Situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, lies the mystical Jim Corbett National Park, embroiled in tales of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Established in the year 1936 as Hailey National Park, Corbett has the glory of being India’s oldest National Park.
Spanning over 520 square kilometers, it has a variety of landscapes including hills, marshlands, grasslands, and water bodies. Although the park is vast, its headquarters Ramnagar is in Nainital district, Uttarakhand.
Prior to its establishment, the park was private property in the Tehri Garhwal princely state. The Raja of Tehri handed over a part of the region to the East India Company in exchange for their assistance against the Gurkhas. Boksas a tribe from the Terai who settled in this area and practiced agriculture were ousted by the British in 1860. The process of park preservation began in 1868. The existing terrain and the wildlife were so unique that the plan to create the wildlife reserve was drawn in 1907. However, it was only in 1930, that the park went through the process of demarcation under the guidance of Jim Corbett. A reserve area known as Hailey National Park covering 323.75 square km was created in 1936 when Sir Malcolm Hailey was the Governor of the United Provinces.
The reserve was renamed in 1954–55 to Ramganga National Park. After the death of Jim Corbett, to keep his memory alive the name of the park was changed again to the Jim Corbett National Park in 1955–56. Over time, the area of the reserve kept on expanding and increased to 797.72 square km in 1991 with a buffer zone. This makes it one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in India. In 1974 the wildlife conservation project, Project Tiger was launched here by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
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Edward James Corbett, a.k.a Jim Corbett was born in 1857 in Nainital, Uttarakhand. He was of British ancestry and was the 8th child in a large family of 16. Although he wanted to study further, he joined the railway as a fuel inspector to support his family. During his life, Corbett tracked and shot several man-eating leopards and tigers. The first man-eater was the Champawat Tiger which was responsible for an estimated 436 documented deaths. He has written about his hunting adventures in his books: Man-Eaters of Kumaon, The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, and The Temple Tiger.
Lying between the Lesser Himalaya in the north and the Shivaliks in the south, the park has numerous ravines, ridges, minor streams, and small plateaus. The river Ramganga flows through the park. Only 20% of the park is open to tourists. The rest of the park is protected only for wildlife. It is home to approximately 110 tree species, 50 mammal species, 580 bird species, and 25 reptile species.
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The primary activity to do in the Park is Jungle Safari. There are various kinds of jungle safaris to pick from. While planning your visit, book your tickets from the Uttarakhand Government website, a month in advance. On-the-spot booking is not possible for the official forest areas. If you do miss out on booking the safari, you can always book the Sitabani Safari as it is in the buffer zone. Every safari trip is 2-3 hours long. The timings are different in summers and winters. While packing for the safari keep the printout of the ticket and government-issued id card handy.
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The national park is split into 5 different zones. Each of these zones has a unique terrain. They are:
Dhikala zone keeps the celebrity status among all the tourist zones of the Corbett National Park. It is the largest zone of the Corbett National Park and carries a large variety of flora and fauna. Safari is not available to day visitors. One has to book a stay in the forest guest house to experience the safari in this zone. It is the best tiger spotting zone in the entire park.
In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bear Grylls shot a special episode of Man vs Wild in this zone of the National Park. It is open from 15th November to 15th June.
The next popular zone to spot tigers is the Bijrani zone. Since an overnight stay is not mandatory for the safari, the tickets get sold out faster. Its landscape includes large grasslands, thick Sal forest, and streams. It is open from 15th October to 30th June.
The Jhirna zone is located on the southern edge of the Corbett National Park. Since this zone is open for tourists throughout the year, it has the highest number of visitors. Along with the majestic tigers, the sloth bear sighting is the main attraction of this zone.
Opened in December 2014, the Dhela zone is the latest addition to the tourism zones of the national park. This zone also remains open all around the year for the tourists like the Jhirna zone. However, the safari depends on the weather condition. Apart from wildlife, this zone is the best for bird watching.
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The zone is situated on the northeast periphery of the Corbett forest and is highly rich in species of flora and fauna. The streams of Ramganga River and Mandal River enrich the water bodies of this zone and add beauty to this wild forest. It is open from 15th November to 15th June.
The Sitabani forest zone is the reserve forest zone located outside the Corbett Tiger reserve area. The zone is treated as the Buffer area of the tiger reserve and is open to everyone to visit here. There are around 600 bird species found in this zone among which most are migratory birds. Mostly herbivore animals like elephants, deer, sambars, and Nilgai are found here.
Other than Safari, the national park premise has a museum in Dhikala and Corbett’s ancestral home in Kaladungi.
The museum is vast and is power packed with information about wildlife. From the different species of mammals in the jungle to the whistling of different kinds of birds in the park, this museum has it all. With the help of 3D and light shows you get an insightful view of jungle life at night.
At the banks of River Kosi, on a hilltop is the Garjiya Mata Mandir. The temple is over 150 years old and is dedicated to Garjiya Devi. It has thousands of devotees visiting on a daily basis. It is the best place to spot some rare species of birds, especially the Himalayan kingfisher.
If you are interested in adventure activities, there are different tour operators that offer trekking, river rafting, mountain biking, and more.
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The nearest airport is in Pantnagar at a distance of 83km. For train travel, there is a railway station at Ramnagar that has connectivity to Delhi. The road trip of 245km from Delhi takes around 5 hours.
The national park is an International tourist destination that has plenty of resorts, hotels, homestays, and riverside camps. Other than the Government rest houses, none of these commercial properties are established within the forest. They are all on the highway or in the buffer zone. It is indeed surreal to witness the raw beauty of this land. While on one side, the forest and its ecosystem exist; on the other side, towards the resorts and hotels, River Kosi flows softly but swiftly.
If you are up for adventure and would like to live within the forest, you can visit the Uttarkhand Government website and book your stay in advance. All the Corbett forest zones have rest houses known as Forest Lodge. It isn’t mandatory to stay inside the forest unless you opt to visit the Dikhala zone. Food and other amenities will be taken care of by the caretakers. Consumption of alcohol and non-vegetarian food is strictly prohibited within the park.
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The months of December to March are ideal to visit the national park. At an elevation of 1200ft, the park and its surrounding areas cool to a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius during the winter months. It is easier to move around and the chances of spotting a Tiger in the early hours of dawn are higher.
Summers in Corbett are unbearable. The months of May and June face temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius. My visit to Corbett in June was excruciatingly uncomfortable because of the weather and high humidity.
From June to October, most of the park is closed for monsoon. During this time, the waterbodies within the forest fill up and the vehicles find it difficult to traverse through the lush green vegetation.
This post is authored by Akshaya Vijay as part of the IndiTales Internship Program.