Leaving the tiger in the thickets, the amateur birder and wildlife lover learned about some species living on the fringes of the Jim Corbett National Park.
Words & photographs: Ambica Gulati
The sun was high. And the ducks were waddling in the water, many of them. The brown of their feathers glistened under the flicker of the rays. The fatigue disappeared; excited at this amazing sight, cameras and phones clicked. We were on Kosi bridge, quite near our destination Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort, but a wrong turn led us to the Bijrani gate of Corbett Tiger Reserve. And we turned back to peer at the ducks once again. What a glorious sight! I couldn’t get them out of my head until I discovered their name—Ruddy Shelduck or ‘surkhaab’, as my trip companion historian Rana Safvi called them. Surkhaab means red in Persian, and I guess the orange-brown plumage made these water fowls a stunning species. Our trip organizer, Alka Kaushik, is a native of Uttarakhand and was at ease with these natural creatures.
On another corner of the bridge, cormorants bathed in the sun, sitting like little soldiers. An amateur wildlife lover and birder, I just wished for a better lens and more ability to shoot these beautiful creatures. I had to Google them up to find more. Luckily, what I found was good—they weren’t going to leave this earth soon, if they were allowed to live in peace in their habitat.
Ruddy Shelducks are migratory birds, spending their winters in the Indian subcontinent and then breeding in eastern Europe and Central Asia. While they are in abundance in Asia, in Europe the numbers are not so good. I began to like them more as I read about them. They form a lasting pair and the nest is normally in a cliff or tree. Both the parents take care of the young ones who fledge about eight weeks after hatching. They arrive in October and depart by April. And are sacred for the Buddhists.
The dark-feathered cormorants live on fish and nest in colonies on the shores. The coastal birds are as old as the dinosaurs and their ancestors seem to be fresh-water birds–now it was interesting to see a bit of the beginning with us. They are found across the world, except the central Pacific islands. However, there are more interesting anecdotes related to these birds—humans used them for fishing. This practice was more prevalent in Ancient Egypt, Korea, Peru, India, China and Japan where it was called ukai. The method was to tie a snare is tied near the bird’s throat. The bird could swallow smaller fish but the big fish was caught in the throat. Then the bird would return to the boat and the fisherman would help remove the fish. In Norwegian tradition, it was believed that the spirits of those lost at sea visit their loved ones as cormorants.
In between this reading, we crossed a beautiful forested road, lined by sal trees, and reached Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort. Greeted with some fresh buransh aka rhodendron juice, we hastily freshened up for a late lunch. It was a fresh, home-cooked meal—nothing spicy but all healthy with mushrooms, paneer, green salad, manchurian, boiled rice, fried rice, chicken curry with Indian breads. And our itinerary said that we would be on the early morning safari from Bijrani. The park is divided into six zones—Dhikala, Bijrani, Durgadevi, Sitabani, Jhirna and Dhela.
Meeting The Deers
I love safaris and I love them more in the open Gypsy. Riding in a topless vehicle, clinging to the iron bars is just what makes my heart go pitter-patter. The morning sun was kind enough to rise as we entered the park. The rays penetrated the thick leaves slowly, waking up the forest gently. I knew the thicket was hiding many secrets but still hoped the magnificent cat would cross our path and we would be shaking with fear. Well, it just remained an imagination, though we did see the fresh paw and hear the call of the barking deer and followed the sounds to no avail.
The deer didn’t come out of the thickets. Though we didn’t see it but I discovered that these are probably one of the earliest life forms on the planet. Called Muntjacs, deposits of their remains were found in France, Germany and Poland. Their origins can be traced to 15–35 million years back. In this wait, we heard the chirps and the song of the birds sitting on the tall sal trees. But we didn’t have binoculars.
The leaves rustled and a fawn emerged. Ears high up, the sambar deer was not interested in us. It was breakfast time and we were disturbing. Native to the Indian subcontinent, southern China, and southeast Asia, these gentle creatures are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2008. Their population has been declining due to insurgency, hunting and exploitation of habitat. A nocturnal species, they are food for tigers, Asiatic lions, dholes, leopards, crocodiles.
Quite near the forest rest house, where we had stopped, a herd of spotted deers had watched this intrusion. To the Indians, a spotted deer is better known as chital. These gregarious creatures sleep close to sunrise and mostly like to stay in shaded areas.
A little ahead, a brown and black bird was waiting for us in the shrubs. Perhaps, it needed admirers for it didn’t seem flustered and didn’t immediately open its wings. This was the melodious singer—Shama Thrush. A mimic, it is an insectivorous bird.
And then a peacock danced its way on to the road. We waited for national bird to move into the shrubs. Suddenly, a peafowl flew right in front of us. The iridescent blue and green plumage never ceases to bring out some sighs which mean WOW. The Indian god of war, Kartikeya, rides on a peacock and the ancient Greeks connected them with immortality, believing the flesh of a peafowl did not degenerate.
But somewhere the heart couldn’t get over the tiger who ignored us and we almost missed the emerald dove running between trees. The magnificent, green bird is the state bird for Tamil Nadu. Shy and secretive, it prefers to run rather than fly when sensing some activity.
As the tiger didn’t seem to be a willing host, we had to turn back for he did not grace us with his magnificent presence. Langurs were eating fruits on the trees. Luckily the black-faced primates are neither naughty nor loud like the monkeys. And we weren’t rushing to drive past.
The villagers are allowed to enter the buffer zone to collect wood and the women were walking in. The colours of the wild had seeped into the spirit, but the heart was not satiated for it needed to meet the big guns. Another trip? Maybe, the tiger would send a message this time.
- Things to keep in mind: The jungle is home to precious life forms and it is best to follow some do’s and don’ts when inside. Read them here.
- For more on Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort, click here.
- Reaching there:
- The closest town is Ramnagar and is well connected via road to Lucknow (145km), Nainital (66km), Ranikhet (112km), Haridwar, Dehradun and Delhi (260km). The route from Delhi goes via Hapur, Garhmukteshwar, Moradabad, Thakurdwara, Ramnagar, Corbett National Park.
- The nearest railway station is also at Ramnagar. Major trains from Delhi are Ranikhet Express, Corbett Link Express and Kathgodam Express.
(The trip was on invitation by Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort and organized by Travel Correspondents & Bloggers Group)