I have been to Corbett National Park thrice till date, and I can still visit the place a few more times. And this despite the fact that I have never seen a tiger there. The hope, however, still remains. The hope plus the natural beauty of the place is enough to make me yearn for another visit. And the various disparate memories of the place make it the perfect candidate for the time-turner series.
The first time I visited Corbett was with office colleagues. It was probably in October 2004 and I remember the resort we stayed in back then. It was the riverside resort, which is on the banks of Kosi river. I remember the bonfires, standing for hours in the crystal clear waters of the river, our failed fishing attempts. I also remember the safari through the reserve. The jungle was lush green with several streams flowing that we needed to cross. We saw several sambhar, langoors, peacocks, spotted deer, and one barking deer. I remember standing up throughout the safari. Anticipation was the highest in this trip and though we did not see any tigers, there was no disappointment.
I do not really remember the resort we stayed in during our second trip to Corbett, but I do remember the safari. This time there was some disappointment. I think we barely saw a few spotted deer in this trip. VJ thought he saw a hyena or some kind of a wild cat, but we were not able to confirm the sighting. However, the disappointment wasn't because of this. It was because of our companions. Some of us were already disillusioned with safaris and kept laughing and talking loudly. They laughed at us when we tried to stop them. I am not sure whether it was because of this that we did not see any wildlife, but it sure did spoil the experience. I remember returning from the safari in a very bad mood. I wonder why the disillusioned folks bothered to take the safari at all. They could have opted out, and chosen not to ruin the experience for the rest of us who still harbored child-like excitement for the experience.
The third trip to Corbett was with family in 2013. This was perhaps the best trip to the reserve. We rented 3 cottages at Tarika's Jungle Park for one night. Though the resort wasn't on the banks of Kosi, it was at a walking distance from it. We headed to Kosi immediately after we reached the resort. This was the first time my nephew was seeing a river up close. The fact that he could stand in the waters amused him and he gleefully watched little fish frolicking around his feet. Entering mountain rivers is generally not safe, so it is best to ask your resort manager about the safety. Irrespective of everything, entering the river during monsoons is definitely unsafe. Anyways, we came back to the resort before it became dark with plans to return early next morning. In the evening our tour guide visited us and narrated several scary stories about encounters with tigers inside as well as outside the reserve. When we shared our plans of visiting the riverside early in the morning, he warned us not to head there too early. Apparently a tigress with two cubs was habitual of visiting the river in the morning. Thanking our stars that we had shared our plans with the guide, we cancelled our morning plans.
Our next night was booked inside the reserve in Gairal, the less commercialized forest resort. This was perhaps the most thrilling experience. Our tour guide had arranged for two jeeps to take us to Gairal and for our evening and morning safaris. During our evening safari we only saw a few spotted deer and some birds. However, it was eventful as one of our jeeps developed a snag en route. We were stuck in the middle of the jungle with a broken axle. With darkness approaching, the thought of being stranded there was scary. Moreover, the jeep had broken down while crossing a river and there was steep incline on both the sides. This was the first time in a safari that I have prayed for the tigers to not make an appearance. Anyway, our driver tried fixing the problem, but wasn't successful. Now we were seriously scared. The guest house was still far away and the sun was about to set. Our prayers were answered and none of the tigers made an appearance. Another safari jeep happened to pass by and the driver by pure luck had the very spare part that our vehicle required. The repairs took some time, but eventually we were on our way. By the time we reached the resort, it was already dark. Nevertheless, we thanked our stars.
The guest house was interesting too. The only power available was solar power, and we had been informed that there will be no electricity during the night. We immediately placed our mobiles for charging and headed for our vegetarian dinner. Non-vegetarian food isn't allowed inside the reserve lest the scent attracts predators. Moreover, we were strictly instructed to stay indoors after the lights went out. Apparently leopards can't be kept out with electric fences. We did hang out for some time though. River Ramganga flowed right next to the resort. We could hear its gurgles and splashes, and hundreds of fireflies flickered around. I was mesmerized. Believe it or not, I had never seen fireflies before this. Reluctantly we turned in at night. We lay in the dark, listening to the sounds of the jungle. Initially it was just crickets and some night birds. But soon we could hear elephants trumpeting. It was a symphony! And we didn't realize when it lulled us to sleep.
Morning started early. We got ready for the safari and left before 6. We had come considerable distance when our second jeep developed a snag. For some reason, it couldn't run faster than 20km/h. Once again, we found ourselves praying for the tiger to stay away. We somehow managed to reach Dhikala guest house where our breakfast was arranged. We had our breakfast and our crew managed the much needed repairs here. Soon we were headed back to Gairal. The most exciting event of this trip happened now. After traveling some distance, the jeep ahead of us suddenly stopped. Our driver stopped too and we looked on in anticipation. Soon a full grown tusker emerged from the forest just a few meters from the jeep ahead of us. quietly all the jeeps moved back a few metres, a respectable distance from the huge animal. Strangely enough, the tusker too took a few steps towards the jeep. We backed down further. By this time about 10 jeeps had lined up behind us and to our relief all of them were patient, thought many of them weren't able to see or understand what was happening up front. Then came one rowdy driver and he started honking like mad. Crazy fellow. Now, we were really afraid. Tuskers are really moody and dangerous if annoyed. Thankfully, the gentle giant turned towards the jungle and disappeared from sight. We stood still for some time to make sure that we were really at a safe distance from the elephant, and then moved on.
Rest of the trip was spent reliving this incident. And when we look back at this trip, this is really the incident that stands out. Corbett isn't only about tigers. It is about so much more. It is about adventure, natural beauty, serenity, silence, and magic. When you go there, don't let your trip pivot around a tiger sighting. That will just be a bonus, if it were to happen. Instead focus on being with nature. Soak in the surroundings and rejoice. Be a child once more.