In 2012 my friend, Philip, and I left for Uttaranchal to see tigers and more, making Mohan our base from which to explore the
. It turned out to be an
unforgettable trip, not least because of the tigers. Some memories remained,
some did not. Yet others refused to leave us even after we did. Corbett National Park
In a series of posts loosely connecting events, experiences and observations posted in no particular order, I hope to record our journey through Corbett Country and beyond from what I remember or noted from that year travelling through Uttaranchal on a whim and a fancy.
The milestone read: Mohan 0.
The road from Ramnagar had wound along hills keeping us company from the time we had hefted our bags into the sturdy Mahindra that Govind had eventually managed to wrestle to the Ramnagar railway station, two hours after the train had deposited us one early May morning in the state of Uttaranchal or Uttarakhand as it's also known.
The overnight journey from
New Delhi was uneventful
except for the anticipation that had gripped us both, Philip and I, on what was
my maiden journey, and Philip’s second, to erstwhile Corbett country.
I had lain awake in the night unable to sleep, recalling episodes from Jim Corbett’s Man-Eaters of Kumaon, fuelling my fevered imagination further when we passed
at half past three in the morning. Then Aliganj, and Kashipur followed.
Ramnagar was next.
The night before, I had arranged with Manoj, the manager of a hotel in Mohan, or resort as they’re commonly advertised, to have a vehicle meet us at the station to bring us to Mohan, confirming our departure from
Delhi, and messaging him as we approached Ramnagar.
“I’d have to find somebody that early to send to the railway station,” Manoj had said in a tone that vacillated to say the least, sowing doubts if he could muster someone at four in the morning to have him present at Ramnagar by five when the Ranikhet Express was expected to arrive.
“It’s fine if you can send someone out a little later, we can wait on the platform for some time,” I had assured him, “But not later than 5:45 am, surely not beyond 6:00 am.”
Manoj had sounded far away over the crackling line, querulous in snatches as if buffeted by storms wreaking havoc in a remote valley in the middle of nowhere.
It was enough to nudge me into imagining his outfit to be encircled by hills with ridges crested by tall Sal trees the sun had to fight to break through, ridges the tigers roamed in the night except I didn’t know just then how popular the Corbett National Park had become with visitors out of Delhi, and how populated the stretches ringing the Tiger Reserve.
Adding to disturbance on the line was the unrelenting noise on the platform at Old Delhi railway station as we awaited the Ranikhet Express the night before. Toshi had left us both at a back entrance to the station before disappearing into the
In the faint light of mercury lamps we had negotiated the crowds on the platform before taking the stairs up and descending into the cauldron of platform 12. We might just as well have descended into a sea of refugees awaiting the last train home and not known the difference, such was the mass of humanity and clamour that greeted us on the platform. Shipments of goods awaiting delivery at stations along the way crowded it further.
“Yes, he will be there at the Ramnagar station to bring you back to Mohan,” Manoj had confirmed.
At first Philip and I had debated our options for our stay, most notably Dhikuli, before settling on Mohan, both located along the boundary of the
separated by 14 kms. Corbett
“Dhikuli is no good,” Philip had opined in the days before the trip as we weighed options, debating locations in the vicinity of the Corbett Tiger Reserve that’d give us the best shot at covering the terrain in and around the Tiger Reserve at short notice.
“Dhikuli’s too crowded with hotels for long stretches. Mohan is better,” Philip insisted with an eye on birdwatching in the vicinity of our stay. So Mohan it was.
I only hoped Mohan was not so far away that we’d find it difficult to travel to entry points to the
, most notably the Amdanda
Gate near Ramnagar that opened access to the Bijrani zone. Corbett National Park
Bijrani is where the tiger is, everyone who knew anything about Corbett had said online in the days before we left on our journey.
Ranikhet Express rolled into Ramnagar a few minutes past five in the morning. We barely felt the 239-odd kms it had covered through the night from
Moufossil stations had passed by quietly in the night, no more than insignificant shadows in a crowd of strangers strung along north
After a quick sip of chai at a stall selling chips and biscuits among other packaged snacks, passengers had filed out of Ramnagar Station to waiting rickshaws or transport arranged by hotels they had booked for their stay.
As far as I could tell, the only reason why tourists came to Ramnagar was
Once Corbett National Park
was ticked, some would continue to Ranikhet or Nainital or both. There were
other places but none as compelling as the lure of tigers. Corbett National Park
By quarter past five the dawn had broken and the quiet unique to very early mornings had settled on the platform as I stepped off the train, wide eyed.
5:45 am turned to 6, still no sign of the jeep Manoj had promised.
Auto-rickshaws crowding the station entrance in time for the arrival of Ranikhet Express had competed vigorously for tourists and locals alike before departing with their passengers to the Ramnagar bus stand and beyond, to hotels in Dhikuli.
For ten rupees one could hitch a ride to the bus stand that connected Ramnagar to other destinations in Nainital district.
A lone SBI ATM expressly provided for the convenience of tourists to the
stood at the exit, empty. Mosquitoes droned about the machine. Corbett National Park
“The driver is coming,” Manoj reassured me when I rung him up again to check on the promised transport; I doubted if the tiger would prove as elusive. “Wait at the station,” Manoj repeated. “He is on the way.”
“We’re waiting at the station only,” I replied, barely disguising my disappointment at the delay. We’d hoped to use the early morning for a foray in the forests about Mohan. It would’ve to be scrapped.
The station was empty save one rickshaw who hoped to convince us yet to ditch the hotel transport and hop behind for a ride.
“If everyone waits for the hotel transport what’s to become of us,” the rickshawallah entreated. “They (the hotels) take away our business,” he added.
Dogs eyed our bags as we stood outside for signs of Govind. We eyed the dogs in turn.
Equilibrium established, I turned my attention to morning activity outside the station. Milkmen and roosters were up and about. And so were children starting their school day.
Consignments (labelled RMR, code for Ramnagar) offloaded from arriving trains had been carried out and loaded onto Goods Carriers improvised from Vijeta scooters for dispatch to destinations around the small town.
I had seen similar improvisations (Jugaad) carried out with Enfield Bullet 350 cc in Rajasthan to ferry people but none using Vijeta scooters until now.
Actually I couldn’t quite remember the last time I saw a Vijeta on the road let alone one modified into a transport carrier.
“Bas paanch minute mein pahoochta hoon, Saar,” Govind, the driver dispatched by Manoj, said each time I checked on his progress after each “paanch minute” had turned fifteen.
Govind eventually turned up at quarter past seven, a full two hours after alighting from Ranikhet Express at Ramnagar. I heard him before he made the turn in the road that straightened on its approach to the railway station, and in the days ahead I would grow accustomed to the roar of the Mahindra, enough to alert the wildlife we hoped to see stealthily.
Thin to the point of being skeletal, Govind was built small and sported a ready smile, his pearly white teeth set off by dark skin.
In time we would warm up to his effusive personality, entertained by his stories about Corbett tigers and their hoary exploits from the moment he turned the jeep in the direction of Mohan. Throwing the gear forward was an effort to his wiry hands and he would bring his shoulder to bear in affecting the change of gear.
Mohan, or Mohaan as locals pronounce the name (Govind certainly favoured Mohaan) lay 21 kms. north of Ramnagar, the drive along the eastern boundary of the
deviating from the course Kosi etched in the mountainous terrain. Corbett
Soon we would leave Ramnagar behind as we made for Mohan along the Kosi.
I rolled it off my tongue slowly, seeking in its sound the beginnings of a story from the 1930s.
It was in Ramnagar in the month of May over eighty years ago that Jim Corbett alighted from the 1 p.m. train before setting off on a twenty-four-mile foot journey to Kartkanoula, halting at Gargia for the night before making for Mohan village on foot the next morning.
After a brief halt at the Mohan forest rest house, soon after meeting with locals from Mohan bazaar who, as he notes in his celebrated book, The Man-Eaters of Kumaon, filled him in on stories of the man-eater terrorising Mohan, Jim Corbett left Mohan for Kartkanoula, a ‘four-thousand-foot’ climb with his entourage of two servants and six Garhwalis, where the man-eater that came to be known as The Mohan Man-eater, had killed three villagers in the week before Corbett’s arrival.
By circumstance or by coincidence, our choice of stay, Mohan, while in no way influenced by the fact that it figured as the setting of The Mohan Man-Eater back in the 1930s, had risen in notoriety as recently as a little over a year ago after a tiger from the Corbett National Park turned man-eater and preyed on villagers in the forest hamlets adjoining Mohan, namely Gargia and Sunderkhal, the latter an illegal encroachment of settlers and a determining factor in the rise of man-animal conflict in this part of the country, and the former, home to a temple dedicated to Gargia Devi as Goddess Parvati is known here.
Located a little over 14 kms. from Ramnagar, the Gargia Devi temple is perched on a massive rock rising from the Kosi. Over the duration of our stay we could pass by it along the road connecting Ramnagar with Mohan.
“On Karthik Poornima, the temple fair is worth coming to see. People come from far and wide offer prayers at the temple,” Govind interjected the silence. We had pulled over to the side of the road up an incline while I photographed the Kosi river and the temple in the distance.
The river ran dry in some parts along this stretch save a few areas where water had collected in inviting pools, projecting an appearance of studied calm while contrasting starkly with dry areas strewn with stones bleached white.
Standing on the edge of the hill where it dropped away sharply to the Kosi below, I sought breaks in canopies of trees growing on the slopes and photographed devotees enjoying a dip in spots where the river had pooled its scarce resources for the summer.
It was a happy bunch, white teeth and all. The calm was a far cry from the swollen beast of 2010 that had swept away all it could reach, trees, animals, people, homes, hopes, everything.
The Kosi floods of 2010, whose then water level can be seen marked prominently on the retaining wall of the Kosi Barrage upstream of the river at Ramnagar where visitors cross over to the Ramnagar Forest Division enroute to Sitavani to the forests extending from the western banks of the mighty river, has entered the local lexicon as a permanent reference.
Talking to Kundan in Mohan Bazaar one evening after we had settled in our new temporary ‘home’ in Mohan I didn’t at first catch on to his reference to 2010 in “Dus mein tho sangatan waley bahut dey gaye”, “Dus mein tho aisey aisey cheezey di gayi ki … logon ney … kapda-shapda, kambal-shambal, duniya bhar ke cheezey … par hissaa nahi diya kissi nay.”
“Dus mein” (Do Hazar Dus – 2010) has come to attain a significance formerly restricted to events such as births and deaths in a human lifetime. At least that was the sense I got from talking to people there.
Along the Kosi past Ramnagar, the Kosi floods of 2010 divide the timeline of life into a before and an after, strengthened no doubt by the resentment among the displaced who view their plight as unresolved to this day, atleast according to Kundan.
The story is no different along the stretch on either side of Gargia, a stretch on the faultlines of human-animal conflict since the days of Jim Corbett, considerably worsening ever since.
Like always there was more that meets the eye than what our own expectation had led us to believe.
This was promising to be more than just about tigers, just how I would've wanted it.
Note: The series will continue in fits and starts, and in no particular order of occurrence.