The Generalist

The purpose is general, the views personal, reading it optional

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Naini Tale - II

Salute to Corbett
The next day, the sun rose and lifted our spirits. In this weather, we could decide to make at least one of the standard tours around Naini Tal. Our taxi driver suggested we visit the Corbett National Park, and we were on our way. The route to Corbett consisted of a descent to the plains, starting from Kaladhungi (35 km from Naini Tal) and then a plain straight road to the park (48 km from Kaladhungi), the road continuing all the way to Haridwar.

The first stop was just outside Naini Tal, at a spot from where the lake Khurpa Tal could be viewed from a height. Breakfast consisted of chhole-puurii consumed in a beautifully situated restaurant in front of a waterfall. The mountainous descent quickly ended in plain country and we reached Kaladhungi, where the first stop was at the Corbett Museum.

The great British naturalist and hunter Jim Corbett made his winter home at Kaladhungi, bought some land there, and settled a lot of native Indians in a village he named Chhoti Haldwani. This house has been converted into a museum. Although aware of some of his exploits, Corbett's life was as yet unknown to me. This was made clear in detail through the illustrated story of his life in the house. The sloping roof and the wood-panelled floor of the house contained memories of Corbett and his sister, Margaret (Maggie), who lived here when the place was much more of a forest than it is today. I was heavily inspired by Corbett's pursuing of something he loved, and also by his multi-faceted personality. I ultimately bought 'The Man-eaters of Kumaon' from a Naini Tal bookshop that evening.

Situated close to this museum, in Nayagaon village, is the Corbett Falls, a moderately big waterfall. The small trek to the fall was in the midst of green, yet rocky, forest land. The fall was beautiful to look at, and the water, as clear as can be. The spot was ideal to picnic in, although that would spoil the beauty of the place. We were on our way again to the park, now along the Haridwar Road, flanked by fields of grain and sugarcane, and plantations of mango and litchi. It looked like prosperous country. Several rivers and streams also crossed our path, occasionally even at road level.

On reaching the park, we found that the next trip into the park was scheduled at 2pm, about two hours away. We made our way to the temple village of Garjia, 7km further away from the park. Garjia is actually a corruption of Girija, and the temple is dedicated to Girija Devi, the daughter of the mountains. The location of the temple is unique and extremely picturesque. It is located on a hill right in the middle of the pebble-laden riverbed of river Garjia. A small footbridge across the then-dry riverbed led to the steps of the temple. The place must be marooned when the river ran full with water.

Corbett country, Tiger territory
Two trips each day of 3-3.5 hours each are scheduled inside the park from the Bijrani Gate. For those more interested in wildlife, and looking out for better chances of spotting the tiger, there was also an overnight trip, with entry from Dhikala. On each day-trip, not more than 30 open jeeps (or rather, Maruti Gypsies) are allowed inside. Each jeep is supposed to have its own guide, who can take the jeep wherever he pleases, and according to the tourists' wishes. We had a vexing, yet humorous, time in the beginning when we didn't get a guide and the young driver coolly told us that they charged for the guide, whether the jeep got one or not. When we finally got a guide, a confused gatekeeper, who had got his gate passes mixed up, asked us where the small child was. When told that there was no child in our jeep, he got even more confused and told us we didn't make an entry for our driver! Now the drivers and the guides were all provided by park authorities, so how is a tourist supposed to make entries for his driver? As suddenly as this controversy had broken out, it died down as the gatekeeper let us go, either after realizing his mistake or being too frustrated to care.

Now making our way into the park, the guide told us the park was divided into three concentric zones: the outermost buffer zone, which also had a village protected by an electrified fence, the middle zone, and the inner 'rest' zone, where these cars were not allowed. We saw a lot of chital and a few sambhar-s in the buffer area, grazing patiently. These are, doubtless, the most common animals to be spotted on day trips.

After a short break in a large clearing where a souvenir shop and an eatery were located, the cavalcade of jeeps moved on into deeper jungle - the middle zone. A watchman's hut with a moat dug on all four sides to protect it from elephants was where the jeeps registered their entry into this zone. Dense forests were interspersed with some clearings and smooth-pebble-covered riverbeds. The jeeps splashed water all around while moving through these beds, and more deer and sambhar-s could be seen on the edge of such clearings. At a point in this forest, the jeeps stopped as we saw a dormant python lying on the side of the road, its belly swollen. According to the guide, it had swallowed a whole langur and had been lying since the previous day, trying to digest after overeating.

After some anxious moments here when our jeep had failed to start, we were on our way again. Now we were separated from the rest of the flock and moved into much deeper, denser forest. Animals were scarce, but the experience of going through deep forest was quite thrilling. The weather added to the thrill, because it had been cloudy for some time and threatened to rain. We surprised a huge male sambhar chewing its food, and after trying to run away, it posed gamely for a photo. Another female sambhar stood right there on the road for another snap. We were also lucky to see a small barking deer. On the way, we also surprised two wild boar who ran on the road in front of us before moving into the brush. On finally meeting up with a few jeeps, we stopped at a tree on whose bark a tiger had made claw marks. This was its attempt to clean its claws after a kill, and it also marked its territory this way. The rest of the trip remained uneventful, marked only by the sight of an eagle perching low and a couple on an elephant ride - the only elephant we saw. So, it turned out, it was an expensive trip, but worth it if only to experience the jungle atmosphere.
(continued...)

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