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Archive for October 31st, 2008

We enter the field director’s office. A flock of guide/Gypsy owners swoop down on us as soon as we pull to a stop and alight from the car and accompany us all the way inside. I’m don’t know how they knew we were tourists. I suspect our Delhi number plate and the fact that we drove inside the compound tentatively, looking around uncertainly and asking people if indeed we were at the right place may have had something to do with it.

Inside I walk to the reception and announce dramatically, “We have bookings for Jhirna.” The guy at the reception glances at me and then at the palm of his hand. “Smita Jain?” I peer at him. “Rajesh Bhatt ji?” He nods shyly. I remember that when I was making the bookings on the phone I had several conversations with him. At the time he was curiously reticent about revealing his name. “Why do you want to know?” I was flabbergasted. “So that I can say hello to you once I reach.”

Now I say, “Hello to you Rajesh Bhatt ji. Just like I said.” He blushes furiously. In his book this is just not the way girls talk. Not with our baaraat of tourist guides watching interestedly.

He hastily thrusts a form at me to fill out. I go to the seating area nearby to fill out the form followed by the tourist guides who all want me to fill out their names and their car numbers in the form. You see you cannot enter the jungle in your own car. You have to hire a Maruti gypsy locally whose drivers double up as tourist guides. Or so I was led to believe. Later I learnt that you can take your car in as long as it is a four wheel drive. But it is much more fun in an open gypsy since it affords you a 360⁰ view. Of course it affords tigers the same luxury but more on that later.

Soon a bidding war erupts with tourist guides outdoing each other in cutting prices. So what begins with an initial bid of 3500 for two days comprising three three hour safaris settles at 2500. One clever enterprising guy, Arif, does the unthinkable. He shouts out, “2200.” “Done,” I say and quickly pencil in his car number.

I take the form to Rajesh Bhatt who asks me at what rate the deal was struck. When I tell him, he professes astonishment and turns to his colleague and says, “Can you believe how much they’ve dropped their prices?”

Feeling rather pleased with myself, I exit the office and move to get into my car. Till I realise I’ve left my Mont Blanc at the reception. When I rush inside I see my pen lying on the counter. Rajesh Bhatt is busy with another new arrival and doesn’t see me. I hear him asking them at what price the deal was struck. The new guys tell him 3000. Rajesh Bhatt professes astonishment and turns to his colleague and says, “Can you believe how much they’ve dropped their prices?” I have a feeling they say this to everybody, irrespective of the quoted price, so that no one feels they are being ripped off at their beginning of the holiday. Damn considerate of them actually.

Later on we stop for a quick meal at the KMVN Tourist Rest House (TRH) at Ramnagar. While the meal is prepared we while away time by nattering with the TRH guys who regale us with entertaining stories and give us helpful tips on what to carry with us.

Tip: If you’re staying at Jhina carry torches, snacks, cold drinks and anything else we might need apart from food.

Soon lunch is ready and we stuff ourselves silly on simple dal, sabzi, roti and chawal. When the bill is presented I’m left reeling in disbelief. Our simple meal for four costs 300! Tea costs 10 a cup! Just a couple of years ago, we would have been done in less than half the amount. But I guess inflation has caught up here as well.

We settle the bill and leave for the jungle. The time is 2.00 in the afternoon. The drive to Jhirna Forest Rest House takes about an hour and a half from Ramnagar. If we hurry, we will be just in time to dump our stuff and leave for the afternoon safari.

All said and done, the system at Corbett is chaotic. Most tourist guides really harass tourists. Some even bully them into putting down their names on the form. I agree they are desperate for employment but still, a system can be put in place, can’t it? Can’t they have a queue or something where these guys register in the mornings and as and when tourists arrive their names get ticked off? I suggested it to the Forrest Officer’s and he promised that he would look into it. But till then, if you happen to go, be very firm with the tourist guides. If you display the slightest hesitation you’ve had it. Tip: ask for Puran, Arif or one Sardarji called Abba.

Tip: at the KMVN Tourist Rest House at Ramnagar, do talk to Pandeyji. He is a tall, hefty gentleman and sports thick-lensed glasses. His left side is kinda slow to catch up with the rest of his body. The reason: he was mauled by a tiger who tore up his entire torso.

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