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Archive for November, 2008

We have just dumped our stuff and are having a cup of tea when our attention is arrested by a high voltage screeching. Arif freezes up and listens intently. “Shhh, can you hear it? Sambhar deer.”

“Really?” I ask askance. “It sounded more like an upset bird.”

Simultaneously langurs whip up energetic activity on treetops and a flock of birds dash past with an audible whoosh. Arif drops his cup in his haste and running towards the Gypsy cries, “It’s definitely a call…a tiger has been spotted. Come on!”

We jump into the Gypsy, Arif throws it into gear and takes off at the bone rattling speed of 40 kmph (if you think I’m being hyperbolic, try doing that on kuchcha roads). We arrive at the designated spot, helped of course by pug marks along the trail, which Arif points out almost defensively. He turns off the ignition and gestures for silence. Then he only says, “A call is the only way to find out where the tiger is. Because much like dogs, tigers have designated territories which stretch to 10 sq kms each. Plus they are notoriously lazy and usually just lie down in wait in the tall elephant grass. You’ll never spot it if not for the Sambhar deer call which indicates that it is on the move.”

And we don’t. What we do see is evidence of unforgivable behaviour by Indian tourists. That is, several places, mainly spots around watch towers (picnic spots for day trippers) littered with disposable plates, empty plastic water bottles and wrappers. We spend the rest of the safari cleaning up other people’s mess.

We come back at five minutes to six, although Arif has heard another ‘call’ and wants to push his luck. But, as we drive past the FRH, he spots a top ranking forest official’s car parked outside. He swerves back towards the FRH at the last minute. He does not want to lose his license for time violation, no matter how compelling the call.

So we come back discouraged, having eaten copious amounts of dust, with only one thought in mind. A hot bath. But that proves to be a challenge. There is no electricity and no hot water. Sure, the inverter is on but that is only enough to weakly power a couple of light bulbs. Our requests to the staff to heat up some in the kitchen is met with uncertain looks. The reason – they’ve run out of cooking gas and the replacement cylinder will only arrive tomorrow. Since our food is itself being cooked on choolah, unless we want to trade our food for a bath, and unless we want to risk freezing our butts off using cold water, no bath it is.

Okay, what next? There is only one thing one can do – enjoy the great outdoors with IMFL. That’s the great part about going on these holidays. You can hit the bottle at six (p.m., not a.m., although, even a.m. won’t be sooo outrageous as it isn’t in Goa) without feeling guilty.

Glass in hand (rum with water at room temp) I step outside and breathe in the cool jungle air mixed with an appealing smell of wood smoke. All is calm save the chirping of crickets and an occasional animal howl. I look up and my word, the sky is a veritable sieve held up against light. I haven’t seen so many stars since my last mountaineering trip!

Out of respect for the jungle we make conversation amongst ourselves in soothing low-pitched voices. The conversation is pleasant, although it sounds vaguely conspiratorial because of our hushed tones.

Soon dinner is served. It is a simple meal of dal, sabzi, rice and roti but we are so hungry that it tastes like Turkish delights.

Afterwards, I try to keep my eyes open but it is a losing battle. Suddenly a panicked screech, incessant deep growling and loud crashing sounds, all in the vicinity of the FRH. I am shocked into wakefulness. Rampal, the caretaker comes running. “Do you hear that? It’s a tiger and an elephant.” I peer around in the inky blackness, thankful for the electric fence (one that vies with the inverter for precious solar power) that runs around the perimeter of the FRH.

The sounds continue for a while but we get used to them after the initial panic. I resume my tussle with sleep but it is a losing battle. So I turn in for the night. It is as late as 9.30. I don’t know it yet, but tomorrow is going to be an awesome day.

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We are about to be on our way when Arif casually tells that in 2200 we get one three hour safari. “Wait a minute,” I tell him, “when we signed you one you promised us three safaris.” “And three you’ll get. Two one hour safaris while we drive to and from the Jhirna Forest Rest House (that is also counted as  a safari because It is way inside) and one three hour safari whenever you want.”

 “Or you can pay me 2500 and get three three hour safaris.” Clever, very clever. He cuts his price to get noticed amidst the clamour and still gets his way. “Yet another option is to pay me 2200 as agreed and then fill up the tank to replace whatever fuel is consumed and you can use the jeep as you wish.” Arif outlines so many scenarios that my head reels doing complex mathematics. Not how I want to begin my holiday. I finally tell him we’ll decide later. I have a niggling suspicion that that is exactly what he wants if his broad smile is any indicator.

We drive through Ramnagar and, after about half an hour, enter the forest buffer zone. Electric fencing demarcates forest territory from non-forest territory. I notice there are a few huts inside the forest and ask Arif about it. He tells me that the forest is trying to relocate these people but they refuse to move out as they’ve been living there for ages. I can’t figure out why, considering it can’t be much fun living in proximity with tigers but I figure if I bring it up, I’d only be stoking then whole man versus animal debate which has no solution.

There is beautiful tube well created waterfall which looks deliciously cool. We want to stop there awhile. Actually it’s my niece who wants to frolic in the cool water but Arif looks quite worried. He looks at his watch and announces that we’d better hurry as it is a weekend and safari time is about to commence. They only allow thirty jeeps to go in at a time and if we are not one of them, then it’s bye bye jungle, till the next morning. So we shoot envious looks at the gambolling children and resume our journey.

We enter the forest gate, complete our due diligence with the authorities and are once more on the way to the Jhirna FRH. “It will take about an hour to reach,” Arif cheerfully announces. And it is soon evident why. Since it is a jungle, there are no roads, only bumpy trails. Also a reason why only four wheel drives are allowed inside.

The last thing the forest officials want is a car stuck for lack of traction power. Make no mistake, it isn’t for your safety, it is for the safety of the big cats. If you get stuck, a hungry tiger may attack you as a soft target, which will make him/her a man-eater and it will have to be put down. See? Also, a reason why at any time during the safari, getting off from the jeep is prohibited.

Arif suddenly stops in the middle of the trail and, in hushed tones, points directly ahead. Tiger, I think and excitedly jump up and see. I crane my neck and strain my eyes but nope, I don’t see it. “Where is it?” I ask. “Where is the tiger?” “Tiger?” he says, “Who said anything about a tiger? It’s a monitor lizard.” And sure enough there is a huge, and I mean gigantic, monitor lizard lying horizontally across the trail. Sure, it’s an exciting sight but I don’t see what the fuss is all about. I’m here to see a tiger, remember? Then Arif tells us, “It is very lucky for me. Every time I see one, a tiger sighting is assured.”

My sister and I exchange amused, incredulous looks. It is the same look we exchange when a guide tells us erotic stories about a temple’s sculpture. My sister is convinced that the stories are made up and what’s more, embellished even more for honeymooning couples. Someday I’ll write a post about all tall tales I’ve heard at various monuments.

Anyway, we don’t see anything worthwhile – just a few spotted deer – and arrive at the FRH. It is 3.30 p.m. and we have just enough time to dump our stuff, have a cup of tea and leave for the evening safari.

Some Corbett Facts:

Corbett is at a distance of 240 kms from Delhi and it takes seven hours to reach.

The Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve is spread out over an area of 1284 sq. kms.

It is home to about 165 tigers (official count). Unofficially there are about 200-250. At least that’s what the guides tell me.

It is divided into three zones – buffer zone, tourist zone and core zone (no one but forest officials are allowed into the core zone)

The tourist zone is further divided into four – Jhirna, Dhikala, Bijrani and Kaladhungi. Of these Dhikala is the most well established and popular. It is situated on the banks of the river Ramganga and you can see animals from your room when they come to drink water at the river. Dhikala is open from Nov. 15 to June 15.

When visiting Corbett, it is best to stay at one of the FRHs as they are inside the jungle. The private resorts are all outside and it takes close to an hour to enter sighting areas. Vehicles are allowed inside only from 6.00 am in the morning which means they arrive at sighting areas only by 7.00 a.m. and have to be out by 9 – 9.30. They are once again allowed inside from 3 pm. onwards and have out start back by 5.00 p.m. in order to meet the 6.00 p.m. deadline at the gate. Which pretty much means you miss the best tiger sighting times which are dawn and dusk.

No meat is allowed inside the forest.

 

 

 

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