When it comes to wildlife tourism in India, the first thing that comes to mind is undoubtedly the world famous Jim Corbett National Park, located in Nainital, Uttarakhand. Named after Jim Corbett, this is the oldest national park that was established in 1936, as a place for to protect the endangered Bengal Tiger, and was named after Jim Corbett, who had a key role to play in its establishment. It has been one of the most popular spots for wildlife lovers since a long time, and is a great spot for those who want to have an experience of one of the key spots for Indian wildlife tourism.
As a wildlife enthusiast and someone who loves to travel, this was an ideal place for me to visit, but had been delaying it since long. My opportunity to go to this amazing place came in March, which was the season, right before the heavy monsoons which would make much of it inaccessible. While monsoons can be a good time to visit there due to a pleasant weather, the park is mostly closed for tourists during the monsoon season since it is the mating season for most of the animals.
Being a national park, it does not have its own helipad or airstrip. The nearest airport is Phoolbagh in Patnagar, which is 50 kilometres away from the park. If travelling by train, then the nearest railway station is in Ramnagar, from where regular trains operate to all major cities, such as the Ranikhet Express by which I travelled, which goes from Delhi to Ramnagar.
If travelling by road is what you want, then the park is connected to all major cities by a good network of roads, with a good bus service or private taxis both of which can be used to reach the park.
While there are several hotels and private lodges outside of the park for staying, nothing beats the real feel of the park you get by spending a night there. For overnight stays, there are three complexes, each of which are located at Dhikala, Bijrani and Gairal, apart from basic lodging at guest houses in Malani, Sultan and so on. Reservations for the same have to be made in advance, and personally I stayed and would recommend the complex in Dhikala, which is the largest complex there and includes a great dormitory.
Booking for all the lodges can only be done CTR Reception Office at Ramnagar, if you want to stay for the night. For a day permit, you can obtain permits from the respective gates. Day tourism in the Dhikala zone are only allowed when safaris conducted by the Corbett Tiger Reserve are in place, otherwise only those with a prior accommodation are permitted to enter the Dhikala zone.
Situated 30 kilometres inside the lodge from the Dhangari Gate, the Dhikala rest house; while not a luxurious 5 star hotel is being situated in core forest area; was a one of its kind experience. The food there was excellent, though only vegetarian (non vegetarian food and alcohol is strictly prohibited inside the park) and the staff was extremely supreme and courteous. The first day of my visit was entirely spent in the lodge only, and the next day, 5 AM in the morning is when the real adventure began when the jeep came to pick us up for the safari. It was now time to experience what the best in Indian wildlife tourism was.
Safaris and looking around
There are nature guides available to help one look around the Corbett Park, all of whom are registered and there to make sure that one does not get lost inside the jungle. It is compulsory to take a nature guide with each vehicle going for a safari, and these nature guides also help you to spot wildlife.
What I personally loved in the park was the elephant ride. For just 300 rupees, you can get an elephant ride, which takes you deep inside the jungles to places where vehicles cannot take you. With the thrill of being in a jungle and the feeling of riding an elephant, it becomes a truly unforgettable and a one of its kind amazing experience, and something I recommend to everyone who visits the Jim Corbett National Park.
Walking or trekking is strictly not allowed in the park with an exception for certain places. There are specific paths for vehicles to help tourists spot the wildlife, and private vehicles are not allowed at all. Safaris can be booked in advance, and it is the safest and legal way to get around there. The fee for safari vehicles is affordable and varies depending on the vehicle you take, and no travelling during the night is allowed.
An amazing feature in the park was the watchtowers, situated at Dhikala, Phulai, Jhirna and a good number of ‘machans’ on the tree tops in and near Dhikala, Bijrani and Kothirau, which can help you to spot some spectacular wildlife. While expectations were high, I was unable to spot any tigers in the forest, owing to the fact that my stay was limited to only 3 days. Remember, this is not a zoo, so you will not find wildlife everywhere. There are a lot of other things to see here apart from tigers, and the scenery at the place is breathtaking, all of which coupled together show what the best wildlife tourism spot in India is all about.
Do’s and don’ts
Entering the park will require you to have all the necessary permits, and so does staying there. Be sure to take them all from the appointed place. For your own safety and that of the wildlife, do not get off the vehicle at any place except at the places where it’s allowed. Also, to keep the park pollution free, avoid littering and please but all the litter in a bag provided and dispose it on the way out.
If wildlife tourism is something you are up for, then be sure to visit the Corbett National Park. Away from the cities and totally cut off from the outside world, this was a one of its kind breathtaking experience with the best of nature and wildlife and something I surely look forward to experiencing again.