Dumps of canteen leftovers invited a good number of scavenging herbivores to the tourist complex boundary every night. The mother tigress stalked those easy preys to feed the family. The arrangement worked reasonably well till a sub-adult cub made an error of judgement. In the last week of May, a canteen worker was mauled outside his quarter late in the night.
As the news spread, the tourist tide swelled further. Sambar road was closed to tourists after the mishap. With curfew on, nobody, including the canteen staff, was allowed to venture out after 7.30 in the evening and dinner was served early in the room. But behind windows, people stayed up long hungry nights for that glimpse of a lifetime.
5 TIGERS, 1 BULL ELEPHANT
On the last day of that tourist season, the sky was sulking since afternoon. Soon after the vehicles and elephants returned from the evening safari, the wind gained strength, and a storm snapped the power supply.
Within minutes, the sun vanished like it does in the hills and the sky sent down early warnings of a heavy downpour. The darkness and the pitter-patter was enough to drive the crowd crazy. Then, the clouds thundered. In a split second flashed five tigers, scaling the complex wall from the riverside.
It was mayhem. The clouds continued to roar intermittently, lighting up the lawn and returning it to pitch darkness again. And in those brief moments, the tigers could be seen, each time at different spots, walking among the people. Children and women shrieked, men yelled, many scampered in the dark. Within minutes, the big cats disappeared in the forest. Nobody suffered a scratch. One forest official broke a leg running for his life.
Corbett is full of such surprises, and delicious scares. Few wild experiences compare to the numb thrill of taking a narrow road, flanked by a gorge and a steep slope, at an hour when elephants do the traffic duty. Returning one late afternoon from Khinanauli (with special permission, due to an emergency), I was stared down by a mighty bull at 15 feet, who stood guard for what seemed an eternity while his herd climbed up from the river and walked across. No, this giant did not even mock charge, the chill his cold, composed eyes spread was enough.
THE YOUNG JIM
But Corbett is more than its spirited animals or its splendid collection of birds. Very few places compare with this reserve’s ever-changing horizons. The moist terai and rocky, porous bhabars at the margins of the Shivalik in the southern parts, the mixed forests dominated by Sal trees around Bijrani, the amazing savannah of Dhikala, the riverine bounty along Ramganga, the frosty heights of Kanda – there are so many Corbetts to surprise one.