Introducing Corbett Tiger Reserve
This famous reserve was established in 1936 as India’s first national park. It’s named for legendary tiger hunter Jim Corbett (1875–1955), who put Kumaon on the map with his book The Man-Eaters of Kumaon. The British hunter was greatly revered by local people for shooting tigers that had developed a taste for human flesh, but he eventually shot more wildlife with his camera than with his gun.
Tiger sightings take some luck, as the 200 or so tigers in the reserve are neither baited nor tracked. Your best chance of spotting one is late in the season (April to mid-June), when the forest cover is low and animals come out in search of water.
Notwithstanding tiger sightings, few serious wildlife enthusiasts will leave disappointed, as the 1318-sq-km park has a variety of wildlife and birdlife in grassland, sal forest and river habitats, and a beautiful location in the foothills of the Himalaya on the Ramganga River. Commonly seen wildlife include wild elephants (200 to 300 live in the reserve), sloth bears, langur monkeys, rhesus macaques, peacocks, romps of otters and several types of deer including chital (spotted deer), sambars, hog deer and barking deer. You might also see leopards, mugger crocodiles, gharials, monitor lizards, wild boars and jackals. The Ramganga Reservoir attracts large numbers of migrating birds, especially from mid-December to the end of March, and over 600 species have been spotted here.
Of Corbett’s five zones – Bijrani, Dhikala, Domunda, Jhirna and Sonanadi – Dhikala is the highlight of the park. Forty-nine kilometres northwest of Ramnagar and deep inside the reserve, this is the designated core area, where the highest concentration of the animals you probably hope to see are found. It’s only open from 15 November to 15 June and only to overnight guests, or as part of a one-day tour available only through the park's reception centre, opposite Ramnagar's bus stand.
Jhirna, in the southern part of the reserve, is the only zone that remains open all year. Short jeep safaris can be organised in Ramnagar, but your chances of seeing serious megafauna there are iffy. In certain years, depending on conditions, some of the other zones open in October, but the only way to find out is to contact the reception centre.
Be sure to bring binoculars (you can hire them at park gates) and plenty of mosquito repellent and mineral water. If you’re interested in the life of Jim Corbett, his former house at Kaladhungi, 26km southeast of Ramnagar, is now a museum.