Since childhood the stories related with one animal that inspired awe and fear was tiger. From “tiger tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night” to the gory tales of man-eaters of Kumaon, to the anxiety of the world to save tiger, everything created an urge in me to see this majestic cat in its own habitat away from the confines of a zoo or a tiger safari. One of my friends, who is a keen tiger watcher and a regular visitor to Jim Corbett National Park in Uttaranchal invited me to join him for a rendezvous with Mr. Stripes.
The Corbett National Park is located in the crop rich terai region of the state of Uttaranchal, straddling the undulating Shivalik foothills of the Himalayas. It also has the distinction of being India's first ever national park established in 1936 following the advice of the hunter-naturalist Jim Corbett. He acknowledged the tiger as "a large hearted gentleman with boundless courage.” Of the nearly 50 mammals, 580 birds and 25 reptile species that have been listed here though, the jewel of the Corbett is undoubtedly the Indian tiger. It was estimated that in 1984, the tiger population in the Park was 90 which today stands at 144.
The SUV took to the road as eagerly as it could. In no time we crossed the sleeping town of Hapur. The truck graffiti kept us amused and in splits till we saw one AZAD PANCHCHI carrying chickens packed like sardines to the slaughter house. Soon this somber streak was broken by the pungent smell of molasses engulfing all of Sambhaoli and surroundings. Sambhaoli has a big sugar factory that continuously spews acrid gases into the atmosphere. Further on, near Garh Mukteshwar, we paused briefly to pray at the Brij Ghat on the holy Ganga. With renewed vigour we hit the road to reach the Peetal Nagri (Brass City) of Moradabad. We had covered a distance of 170 km. It was time to top up the car once again. Instead of taking the bypass we drove through the city and halted at a filling station only to find that the station attendant was dead drunk but mercifully was helpful. After the refill and a hot cup of tea we were once again on the road which gradually became narrower and less comfortable.
Corbett, however, turned out to be everything I could have hoped for and more. There was breathtaking beauty, heart-stopping thrill, and some incredible stories. Encountering the king of the jungle -- not once but twice! -- became the story we will never tire of telling. Nothing mattered more after what we had experienced. When we left the Park to take the road back home, we were reassured in our hearts that there is room in this world for the tiger and us.