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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Corbett Tiger Reserve – India’s First National Park

Of days gone by...this March during my solo all India motorcycle journey

 
Corbett National Park is located in the Ramganga valley near the Himalayan foothills. Nestling in the foothills of the mighty Himalaya, Corbett tiger reserve lies mainly in the hilly districts of Nainital, Almora and Pauri Garhwal. This present 1318.54 sq km tiger reserve was established in 1936 when Governor Malcolm Hailey created India’s first and (the world’s third) National Park. The terrain is hilly, ranging from 600-1,100m above sea level, consisting of mixed deciduous forests of sal and sheesham trees and the ubiquitous lantana bush, and open, grassy pastures known as chaurs. The chaurs make up around one-tenth of the core area and make ideal grazing ground for the park’s large population of wild elephants. The park is home to around 580 bird species, 50 mammals, and at least 25 reptile species, including the Indian python, cobra and krait.


After following the rivers Yamuna and Ganges in Uttarakhand for more than a week, I made my way to the Corbett Tiger Reserve. I reached Corbett Tiger Reserve after crossing the spiritual towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar and after a brief lunch stop at IIIT Roorkee to meet my fellow wildlife enthusiast friend. As soon as I reached Ramnagar, I checked into a hotel on the main market road and headed towards the forest department office to book my accommodation and hire a gypsy.


The idea was to book my accommodation at the Dhikala Forest Rest House, which is right in the middle of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, about 50 kms from the town of Ramnagar. The Dhikala Forest Rest House is situated at a slight altitude beside the Ramganga river and offers luxury and budget accommodation to tourists in an enclosed compound. Accommodation costs start from Rs 150/night for the dormitory to Rs 2,500 for the palatial bungalows. Bookings can be made either online or at the respective Corbett forest booking centres at Ramnagar and at other nearby centers. Per day cost for a gypsy (open jeep) varies from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000 for 24 hours depending on the tourist and holiday season. The gypsy will start from Ramnagar at 1 pm, provide a tour of the Corbett Tiger reserve and stay with the tourist through the night at the Dhikala forest rest house. They will then provide us 2 safaris during the day. Though, it is mainly one good wildlife safari during the morning hour and one so-so safari during the later half of the morning. Finally, they drop the tourist at Ramnagar by 1 pm. Apart from these, the tourist has to bear some entry costs that include entry for the tourist party, entry fees for the camera and video camera, entry fees for the driver and forest guide fees.


The Corbett tiger reserve is bisected by the Ramganga river, running broadly south-south west, and the Kosi rover, and their many tributaries. The park also encompasses the Kalagarh dam, where the Ramganga creates a large reservoir – a great attraction for the many species of migratory birds that flock here during the winter months. The rivers are populated with Mahseer and other fish, which support a variety of aquatic and water-side life, including gharial and mugger crocodiles.


Corbett Tiger Reserve has tow main tourist zones. To the south-east, nearest to Ramnagar, is the smaller portion called the Bijrani range (entry through Amdanda gate). This area is preferred for day trips and makes for excellent wildlife tracking by jeep. The other, much larger, range is collectively referred to as Dhikala. Entry here is through the Dhangari gate and is restricted to those who have a permit to stay overnight in any one of the five  Forest Rest Houses within this section of the park. Each of these rest houses have superb locations – Dhikala being the largest and the most popular, sited by the reservoir of the Ramganga river which in turn is surrounded by vast grasslands.



The gypsy drive from Ramnagar to Dhikala offers great sights. The entire route is made up of dense green cover and there are these small, but bad stretches of road that are damaged every year by the overflowing tributaries of the Ramganga and the Kosi rivers. The entire drive from the Dhangari gate to the Dhikala forest rest house provided me with sightings of spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer and a lot of terrestrial birds. The entire place is so picturesque.


Upon reaching the Dhikala Forest rest house, I went about exploring the wired enclosure, the various accommodation options and the nearby wildlife. There are a couple of options to dine here. One at the main restaurant, which is slightly pricey or at the forest canteen which offers decent food for an affordable price. Bonnet macaques and common langaurs throng this place as they would in forests anywhere else in India. I got great views of large herds of spotted deer and wild boar grazing by the banks of the Ramganga. Grey hornbills and purple sunbird were spotted by me in plenty during the late hours of the evening.


It was post sunset that I befriended a lot of groups here. A couple of avid birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts, a family from Jamshedpur who were related to my 1st standard class teacher and a couple from Mumbai who were professors in IIT Mumbai. The family from Jamshedpur were very kind to treat me to dinner at the forest canteen. It was late in the night that I spotted a small group of spotted deer that had come to graze in front of my dormitory.


It was early next morning, when we left for the wildlife safari. We diligently followed the signs of the tiger and even heard a lot of alarm calls go by, but were unlucky not to spot one. However, having said that, the wildlife experience was not bad at all. In fact, it was a rich wildlife catch for my eyes and my lens.


Following were the mammals and reptiles that I sighted at Corbett Tiger Reserve: Gharial, Barking deer, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Wild Boar, Common Mongoose and the Great Asian Elephant.


Following is my rich bird sighting at the Corbett Tiger Reserve: Indian Grey Hornbill, Red Vented Bulbul, White Eared Bulbul, Spotted Dove, Common Myna, Purple Sunbird, Indian Pond Heron, Common House Crow, Pied Bushchat, Common Stonechat, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-necked Stork, Black Shouldered Kite, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Greater Grey-Headed Fish Eagle, Grey Jungle Fowl, Red Jungle Fowl, Indian Peafowl, Grey Francolin, Black Francolin, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Plum headed parakeet, Lesser Coucal, Brown Fish Owl, Small Blue Kingfisher, White Breasted Kingfisher, Indian Roller, Small Green Bee Eater, Blue-Bearded Bee-Eater, Little Scaly-Bellied Green Woodpecker, Small Yellow Naped Woodpecker, Rufuous-backed Shrike, Bay-backed Shrike, Black Drongo, Pied Fly Catcher Shrike, Rufuous Bellied Babbler, White-throated Fantail Flycatcher, Blue Whistling Thrush, Tickell’s Flowerpecker, Small Sunbird and Crested Bunting.

The wildlife is so rich here, that I would always grab an opportunity to visit the Corbett Tiger Reserve with or without a tiger sighting!!

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist’s lens, visit the album below.

my solo all-india motorcycle journey


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