A childhood spent in Madhya Pradesh – the setting for Jungle Book- should’ve prepared me for anything the jungle might offer- including the experience of staring straight into the mesmerizing golden eyes of a tiger.
One of India’s finest wildlife reserves, the Corbett National Park is a great place to see wild boar, wild elephant, spotted deer, birds, langurs, and – if you’re lucky – the Royal Bengal Tiger. What’s better is that it’s just 247 km from the national capital, New Delhi. Corbett lies in the Himalayan foothills- dense forests, thorny lantana, and vast grassland. The Ramganga River, full of fish and long-snouted gharial crocodiles, runs through it all.
Established in 1936 as the Hailey National Park, Corbett was later renamed after James Corbett (not the boxer!), a hunter who endeared himself to the local people by ridding them of many man-eaters during the early 1900s.
Anyway, more about what you can see here. I’ve been twice to Corbett, and both have been memorable experiences. The first time, we, en route to the hills, stopped for a day at Corbett. In the afternoon, a jungle ride was suggested, atop an elephant (very normal in India: it’s the best way to see the jungle up close). Lurching about fairly comfortably, we crossed the river, past a browsing herd of elephants and into the forest. It’s eerie: quiet, but not quite, and with occasional gory surprises, like a half-chewed deer leg. Our mahout, a cheery sort, was bent on `showing’ us a tiger, and when he’d failed, even after an hour, he was most disappointed.
We drifted out of the jungle, when a mahout on another elephant called to say there was a tiger in the grass further on. Our mahout got very excited, of course, and he egged our elephant on to within about ten feet of the tiger.
It’s a grand – and scary – sight. This tiger was sitting sprawled in the grass, staring us straight in the face, with a supercilious expression, as if it gave a damn whether we came closer or not. "No harm in bringing this elephant close," whispered our mahout. "These two have met before, and my elephant gave this tigress a kick she’s not forgotten yet." A few minutes- it seemed like an eternity- and the tigress got up lazily, then stiffened and charged a herd of nervous deer. They escaped, and the tiger dashed off into the jungle.
The second time round in Corbett, we never saw any tigers, although one roared outside our cottage. And we did get chased by a rogue elephant, and a terrible flash flood through the night swept away the stone-and-mud roads out of the park. Trying to leave Corbett, we ended up having to build the road ourselves, piling up stones, getting our fingers squashed- and taking five hours to cover 12 km.
Adventure? You can be sure Corbett’s all of that!