Think Jim Corbett National Park and what comes to mind are the super-adventurous stories of the renowned writer himself, of encounters with wildlife in the primitive jungles of long ago. The jungles of today may not be as untouched as those days, yet there is something about these last preserved nature-havens that pulls be back to them time and again. Maybe it is the fact that every day is different out in the wild, despite the place and people being the same. Maybe it is the uncertainty and excitement that a safari ride brings on, making the hair stand on end in high-adrenalin anticipation. Or maybe it is the prevailing sense of peace and serenity that these natural bounties afford the mind, away from the chaos and din of urban existence. Whatever be the reason, I find myself being drawn to the wild at the slightest pretext. And so, I planned yet another Corbett excursion, this time in the summers to experience “Corbett with a Twist”. Come April and the Terai terrain sees one of the most fascinating natural phenomenon- the Wild Elephant Congregation, something that I wished to witness for the first time ever!
Why You Should Visit: For the Wild Elephant Congregation
Corbett takes on a different hue around March-April, as elephants from all over the country (and even foreigner visitors from Nepal!) come to the grasslands of the Terai region. It is a kind of annual ritual, something similar to what you and I may have our annual family vacations. What truly mesmerizes is the fact that no one knows how these wild elephants reach the same exact spot year-on-year, around the same time. What guides them, what triggers the move- it is one of nature’s best kept secrets. It is believed to take place because the summers are a time when food and water are in plenty in these places. But surely, looking at their behaviour, some “pet puja” hardly seems to be the only reason to take on an arduous journey of thousands of kilometres? It is also believed to be a social phenomenon, the highly emotionally intelligent animals that wild elephants are!
Elephants are highly social animals, exhibiting strong emotions with kith and kin as they survive and thrive in their herds. They are known to meet and greet, grieve, help family survive through crises, and display a range of emotions. Some even believe that this is a social tradition for the new members in the herd, with elderlies “blessing” the young Turks! An elephant society is highly advanced- these gentle giants follow a matriarchal family system with a single elderly matriarch as the head of the group. She is the master of all, and slave of none, for she dictates the ways of the herd. Of course, with this power comes great responsibility, and she takes the onus of protecting the herd from perils. And wrought with perils, is the wild wild world. Even these great giants are not spared from the uncertainties of existence that jungle clans must cope with. I got an up, close and personal view of this fact in close association with such a herd.
Encounter of the Beasts
As I set off on the gypsy safari, I had two agendas on my mind- tracking the elusive big cat of Jim Corbett fame i.e. the Tiger, and observing the elephant interactions and behaviour. As our guide and driver tracked down the “jungle signs” by using their “jungle intelligence”, I believed I was in good hands for some exciting adventures! Little did I know that a super-adventure was in the making! We were following a herd of elephants, revelling in their antics, and enjoying the cool breeze lapping up from the Ramganga river on one side. A herd complete with calf and elderly matrons was enjoying a meal of Sal leaves in the thicket, trumpeting with fulfilment. I was enjoying this scene, when the very next moment these calls of joy changed to sheer shrieks of terror. The matriarch had seen something amiss, and what followed only proved the point. A raging roar reverberated through the air, right from within the neighbouring bushes. An unnerving sound for any jungle dweller, for the roar seemed to carry with it a pointed message- “I am ruler of this terrain, make not the mistake of crossing my path”. And so, in a haste to avoid crossing paths, the herd spilled out onto the road, one by one, seeking an escape from this newfound terror. Beast after beast emerged from the thicket, right before our eyes- young and old, both terrified and bold. The mighty giants quickly proceeded towards the river-side, seeking safe ground. Little did they know that yet another encounter was in store! Another female tigress was resting in the bushes alongside the river, and she made her displeasure to all the chaos felt with a single roar. The herd recoiled in horror, not expecting this double whammy of a tiger-encounter! With both the sides inaccessible and nowhere to go, they took to shouting out their distress with loud trumpeting. What a sight it was- a raw jungle scene unfolding for real before our eyes! What happened next was even more unexpected! The tigress who was enjoying her mid-afternoon siesta decided she had enough, calmly she got up and walked towards the other end, giving way to the elephant herd to cross the river. A wave of relief swept across the herd, and they jumped onto the river bank, the ground reverberating with the shock of thousands of kilos. What started as a sudden trigger ebbed away just as quickly. I could only feel the after-effects of this wild encounters when I saw my hair stand on end and felt chills down my spine.
As I look back, there is something about harmony that nature taught me that day. Harmony within a herd of powerful beasts. Harmony between two mighty dwellers of the woods. And the exciting adventure which surprisingly left me with a sense of internal harmony. A harmony that no amount of urban escapes could offer. Surely, this place would beckon me back again and again. But for now, I was content in experiencing some of the best natural history moments that nature could offer!
How to Reach: Ramnagar is the nearest town to Jim Corbett National Park (~250 km) from New Delhi. Book an overnight train journey (Ranikhet Express) from Delhi to Ramnagar. or take a taxi for a road trip of 6-7 hours.
How to Book: Gypsy (jeep) safaris are best booked online or through agents. A good time to book is 2 months in advance, bookings fill up fast.
Where to Stay: The Forest Department runs forest rest houses inside the forest with basic, clean accommodation and food. Just outside the park periphery there are number of budget and luxury resorts.