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Friday, September 23, 2011

Tiger by the River

It was 3 years back and I was leading a German bird watching group at Corbett. Birding is very time consuming and requires lot of concentration. The group wanted both birding as well as tiger sighting. The latter becomes difficult when you are in quest for birds. But nevertheless I was keeping an eye in the avian species as well as the tigers.  

It was early April but heat had picked up we were on five jeeps all scattered but on the same route. Somewhere around the Bank of Ranganga I heard one sambar alarm cry which was never repeated. Much to the chagrin of the jeep driver I asked him to stop. Within seconds the alarm cries were repeated on the other side of the river. These were spotted deer who were moving into the forest at frantic pace.    

This was enough to tell you that there is a predator in the vicinity. "Quite close by," I told my bewildered guests. This was the first experience for them of sounds of the jungle in India. We began to wait for the predator to emerge. Lot of time passes...the impatient driver and the guest now irate at losing precious birding time look at me with a bit of irritation. Lot more time had passed and nothing happened.

I had an inclination that the predator had heard the jeep sound and was hiding in the bush somewhere near. Their was a pin drop silence all the way now but the tiger as I presumed it to be was coolly lying down at peace with itself.           

Other jeeps with the rest of my guests in total fifteen had reached us by now and I told the jeep drivers to wait in total silence. I knew I was risking my job if the tiger did not emerge there would be a complaint. But I paid no heed to the drivers who were urging me to move on. 

As luck would have it a troop of macaque came across to my left. The macaques have a peculiar habit of going right near the predator and irritating it with raucous alarm cries. Hari Lamba the local birding guide on other jeep  also knew this. I asked my guests to watch the movement of the leader and eagerly they did. The leader went right up to the spot where the big cat was hiding. He began to cry frantically from the tree nearby, and within few moments a huge male emerged. I had asked my guests to keep the camera ready but none could photograph in that exciting moment. We could see the tiger moving besides us about 30 yards and vanish into the deep confines on the bushes on the bank. 

That was it I had tracked the tiger! The cheers that followed were heartening. But not for some guides and jeep drivers, the lot here have a peculiar habit of expressing their "no ledge" and very rudely at times. I have not experienced anything like this elsewhere. The staff respects the age and experience of old timers, not here.    

At the forests near the Dhikala accommodation we had heard alarm cries the evening before but could not locate the tiger hidden well inside. The jungles of India are full of surprises.  While returning to the rest house through the same road, we were still in trance with what had happened. Then what happens, the yesterdays tiger emerges from that very spot, crosses the road approaches us and vanishes into the vegetation across. This time my guests managed to photograph a tiger without head (behind a tree trunk at that moment) and other pic of its bum about 5/6 feet away from us. What a way to store eternal memories!           

Hey! I had no role play here except taking a weak chance, nevertheless it all boiled down to me. I could not understand German but the smiles told me a lot. 

Corbett - Incredible - Unforgettable

It is not on tiger safaris that I got to know this wildlife heaven better. I visited Corbet Tiger Reserve many years back and the destination surprised me no end. But I got to know the tiger heaven better on my birding trips in last few years.   

The keystone species are tiger, leopard, wild elephant and among the reptiles it is the endangered Gharial and Mugger. The latter two are easily sighted at crocodile pond but the foremost two are bit difficult to sight. I have sighted tigers on many occasions but the leopard none. Only leopard sighting I had was on way up to Sat Tal in Naini Tal District. 

Though tourism still has a free hand in this park with private vehicles creating the greatest nuisance. Nevertheless wildlife has increased in this National Park with a large number of tigers inhabiting the wonderful reserve. Of late the big cats are seen more and more than earlier. Another great attraction is the wild elephant whose numbers increase with the onset of summers.  Hundred of pachyderms gather around the the Kalagarh Dam and Dhikala Chaur the most coveted for accommodations, wildlife watching and birding.   
Other mammals seen here are leopard, spotted deer, barking deer, Goral, sambar deer, sloth bear,  rhesus macaque, Hanuman Langur, hog deer, yellow throated martins, otters, Himalayan Black Bear, jungle cat, leopard cat and fishing cat.

Birders know that for them this is a paradise with more than five hundred bird species inhabiting the reserve.  In Northern India this is the most coveted destination for bird watching besides Bharatpur and Sattal. The attractions are many: Great Hornbill, Great Slatyheaded Woodpecker, Siberian ruby throat, wall creeper, Ibisbill, red breasted parakeet, plum headed parakeet, Alexandrine Parakeet, Himalyan Bubul, White cheeked bulbul, Streak throated woodpecker, grey faced woodpecker, greater and lesser racket tailed drongo, white bellied drongo, white rumped shama. commom magpie  and Himalayan Flameback
At Corbett I have seen both Scarlet and Long Tailed Minivets besides Rosy Minivets and small minivet. Paradise flycatchers can be seen  with onset of summer. The list can go on and on. 
The park is one of the most picturesque thanks to the enchanting river Ramganga that flows through the finest forests within the reserve. The white sandstone on the banks and crystal clear blue waters are a mesmerizing spectacle to experience. The forest are most enchanting with exciting safaris to thrill you down to the bones. There are long trails of forests around the buffer zones but not intact. Places like Choti Haldwani and near by places where Jim Corbett used to hunt man eaters are bustling townships with very little natural land left. Only at Corbett National Park do you experience true wilderness.        

Best way to reach Corbett is via Ramnager which is about 11 km from the Dhangari Gate. In order to visit the Dhikala Zone one should be staying at accommodations or Rest House within the zone. Sarapduli and Dhikala are the preferred accommodations in terms of what they have to offer. Other entrances are the Aam Danda Gate, Durga Devi Gate and Kalagarh Gate (Jhirna).