New Delhi, India
June 13, 2011
This time, even though I’d warned my husband that the museum was nothing great, we decided to visit it anyway – simply because Corbett is rather short of sights to see during the afternoon hours when animals take themselves off into cooler hideouts.
The museum lies just inside the Dhikala gate of the park. Between the museum and the gate is the Reception and Enquiry Office, where you have to go and buy tickets for the museum: Rs 10 per person if you’re Indian, Rs 50 per person if you’re not. Having bought our tickets, we went on, through a yellow-painted arch (on which ‘MUSEUM’ is written big and clear), to the semi-circular building that forms the Visitor Centre and the Museum. A plaque outside announced that the museum had been renovated in 1996, but frankly, after a tour of the modest range of exhibits inside, I don’t think much has changed in the years since I came here last.
There isn’t any really well-defined structure to this museum. There are four smallish halls, each with displays along the walls and here and there in the centre too. The displays are varied and other than the fact that they’re all mainly about the environment, they have often little in common. For instance, one display is an illustration of a food chain – just a painted picture that’s been labelled. There are other paintings too: for example, a large one of prehistoric people in Corbett facing up to elephant ancestors (mammoths? I have no idea; they had the curvy tusks one sees in pictures of mammoths, but not the long hair. A biologist may know better, or there could have been a decent sign alongside explaining what the mural was supposed to be about, what wildlife prehistoric humans in this area might encountered, what remains of prehistoric life have been found here, and so on, but nobody had bothered to do anything of the sort.
Instead, what there are, are sad-looking, sometimes dusty and moth-eaten stuffed animals (the tigers and the man-eating leopards, plus a two-day old baby elephant that died in an elephant stampede are perhaps the best preserved of the lot). There are maps of the park, showing buffer, tourist and core zones, the main water bodies, the locations of Forest Rest Houses and so on. There are maps of the state of Uttarakhand, with the locations of the different wildlife preserves in the state. There are boring lists, in some cases with photos, of the wildlife (including vegetation) to be found in Corbett, and there are some somewhat gruesome exhibits. I can live with the tiger skeleton and the elephant skulls (one each of a tusker, a cow and a calf), but the rather grubby foetuses etc floating in jars of formaldehyde were really not up my street.
If you’re in Corbett for a day or so and have absolutely nothing better to do, you might visit this museum. The only thing I can say for it is that there was a museum guide, a man who limped badly and walked with a cane but obviously knew a good bit about the exhibits and the park. He, of his own accord, offered to show us around the museum and helped make it vastly more interesting for us than it would have been otherwise. And then, just as we were pondering whether he expected baksheesh or not, he moved back behind the counter, obviously back to whatever work he’d been doing. A very pleasant surprise. But he didn’t seem to know any English, so unless you know Hindi, that’s not going to be much help.
From journal Deep in the Jungle: Corbett National Park