Villagers of Chhoti Haldwani are keeping alive the memory of the famous British hunter by preserving memorabilia and offering eco home stays to visitors

Over a decade ago a unique initiative that began in the ‘Corbett country' has now turned into a fine example of eco-tourism.

On the outskirts of the world-famous Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand's Nainital district, Chhoti Haldwani, the village which the legendary British hunter and conservationist adopted as he gunned down the infamous man-eaters of Kumaon, has emerged as a major destination for village eco-tourism with a dash of history.

The 50-odd families of Chhoti Haldwani (Kaladungi) after having preserved the memories of Edward James ‘Jim' Corbett, are now spreading the message of conserving the environment and wildlife by replicating the life ‘Corbett sahib' lived before leaving for Kenya soon after Independence. Jim Corbett's home has been converted into a museum that houses articles and personal items that he used to use as he went after man-eaters. These items include his caps, jackets, torches, walking sticks, medical kit and articles used during camping.

Jim Corbett, who was born in Nainital, tracked and shot 19 tigers and 14 leopards between 1907 and 1938. All these were man-eaters that killed over 1,200 people living in the Kumaon region. All details of his hunting expeditions, rare pictures and letters of the legendary hunter-turned-conservationists are there in the museum dedicated to his life and times.

But the even more interesting aspect is the other memories of Jim Corbett that the villagers are keeping intact.

For instance, the ‘chaupal' (meeting place) where Jim Corbett used to meet the villagers is still there and his gun, which he gifted to his assistant Sher Singh Negi and now in possession with his son Trilok Singh Negi, is a proud possession of the villagers and is displayed before visitors.

Similarly, the villagers are preserving the village that Corbett bought in 1915. Spread in around 220 acres, it is still surrounded by a 5-km long stone wall built by Jim Corbett to protect crops from wild animals. While the small house which he built for his Moti Singh is used for night-stay by tourists.

Interestingly, the villagers of Chhoti Haldwani are running a community tourism project by pooling in rooms in their homes where people can experience home stays on a sharing basis and enjoy their daily chores. “We have tried to create an eco-system to give tourists a glimpse of live that Corbett sahib used to live…in the process visitors can enjoy bird-watching, do some farming and cattle rearing, engage in our other daily chores and enjoy local delicacies,” said Inder Singh Bisht, treasurer of Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti, the organisation running community tourism with the help of state government officials.

“Tourists can also join us for small trekking expeditions in nearby hills and forest trails which Jim Corbett used to take regularly. The idea is working as the number of visitors, including foreign tourists, is increasing each year. In 2011, over 1,100 people stayed in Chhoti Haldwani, which includes students who want to experience the life that Jim Corbett lived. This is our tribute to the legend,” Mr. Bisht added.

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