A lush green forest encircled by the Himalayas, the smell of pine and the sound of birdcalls – the Jim Corbett National Park is the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Tiger-spotting topped my priority list. At the same time, I wanted a weekend getaway that offered more than just wildlife – and with elephant rides, angling, river rafting and rappelling on offer, I’m certain I made the right choice.
Corbett National Park is easily accessible by train and bus. I took the Ranikhet express from New Delhi up to Ramnagar and then boarded a bus to Dhikala, which is where most of the resorts and camping sites are located. The wildlife sanctuary caters to all budgets – but if you’re looking to indulge, opt for the private luxury resorts located near the Jhirna and Gajria gates of the national park.
Most resorts here offer great packages that include meals, spa treatments and the jungle safari. The Swiss-style tents and thatch cottages may look basic from the outside but several resorts offer five-star comfort inside.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover a plush four-poster bed, fresh flowers by the bedside, a range of organic toiletries and even an electric blanket that the staff is happy to provide on special request – just in case the whisky by the bonfire doesn’t warm you up enough!
After a delicious breakfast of quail eggs and freshly baked bread, I was raring to go and spot some wildlife. Corbett is a mosaic of landscapes – from dense green grass to gently rounded hills to muddy marshes. The elephant safari offers a fabulous view of the terrain and a much needed respite from the noisy whirr of the vehicles, which are the second option for the game-round.
As these gentle giants plod through the forest, patience is a much needed virtue. While I did spot plenty of monkeys, wild bison, deer, elephants and peacocks initially, four hours into my safari there was still no sign of a tiger – not even a pugmark!
Just as my spirits were flagging, we chanced upon a herd of barking deer, running furiously towards a thicket of trees. Barely ten feet away from them, his tawny orange fur glistening in the sunlight, was the tiger – swimming through the river, his prey clenched firmly between his teeth. It was a glimpse that probably lasted not more than five seconds, but the memory of that majestic beast has been imprinted in my mind. The wait was certainly worth it.
My safari operator suggested that I sign up for a walking tour later in evening, through the periphery of the forest. The guide regaled us with anecdotes of Jim Corbett’s hunting expeditions and even taught me how to recognize and mimic several bird-calls. Having had my fill of wildlife adventures, I headed back to my tent to get a few hours of shut-eye before the next day’s activities.
Corbett is best visited between November and May as the park is closed during the monsoon. Despite the lack of rain during this time, the River Kosi is a frothing, whirling pool of energy along the eastern boundary of the national park. I approached the river-rafting site with trepidation, the swirling water only heightening my fear. But within minutes, once I was bundled into my lifejacket and onboard the raft, my anxiety gave way to excitement. Nothing beats the thrill of whooshing through the current, the icy cold water splashing on your face, the river’s heartbeat pulsating through the tiny raft.
I rounded off my jaunt down the Kosi with rock-climbing and rappelling, followed by a delicious lunch of freshly-caught ‘mahseer’. My guide told me his son had waited nearly ten hours for the fish to ‘bite’ the bait and that fortune would favour me, if I tipped him ten times the amount of time he had invested. I may have left a hundred rupees lighter but took home wonderful memories and the promise to return soon.
How to get there
By Air: Phoolbagh ( Pantnagar) is nearest airport, situated 50 kms from National Park. The nearest international airport is Delhi, which is 300 kms away
By Rail: Ramnagar is nearest railhead. Buses and shared cabs play at regular intervals from the station to the national park
Best Time to Visit: November to June as all tourism zones are open for visitors. Certain sections of the park are closed during the monsoon months of July, August and September
Accomodation: Plenty of private resorts and camping sites operate on the perimeter of the forest. The govt run Dhikala forest resthouse is also a good option but does require you to make a booking several months in advance.