Corbett National Park & Tiger Reserve – Jewel of the Himalayas
The ink-blue Shivalik ranges of the Himalayan foothills rising in the distance are touched by the mist and the golden rays of the sun. The first shafts of sunlight descend obliquely to a shimmer-ng copper rivulet below, where there is a constant hiss of frothing and gushing water within the silence of the wild. This is Corbett National Park, once a ‘hunter’s paradise’ but today perhaps one of the most fascinating of India’s wild heritage areas. The country’s first national park to established (1936), it was originally named the Halley National Park. By 1958 at which time it featured unique, lush green tracts of terai (lower forest tract) and bhabar (upper forest tract) on the Himalayan foothills, and at this time it was decided to rename the park in honour of the onetime hunter turned conservationist, Jim Corbett (in its earlier days, this tract was better known for its man-eating tigers). Jim Corbett had been inspired by the area to write about his earlier hunting days in immortal works such as Man-eaters of Kurnoon and Jungle Lore, which he wrote in his later, more conservation-minded years.
Tracts of Himalayan jungle
Corbett was the first national park to be incorporated in the Project Tiger scheme, in 1973. Today Corbett National Park and Tiger Reserve sprawl over an area of 1318 square kilometers (510 square miles) of undulating Sal (Shorea robust()) forest between the districts of Nainital and Pauri Garhwal in Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. In October 1991, a buffer zone was added to the park’s area, consisting of just over 300 square kilometers (1 1 7 square miles). The additional expenses of natural land used to form part of the Kalagarh Forest Division, the Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary (part of the Rarnnagarh Forest Division), and the Terai Forest, Division. The newly created park with its adjoin-ing verdant acres today make up the sole surviving jungles of the Garhwal Himalaya. The Ramganga River gushes from the Upper Himalaya, flowing for about 40 kilometers (25 miles) through the northern part of the forest-covered hills, creating some of nature’s most dramatic landscapes. Visitors can catch glimpses of fast-moving shoals of Indian Salmon and ‘Freshwater Sharks’ (the Mahseer) over the pebbled riverbed of the clear but turbulent waters of the Ramganga.
A darn has been constructed at Kalagarh, and the reserve encloses part of this reservoir. It attracts numerous water birds like pintails, Northern Shoveller, Garganey, the Cotton and Lesser Whistling Teal. Wigeon, and many others. e reservoir serves as a waterhole for fauna during the hot and sultry summer days, and on winter mornings, Common Indian Crocodile (Crocodiles palustris) — also known as Marsh Crocodile — and the thin-snouted Ghana! (Coriolis gangeticus) can be spotted on the banks of the Ramganga, basking in the gentler sun. They feed on fish in the dam and are only dangerous to humans if approached closely.
Typical of terai-bhabar vegetation tracts, Sal is the dominant tree species. This thick Sal forest is interspersed with Shisam (Dalbergia sissoo), Jamun (Blackberry, or Sgzygium Khair (Acacia catechu), Ber (Indian Jujube), Mahua (Mowra Butter Tree), Rohini, and Haritaki. Further down the valley, clumps of spectacular rhododendron bloom in spring. The flowers of the Simal (Silk Cotton Tree), Kachanar (Bauhinia acuminata), Palash (Flame of the Forest) and Amaltas (Indian Laburnum) bloom in abundance, creating a sylvan environment. Other floral species include the pink-flowered Foxtail Orchid, the Sariva orchid, Malajhan and ferns such as Hansaraj.
Great faunal variety
The most distinct feature of this terai forest is the expanse of tall Elephant Grass which provides an ideal home for the larger carnivores. The park has chauds — vast, wild grasslands of the terai region that serve as grazing grounds for the herbivores, and are excellent places for viewing wildlife. The most prominent chaud is at Dhikala (the park’s main base offering accommodation, but also acting as a good viewing site), which extends for an area of roughly 11 by 5 kilometres (7 by 3 miles). Other major chauds are Phulai, Khinanault, Paterpani, Mohanpani, Bhadahi and Bijrani. The park has a great variety of wildlife. Cats include Tiger, Leopard (Panther), and Jungle and Leopard Cat. Corbett’s population of 1 37 Tiger are notorious for avoiding human contact. Despite the fact that both Tiger and Leopard generally remain well-camouflaged within the dappled depths ct India’s forests, visitors with considerablepatience do have the opportunity to see them. Those visitors spending at least three days in Corbett National Park are likely to come across a Tiger. An imposing denizen of the park is the Indian Elephant, large herds of which can be sighted at dawn and dusk during the summer season in the vast savannah of the Patlidun (valley), where the Ramganga valley has broadened out. A large population of Himalayan Black Bear and nearly 35 of the generally nocturnal Sloth Bear also find sanctuary in the park.
Besides its reputation for its prolific wildlife, Corbett National Park is equally famous for sheltering Asia’s largest deer numbers within its forests, and visitors are likely to come upon extensive herds of deer; a single herd can comprise hundreds of Chita’ (Spotted Deer). Other deer species to look out for are Sambhar, Barking Deer (Muntjac), and Hog Deer — a piglike deer of the grasslands and open forest. The coat of a Hog Deer is brown tinged with yellowish and reddish tints. At shoulder height, it stands 60 centimetres (24 inches) high and has the habit of running with its head lowered, like its namesake the hog. These deer live on grass and leaves.
Of the smaller wildlife, the Common Langur — recognizable.by its black face, silvery coat and long tail — and the Rhesus Macaque, which has a reddish face, can be spotted in the trees, while the Ratel (Honey Badger) and Indian Porcupine inhabit the dense undergrowth.
Reptile species such as the Barred Monitor Lizard, the deadly King Cobra — identifiable by the horizontal bands on its upper body — and the Indian Rock Python, a large, thick-bodied snake, inhabit the Corbett reserve. Otters delight in frolicking in the Ramganga River, which is also a breeding ground for fish such as the migratory Mahseer (a local freshwater shark) and Goonch (Bagarius bagadus). Nature lovers have petitioned the Uttaranchal government to declare the Ramganga belt a Mahseer sanctuary, in an effort to save the fish, which is presently endangered due to overfishing.
A magnet for ornithologists
Corbett is popular among ornithologists and bird-watchers as 600 avian species have been recorded here. Some of the notable ones are Ka Pheasant. Peafowl (Peacock), Red Jungle Fowl, White-crested and Black Gorgetted Laughing Thrush, Mistle’s Thrush, Indian Pitta, Paradise Flycatcher, and the White-capped and Plumbeous Redstart. Of interest is the arrival of the Black-crested Cuckoo, which heralds the impending monsoon — the rains inevitably sweep through a week later. Corbett counts an extensive number of raptors among it bird species, Blyth’s Baza, Red-headed Merlin ospreys, Crested Serpent Eagle, Scavenger Vultur€ and the Hen and Marsh Harrier being only a handful. Wading birds include snipes, egrets and heron!
Location: Situated at an altitude of between 120 and 400m (400 and 1250ft). Nearest railhead is at Ramnagar, approximately 19km (12 miles) southeast of the park. Nearest airport is at Pantnagar 50km (30 miles) away.
Climate: Summer temperatures soar to 40°C (104°F), while on winter mornings the temperature dips to 10°C (50°F).
When to go: Best period is between November and May; visibility of wildlife is better in the drier summer. Park remains closed in wet monsoon season from July to October.
Getting there: The Delhi-Moradabad National Highway connects the Kashipur-Ramnagar-Dhikala network of towns. Project Tiger headquarters are at Ramnagar, mandatory entry point for the park. Bus services operate regularly along the Nainital-Kathgodam-Ramnagar-la Dhikala route.
Facilities: Basic facilities at Dhikala (forest rest houses and log huts), which has a canteen and shop sell-ing provisions. Forest rest houses at Sarapduli, Gairal and Bijrani, all within the park. More upmarket hotels in nearby Ramnagar: Corbett Infinity Resort (Tiger Tops), Corbett Claridges Hideaway and Corbett River Side Resort.
Wildlife: The Indian Elephant population in Corbett is significant. A number of highly trained elephants are available to take visitors into the forest at dawn and dusk. January is best for birdwatching.
Reservations: Contact Chief Conservator Forests, 1, Rana Pratap Marg, Lucknow-226001; or The Field Director, Project Tiger, Corbett Tiger Reserve, Post Office: Ramnagar, Nainital District, Uttaranchal.