Sunday, April 26, 2009

Over to Uttarakhand: Corbett & Kaushiki

Within Corbett National Park

Teak Wood Forest in Corbett

The River Kaushiki (Kosi) flows through Corbett National Park

From Binsar we travelled to Corbett, down south and quite far off. The itinerary was off-course not the best one. Generally people travelling to Uttarakhand from Delhi cover Corbett first as that's the nearest. Nevertheless, our itinerary was quite interesting. Had it not been that way we won't have seen Kosi for so long throughout our journey. Among the various rivers we saw in course of our journey through Uttarakhand we got quite attached to Kosi, Alakananda and Pindar because they were with us for most of the times. Kosi first came by us on the way to Binsar from Naukuchiatal at a place called Khairna. She was with us for the entire stretch of the journey from Khairna to Almora. Next she came very close to us during the stay at Corbett, where our hotel, Hideway Resort, was bang in her bank at Garjiya. Again she was with us on our journey back to Binsar from Auli - from Kausani till Almora.

Kosi derives her name from Kaushiki, a river that has reference in the Puranas. This is different from the notorious Koshi that causes flood in Bihar almost every year.

The journey from Binsar to Corbett, a distance of around 150km, can be covered in 6 hours. We took the route via Almora and Ranikhet. The drive from Almora to Ranikhet is among the many wonderful ones that we took umpteen number of times during our entire Uttarakhand trip. The landscape around Ranikhet is beautiful - nothing special, but still fascinating with all the pine trees perched along the gentle slopes of the mountains, the picturesue villages and the high ranges of the Himalayas and the valleys all around us. The road from Ranikhet towards Ramnagar becomes worse more and more you travel away from Ranikhet. Not only is the condition of the road bad, but it's dangerous too. It traverses a barren and steep valley in a precarious way. There's not much you can do than to just leave your life at the mercy of the driver. At most places the road doesn't have any barricade at the edge of the mountain and a small mistake will land you deep into the valley with remote chances of survival. But despite every thing the entire stretch provides awesome views of the Himalayas. In fact it's on this way that we first saw the snow capped Himalayan ranges of Trishul and Nanda Devi - on the way back from Corbett to Ranikhet. The vegetation changes gradually as you travel more and more away from Ranikhet. Nearer to the Corbett National Park you see more of the tall teak wood forests, in place of the pines in the northern sides around Ranikhet and Almora.

Our hotel, Hideway Resort, is at a place called Garjiya, where many other hotels are huddled together within a small distance on the highway going to Ramnagar. Garjiya is close to the Amadanda gate of the Bijrani tourist zone. For better tourism management Corbett National Park is divided into five tourism zones each having a separate entry gate. As soon as the night sets in the ambiance of the entire area changes. The pitch dark night is sparsely lit only with the lights of the few hotels that stand on the highway. The local people say that seeing a tiger is not a big deal there and it's quite common to come across one anytime even on the road during the night. That's why they generally prefer to move in groups, if at all they are required to travel in the night. It's a very thrilling feeling to know that the tigers are not far away from you. The resort abounds with references to Jim Corbett. There are stories from his life and lot of his pictures on walls. The management of the resort left to stone unturned to keep tiger alive in almost all possible ways.

The next morning we went out for the Safari in the Bijrani tourist zone. We'd an open jeep and it was just too cold in the morning at 6am when the jeep was zooming fast on the highway. Our guide joined us at Amadanda entry gate. I told him that I'd been to Bandipur, Nagarhole and other Tiger Reserves in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu quite a few times but never got to see any tiger. I also told him skeptically that I didn't expect to see tiger even in Corbett. He mentioned that the chances of seeing tiger in Corbett is quite high. It seems that one out of every twenty jeeps sight a tiger every day. That's quite a high ratio compared to one in thousand in Bandipur. I took the comment with a pinch and kept on repeating that I didn't believe that sighting tiger would be that easy a thing. To prove me correct we almost came to the end of the two hours safari without seeing much. The guide consoled me saying that had I stayed at the Dhikala Forest House in the Dhilaka tourist zone then he would have guaranteed me sighting of tigers more than once. Anyway, that's sounded quite familiar because people always seem to see tigers at places where you won't go. We're almost coming out of the core area of the Bijrani zone when suddenly the guide asked the driver to turn back the jeep and enter into the jungle. Within a few minutes we're back to the same trail that we'd just covered an hour back, but now the sound of the jungle was quite different. The deer and many other animals were running like mad, the birds were chirping loudly and the entire jungle seemed to be suddenly awake with so much noise. Our sixth sense was getting active, just then we could really feel something heavy moving just behind the bush in front of us. Nothing had to be told to us to feel that we're within a few metres of tiger. That's when my wife panicked and frantically started asking the driver to get away from the place. Only once did the guide ask us whether we'd like to stay back and then even without waiting for our answers he asked the driver to turn the jeep back. After a while when my wife came to normalcy the guide told us that we're indeed very close to the tiger and we'd have seen it just in a few minutes of time. But then he also told that almost every day someone just faints upon seeing a tiger. He knew that my wife would have surely been the one to faint had we seen the tiger. He told us frankly that the driver has to often run the jeep quite fast in case the tiger gives a chase and it's not too safe to do that when someone faints. So that's how our climax ended in a very shoddy anti climax!! Nevertheless, I'll never forget the hustle and bustle in the jungle when the tiger is around, The whole jungle seems to be alerted by the arrival of the big cat.

People interested in staying in the Forest Rest Houses may refer to this link for further details. The rest houses need to be booked well in advance. Apart from that there is no other accommodation available within the forest. It's recommended to stay at Dhikala, because that's where most people see tigers.

Some good sites about information about Corbett National Park:

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