Glorious Corbett – I
Please excuse the corny title. But like all clichés, this is also true. Corbett is magical. It has been over two months since our trip there, but I still haven’t gotten over it. And I can’t wait to go back there again.
This account will not include any routine details about the Park, which can be found on its official website. It will only cover my experiences, with pictures and videos.
The forest and its trees
One of the magical aspects of Corbett is its varied landscape. The trees making up the main forest are sal, and the primary experiences of a tourist in Corbett are endless jeep rides through the dappled shade of the sal forest.
There are many species of trees in the forest – but one that I find very interesting, and which is seen in many places, is the strangler fig. One associates trees with non-violence and peace, with the Buddha, with calmness and serenity. But the reality of the strangler fig belies that philosophical connection. What better example of Nature’s dark, silent forces than a tree that kills another!
A colourful feature of the forest that struck us as we drove along was a red tree that would suddenly pop up among the sea of varied green. We came across three trees that were red in colour – the kusum tree with red leaves, the Indian coral tree and the flame of the forest, both with red flowers.
Another beautiful flowering tree we saw was the kachnaar. The tree was covered only in pink and white blooms, with several birds having a great time on it!
Nothing like green to soothe the eyes and the soul though – and the forest showed us several shades of green. Like this tree with a creeper around it, each with leaves in different greens. I wonder what they are…
And then there were the mountain trails that took us on roller-coaster drives to cliff-sides with wondrous vistas – one such sublime vista was the view from the observation deck at the Dhikala forest guesthouse.
The deck overlooked the Ramganga river and the grassland surrounding it, with hills in the background. Dhikala’s domesticated safari elephants were bathed in the river and left to graze there. I’m sure wild elephants also visit, though we didn’t see any. We did see a family of wild boars, a herd of chital, a flock of vultures feeding on a carcass (in the far distance) and several other birds. There are steps leading down from the deck to the river, barred now by an electric fence – apparently a tiger had climbed up the steps one night some years ago!
The deck also provided us with a really close encounter – a crested serpent eagle flew past just a few feet above us! All of us were too stunned to take a photograph!
Some of us were better prepared when a similar encounter occurred with a Pallas’ fish eagle on the guesthouse grounds while we were busy looking at this collared falconet.
Unfortunately I was not among those – I just watched open-mouthed as the eagle winged past a couple of metres above us. Here is Garima’s photograph of the eagle, along with those of other raptors we saw in Corbett.
Staying at Dhikala, in the heart of Corbett, is an experience that is difficult to describe. We awoke early in the morning while it was still dark, to the calls of at least three different nightjars. Flocks of rose-ringed and orange-breasted parakeets flew overhead as the sun rose. Around us in the trees and on the ground were lineated barbets, Oriental turtledoves, red collared and spotted doves, chestnut-tailed starlings, crested buntings, and of course, the collared falconet. Families of rhesus macaques gambolled about.
In stark contrast to the thickly wooded forest is the grassland, called chaur. This is the favourite haunt of elephants as well as deer such as chital and hog deer, and of course the tiger. It is also home to several species of grassland birds.
…and its denizens
We visited two chaurs, Dhikala and the one around the Ramganga reservoir. At the latter, we saw a stone curlew and a jackal – both ran away, before the stone curlew decided to sit down, and remained there for a long time. The reservoir had several water birds and the chaur around it had a profusion of Oriental skylarks, many of the males busily displaying. The male skylark flies and sings at the same time for several minutes! Energetic bird indeed!
This paddyfield pipit posed very obligingly for quite some time.
The deer in Corbett seemed very shy, especially the hog deer. At the Dhikala chaur, this one took off at lightening speed as soon as our jeep approached, even though we were a fair distance away.
A herd of chital, much further away, seemed comparatively unconcerned by our presence.
Every stalk of grass seemed to have a bird on it – bright-headed and zitting cisticolas, drongoes, pied and Hodgson’s bushchats and common stonechats.
And here is a pied bushchat with the most prominent occupants of the chaur…
They are such a delight to watch, especially when the herd has little babies! All of us went berserk with our cameras!
Here they are indulging in their favourite activity.
Our jeeps were on a trail cutting across the middle of the chaur. A herd (or part of a herd) on the right side decided to cross over to the left. We stopped the jeeps to let them pass. First the matriarch came up to the path and sniffed the air in our direction.
Then the herd started to cross, a few elephants at a time.
There were a couple of babies that needed to get across. The bigger one was bolder, it walked across on its own. The tiny one was unsure, and waited till mum was alongside.
There were a couple of heart-in-the-mouth moments too. Here’s one of them…
Another such moment came when we were returning. A jeep (not one of ours) had stopped on the path as a nearby elephant kept charging when it tried to pass her. Our jeep quickly drove past, just missing the elephant as she charged again. She stopped just short of the stationary jeep, as she had done before – a mock charge!
A third such moment was when we encountered a group on the side of the road along the Ramganga. We came upon them quite suddenly, just as they were about to cross the road towards the river. We stopped. So did they. They watched us. The matriarch picked up a stick and started scratching her face. Then…
…all was well. They crossed the road and went into the river to have their fill of the cold, clear water.
There was a tiny baby in the herd, who found it difficult to maintain a foothold on the rocks in the river, and kept slipping and sliding…
Then baby fell down, and struggled to get back on its feet. Mommy and the others didn’t seem too concerned with baby’s plight.
Finally, one of the adults gave the baby a trunk-up, and they all went on their way.
Hope you liked this – please do leave a comment. Birds of Corbett in my next post…