Any nature lover would jump, given him a chance to explore Jim Corbett National Park, spread in 520.8 km2 (201.1 sq mi) area of hills, riverine belts, marshy depressions, grasslands and a large lake in Ramnagar, Nainital District of Uttarakhand. Besides tigers it has elephants and leopards, along with hundreds of species of birds. It was the area where the legendary hunter who later became a great nature lover and conservationist, Jim Corbett resided and wrote so many folklores like Jungle Stories, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, My India, Jungle Lore, The Temple Tree and My Kumaon.
And, he loved locals and protected their fields and livestock. Even today, his tales are lying in Kaladhungi village that was his home for many years, where he lived with his sister Maggie, before migrating to Kenya where he died at the age of 79 in 1955.
Alas! Kaladhungi could still be home for those sensitive souls who would love to explore the wilderness of Jim Corbett National Park beyond tigers and aren’t ready to be fooled by hundreds of hotels that have sprung alongside the Park who promise a sure tiger darshan, take them on a safari at an exorbitant price where visitors end up seeing a leopard if lucky or just a few deer or nilgais!
At this village is Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti (CGVS), a venture managed by a few enthusiastic youths with a mission of, “Conservation of natural resources and improvement in socio-economic and cultural status of vulnerable communities,” elaborates Mohan Pandey, Secretary CGVS.
For this, they have a couple of home-stays where visitors can live as the family members, eat home food and then explore the area. Determined to see the Corbett land, we landed up there during the month of November, the best period to be in and checked in a home-stay, belonging to a villager who welcomed us in Chhoti Halwadni with a sense of pride, “This village has hosted two viceroys of India, Lord Linlithgow in 1936 and Lord Wavell in 1946 and governors of United Province, Sir Malcom Hailey and Lord Harry Hiag. Now, you’re our lords,” welcomes Umesh Pande to his home that had a room attached to him home for us fitted with a cooler and a refrigerator.
After a refreshing cup of tea, we went out to explore the Corbett land. Our first stop was Moti’s Souvenir Shop, s shop once run by Moti, Corbett’s close associate. It had all books by the great conservationist and author, his biographies, agricultural products and handicrafts made by local artisans and many other souvenirs, “60 percent of the profit goes to the person who prepares them and the rest is used to maintain this shop,” tells Mohan Pandey.
There were many other surprises waiting for us. The foremost important attraction was to know the village itself and we went on Chhoti Haldwani Heritage Village Trail. Crisscrossing fields, ravines and small guls (irrigation canals), we passed through a house belonging to Moti, now housed by his son and grandsons. This was a typical bhabhar (lower floodplain) village, full of green paddy fields and saffron sunflowers. On this 3.5 km long trail we passed through 500 m long stone wall, built by Corbett to protect the village from the wildlife. We had firs hand experience of the work done by Jim Corbett to develop this village as a model Kumaoni village. There were many birds too like Himalayan Magpie, parakeets and woodpeckers. “You can see 350 species here and in surrounding forests,” tells Pandey who was serving as a guide to us. Visitors can explore the entire 3.5 sq km area with a professional guide and enjoy birding. After a couple of hours, we landed up at the Chaupal (village common hall), where the village pradhan had a muzzle loading gun, once used by Corbett to shoot man eaters. Richa, my soul-mate, who was in NCC, posed with the gun, “Oh no! It’s so heavy,” she exclaimed. ‘We got more rifles that Corbett used from England this April and they’re equally heavy,” laughs Pandey.
On the way, we stopped as Itu sa restaurant, and enjoyed local Kumaoni delicacies like Manduva chapatti with tea and jhingora kheer (a pudding).
Our trail finally ended at the Museum, housing many articles Corbett used, including the table and chair he used to sit and write.
There were three more trails that we explored that enabled us to read the entire Chapter in Corbett’s life: The first was the Corbett Fall trail as the area has many roaring waterfalls that the great conservationist used to visit. Five km away is a fall named after him: Corbett Fall—about 10 m high where Corbett used to relax, read and write. We passed through thick woods of khair, sheesham teak forest. In the close vicinity, there were two other waterfalls: Bratirao and Laduahgar.
Next was Kaladhungi Nahar (Canal) Trail where history of Corbett’s shikars (kills) are scattered as he shot the last cattle lifter in here only in 1946, when villagers insisted. Alongside the canal, who walked through ghats and a panchakki (water mill) where people still grind wheat. There was a big iron foundry, the first in North India. Here was the jungle studio christened Arundale , built by Christopher William Corbett, Jim’s father, where Jim got his first lessons in hunting from his brother, Tom. He grew up here knowing the forest like the back of his hand. Lying in bed in Arundale, Jim could make out what was happening in the jungle and it could be verified in the morning by tracking. Just behind the house runs the Nahar which had ghats made all along. Corbett mentions them in his writing as places where he would guard his sisters while they bathed in the canal. Now, this house is in ruins
There was yet another trail left and it was Boar River & Baram Bobo trail that is an iron girder bridge across the Boar River, built in 1822 on the road connecting Kaladhungi village to Nayagaon. Here, Jim with his sister, Maggie, used to go on a long walk and spend hours fishing in the river. The trail crisscrossed the hunting lodge, “Here Corbett would sit for nights, observing animals,” tells Pandey. Keeping our fingers crossed, we passed Baram Bobo temple, that was just next to the forest and wow! A tiger in its all majesty ran across Bhumka Chaur, a crossing where the canal trail ends.
It was the rime to call it a day and we went back to our home-stay where hot, delicious supper was waiting for us.
Here, we didn’t only had a slice of eventful life that Corbett once lived, but also saw a tiger, whereas all along the Park, hotels just dump tons of wastes and fool people for an illusory tiger. Little wonder, tourists who stay here are full of its praise. Says, Paul Joseph, who came here from Box Boro, USA in September, 2008, “This was one of the most exciting tours of my life as it was my life-long ambition to see the place the Jim Corbett, one of the founders of conservation, wrote about in his books.” She is echoed by Margret Elizabeth, Jorsyth Brack, from England, who visited the area in September, 2012, “Became so familiar with the surroundings and people that I’ve been trying to trace my Indian family since I came here.” Officials are equally forthcoming as Margret Alva, the ex-Governor, Uttarakhand , visited in December , 2010, “A wonderful example of community based eco-tourism, guaranteeing sustainable development.” Prakash Pant, ex-Minster for Tourism, Uttarakhand, came here in February 2009 and writes, “Chhoti Halwani will prove to be milestone in rural tourism.” So is, Indu Kumar Pande, ex-chief secretary, Uttarakhand, who was here in April, 2014: ‘Very encouraging initiative which promotes conservation, spreads awareness and provides employment.” Even the forest officials are full of praise of the venture as Akash Kumar Sharma, IFS, Dehradun, came here in August, 2008 and writes, “My daytime visit was for a purpose to see the eco-tourism activities here, at Corbett’s village, but every passing moment, the magnetism took over and the heritage walk across the village, brought alive the Corbett’s vision.”
You too must come here as it will provide a lingering memory lasting for your life time.
Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti
Jim Corbett’s Heritage Village,
rirakesh on Gujarat Model: A role-model or… Mahesh Patil on Gujarat Model: A role-model or… rirakesh on BHU & JNU: A tale of two… elnewyorktimes.com on How Hallowed is Our Const… Mr WordPress on Hello world!