The LO Goes to Nainital and Corbett, Part II: Corbett

(See Part I of this post, here).

After a relaxing couple of days in Nainital, we drove down to Corbett. The Jim Corbett National Park, originally named Hailey National Park (after William Malcolm Hailey, Governor of the United Provinces at the time) was established in 1936 as the first national park in India. In 1956, it was renamed to honour Jim Corbett, the naturalist-hunter so renowned for both preserving wildlife in the Terai as well as helping the local people by killing many man-eaters in the region.

All of this we told the LO about as we journeyed down the Nainital-Kaladhungi stretch towards Corbett. This road is a very scenic one, with miles of forest all along the way. Mist cloaked the pine woods, and when we rolled down the car windows, the fragrance of the pines wafted in.

As we drove further downhill, the LO became quite despondent: we were leaving the mountains behind! Would there be more mountains ahead? Did Corbett National Park lie in the Shivaliks? Or in the Himadri? In the Terai? She was all ready to whip out her Social Studies text book to check.

Although I’ve travelled quite a bit in Kumaon before, somehow I’ve never been down the Nainital-Kaladhungi-Corbett stretch before. Which is why I hadn’t known about the existence of what turned out to be a serendipitous discovery along the way: the Jim Corbett Museum at Chhoti Haldwani, in Kaladhungi Tehsil.

In 1922, Jim Corbett had bought this piece of land and built a bungalow. On the surrounding land (which also he bought) he built homes for villagers—Chhoti Haldwani, as he named the area, became a model village. Corbett stayed in this bungalow for many years with his sister Maggie, and when he left to settle in Kenya, he sold off the bungalow. Later, in the 1960s, it was acquired by the government and turned into a museum dedicated to Corbett.

The Corbett Museum offers a small but interesting insight into Corbett and his life: his family, his associates, the man-eaters he killed (of course), and more. There are paintings, photographs, reproductions of Corbett’s letters, even some pieces of furniture made by Corbett himself.

We wandered around; the LO didn’t seem especially interested in Corbett or in the memorabilia around, but she did take a peek outside, where a grove of mango trees spreads.

Even more fascinating for the LO were the flowerbeds outside, where a lot of butterflies were fluttering about. We took plenty of photos here (and the LO, who has seen plenty of Disney animations where butterflies or birds alight on the hands of princesses, hopefully held out a hand too, but to no avail).

Finally, after having gone to the souvenir shop and bought some pickles, a T-shirt for the LO, and a wildlife pin for her BFF (as the LO refers to her bosom buddy), we continued on the road to Corbett.

At Corbett, we had a reservation at a resort where my husband and I have stayed before: The Riverview Retreat, on the bank of the Kosi River. This stretch, of a couple of kilometres along the river, is simply one hotel or resort after another. Forests stretch across the river, and on the other side of the road that runs along the front of the hotels.

The LO fell in love with The Riverview Retreat at first glance. This is a kid, remember, who wants (wanted, I should say: we didn’t know it then, but there was a change coming up) to be a naturalist. The resort is all trees and plants, with huge bushes, clumps of bamboo and lemon grass and whatnot everywhere. We went up to our room, set on the upper floor of a small four-room cottage, to find that the balcony had trees all around—so close, in fact, that we could have climbed onto a tree from the balcony.

And there were birds. White eyes and sunbirds, chirping and hopping about among the trees. The occasional magpie robin, or a wagtail. And seemingly dozens of red-whiskered bulbuls, handsome in their white, grey, black and crimson plumage, filling the air with their excited cheeping. There were plenty of these everywhere we looked…

… especially at The Kosi Deck, the restaurant that overlooks the Kosi. This is in the form of an open terrace, with garden furniture set out under a massive gulmohar tree and a ficus. The river flows by, perhaps a hundred metres away, and beyond that stretch low hills, densely forested. The LO loved this deck so much, she insisted on us having all our meals here. We’d sit, eating our food, while watching horses grazing underneath, a fisherman casting his net (in what I thought would have been water too shallow for fish, but from which he seemed to consistently get a good catch), and a monkey jumping from one rock to another to cross the river.

Of course, that made the LO wonder if she could cross the river too. After all, the monkey wasn’t that big; definitely smaller than her. And she saw some tourists too, who were lolling about in the shallows (totally oblivious of the fact that the river, along its length, is used as a toilet by many villagers, the closest just perhaps a couple of hundred yards upstream). If all these varied creatures could wade about in the river without drowning, why couldn’t she attempt a crossing?

We dissuaded her, and instead took her down to the riverbank to gather pebbles, to explore the area, to see what plants grew there, and more. The LO had a whale of a time. Her father gave her some lessons in skipping stones (too short lessons, though, for the LO to get the hang of it). She flung many stones into the water, and she wrinkled up her nose at the many signs the horses had left behind of their passage. She was so happy, she had to be hauled away from the riverbank when the sun set.

And we had to turn in early, because the next morning, we had to leave the Riverview Retreat at 5:30 AM on a jeep safari. Visitors to Corbett have to apply in advance for a permit to visit the park; this, when issued, is for a specific gate. A payment of Rs 6,000 covers the cost of the jeep and its driver, the permit, as well as the designated naturalist who must join the jeep and guide it from the gate onwards.

The gate we’d been assigned was the Jhirna Gate. Just getting here, in the open jeep, took half an hour. Our designated naturalist met us here, checked our IDs, and got in to the jeep. We set off, finally off the metalled road, and through the forest.

Within moments, we had started seeing wildlife. Spotted deer, two magnificently antlered stags having what seemed like a friendly sparring bout:

And then, a flurry of birds. Our naturalist guide pointed out a black francolin, a red-headed vulture, and a couple of flame-backed woodpeckers getting an early breakfast at a dead tree.

Over the next two and a half hours, the birds were what we saw most of. Grey hornbills, white-breasted kingfishers, blue-tailed bee-eaters, Asian paradise flycatchers, even a gorgeous great Indian hornbill, its black and white plumage and deep yellow beak (and casque) strikingly beautiful.

What the LO was most excited about, though, was a quick glimpse of the colourful (so colourful, in Hindi it’s called navrang: ‘nine colours’) bird, the Indian pitta. Why excited? Because though she’s never seen it before, she’s heard of it. And she was delighted that her father, our official bird photographer, got a shot of it. Her Indian pita’s photo of an Indian pitta.

Along the way, as we went past a half-dried stream bed, our guide heard a langur’s alarm call—a coughing sound—and made our driver stop. That, he said, indicated that a tiger was in the vicinity. He quickly spotted the langur, and we settled down to wait, watching the nallah in anticipation: would the tiger appear? Wouldn’t it? In the meantime, we spotted various birds round about. A pair of stork-billed kingfishers in a nearby tree, a trio of chestnut-headed bee-eaters looking little cheeky little bandits, plotting some poor bee’s downfall…

The tiger never did turn up, but a swarm of pesky flies did. The LO got increasingly exasperated, and finally her sharp whispers of protest made our guide throw in the towel and say we ought to carry on.

So we did, and saw more birds. Also, a cricket got into our jeep and sent the LO into a tizzy (frightened by a cricket? This child).  

Looping back, we stopped again at the spot where we had earlier waited for the tiger. Again, without success; and then, at another spot beside another stream bed where our guide hoped we might see a tiger if we waited patiently. Of course, with the LO around, ‘patience’ is not something one could have hoped for. Soon, she was getting restive, and we had to move on, this time to head back for the gate and out of the park. “So disappointing,” said the LO. “We didn’t even get to see a tiger.” I explained that tigers, and wildlife in general, were elusive and didn’t like coming to places frequented by humans, but I don’t think she was convinced.

What’s more, all the insects—the flies, the cricket—had irritated the LO no end. The previous evening, sitting in the verandah and eating dinner by the light of lamps that attracted a lot of insects (one of which fell into her bowl of yoghurt, another in her glass of water), the LO had been very distressed. The bugs she’d encountered on the jeep safari were the last straw. “I’m not going to be a naturalist!” she declared firmly. “I’ll open a boutique or a salon instead!”

We spent the rest of the day lolling around our room, or strolling amidst the greenery and watching the bulbuls, or by the riverbank. The next morning, we headed back home—to real life, to the city, to humdrum mundanity.

“Let’s try to visit at least one national park a year, should we?” I asked the LO, as we drove through plains North India. Past a suddenly dazzling pond, vast, filled with lotuses. Past a pair of sarus cranes, elegant and beautiful in a pool bordered by water hyacinth.

The LO agreed happily. I have hope that she will be a naturalist someday.

(By the way, one last bit of happiness for the LO. On our last day at the Riverview Retreat in Corbett, we went for a leisurely, late breakfast, after our jeep safari. When we got back to our room, it was to find that a housekeeping staff member had come by and cleaned our room. By way of ‘a gift for the child’, a bath towel had been folded up creatively into a charming little elephant, its eyes crafted from bits of leaf, and a hibiscus flower fitted into its trunk. This has been placed next to the LO’s teddy bear—she likes to carry one of her teddies with her on every trip—and a hibiscus placed in front of the teddy as well. The LO was enchanted, and so were we).

16 thoughts on “The LO Goes to Nainital and Corbett, Part II: Corbett

  1. A charming narration.
    Alas! Mosquitoes, flies and other airborne disease carriers are all too abundant, all over India.
    I’d be surprised if the LO didn’t look for greener pastures come adulthood.


    • “I’d be surprised if the LO didn’t look for greener pastures come adulthood.

      If she does, it will be more because of the people who make India so hard to live in, rather than the creatures! Seeing the deteriorating state of affairs here, I despair…


  2. I enjoyed both the parts. And I again had a desire to write a travelogue myself. Of course for that, I must travel. That’s a difficult task! At least not in these rainy days. I’ve been avoiding traveling in monsoon for a last few years. You never know, when would there be floods, all unexpected and very scary!
    Let me see.


    • True. Travelling in the monsoon is always fraught with risk. Many years ago, I slipped on a wet path in Dharamshala and fractured my ankle – so the only ‘sightseeing’ we ended up doing there was of an X-ray lab and the medical college! Then, in 2019 (I think?) when the floods hit Kerala, I was visiting Anu Warrier, and though the floods disrupted flights, I was able to somehow return to Delhi – but Anu got badly stuck and had a hair-raising time getting back to the US.

      Maybe you should wait until the monsoon has eased a bit, then do a trip and post about it. I love reading travelogues – it gives me a chance to travel vicariously!


      • Oh!
        It’s so difficult getting medical help at a completely unknown place! That too for a painful condition like bone fracture.
        I remember reading about your trip to Kerala and if I remember correctly, you had a narrow escape from the floods.
        That year (2019) my city also had horrible floods and my clinic also got affected. From that year’s experience and reading about various flood situations at various places for a last few years, I’ve decided not to travel in monsoon.
        I’m planning a trip in November to north east India, actually I’ve a marriage to attend there. Let me see how things go!
        But I am so much interested in writing travelogue. I’ll go somewhere!


        • “I’m planning a trip in November to north east India, actually I’ve a marriage to attend there.

          How wonderful! Even though I was born in Assam (simply because my father was posted there at the time), I have only ever been to Manipur very briefly as a grown-up. But I do really, really want to visit the North-East, everything I’ve heard and seen of it in films or online looks so beautiful.

          I am already looking forward to that review, even if it is half a year away!


          • Oh!
            The wedding is in Assam, Dibrugarh to be precise. And I may travel to Manipur as well.
            I didn’t know you were born in Assam.


            • My being born in Assam has caused a lot of misunderstandings! Several people who’ve mentioned me in articles or books have referred to me as ‘Assamese’, and one person – a blog reader – got quite upset at me when I mentioned that I cannot watch Bengali movies without subtitles. His opinion was “since you are Assamese, and Assamese is so similar to Bengali, it should not be a problem!”

              I now make it a point to explain that I was only born there because my parents happened to be in Assam back then. :-)


            • What a coincidence! And only yesterday, I discovered that one of my school friends had actually been a babyhood friend of mine: her father and mine were colleagues back in Assam. Such a small world.


  3. Oh! We stayed at Riverview resort too! We were a motley group of 13 or 14 people and had such an amazing time there. Though the safari was disappointing. We went during summers and so didn’t see much- animals or birds. But we did see a small scorpion in one of the bedrooms which had us all shaking our shoes and socks before wearing them the whole trip!
    I do hope the LO gets to be a naturalist. In fact I want all kids to swoon over insects and nature and crickets and try to rescue little lives! But no pressure :-D


    • Oh, goodness! A scorpion in one’s room isn’t the sort of wildlife one would like to see. Though we’ve had one of those too, at Glasshouse on the Ganges, years ago – we found a tiny scorpion on our bed, of all places.

      I do so want the LO to be a naturalist! I have hope still, despite the little meltdown thanks to the bugs. :-)


  4. Enjoyed both the travel posts!!
    I had visited both Nainital and Corbett years ago and thanks for taking me back to those memories.
    I was motivated to go back to my photos folders and revisit the trips.
    And, we too, couldn’t see any tiger during the safari.

    The mention of insects reminded me of our Matheran trip, during which my daughter(around 4 years that time) got thoroughly fed up of the insects and flies in the MTDC resort


    • I am so glad you enjoyed these posts! Seeing a tiger is really such a chancy affair – I’ve been to Corbett four times, and seen a tiger only once, and that because we happened to be on elephant back (not that that is any guarantee, but I think being on an elephant allows you to go places a jeep can’t…)

      Children do have much lower tolerance for inconvenience, don’t they? We get used to irritations and stresses as we grow older.


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