It was a long drive from Delhi to the Jim Corbett NP. We left Delhi shortly after noon and took seven hours for the 250km to the Corbett Hideaway. It did not help that the Tigers in Corbett driver did not speak a word of English. Later, Ramesh, the head of the company, explained us that they use only local people who do not usually speak English, but they plan to organize English classes for them.
It was getting dark, when nature called and we asked the driver to stop. Quite an experience if you haven’t been to a “service station” on Indian highways. We bought some cookies and chips to ease our hunger and prepared for our next first: get to know the Indian roads at night. To say I was scared is an understatement. Efie took a nap – lucky girl – and I had to face all by my self the one hundred twenty near-misses of opposite traveling cars and trucks. Again, the monkey god, protector of all foreign visitors that do not forget to prey when they enter a car, made his miracle and we arrived in Ramnagar. This is the largest town in the Jim Corbett NP area, home to 47 thousand people. From there it was only 20 min to our hotel and boy, was I happy to arrive.
The room was really nice and the restaurant buffet above average. Shower, dinner with wine, back to the room. Charge the camera batteries and finally go to bed. We were up for an early wake up call to do the first safari. We went to Jim Corbett NP to catch a glimpse ot the elusive tiger, king of the Indian jungle, the largest surviving cat. Now, tigers are mainly nocturnal animals and not hard to see. If you want a guaranteed sighting, you can visit Rathanbore that has the densest population of wild tigers anywhere in the world. We did not. According to most on-line sources, Rathanbore is something between a park and a zoo. Tigers are tracked and when a guide spots one, they communicate the position and soon a fleet of 20something Maruti-Suzukis arrive on the spot to see the creature. I am not sure how the tiger feels, but after being in the Serengeti, this was not exactly my idea for safari.
The park is named after the hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett and hosts more than 200 tigers and about 575 more species. It is the most bio-diverse park in India. Most of the park is closed to visitors, but what is accessible will be appreciated by nature and wildlife lovers. You can go through jungle, lakes and rivers, see elephants, birds of prey and crocodiles and if you are lucky the Bengal Tiger. We were not.
We had two full day and one half day safari and the closet we come to a tiger the footprints that you see in the photo at the top of the page. We did enjoy it though. Indeed the park is very scenic, we saw eagles, vultures, owls, deer, monkeys, jackals and our adrenaline hit the roof when we heard on 2-3 occasions the alarm calls of the spotted dears. Dears produce a high pitch sound that alerts the heard when a tiger in nearby. This is when everybody stops and holds their breath, in hope of seeing the big cat.
Not seeing what we came for, the highlight of the visit was the elephant ride. On the second night, we left the Corbett Hideaway to sleep in the Dhikala forest lodge. This is the only way you can book an elephant safari. The forest lodge is rather basic and as it proved, rather dirty. The rooms reminded me of Greek rooms-to-let of the early 80s in remote islands. Very basic furniture, iron dormitory bed and bedsheets of unknown laundry status.
We went for the elephant ride in the afternoon. We rode a cute female teenager, together with 4 other people, through the nearby dense forest. Only female elephants serve the tours, as males proved to be too aggressive for the task. In the beginning, I wanted the tour to end immediately. If you are not used to elephant rides, you move wildly with every step the animal takes and you are in agony trying to hold yourself from falling. If you have even a mild back condition, like I do, you want the torture to end right there. After 200 meters, I got used to it. Not that my back did not kill me, it did, but I started to get absorbed by the grace and power of our host. There is virtually nothing that stops an elephant from continuing her path. Thick vegetation? Step on it. A tree in the way? Uproot it. Hungry? Use the trunk to collect yummy leaves from nearby branches. Cute and effective. An elephant is also the best way to get close to a tiger if one is in the vicinity. Tigers are not scared by elephants but are definitely scared by tourists. Apparently six tourists on a elephant are classified as an elephant, not as a bunch of tourists.
After we got back, we had dinner in the restaurant of the forest lodge and as it turned out, it was the biggest mistake of the trip. We slept with our clothes on, t-shirt on the pillow and no, we did not shower.
The next day, after a full day safari, we returned to the Corbett Hideaway. The day after we had a morning safari, but surprise-surprise, no tigers around. By mid day the temperature, in January, is in the 30s (Celsius) but in the morning it falls below 10 degrees. The safari vehicles are open and we were not prepared for cold weather. We used blankets but the 20min ride from the hotel to the park entrance was really a challenge. Right after ten, we got back to the hotel to pick our luggage and head back to Delhi.
Here is where my three day suffering began. After driving back and forth to Ramnagar, because we forgot one bag in the hotel – total one hour wasted – I started shivering. Temperature rising, sick feeling, cursing my luck. We had fever pills which helped but I had to take three of them until we reached Delhi after seven hours. Ah! we had a flat tire on the way. We stopped at a local tire repair shop, which by the way is not different to the untrained tourist than a pharmacy or an electronics shop and I saw how the Indian tire-repair professionals do their job. They ask the customer to take the wheel out, hand them the tire, then they do the repair and hand the tire back to the customer to mount it on the vehicle. No sweat.
But I was sweating. A lot. Obviously this is what you should expect when the fever pills do what they are supposed to do. I was really happy to reach the hotel in Delhi by dawn. I took a hot shower and slipped right into bed, fever rising again. Not alone. The dreadful Indian diarrhea had knocked on my door.
Next: Kathmandu, Nepal