It is 4am in the morning and the eyes are still getting used to the darkness around . An icy breeze tugs at you, awakening the silent waters of the River Kosi flowing through our Club Mahindra resort. Standing on the banks of the river, I watch the moonlit ridges of the mountains, towering above, almost touching the jeweled sky. While some of my fellow travelers are star gazing, a few are attempting night photography. I , for one am just lost in the silence.
Today , however as we board our jeeps, there is a feeling of hope. It is an auspicious moment, as the Bijrani Gate of the Jim Corbett National Park is to be opened today ,months after the monsoons. The other gates, am told are still closed.
As we drive away in the darkness, hoping for an encounter, we have no idea what is in store for us .The experience begins at the government office in Ramnagar.. A couple of members from our group are already waiting there for the last hour to get the requisite permits and documents for the safari. I am told it’s a bit of luck and some push here and there. Then we see the never ending queue for the permits. And that is when I learn a bit about the trappings of tiger tourism . We wait there for what seems like hours.
The sunlight filters through the tall sal trees as we drive along the safari route of this deciduous forests, squinting through the dense foliage . The naturalist in our group Karthikeyan Srinivasan keeps us engaged , spotting birds , spiders and small mammals. . Corbett he says has about 600 species of birds, of the 1200 recorded in India. We spot a mongoose , while our friends see the rare yellow throated marten ,besides langurs and deer . But then the tiger, probably having spotted the jeep load of tourists, has again moved on , leaving its footprints on the sands of time. As we head back, the birders in our group are happy , but the tiger tourists are a tad disappointed .
As for me, Corbett is more to do with the man, Jim Corbett himself than about the tigers he hunted .Corbett National Park, the oldest in India was earlier known as Hailey National Park before it took the name of the famous naturalist, author of several books. And having grown up on his “Man eaters of Kumaon,” I saw the villages and the forests vividly in front of my eyes, as I had imagined while reading the book.
My favourite memory of Corbett is visiting his house, now a museum in Kaladhungi, walking around it, looking at the paintings and imagining him being on call from villagers when a man-eater struck in their hamlets. And as I walk away , his words remain in my mind ..
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