“There are no tigers in Jim Corbett National Park. They are just making a fool out of us,” lamented my mother. I must have been a recently born teenager, stepping right out of adolescence, an age, where one can easily “get a broken heart”, when things didn’t go your way. It must have been 2008 or 2007, who knows. But it was my first brush with a national park, one where my parents were to introduce me to “meeting the wild, in the wild!” But alas… I had walked out of Corbett National Park, disheartened and disillusioned wildlife experience.
Fast forward to 2018, my mother’s words reverberate in my ears. “We didn’t even get to see a barking dear!” So late last month, when I received an invitation from my friend and co-traveler/writer Alka Kaushik, from the Travel Correspondent and Blogger Group, I lept at the opportunity to prove my mother all wrong! I was going back to Corbett, to reclaim my teenage dream- to see the “wild in the wild!” What begin as a long car-drive with 5 other strangers (a group of six women, all from different parts of Delhi, Pune and Mumbai [my home!] in search of the stripes), soon turns into a small community of travellers, eager for a rendezvous with national animal of India. By late afternoon, we arrive at Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort, our hosts for the entire duration of our trip. Soon, I realize, I am in the august company of an intriguing historian, a veteran journalist, a World Bank star and a travel writer, from a defense background! I am privileged to be a part of such a media entourage and I am convinced- that even If I don’t spot a tiger, I am going home, with a trove of stories, experiences and life long friends. As we watched sunset, from the mountains hovering above the Kyari village in Uttarakhand, a part of the Corbett National Park, I plot a come-back story for my mother. “Irrespective of whether I measure the stripes or not, my trip to Corbett is going to be successful!” 😉
The next morning, my alarm refuses to shake me off my sleep. I am awakened by the chill in the air and suddenly I realize, it’s 5AM in the morning. I need to rush, else I miss my early morning Safari. I wind up and find myself by the side of a green Safari gypsy. I reassure myself and I am on my way to my first set of adventure in the day. As we enter the gates of the park, my unholy childhood memories of “Bad Corbett” come flowing down to me. I close, my eyes and offer a quick prayer for a successful day. Our naturalist, Manmeet Singh Bhullarji, breaks my anxiety, as he hints at our first possible face-to-face with the wild. “Tiger?” I gesture. Manmeetji nods and points his finger on a tree. “Tiger on a tree?” My mother’s disapproving face appears before me. “No, it’s a Hornbill”, quips Manmeetji.
I can sense a huge amount of excitement, in the two gypsies, carrying our entourage. I resign to my fate and take quick snaps of the beautiful bird, which in turn, seems to be in no mood to entertain me. We continue our search of the Kumaon’s man-eater but to no avail. Suddenly, my nostrils open up and I sense, my arteries too. Slowly, I am beginning to feel the fresh air around me. I realize, my breathing is clean too. The surrounding Sal trees around us, make a huge canopy over our head. I look around, contemplating what does the forest really mean, away from the city’s hustle-bustle…
“There! That’s a barking dear. Oh that’s a Barasingha. Wow, a family of spotted deer. The baby deer is learning to walk with its still wobbly legs! Your bad-luck is over,” Manmeetji bursts out laughing. “Now, you can tell your mother, you saw 3 types of deer in the Corbett Park.” The whole gypsy bursts out in laughter, realizing that my dry spell has been broken. In my mind, I encounter my mother again. This time, I smirk and show a victory sign.
We haven’t sighted the big cat yet. But we have encountered innumerable bird-songs, spotted the wild Nilgai, the other wild creatures along, with 3 cleanse hours for my lungs. We return back to our serendipitous resort, ready to compare our notes and discuss the beauty of a jungle escape. Over a glass of fresh lime soda, as I listen to the others, sharing their jungle explorations, till date, I am reminded of why, I needed to see the forest beyond the tiger.
After all, “Forests teach people to understand beauty!”
How to travel: Taxis and private cabs are available from Delhi.
Stay: Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resorts, is situated in Ramnagar, a few steps from the Kyari village, Uttarakhand, offering a serene stay amidst mango trees, with leisurely cottages, family duplex and clean couple suites, along with a refreshing spa, swimming pool and restaurant facilities that dish out local Kumaoni cuisine. The highlight of the stay is their well-thought, well-prepared itineraries for guests and travelers, which offer a glimpse into the local villages, cultures and customs. The resorts also offers other activities like cycling, village tours and safaris for the adventurous soul.