Monday, December 07, 2009

Jungle safaris in Corbett.

Jackals and sambar and elephants, oh my! Last weekend, ten of us took the 7-hour drive to Corbett National Park for 3 days and 2 nights amidst the forest and wildlife.

[Photos credited to my friend Manish, our designated photographer for the weekend.]

Corbett is primarily a tiger sanctuary, with 160 wild Bengal tigers roaming around in its huge premises. The reserve spans over 200 square miles, with only several small sections that are open for visitors.

Gaining entry into the place was extremely difficult. We booked our entry tickets a full month ago -- very unusual considering most of my travel plans here are decided days before -- and even then, our Indian friend Manish had to use his connections to get us in. Corbett was extremely well-operated, with a distinct lack of irresponsible tourists and an apparent sensitivity to preserving the objectives of the wildlife sanctuary. The base camp where we stayed our second night was even solar-powered.

We arrived Saturday morning at 5:30am. Ill-prepared for the freezing morning air, we wrapped ourselves in all the clothes we packed and promptly set out on our first safari. By the time we reached the gates of the park, the sun was just rising.

The beauty of the jungle was staggering. I've been so far removed from nature for the past three months living in Delhi that the sight of lush landscape had me continually on the verge of tears.

Within the first hour, we spotted black storks, loads of spotted deer, barking deer, langur monkeys, and gigantic white-ant mounds.

There were also many sambar (similar to elk), and I had a brief sighting of a peacock.

Our knowledgable driver helped us spot and track the many tiger footprints around the road, but we had no sightings.

More successful was our quest for wild elephants; we spotted two wild ones by the end of the day, whacking their trunks loudly through the bush.

We spent the rest of the day on a light hike to and around the Corbett waterfall, a scenic little stop tucked away in a forest cover on the outskirts of the town.

Back at our guest house outside the park, we had a hearty dinner of chicken masala, butter chicken, paneer something-or-other, and chana pindi -- followed by stories and laughs around a bonfire.

Sunday morning started at 4:30am, once again to frigid temperatures. Destination: Dhikala, the core section of Corbett, located deep inside the jungle. It was almost an hour drive just to the gates. Once we got there, it was an additional 2-hour winding, bumpy drive through the jungle to reach our base camp.

Along the way, we stopped to look at crocodiles and continued to keep our eyes peeled for any sign of tigers.

This weekend, I had no less than four food comas, largely attributable to the buffet meals at our Dhikala camp.

Safari number three brought us enticingly close to tigers. There were footprints everywhere. There were three sightings the previous day, so we parked our jeep in the locations of those sightings and waited breathlessly for a glimpse of stripes. There was one area of road that a tigress and her two cubs frequented, according to our guides, but we were unlucky. I wasn't expecting any sightings this weekend, but to know that they were so close was exhilarating.

Before heading back to the camp, we stopped by a rickety old watchtower, where we took in the stunning view, observed a herd of eleven wild elephants from afar, and ate some bhel puri.

Dinnertime was a gluttonous event. I went back for round after round. Back at our 12-person bungalow, sleep was instant.

Early Sunday morning, I and three others headed out for an elephant trek, while the rest continued with another jeep safari.

Rather than keep to a trail, our guide let our elephant wander where it pleased, which involved a lot of bushwacking and tramping through thick underbrush. The plains where we roamed had an incredibly diverse range of flora. The plants around us changed every five minutes.

We spotted a jackal (it's tiny and hard to see compared to the sambar in the picture).

Today, it happened. We heard a tiger roar. Fine, it could have been a leopard or jungle cat, but it was undeniably the roar of a wild cat. I fancy that it was a tiger, having tired somewhat of having seeing just tracks so far and nothing else. The sound seemed like it was right behind us, but we quickly realized that the source was probably farther away, given the loudness of the roar and the silence of our surroundings.

Food coma number three later, we were on the road back into town. Final destination: back to Delhi.

But the weekend wasn't quite over. Just before reaching home, Manish surprised us all by taking us instead to his parents home in northwest Delhi, where they had prepared for us a full home-cooked Indian meal.

I was excited beyond words. We had fried fish stuffed with a coriander paste, boiled eggs in masala gravy, fingerling potatoes sprinkled with mustard seeds, spicy prawns, vegetable pulao, raita and fresh salad with a home-made chutney, and gulab jamun for dessert. This was food coma number four, and it ended our trip in the most satisfying way possible.

It was an indescribable feeling to be back in nature again. I felt like I had been holding my breath for three months and could finally let it out.

Pictures up on Manish's facebook.


Manish said...

that was short, sweet and very informative.......

Stacy said...

Awesome. I actually became hungry reading your post. Loved the pictures.

Jacob said...


Lexie said...

sooo cool! letting the elephant guide you sounds so fun.

akash said...

hey faye.. that is something quite interesting.. i love the way u describe whole sequence in short alongwith breathtaking pics.. although rewards goes to manish for pics.. seems he is professional in it.. hats off... faye.. u can be good online writer... :)))))))))) impressed..

Jim Corbett National Park said...

Jim Corbett National Park is an ideal home for many majestic animals like the Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Elephant, Reptiles, Birds and many other wild animals.

Jim Corbett National Park said...

Jim Corbett National Park said...

Jim Corbett National Park is an ideal home for many majestic animals like the Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Elephant, Reptiles, Birds and many other wild animals.