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Captivating Corbett

Having grown up reading Jim Corbett’s books (I did not read Rudyard Kipling until recently), I had an image of Kumaon in my imagination. My first trip to Corbett NP back in 2011 only just fueled this imagination. Although we just had one distant audience with the king of this forest, it was the beautiful deciduous Sal forest that I fell in love with. When we were making plans for this year’s vacation, I proposed that we visit Corbett. I wanted my son (who is turning into a birder and a partner in crime for my jungle jaunts) to experience staying in the FRH. As our tentative travel dates were around my much better half’s birthday, I added a surprise destination towards the end of the trip for us to unwind.

As a part of the whole trip we visited parts of Rajasthan to meet the family. Yes, we willingly went to Rajasthan in May. Fortunately, a weather anomaly coincided with our visit and we had thunderstorms and showers for most of our time there. We opted for using public transport (train) to reach Ramnagar. It was a longish but comfortable journey for most parts. At Delhi, the compartment flooded with what can be called as Decathalon models :D, I am guessing all of us were going to the same place. Towards the end of the journey, going to the loo became an adventure in it’s own right. I do not recommend it to people who have a weak stomach or are sensitive to smells/sights.

During the planning phase I had put in a lot of effort to identify the naturalists in CTR. In fact, I now have a running sheet with contact details of naturalists in different parts of the country just for this purpose. Hobbies one can develop. Anyhow, Aadil was highly recommended by multiple people had agreed to be our host for this trip. All the arrangements were made by him, we just had to meet him at Ramnagar station. Once we reached, he took us to Corbett Motel for freshening up and quickly we were off to Bijraani FRH. We were to spend a night in Bijrani zone and had 3 drives in this zone. Aadil had enlisted Zakir bhai (a well known tracker in Corbett).

The dynamic duo (Aadil and Zakir)

While the official checkout time in FRH is 11am, we were lucky that the room allocated to us was ready. We quickly dumped our luggage there and moved on for the safari. The track was quiet but soon Aadil and Zakir spotted some fresh pugmarks. There started our saga of searching the Bijrani zone. Peacocks were everywhere and males were displaying often. Soon we heard the most welcome sound in the forest, alarm calls of a barking deer. It was from the direction of waterhole number 4. We spent time around the area scanning different approaches but lady luck was not with us yet. What we saw, made us happier. Sal flowers were blooming all over, so were Rohini. The forest was transitioning and this itself made surroundings very lovely.

Back in FRH, I realized that the electricity in the camp is only through a generator. It only kicks in from 7PM-10PM. Thankfully the batteries were charged. Lunch was a pretty basic affair, vegetarian fare. You can order eggs, parathas and Meggie noodles to add some verity. The FRH is basic but functional. Do not expect service that you will expect in a resort. Just explore the fenced campus with your camera/bins and you will be entertained. My son spotted a Jackal right next to the fence while walking around the campus.

As is the routine with most national parks in India, we were back on the track after a brief nap. While there were strong calls indicative of a predator, the cat remained illusive. There were herds of elephants in the area, which was unusual. By this time most herds make their way to Dhikala zone. While we were making our way back to waterhole 3, Zakir bhai heard a call from spotted deer. While all other jeeps were waiting around the water hole, Aadil decided to check out the area behind the hillock. While we were making slow progress on that track, Zakir bhai was scanning all the directions. Light was fading fast and I was not expecting anything exciting. All of a sudden he said: “Tiger on the road, Tiger on the road”.

There she was, walking away from us disappearing into the nullah. As we moved around, the duo (Aadil and Zakir) stopped at a vantage point where they expected her to come out. I was told that it’s once of the cub from a tigress called Luma and she is the granddaughter of legendary Sharmili. Soon she appeared from the bushes and started walking head on towards us on the track. A private sighting with no other jeeps around. What more can one ask for in a tiger reserve. Alas, our joy was short lived. Another jeep appeared on the same track and the noise drove her inside the bush. We moved to another bend in the road and started waiting, keeping distance from the other jeep. While we expected her to appear on the road, a little rustle to our left showed her to be approaching us directly. She was probably as surprised as we were at this unplanned close encounter. I certainly was not prepared for it and had my big lens. Well, a few images of this chance encounter is what I have.

Next day we spent some time tracking pugmarks in a different area of Bijrani, but got back with excellent views of a group of great slaty woodpeckers and pied hornbill. After the morning safari we quickly exited the park, to make a few quick purchases in Ramnagar before our journey to Dhikala. A quick and timely lunch in Corbett Motel was sorted by Aadil bhai in advance. We finished lunch and started for Dhikala during the afternoon. It was hot, but being in open gypsy has it’s own perks. We finished formalities at the Dhangrahi gate and started the scenic drive to Dhikala.

To be continued…

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