The Corbett National park wasn't just the home of tigers, it was the home of man-eaters. In this enormous patch of wilderness were the great man-eaters of India's past who were brought down by white-hunter turned conservationist Jim Corbett. Now tourists shoot with cameras rather then rifles and there are still tigers and panthers (leopards) in the vast park which stretches for 500 miles with the Himalayas as a spectacular backdrop.
The terrain encloses plains, rivers, jungle, lakes and vast acres of sal forest inhabited by the creatures of India. You may get to see tigers (although rare due to poaching), panthers, wild elephants, chital, pythons, wild boar, jackals, fish-eagles and a unique crocodile called a muggar. If you are travelling through northern Uttar Pradesh you would be mad not to stop in Corbett National Park.
The time of year is crucial as the park shuts down for the monsoon between June 15 and September 15 and roads in and out of the park become flooded. Every visitor to the Park has to obtain an entry permit (350 rupees for foreigners) as well as pay for costs and accomodation in the park. The only place to stay inside the park is Dhikala which is a fortified camp and getting there is difficult without your own transport. Once there they do dusk/dawn elephant rides into the park. The animals are far less peturbed by these pachyderms and you can get very close.
Unfortunately for us the monsoon came two weeks early and the park was shut for rain. We stayed around Ramnager for two days hoping for a break in the monsoon and when one did finally occur we booked a tour with one of the nearby agencies. For 700 rupees we got a jeep ride around the periphery of the park and our driver was a burly Sikh who would wear a piece of polythene over his turban to keep out the rain. He took us into the park and into the sal forests on a journey along the Kosi river. We passed rows and rows of red/brown teak trees and the Sikh driver was determined to give us a good time pointing out peahens and bulbul''s. But I was intrigued whether there were tigers or leopards in the forest and asked him whether he had seen any outside the reserve.
"Oh yes, many times", for he was a local boy, "one time out jogging a tigress and four cubs crossed in front of me. It was very early in the morning. Tigers and panthers regularly leave the forest and kill neighbourhood dogs and goats. And at harvest time herds of wild elephants cause great destruction in the paddyfields. They sometimes kill villagers but no retribution is made against them."
But all we saw was a jackal (see photo) who sat by the side of the road looking at us reflectively. And we could not go too deeply into the park as the roads were flooded so instead he drove us along the Kosi river to the Krishna temple. Once past the tea-shops and souvenir stalls there is a viewing platform for an impressive panorama. To my left were the Himalayan foothills swathed up to their pinnacles in forest and touched with cloud. The forests themselves rolled down to the wide,rushing Kosi river. In the middle of the torrent was a fingerlike rock, marooned by the rushing water around it. The triangular rock stood forty feet in the air and a set of steps ran up to a tiny temple at its peak. When the river is low pilgrims wade across to give offerings to their god - but the whole sight was magnificent (see photo).
We may not have seen any man-eaters in Corbett, but we did get a taste of the Indian wilderness, and it made us want to come back to India, and definitely come back to the Corbett NP.