Jim Corbett National Park was one of those places that had dominated my thoughts for a long time. No plan, however, ever turned into a journey. Maybe because some places are best visited spontaneously. That, and the failure of many such plans, were my cues!
Riding through the wild
Named after the British hunter and naturalist, Jim Corbett National Park was established in 1936 and is the oldest in India. ( Fun Fact: It was originally named as the Hailey National Park, then the Ramganga National Park before finally getting its present title)
How to reach
Following the trails By train
The nearest railhead for Jim Corbett National Park is Ramnagar. One can easily get trains from all the major cities in India, directly to Ramnagar. However, for those travelling from other smaller towns or cities, it is advisable to reach Nainital first from where Ramnagar is about seventy kilometres (44 mi) away, by road.
Uttarakhand has two major domestic airports - Jolly Grant and Pantnagar. Ramnagar is located at a distance of 150 kms (90 mi) and 82 kms (50 mi) respectively from both these airports. The nearest international airport is of Delhi.
Ramnagar, though a part of a hill station, can be accessed easily by road without many mountainous bends. The road till Ramnagar from Delhi is fairly straight. However, if you are travelling from anywhere within the state, expect a curvy ride.
The best and cheapest way to reach Ramnagar, if you are travelling with Delhi as your base, would be through the train. Booking.comFor those travelling from cities like Mumbai, taking a direct flight to Pantnagar might be a convenient option.
How to book
The national park is divided into five zones- Dhikala, Durga Devi, Bijrani, Jhirna, and Dhela out of which only Jhirna and Dhela remain open throughout the year. Unlike the Ranthambore National Park, where the entire booking is done through the Rajasthan Tourism's website, safari-booking in Jim Corbett has to be done in phases.
Soaking the sun
First things first. To enter the reserve, a permit is needed that can be booked directly from the Uttarakhand Tourism's official website. It costs Rs. 1,000/- for Indian travellers. The rates differ for foreign tourists. ( Check tariffs)
Thereafter, I had to book a safari with the hotel where I was putting up. Alternatively, that can be done with other such service providers. The rates for the safari are more or less the same everywhere and hence I opted to let my accommodation book one for me.
You get an entire gypsy to yourself, whether you are travelling solo or in a group, a driver, and a guide without whom you are not allowed to enter the reserve.
Huddled up Where to stay
For real adventurers, Forest Rest Houses, especially the ones in Dhikala and Bijrani are the way to go. However, you will be in luck if you could get a reservation there which can be done again through the official website of Uttarakhand Tourism. The Dhikala FRH has dormitories as well.
Bijrani FRH in sight
One downside, a major one too, to staying in these FRHs is the lack of amenities, even the basic ones. Most of these are located about 8-10 kilometers inside the forest and often face electricity outages. Some of them do not even have a running canteen or a kitchen, so you are on your own there.
Despite the downside, I tried really hard to get a reservation inside but unfortunately never could. Now that I think of it, it wasn't a total misfortune.
The shot is from my stay at the Corbett Machaan Resort. Though a bit pricey for a traveller on a budget, it was a wonderful experience. It is located far away from the hustle of the town. You can get cabs easily at the railway station to get there. To roam around otherwise, you will need a private vehicle.
I could spot just one restaurant in the vicinity and no market around. For food and other arrangements, you will have to rely totally on the hotel, which can be a costlier option. Booking.com
If you can spare one more day, visit Garijiya temple beside the Kosi river. It was really worth the visit. Booking.com
I wasn't travelling solo but found it to be safe nonetheless. However, you might want to rethink staying alone in the FRHs, if you are planning to travel alone. You'd hardly get any cellphone reception there which can cause inconvenience. Jungle Safari Day Booking is not required to be done separately, in case you plan to stay inside the Reserve. There are far more options to stay near the centre in Ramnagar that are worth exploring. Booking.com The best time to visit Jim Corbett is the winter months from November to February. For one, all the zones are open and chances of both booking safaris and spotting animals increase.