My Amazing Time in Corbett, by Heather Wilson

Deciding on a trip to India was not an easy one with long haul flights and ‘all those injections’. However reading up about the country was exhilarating, the culture was nothing which I had ever experienced, the food was going to be different and no doubt take some getting used to and the wildlife, which was what I was most excited about, was vast.

After landing and a bumpy but not too long drive to Tiger Camp at Corbett National Park, I was met by the most amazingly smiley faces, welcoming me at the reception with warmth and friendliness. As previously mentioned the wildlife I knew was going to be exotic and amazing but on my first day I never expected to be called into the ‘fun ranger’ Mikma’s hut to be greeted by the biggest lizard I had ever seen, a monitor lizard clinging on to the side of the hut with huge claws. Its beady eyes and body not moving an inch, it didn’t even look like it was breathing. Definitely a good start to this trip!

One of Vanghat's many pools

One of Vanghat's many pools

The next day we jumped into the back of a Gypsy we set off for the short drive to Vanghat, in the Ramganga Valley. On route we saw a crested serpent eagle soar above us and land on a nearby branch with a snake in its claws, as well as a lesser fish eagle rising in the airs hot vents. 

That evening at Vanghat we walked to a beautiful deep slow flowing pool hidden in the valley where we could see the huge golden mahseer swimming below us. On the walk we came across all types of fantastic birds, greater yellownape woodpeckers, crested kingfishers, slaty-headed and plum headed parakeets, pallas and lesser fish eagles and the stunning Asian paradise flycatcher with its long trailing tail feathers and most impressive a tawny fish owl,  which peered eagerly down at us.

Other mammal sightings included a growling wild boar as we disturbed its rummage in the bushes, a porcupine nuzzling in the undergrowth for food and Sambar and Barking Deer. It’s not just the sights of these animals that filled me with awe but the sounds were enlivening. From every angle birds chirped and mammals called.

Elephants in Dhikala

Elephants in Dhikala

Well this is the trip I had been waiting for and I had heard many stories about people seeing the famous tigers of Corbett national park and little did I know that the next 3 days were going to be some of the best of my whole life. Dhikala was the area in the national park we were going into. The elephants were in abundance, for their size they moved so graciously and there herds were so protective of the tiny calves. Mothers and aunties would hide them as they crossed the track In front of us. One thing which I was astounded by with these huge creatures was the way they moved – silently, effortlessly you wouldn’t know they were there unless they made it really obvious! A big mugger swam at the area called high bank. No tiger today and I wasn’t holding my breath – ‘Do these elusive, fine-looking creatures really let you see them?’ I just couldn’t imagine it.

Heather in safari

Heather in safari

Pied kingfishers dove in and out of the river collecting fish, a green and chestnut-headed bee-eaters in the grasslands, crested serpent eagles and the  huge pallas’s fish eagles scouring the river for prey. More exciting moments were to come when a large female elephant protecting its herd charged at us, was one of the scariest moments of the trip but highly exhilarating.

After the morning safari we opted for an afternoon on the watchtower. The watch tower was a large structure overlooking a river bed and many of the animals came here to drink especially in the 40’C mid day sun. Sitting there for 5 hours in the searing heat may not be everyone’s idea of fun but it was worth it, sighting a tiger one was going back into the bushes from the river. As well as wild boar having a dip to cool down we saw hog deer on the grasslands and jackals running playfully.

Once our time was up we were picked back up and headed back to camp for an elephant safari which was unfortunately cancelled due to some bad weather coming in but little did I know this was a good thing. Instead of the elephant ride we headed off again by gypsy for an evening safari. Weather was worsening so we weren’t hoping for many sightings as most of the animals would surely be sheltering from the storm? Divan our driver who had been brilliant the whole time suddenly spotted a tiger across the river heading back towards the long grass of the chaur. We stopped and looked through the binoculars and sure enough there it was leisurely strolling into the tall grass. It disappeared from view and bizarrely appearing a few seconds later in what looked like the same place stood a cheetal deer. Was it just this deer playing tricks on all our eyes or was it really a tiger!? After another 20 seconds of looking through the binoculars it was then that I spotted the tiger, watching the cheetal. It was going to kill. I said to those around me whatever you do keep an eye on that deer, its going to be prey!! We watched for what seemed like no time at all as the tiger slowly crept up behind the unsuspecting cheetal. Then the cheetals head darted up – it had heard the Tiger. With eye on the cheetal the tiger leapt through the grasses and with one swoop of its powerful paws it brought the cheetal down. With hardly a struggle the tiger had its jaws round its throat and in seconds the cheetal did not move. The tiger had it and I saw it!!! As if that wasn’t enough a 2nd Tiger emerged from the opposite side and walked towards the tiger and cheetal it had just killed. I must be dreaming I thought, this is surely too good to be true, a real life tiger kill, no one see’s this! With a gust of wind and dust flying in our faces we watched from a distance as the tigers took its prey and slinked off into the grasses! Now that was a lifetime experience!!

It was amazing to see and something that will stay in my mind forever. It was pretty gruesome but a fact of life, one which I understand has to happen to keep these extraordinary animals alive.

Elephant bath!

Elephant bath!

Next morning we had to leave the camp but not before we had our last safari. We headed off in a different direction to the routes we had taken previously and went to the reservoir where we saw basking Gharial & mugger crocodiles and woolly necked storks sitting on the banks looking for fish. We also saw black franklins on the grasslands, red headed vultures circling above us, ashy prinias and 3 brown fish owls sitting in one tree, perfectly camouflaged. Later we saw the beautiful Indian roller having a good old roll on the track in front of us and a jungle owlet swooping through the trees finding lizards for breakfast. I really don’t think I could have asked for more.

My time in Corbett National Park was now over. It’s not just the Tigers I came to see, that was just an added bonus, but the vast array of birds, mammals and reptiles. Every time I walked or was driven around the area, I was guaranteed to see something new. It fulfilled my lifetime ambition as well as giving me a new love for birding and exploration. I loved India and I will be back.



Leave a Reply