It was that time of the year when Spring steps in on tinkle toes and the harsh winter winds surrender to the cheery breeze. Our anniversary; though the cheeriness was limited to the two of us only. Oh, not that our folks weren’t happy for us, but whoever heard was like “Again?!!!” Well..Yes again…our anniversary trip to our favourite places- Corbett.
Corbett; now obviously everyone has heard about the Jim Corbett National Park; the bountiful natural surrounds with abundance of varied flora and fauna – mainly the majestic monarch, the tiger. The relative arrangement of the physical features make it one of the biggest national parks in our country. Geographically speaking, it’s located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The variety of verdancy ranges from conifers to deciduous vegetation.
A large portion of the area dominated is by Sal trees, the other kinds of trees include Khair, jamoon, bel, kusum, mahua, bakil, chir pine, banj oak that are scattered in the forest park varying with geography and climatic conditions favorable for them. The holy Peepal and Mango trees are found abundantly too. And adding color to the verdant palette are the flowering trees like Kachnaar bearing pink hues, Semal – a cotton tree bearing big red flowers, Dhak with radiant orange ones, Laburnum with a happy yellow blossom to name a few. Teak, eucalyptus, jacaranda, silver oak and bottlebrush are some of the trees that are cultivated in the park.
The river Ramganga along with three major tributaries- Sonanadi, Mandal and Palain make sure that the water supply is perennial in the area.
The entire reserve is divided into five major zones Dhikala, Jhirna, Bijrani, Durgadevi and Sonanadi.
There are trains, and then there is the road…and the likes of us find the latter more suitable for our trip. So my husband and I work early on our anniversary after catching a few winks (literally because as a ritual we had finished the packing only by 1 AM) So after taking greetings and blessings we started off with a promise to Mom to keep messaging about every stop/milestone covered. With our choicest music tuned in, with snacky stuff packed; we were going with my hubby’s ruling we tried and crossed the major traffic- stricken areas before the “office time” which brought us to a good coverage by a 3 hours where after the sight of McDonald’s made us realize that we were low on glucose…hence stopped for refueling of our systems, stretched n freshened up , we got back in our Rapid.
The weather was just right, like I mentioned earlier, Spring in the air and everything was just right for a drive like this one. The maddening metropolis crowd, the hustle bustle of the so called civilized society seemed to be rushing backwards as we raced ahead into the sparsely populated area of Ramnagar, heralding our scenic sojourn.
Now Corbett for us isn’t just another National Park, it’s a home away from home, read on to know what makes it just that.
A drive through the open meadows, crossing some tilled land, with the hills in the far sight and freshness in the mountain breeze leads you to a place that looks no short of a fairytale mansion, The Homestead. This sprawling countryside property, surrounded by arable land, fenced by Mango and other fruit trees on the horizon is owned by an elderly couple Anil and Ameeta Puri who became Bunny Uncle and Amu Aunty before our first visit ended. It isn’t one of those clichéd home stays with 5 star facilities that you find mushrooming around the tiger reserve – some very big names at that, but this is something else.
The Homestead has deluxe suites, deluxe rooms, and a couple of cottages. The main mansion has a huge landscaped garden with a riot of flowers, through which a path leads to the flowering trees and the waterfall landscaped swimming pool. Further on are the spa and the gym area. Beyond this is the relaxation area complete with the hammock and a little stream with fish and lotus in full bloom leads to the barbeque region.
The moment we got there, we saw Aunty and Uncle both standing to welcome us with open arms. The manager and the entire staff have taken after our loving hosts in affability. After the exchange of pleasantries we were ushered into the open dining area – an area beautifully done up with lovely plants and many objet d’art. Our tiredness seeped away as we quaffed homegrown sugarcane juice with a dash of mint and ginger.
Now we two have this advantage of getting the cottage to ourselves on visit. And when we went in, apart from the impeccably done décor to suit our taste, to our surprise there were gifts and chocolates placed in our room! That was such a sweet gesture really!
The meals are categorically to our liking and after the evening tea, Uncle took us to present his new found hobby of star gazing; there was this huge telescope and he had a lot to tell us about this new venture.
We retired into our cottage to rest for while and joined Uncle and Aunty for our special anniversary dinner with them. Where after we talked over dessert and finally retired for the night…with the excitement of going on a safari the next morning.
Usually getting up in the morning is quite a task back home but there we didn’t seem to need an alarm at all! We got ready in no time and packed up for our amazing time ahead.
Now in most of the places in our country 4 AM isn’t really the time of bustling activity in the market place- but here you’d find just that. All shops are open barring a few showrooms, and the roads brimming with people and vehicles. Their day starts early because of the tourist movement in the wee hours.
The moon was still governing the skies when we got to the gate of the reserve. To top it all there was a stall of steaming hot masala chai where all the who’s who of the tiger reserve fraternity were busy sharing their schedules and designated jeeps. So we got into our jeep with our guide and driver. We usually take the entire jeep to ourselves to enjoy our safari to our taste. We categorically told the guide and driver that our aim isn’t just tiger sighting, it’s to enjoy nature every bit of it. Dhikala zone is covered mainly by a canter unless one stays in the camps/guest house in the core area which wasn’t the case with us, so we were out into the Jhirna zone.
In the outskirts of the jungle one can see other mortals but as you go deeper you learn to admire the quietude. The spotted deer and sambhar are always the first to welcome us. Followed by Neel Gai and lemurs. As the dawn broke the chirruping of birds grew louder and we spotted some beautiful winged creatures.
Further on there was an apparent distress call by the monkeys…a distress call denotes danger lurking in the shadows …but who? Big question.
We drove ahead tight-lipped though there are certain tourists who don’t believe in the sanctity of silence – I personally feel they shouldn’t be allowed inside the part at all…
Well, to our good luck the noisy group left – they weren’t really patient to see what’s in the bushes. Our guide told us that the sound coming through the trees seemed like a group of elephants – and so it was, not really a group but a couple of them. The bigger one kept far and moved away, but there was this cute one, a little older to be called a calf but not yet an adult who was confused whether to scare us or run to mama! I got a perfect click of my hubby clicking it.
Moving through the stream that usually floods over in the rainy season, we drove over rocks, making way amid edgy creepers and thorny bushes into the wilderness. There was this area of yellowed but long grown grass when suddenly but tactfully our driver said “ Tiger” “Where?” “Just look in front in the grass” So we did…and with a walk that befitted a queen, Sharmilee the tigress came out into the path…crossed our jeep silently as we were busy clicking and relishing august company. It went away to the other side of the shrubbery. Wow … just wow.
It is a general human behaviour in Corbett that one gets a sense of achievement after a tiger sighting; and we were no different. So on our way out of the jungle we were even more actively soaking in the freshness of the pure breeze. Yes the deer bid us a ‘till we meet next’ on our way out too…
Uncle and Aunty were awake and the staff was bustling to set the table for our breakfast by the time we got back. Seeing our excitement they guessed our stint with royalty. We were back in our cottage showered, took some time off lazing around. We walked in the gardens relishing the riot of colours in the bloom all around. We prepped for an early lunch and started off for the evening safari (yeah some of you might ask – again? But you just had one in the morning?) OK yes, and to reiterate Corbett for us isn’t just tigers, it’s a wholesome experience. So we went off again for our confluence with the nature; and needless to say we enjoyed this one thoroughly too. We were back in time for our evening tea spiced up with stories of Bunny Uncle!
Next day we woke up leisurely to the crowing of the cock – a very punctual breed of poultry in our hosts’ farm. They have cultivations on their land all around, including orchards (lychee and mango), a mini poultry farm for eggs, an organic compost pit – so in a way they are self sufficient in all respects. We took it easy that day, drooled over an amazing breakfast especially planned by Aunty.
Finally a little before the sun went overhead we got ready for an adventure ride.
The ATV – All Terrain Vehicle- a comparatively new concept in India is a 4 wheeled vehicle that can run on any terrain – believe me I wished I could take one back home too… Well, my hubby was given a micro-crash course on how to drive it by one of the staff members there, and he was kind enough to pilot us through the ride too. I perched up behind my hubby and whoa what a ride it was! We went through the forest area in the vicinity (a few kilometers away that is) of the mansion, through all possible terrain…no I didn’t fall – but you must hold tight, literally!
Once back we had a quick lunch before we kicked off to our last safari of the visit. Our guide somehow wasn’t available but the driver said he would take us through the safari as we would like. So we went ahead with our driver cum guide into the hinterland yet again. The deciduous grows so thick in the deep core area that there is darkness even during noon. Due to the weather being warmer than usual, it had been forecasted that the tiger in that zone could move into the particular area called Machan Chaur during that time of the day. Now such predictions are made based on years of experience and research on the forest area and the animal behaviour native to that region. So there was no question of not waiting…though there wasn’t really a call, we managed to see the striped big cat through the dense bushes but it was just a ‘blink and you miss’ sight. Our driver told us that this animal would move to the other side now so if you guys want we could go there…we both nodded our heads and exclaimed “But of course!” in unison…safaris are one of the occurrences where our views are almost similar if not exactly the same…!
So we drove over to the other side and found hardly any jeeps close to our heels.. I mean wheels…it was a risk and we hoped to have a royal rendezvous and we did!!! It was Pandit – the grown up male cub- almost an adult, came from over the rocky terrain, and crossed our jeep – yes it was within a meter of our vehicle!!! What a sight really. It was just too good. Animals definitely seemed more well behaved than us mortals, even a tiger wouldn’t do anything if not provoked no matter how close you are to it, it wouldn’t strike unless provoked or it has turned into a man-eater…well well to make matters great the land on the other side was all plain with burnt grass so we could observe our national animal in all its pride and glory. After freezing the moments on our cameras, we started on our ride back to the entry gate. It was a very happy day and were we dying to tell Uncle and Aunty about our encounter!
They met us out in the front lawn for tea, and were all ears about our adventure. Afterwards we retired, took some rest and were back to Uncle and Aunty for to spend the evening with them. We chatted over snacks about Uncle’s flight in a chartered plane and more. Post dinner we packed up stuff and bid our adieu to our hosts- they had to leave for a family wedding infact had stayed back to meet us…but they made sure everything was in place for our journey back home.
At times one thinks, it’s impossible to hold time, make it stand still even if you want to you cannot, but these fun adventurous moments at Corbett read Homestead get etched on your heart forever. The experience is like a soul – detox to rejuvenate and that’s exactly how we felt as we drove back home, bidding au-revoir to our home away from home – only till we meet again…