bengal tiger, Spotted deer, Barking deer, Sambar deer, Wild boar, Golden jackal, Rhesus macaque, Gray langur.
Birds: River lapwing, Common kingfisher, White-throated kingfisher, Crested kingfisher, White-browed wagtail, Egyptian vulture, Crested serpent eagle, Pallas’s fish eagle, Collared falconet, Long-tailed broadbill, Himalayan bulbul, Tawny fish owl, Brown fish owl, Blue-tailed bee-eater, Chestnut-headed bee eater, Brown crake, Oriental magpie robin, White-crested laughingthrush, Red-collared dove, Pied bushchat, Black francolin, Spangled drongo, Indian pitta, Grey-headed woodpecker, Kalij pheasant.
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