The Jim Corbett National Park, based at the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand, is a wildlife reserve and sanctuary, established in 1936 to protect India’s endangered tigers and its prey. It’s also a wildlife- and nature-lover’s bonanza, with 50 kinds of mammals, 580 species of birds, 110 types of trees (including many varieties of bamboo alone), 27 species of reptiles, and abundant species of fish and plants. The 522-kilometer park also features beautiful rolling hills, valleys, swamps, ravines, meadows, rivers, and lakes.
Jim Corbett, for whom the park is named, was an Indian-born British hunter, conservationist, and naturalist, famous for his experience in tracking and shooting the ferocious tigers and leopards claiming human lives in nearby Kumaon in the 1920s and 1930s. (He was also a colonel in the British Indian Army.) His book about these experiences, Man-eaters of Kumaon, published in 1944, was a sensation, offering a fact-based look into the Indian jungles that Kipling’s fictional Jungle Books had popularized.
Although a hunter, Corbett was outspoken about not killing these predators unless they posed a threat to man or cattle. He advocated the need to protect India’s natural habitats, forests, and their wildlife. As such, he is considered one of India’s forefathers of conservation and played a key role in establishing the park that was eventually named after him. In 1973, the Indian government, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, established Project Tiger at the park, making it one the first such tiger reserves in the country.
Originally a hunting ground for the British colonizers, the park now has an explosion of lodges and resorts as well as tour operators taking visitors on a variety of jungle safaris to see the elephants, tigers, and other wildlife and to go fishing and angling, mountain climbing, or bird watching.
The market town of Ramnagar lies between a rich farm belt and on the fringes of forest and serves as a launching-off point for a number of these safaris and fishing camps. Buses take visitors into the savannah grasslands to check out the wildlife, but two-hour jeep tours are most popular.
|The Crested Kingfisher (credit Vndas)|
If you’re planning a visit, the Jim Corbett National Park is within a four- to five-hour drive from India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal in Agra. In and around the park itself is the nearby hill station of Ranikhet, with spectacular views of the Himalayas; the lovely Garjia temple, about 15 kilometers from the park; and the Kalagarh Dam, one of the best places for bird watching, particularly in the winter when numerous waterfowl migrate there.
The park is famous for its focus on eco-tourism. Parts of it are closed off to protect the ecosystem. Park guides receive training in natural history and tourism management. There’s even a film for tourists, Wild Saga of Corbett, on how to help the park’s conservation efforts, including tips on trash disposal, soil erosion, and noise levels and history of the encroachment, poaching, and exploitation of natural resources. Tourists can trek around outside the park area but inside they must be accompanied by a trekking guide.
The single best experience at Corbett park, though, has to be the elephant safari. Riding atop this majestic vehicle, you’ll feel like a royal sweeping into the grasslands and jungles in search of tigers. Who knows, maybe you’ll even come across little Mogli.