After waking up early I loaded into the car the bags I would not be taking to the Park. When I was doing this I met an Officer of the Forest Service who had halted in the GH and was headed to Dhikala to meet his boss. Since he is familiar with the entire State I requested him for the best route to go to Dehra Dun tomorrow. He suggested a shorter route which should take me to Dehra Dun in 5 hours. It is extremely cold in Ramnagar. The Forest GH where I stayed is an open area with no tree cover at all and the cold ‘bites and grips’. On account of this, I decided against a bath and started out for the Corbett National Park like a KTP (keen type probationer) before 6.30 am when the booking counter was full of people availing permits and making reservations. As I had done my reservation and approvals last evening I was headed directly to the Park. I left the car with my bags in the Forest GH in Ramnagar.
A Maruti Gypsy had been arranged for me and young Arshad was my driver cum attendant cum guide. The knowledgeable youngster was full of spirit and chatter. My reservation was done at the Dhikala Forest Rest House, which is operated by the KMVN and is 52 kms from the Forest GH in Ramnagar. The entire landscape en route, especially from Dhikuli, is pockmarked by retreats, resorts, spas and lodging to cater to all pockets as well as souvenir shops. There are four entrances to the National Park – Vijrani, Jhirina, Durgadevi and Dhangadi. One has to drive 31 kms from the Dhangadi gate of the National Park to reach the Rest House where I was booked to stay. In the Dhangadi Gate area there are four Rest Houses, namely Sultan, Sarpdhuli, Gairal and Dhikala. Only the last named has electricity and is an ‘Idea’(l) home, as no other service provider has any signal in the premises. You realize the beauty of life without news, of any type. In Dhikala overnight stay is compulsory, day trip is not permitted. The Corbett NP, the first NP in the country, was established in 1936 and is now spread over 1300 sq kms.
During the drive in the National park to the Rest House I found many locations where tiger pug marks were fresh. They were seen mainly in locations which crossed over to the river. The NP, as per the 2007 census, has a population of 164 tigers and 640 elephants. Since the pugmarks were so plentiful, I hoped to sight one of the magnificent cats during my stay here. I read in Corbett’s book that the tigers are not normally man-eaters. They become one when they are unable to hunt game or are wounded; man is easy prey. Corbett also says that the tiger normally starves to death once its hunting days are over. Prior to the 6th Pay Commission a similar situation awaited an honest Government servant upon superannuation.
The Rest House is set in a most glorious environment with a large water body (the Ram Ganga river) separating two parts of the forest. It was not always so. Vehicles used to drive on the river bed to the other part of the forest till the last season. With the building of a bridge downstream the river has been temporarily bunded. Thus, while one can enjoy the beautiful water body, it has also cut a part of the forest off for visits. I presented my papers at the Reception and was told that the room would be ready only by noon. I had two hours to kill. The Reception has a record book that documents every tiger sighting. In the past week the sightings have been frequent. I walked around the Rest House – there are individual houses (like the Old Forest Rest House), single rooms with attached toilets, cottage type accommodation and even a log hut where beds are laid out like in a two tier railway coach. Then I went to the Dining Hall and made up for a missed supper last evening and a late breakfast this morning. Breakfast consisted of an omlette of 4 eggs, 8 toasts, half a plate of poha, 5 puris and baji washed down with two cups of masala tea. I deliberately did not have the porridge, which was part of the buffet, so that I off load the guilt. Wait a minute; I missed lunch! Then I sat at the edge of the water body and soaked in some healthy sunrays.
The Hutment Number 1 was ready, as promised, for occupation by noon. The large room has two beds, two luggage racks, a writing table and an attached modern toilet with geyser. The Rest House uses solar power for almost everything. After carting my luggage to the room I went for a short drive with Arshad to a couple of watch towers to look out for game. The forest is almost full of Saal Trees. It is said that these trees stand on their roots for 100 years, lie on its side for 100 years and takes another 100 years to decompose. The Railways used to make use of this timber for making sleepers due to its keeping quality. The old wooden structures that have survived in these parts of the country have a substantial presence of Saal timber.
After a short rest organsied scouting for wildlife began from 1.30 pm. Arshad had arranged with the best guide in the Park, Shyam Bhist, to accompany me. Every trick in the book was tried and every tracking technique was used to coax a cat into my presence. The cats stayed where they wanted to – the evidence pointing to their presence in two parts of the jungle was definitive. We called off the tour by 5.30 pm after an exciting jeep safari around the NP. I was able to see barking deer (the smallest deer in India), hog deer, chitals and sambars (the largest deer in Asia) in large numbers. Some of them even ‘posed’ for photographs. A croc on the river bed did create a lot of excitement among the tourists. To wildlife buffs, sighting of even an insect in the forest is time for high fives! My guide did spot a leopard cat, but I could not. The Maruti Gypsy is a very facile vehicle for rough terrain and I experienced this during the drive. If Maruti comes out with a diesel version of it, I will buy one for my next adventure.
The Rest House arranged an excellent documentary film on a tiger family that was filmed over a four year period. It was educative and, at the same time, illustrative of the ways of the jungle. For your information, the responsibility of the male tiger towards creating, raising and equipping the next generation is limited to only the act of fertilizing the egg of the female.
On my way to the Dining Hall for dinner I noticed a recording on the board that a male tiger was sighted on the river bed at around 4 pm this evening, which makes it the fifth sighting in a week. I feel sad that I could not see one ‘in person’.
I have completed two thirds of my journey today – 80 of the 120 days are over – and I have logged over 14500 kms. I have visited 18 State capitals and 10 Railway Zonal HQs, for which I have testimonials. In the next 40 days I expect to visit the balance 10 State capitals and 6 Zonal HQs. It is getting colder and the next 30 days are going to be ‘bitingly’ different.