Six women, a tiger and a flock of birds

Jim Corbett National Park, the oldest national park and the first tiger reserve in India, is high on the agenda of every wildlife enthusiast and is a veritable bird watcher’s paradise. Named after the legendary hunter-turned-conservationist, it is situated in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand, an eight-hour drive from Delhi. Leaving behind the scorching heat of the capital, we motored down until we reached the well-laid, scenic ghat roads of Uttarakhand. Situated in the sub-Himalayan belt, the pleasant weather and the scent of nature soothed our senses, beckoning us to the verdant luxury of the moist deciduous forest. Our destination, the Solluna Resort, was a perfect bird-watching site, with its luxuriant vegetation. Waking up to the trilling of multitudinous bird calls, we stepped into a magical realm ruled by plum-headed parakeets, magpie-robins, bulbuls, chestnut-headed bee-eaters and the stunning paradise flycatchers. Assailed from all directions by the raucous, shrill bird calls, our excitement knew no bounds as it was a treat to us – a group of Chennai-based naturalists.

We set off on a walk towards the Kosi River early in the morning and sighted some unique avian fauna – the citrine wagtail, spangled drongo, white-breasted kingfisher, shrikes, pied bush chat, oriental white-eye, grey treepie, russet sparrow, green-backed tit, starling, collared dove, black stork and steppe eagle. The clean, ice-cold waters of the Kosi River, with smooth, rounded boulders of all contours and colours, was indeed a getaway from the sweltering heat of Chennai.

Not sure of what was in store for us that evening on the wild trails of Jim Corbett National Park, we hurtled along the winding roads in an open jeep and entered Jhirna gate. Startled by the harsh calls that pierced the stillness of the forest, we spotted at close quarters numerous grey hornbills, sporting their characteristic casque and feeding on wild berries. Sighting a perfectly camouflaged lone golden jackal trotting past a dry river bed and a monitor lizard scuttling into the dense undergrowth was a prelude to the highlight of the evening.

Close to the end of the evening safari, unable to contain our disappointment at not having had a glimpse of the apex predator of the reserve, we were jolted out of our reverie when our jeep ground to a halt as a magnificent Bengal tiger bounded onto the road. We held our collective breaths in rapt silence as the majestic tiger sat blocking the path barely ten feet from the jeep, twitching its tail gently. The elegance and grace of this striped beauty struck us with disbelief, awe, excitement and fear as the tiger lingered. After what seemed an eternity, it suddenly crouched without a warning and sprang into the dense jungle. This was followed by a short cry of a deer and a scuffle as we watched the drama unfold, not daring to breathe. In the twinkling of an eye, what had been a wish was instantly transformed into reality and memories that would be cherished for a lifetime.

Our night stay at Jhirna forest guest house inside the reserve, booked two months ahead, was yet another memorable experience. Expecting to stay with numerous visitors and swap safari stories as we usually did in South Indian reserves, we realised to our surprise, tinged with alarm, that it was to be just the six of us women tourists. What made it more thrilling was the fact that it was in the vicinity of a water hole and in total darkness without power supply. Throughout the night, the strange roars and growls of the animals, the noisy chattering of black-faced monkeys and plaintive calls of the peafowl kept us guessing and awake.

Staying inside also meant that we could start our morning safari very early after a cup of chai. Apart from spotting a number of birds, including the endemic khalij pheasants, we encountered a family of elephants on the path. The matriarch of the herd turned towards the jeep, making sure that we kept our distance as she led her herd, including two adorable baby calves, across the road. The visit came to a close with our witnessing a number of peacocks dancing to impress their partners with their gorgeous plumes. Satiated with the splendid display of the birds, we returned with a feeling of déjà vu.

Jim Corbett National Park is a good model of ecotourism at its best, being well-preserved and untainted by human intervention. The park is a ‘no plastic zone’ and the entire district of Nainital abides by the rules in its bid to conserve nature. Local knowledge on the flora and fauna is valued and disseminated, as seen in Yousf, our jeep driver/guide, who was keen on enriching our experience by drawing upon his indigenous wisdom.  Jim Corbett said: “The tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage, and when he is exterminated – as exterminated he will be, unless public opinion rallies to his support – India will be poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna.” In support of his words, we who are passionate to sustain our ecosystems, wish to reiterate the need to preserve forests and their endangered denizens.

(Text and photos by the six intrepid travellers: Ridling Margaret Waller, Lilian Jasper, Betsy Selvakumar, Florence Chandran, Vanitha Williams and Sarita Deepak.)

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 10:24:43 AM |

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