Our visit to the Jim Corbett National Park was to be a short one en route from Almora to Varanasi. The bus from Almora dropped us in Ramnagar in the afternoon. Ramnagar; a bleak and rather horrible town which serves as the administration base for Corbett national park. Besides the park there is no reason why one would want to stay there. We had arrived one week before the central zone of the park – Dhikhala – was open so we were unable to stay within the park itself (which is also quite expensive). This left us with two options; one of the ridiculously crumby and overpriced hotels in Ramnagar, or one of the very expensive upper class ‘Jungle Hotels’ on the outskirts of the park. There is no budget accommodation that we could find in or around Corbett Park and the park entry fee for foreigners was triple what they were for Indians so don’t go to Corbett if you’re on a tight budget. We settled on the Anand guest house in Ramnagar. The room was average, basic but not too clean and well overpriced, the asking price was 700Rs but we haggled down to 600Rs a night but as we were only staying for one night it did not matter much.
We arrived too late that night to take a safari in the park but while we were eating a Norwegian couple asked if we’d like to join them on a safari the following afternoon. The process of booking a safari is a burocratic nightmare but luckily these guys had already found a driver who was ready to meet us at the forest department centre. It was necessary to que at 10am for the 2pm safari as we were told that tickets can sell out or all be pre-booked. However, on this morning it was easy to get a safari ticket. The cost of entering the park as a foreigner was double what it would cost an indian – a principal I find somewhat racist and segregating.
The safari itself was also disappointing considering that we Paid 2500 (for a couple) to do it. We set off a little late as it takes some time I get from the forest dept reception center to the park gates, and from there to the Bijrani camp inside the park was another 20 minuets with not much to see en route. At the camp the driver and guide took another 10 minuets filling out paperwork while we saw a baby elephant who had broken its left fore-leg and been rescued, although the sight of it pulling on its chain and struggling in vain to be free made our hearts wretch.
Finally, after losing 45 mins or so of our (expensive) safari time we set of into the jungle proper. The jungle
Itself was stunning, huge trees and dense undergrowth, with huge termite hills jutting up all over the place – although the rather worn dirt track that the jeep followed and the occasional plastic bottle detracted from the beauty. Our first animal sighting was some Jungle fowl, clicking amid the bushes followed by a head of beautiful spotted deer. Further on we sighted several jeep-loads of loud, fast-driving indian tourists, searching in vain for the glimpse of a tiger. We found several tiger tracks although our guide could not tell us how fresh they were and often we seemed to be driving in the opposite direction that the traks were going. It was this that made me wish we were not bound to a noisy jeep and that we could follow the tracks off into the jungle (obviously tigers don’t stick around on the road for long so if you see one you’re very lucky). Onwards we went and were blessed with a sighting of a huge owl sleeping in a tree. He opened one eye lazily and winked before Turing his head in discusst. After a few more spotted deer and monkey sightings it was becoming apparent that the circuit of tracks was terribly busy with jeeps – something that would explain the abcense of any other wildlife such as elephants. It became clear that we were not going to see any more animals as the sun began to sink and we visited a watch tower overlooking some grassland amid the jungle. The place was full of jeeps and all the guides and drivers (at least 20 or so) huddled together talking loudly with each other while we were left to climb the watchtower. The tower was very busy. Full with Indian families screaming children running up and down metal ladders and parents yelling to each other from top and bottom. If you could witness the scene you would not believe that thus was a safari park. We left the park before sun-down without seeing much more than deer and monkeys (both species of which we had already seen on our own in Kasar Devi). We left feeling disappointed and robbed as this glorified theme park ride was by no means cheap for us – especially by Indian standards. With joy we left Ramnagar by Sleeper train to Varanasi.