We froze for just a minute or less as a large tusker moved menacingly towards our jeep at the Sitabani Forest Reserve at the Corbett National Park .Our jeep driver beat a hasty retreat in reverse gear and the lumbering tusker halted, then ambled off the road into the forest.
It was during a week end family outing to the Corbett National Park .We stayed at the Jungle Brook Camp in tented accommodation, in surroundings that blended well with the ecology of the Park. It was good going on a driving vacation with the family ,which added to a lingering desire to go in for an SUV!!The roads were quite good for most of the way upto Moradabad, far far better than a decade or so ago when I used to travel down this road quite often to visit the Xerox Manufacturing plant at Rampur. I recollect the breakfast halts we used to have at Giani’s dhaba in Gajraula.Now the preferred options are MacDonalds and Meriton .That and the multi lane toll roads were the visible signs of progress.
The Jungle Brook Camp had just the right ambience. The tented accommodation was functional and the food was reasonable. The staff was helpful and friendly which always makes the difference in comfort and perception. We, Deepa, her Mom and I, Seema and Darshan, and Ayesha and Ankita had an enjoyable week end.
The Corbett National Park is divided into four safari zones i.e. the Dhikala , Bijrani, Jhirna and Durga Devi zones .Of these the popular ones are the Dhikala and Bijrani zones where tiger and other animal sightings are more frequent . Morning safaris in these zones are very difficult to get as booking has to be done months in advance. We had to settle for an evening safari at the Sitabani Forest Reserve which is out side the controlled zones of the Corbett Park.
I was to appreciate that the value of visiting such forest reserves is not just in fleeting sightings of the big cats but equally in appreciating the ecosystem that supports this wild life, the challenges of conservation of the ecosystem and the gains of preserving the balance between progress and nature. This trip whetted my appetite to do some reading around these topics.
It was good to read in the newspaper that the latest tiger census has shown a rise in the tiger population from 1450 odd to `1700! The Corbett Area has seen a tiger population growth from 165 some to 215 for the last census in 2006!! While the tiger population is growing ,the habitable areas for the tigers are reducing due to human encroachment, leading to greater density of tigers in the shrinking space, with consequent tiger-human conflicts and inter tiger battles for survival. The Save the Tiger Project is full of challenges but a task well worth the effort.
Back at the Sitabani Forest Reserve we went on a very bumpy ride in a Maruti Gypsy King. It’s only right that the path way should be almost like an off road track. In fact I felt it was too much like a paved road albeit pot holed .The natural forest setting would call for a path way weaving through the forest with restricted access to vehicles.
For most of the four hour safari, we saw no wild life other than peacocks, monkeys, a barking deer and a few wild fowls. As we were returning, with the sun setting and dusk almost upon us, we were informed of the presence of a tusker in the vicinity. We soon came across a fairly large tusker with large curved tusks, stomping through the bushes less than 50 feet away. Our jeep had driven past it but the driver decided to make a u-turn on the narrow road ,to let us get a closer look at the tusker and take some photos.
That’s when the beast got a trifle nervous, climbed on to the road and took a few menacing steps towards us. We were face to face at close quarters with an upset tusker!! As we froze ,the driver stepped on the accelerator and sped away in reverse gear. The elephant watched us for a moment then lumbered off the road. Lone tuskers we are told are unpredictable and it is better to stay clear of them .Making a U-turn to take a closer look was not the right thing to do.
There was more excitement of sorts when we saw a herd of spotted deer at a distance in the forest and agitated alarm calls from a samba .This we were told is a sure sign of a tiger in the vicinity.We waited a while to see if we could catch a glimpse of the tiger, or if luck would have it, see it go for a kill ,but this was not to be .We waited a while but as it was quite dark by then and difficult to see anything, we drove back to the Jungle Brook Camp.
So ended a lovely family get together over the week end.