The other day I took a safari into the depths of the Jim Corbett National Park (JCNP). Established in 1936, located near Ramnagar in Uttarakhand, this is the oldest national park in India. JCNP is spread on the vast area of more than 1300 sq kilometers and houses around 164 Royal Bengal tigers as well as 110 tree species, 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species.
Albeit the visit did not include much of animal sightings; it was nevertheless an adventurous and exciting safari. I hired a private safari jeep for the purpose and entered the park from the Bijrani gate at the schedule time of 2:00pm. The park could be visited only through one of the five gates namely Bijrani, Jhirna, Dhikala, Sonanadi and Domunda. The forest authorities allow safaris to enter the park only twice a day (6:30am to 10:30am and 2:00pm to 6:00pm). So, don’t assume you can enter the forest at a time of your convenience. A permit is required to enter the park and it is issued from the forest office in Ramnagar. The safari driver will arrange for the permit and the cost of the permit is included in the tariff he would offer you. One of the person on safari will have to produce an identity card for getting the permit.
My voyage inside the jungle was fascinating. We could sight a lot of deers, elephants, dancing peacock. sambhar deers… and yes, the crown sighting of a Bengal tiger! Let me tell you that sighting a tiger is just a matter of luck. Don’t think that entering through a particular gate or at a particular time increases your odds. Tiger is the king of the forest —it presents itself to you on its own accord. It’s wise not to pester it for the elegant animal can be fatal. Just a roar of in sight tiger in the woods can scare the soul out of most people. Do not mess up with it. Allow me to say that my luck was shining as I could indeed see an adult tiger in its own home.
Seeing a tiger from so close in the wild is a goose-bump experience. The tiger was hardly about 15-20 feet away from me. I could see it walking into the bushes. This sighting made other people envious of me because by the time other jeeps could arrive on the spot the tiger had taken a place deep into the bushes and only a portion of its orange back with black stripes was visible. The guides consoled other people saying “Bhai sahab, abhi kamar to dikh rahi hai na; kai baar to logo ko kewal poonchh dekh kar hi wapas jana padta hai” (Sir, you are lucky that you are seeing the back of a tiger, sometime people have to contend themselves with the end of tiger’s tail). The tiger was sighted when only an hour was left before the safari concluded. So, most people decided to stop right at that spot and wait for the tiger to come out of the bushes. But the King did not oblige.
A heavy penalty could be imposed on you if you step off the jeep when it is in the jungle. People moved from one jeep to another in attempt to see the tiger —but they were not allowed to set foot on ground. Tiger sees the entire jeep as a single animal which, it learns by experience, is harmless. Therefore, it does not attack the jeep as such. But if you will separate yourself from the jeep —in the eyes of tiger you will become a separate thing that moves. A tiger don’t like alien things roaming around in its territory.
The experience was wholesome. For a few minutes we stopped when all other jeeps had gone away and just listened to the sound of silence in the jungle. It fills you with peace and bliss. Although the tiger is the major reason why people enter the JCNP —the forest is also good for bird-watching. My only disappointment was that I could not sight a single reptile. I would have loved to see and photograph a monitor lizard. I had perched myself on top of the jeep to get the best possible view of the woods; but remember it could be very dangerous to sit like this.
In any case you will need a good quantity of ointment and fomentation to massage your complaining muscles after such daring. Secure your camera and other equipment well if you decide to sit like this because the jeeps run on rough terrain. The rough paths shake the vehicles like an earthquake of 9.0 on Richter scale.