Corbetta National Park.
Corbetta National Park, based at Ramnagar, 250 km northeast of Delhi and 63 km southwest of Nainital, is one of India’s premier wildlife sanctuaries. Founded in 1936 by Jim Corbett and others as Hailey National Park, the first in India, it was later renamed in his honor and is one of the largest wilderness areas in the country. Nearly all of the 521 square kilometers scattered across the foothills of Kumaon are protected by a buffer zone of mixed hardwood forests and giant trees that provide an impenetrable cordon for wildlife. Much of the 330 square kilometer Central Zone in the heart of the reserve is inaccessible to visitors and hiking safaris are only allowed in the border forests.
Corbett Park is primarily known for its big cats, especially tigers – it was the first reserve to be included in the Tiger Project in 1973 – but native tigers are extremely difficult to see. The possibility of finding a tiger is far from guaranteed, and if it happens, one should look at it as incredible luck. Nevertheless, while all other places have had problems with this project and the very survival of tigers in India is in grave danger (see Contexts), Corbett Park at least seems to put the needs of tigers above the needs of other wildlife and tourists, and here it is claimed that poaching is not allowed in the reserve.
The park is home to a wide variety of other animals. Large herds of elephants have been trapped inside the borders ever since the construction of the Ramgang Reservoir blocked migration routes that previously stretched all the way to Rajaji National Park, 200 km to the west. The best place to see them is around the picturesque Dhikala camp near the reservoir, especially in spring when the water level drops and the animals have more room to roam. The reservoir is home to populations of the gavial, a long-legged, fish-eating crocodile, and the mager, a large marsh crocodile, as well as other reptiles. Jackals are very common, and wild boars run through the camp in the evenings. The grassy steppes around Dhaikala are home to various species of deer, such as the spotted deer known as chital (axis), hog deer, and the larger zambar. Rhesus and common langurs, representing the two major classes of Indian monkeys, inhabit the park in great abundance. Birds range from water birds such as the mottled kingfisher to raptors such as the crested serpentine, Pallas’s fishing eagle (?) and the Himalayan greyheaded fishing eagle.
Rules of Attendance
All visitors to Corbett National Park must obtain permits from the park’s administrative center in Ramnagar. Indians pay less for foreign visitors. Currently, the first three days in Dhaikal, excluding meals and lodging, cost Rs. 350. Each additional day costs Rs. 175. Hiring a minibus to travel through the park costs 250 rupees, a private car costs 100 rupees and a motorcycle costs 50 rupees. The use of a video camera costs 5,000 rupees. Elephant rides cost 100 rupees per person or 400 rupees per elephant.
Note that Corbetta Park is closed between June 16 and November 14, when monsoon rains flood the river beds and interrupt unreliable road connections.
How to get there
There are frequent buses to and from Ramnagar from Nainital and Ranikhet, 112 km to the north. Buses from Delhi, which last eight hours, arrive every half hour or so; there is a Delhi Transport Corporation half-lux flight, and most alternatives are very unassuming. The only direct train to Delhi leaves at 8 p.m. and arrives at 6:30 a.m., making endless stops along the way. To take a faster train or change to one of the trains of other directions, you have to go to Moradabad. The nearest airport in Pantnagar, 80 km southeast is rarely used.
The nearest of the various entrances to the park, located 1 km from the center of Ramnagar, is Amdanda on the road to Bijrani Camp, which is a distance of 11 km and is a base for day hikes. The Dhangarhi Gate, 18 km along the highway north of Rinikhet, provides access to the northern and northwestern parts of the park, stretching along the Ramganga River valley, as well as to the main camp, Dhaikalu.
Jeeps, which are the most convenient way to get around the park, can be rented for about Rs. 800 per day at Ramnagar through KMVN Tourist Lodge (tel. 05945/85225) and other agents such as Bharat Hotel (tel. 05945/85775) near the bus stand. There are no more public buses from Ramnagar to Dhaikala, and a guided bus ride is expensive at Rs. 1,200. Jeeps, which can always be hired, are cheaper at about 1,000 rupees for 24 hours.
KMVN Parvat Tours (tel. 05942/35656) arranges cheap package tours (from Nainital) to Corbett Park from Rs. 165 per person per day.
Jim Corbett – cannibal tiger hunter, photographer, interesting conversationalist and writer – was born in Nainital to an Anglo-Irish family. A childhood spent at Corbett’s winter home in Kaladhungi (halfway between Nainital and Ramnagar, where there is now a rather disappointing memorial dedicated to him) shaped his close communion with nature and his instinctive understanding of the jungle. After working on the railroad, he joined the Indian Army in 1917 at the age of 40 and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and took part in the fighting in Flanders at the head of the 70th Kumaon Company.
Known locally as “Carpet Sahib,” which was a mispronunciation of his last name, Jim Corbett was called upon again and again to rid the Kumaon hills of cannibal tigers and leopards. Normally avoiding human contact, these animals become cannibals when weakness, which may be due to old age or wounds, renders them unable to hunt their usual prey. Many of those killed by Corbett had festering wounds caused by porcupine needles driven deep into the muscles of their paws; tigers seem constantly to fall prey to a simple protective trick of porcupines, when they stagger backward with their horrible needles exposed.
One of Corbett’s most memorable exploits was the killing of the Rudraprayag leopard, which accounted for 125 human lives between 1918 and 1926 and was bold enough to carry its victims right out of villages; he also put an end to the activities of the Chowgarh tiger, the Tall of Des and the Mohan ogre. Corbett described his adventures in such books as My India, Jungle Lore and Man-Eaters of Kumaon; and Martin Booth’s Carpet Sahib is a fine biography of the remarkable man. Awarded the Order of the British Empire, which was a recognition of his life’s work with nature, Jim Corbett was unhappy in India after Independence and moved to East Africa.
Located in the rich terai agricultural belt, on the southeastern edge of vast forests, the bustling market town of RAMNAGAR is the main administrative center of Corbett National Park and Project Tiger. There is little to do around Ramnagar itself, except for fishing (October 1 to June 30). At Lohachaur, 15 km north along the Kosi River, good anglers have a chance to catch the legendary masheer fish, the formidable pugnacious river carp. Fishing permits should be obtained from the Tiger Project office in Ramnagar; most hotels also arrange all-inclusive fishing excursions.
Although most tourists head directly to the park in Dhaikalu as soon as they arrive, Ramnagar also has lodging available. The KMVN Tourist Lodge (tel. 05945/85225; 1 – 5), next to the Tiger Project offices, is not too bad at all, with shared bedrooms as well as unassuming double rooms, and the Everest guesthouse (1 – 3) by the bus stand has a selection of decent rooms at good prices. On the main street across from the bus stop is Govindas, a surprisingly good restaurant with a variety of cuisines and the best Indian food. The Corbett Jungle Outpost across the street from the Tourist Lodge, which is more of a bar than a restaurant, is good for a cold beer, but they also serve food.
The main camp of Corbett Park, DHAIKALA, beautifully situated above the Ramgang Reservoir and the forested hills behind it, is 40 km northwest of Ramnagar. Since one can only go outside the camp with armed guards, riding an elephant, or in a car or jeep, the whole place somewhat resembles a military camp. Lodging ranges from 24 beds in Log Huts (100 rupees) and various other spartan huts to more comfortable bungalows and huts in which two people sleep. Food is served in the dining room, either on a daily basis, with higher prices for Western food, or on a janta (per person) basis. There is also a dhaba, which is frequented by park staff, where they sit and talk about their adventures and recent animal sightings. The food here is fantastic (apparently it’s what attracted the last Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to come to the park again and again), although you have to order it in the morning if you’re going to have dinner here. There is also a library and reading room where wildlife films are shown.
You can usually see lots of animals and birds from the observation tower near the waterhole 1 km from the camp; bring binoculars, stay still, don’t wear brightly colored clothes, and don’t wear perfume. Chitalas, zambars, and various other species of deer inhabit the savannah prairie known as the maidans, located behind the camp to the south, and tigers sometimes enter here in search of prey. During the two-hour elephant rides (100 rupees per person, fifty percent less for Indians; in theory, they are organized on the principle of “first come, first served”) this sea of grass is explored, elephants rarely go deeper into the jungle behind it; try to convince your mahaot (elephant mahout) to go there, as they can be truly magical. Set out at sunset or dawn; in the heat of the day you will probably encounter nothing but deer among the tall grass. Places to see tigers are few and far between; consider yourself lucky if you see fresh tracks.
On the way to Dhaikala from Dhangarh Gate, the road passes by a majestic forest – if you have your own vehicle, stop at the High Bank lookout point and try to see a crocodile, or even an elephant, by the river below. You can book rooms at the Sultan , Gairal and Sarapduli forest guesthouses on the road through the Tiger Project office, but you’ll have to take care of your own food and there’s no electricity here. The bungalows are surrounded by dense forest; since foot traffic is limited, you can only see wild animals if they get close or wander into the area. The beautifully situated Kanda Pension (5) sits on a hill above the Ramgang Reservoir and Dhaikala.
On the outskirts of Corbett Park, a number of self-supported hotels have sprung up that provide a high standard of lodging — at impressive prices — as well as guide guides for expeditions into forests that can be as rich in wildlife as the park itself, and there are no restrictions. The most secluded is Ramnagara Resort, located 13 km from the main road from Mohan, impossible to get there without pre-arranged transportation.