Christmas in Mumbai is more about turning down the fan speed or turning off the air conditioner, but to experience the true magic of winter, we head for the mountainous parts of North India that are otherwise un-reachable for a weekend trip.
As last year, our first port of call was Delhi from where we proceeded to Corbett national park. The weather in Ramnagar was simply outstanding. Pleasant during the days and cooler in the nights with temperatures ranging between 16-11 °C.
Our resort was situated on the banks of the river Kosi in Dhikuli village, around 11 kms out of Ramnagar, Uttarakhand. The crisp cool air was fresh and unpolluted.
As we settled in our room, around 4:30pm dark clouds had shrouded the otherwise blue skies. By 5:30pm it was raining steadily with thunder and lightning providing the much needed streaks of lights in complete darkness. The ambient temperature dropped by 3-4 degrees, as we thought of venturing out for dinner with our teeth chattering.
I had been referring to the TripAdvisor app on my phone along the way, picking out places to dine at after reading reviews. A recommended place called “Safari Cafe” seemed to offer us sufficient variety to suit all age groups, and so we thought of a visit the next day. The owner of the cafe, a gentleman by the name of Sukhwinder Pasricha, extended a warm welcome with his wit and experience in hospitality. In the evening he set up a projector in the cafe to play videos shot by people who had encountered tigers during the safari trips in Corbett. Kids, to say the least, were enthralled by the experience. Thank You Mr. Pasricha!
Post lunch, our scheduled safari trip inside the Corbett national park was embarked upon. We were travelling in a topless Gypsy, with the cold wind smacking our faces and running a number in our ears.
Once we went past the first check-post, the adventure unfolded as our driver/guide spoke to us about the entire sanctuary and it’s vastness. As we were approaching a small bridge, the Gypsy slowed down and our guide told us excitedly that there was a wild elephant walking on the road, a few metres away from us.
As is the norm in these parts, all vehicles must give way to the wildlife and thus our Gypsy had to be stopped until the elephant had crossed the road back into the jungle. This gave us an opportunity to take a few pictures of the majestic animal going about its business. Besides, elephants in these parts are known to spontaneously rampage through the jungle causing a lot of destruction as a by-product of their rage. It is therefore a general practice to avoid confrontation with these giant beasts in their natural environment.
Our guide then showed us ficus trees (strangler fig) that grow around other trees and absorb away all the nutrition from the host tree ultimately killing it before withering away themselves.
We saw a couple of woodpeckers at work. The guide said these birds are considered doctors of trees because they feed on termites, but they are shy creatures and soon hid themselves from our view around the tree trunk.
We did spot the occasional barking deer, spotted deer and Hog deer, but the experience of venturing into a protected habitat for wild animals is always thrilling. More importantly, there’s something magnetic about Maggi noodles in shivering cold weather. Even kids who are otherwise fussy eaters, happily gulped down portions of noodles, relishing the warm flavors.
The next day, we had an open agenda and thus ventured around the resort. We located a few individuals who were conducting tours of the Sitabani forest on Elephant-back. The mahout directed us to a ladder and platform from which we could mount onto the padded crib-like seat that was secured around the elephant’s body.
Once all four of us were securely seated, the mahout began the tour with the elephant obeying him. The elephant then walked on a narrow path made between two farm-yards towards the Kosi river. As we reached the edge of the farmlands, the white round pebble-shaped boulders of the Kosi were visible, as was a 45 degree gradient down to the river bank! The elephant adapted to the terrain superbly well, meanwhile we were saying our last prayers. For if the beast were to misjudge a step, or falter in anyway, it was curtains for us.
Thankfully, we managed to get past the steep decline and onto the river banks. The elephant then made its way through bushes and shrubbery to the very edge and walked right through the algae and fish infested waters onto the other side.
Our mahout whispered and pointed out to us as we encountered wild animals in their natural habitat. A spotted deer didn’t even think twice and carried about with its business, chewing leaves as the elephant stood a few feet away from it, with us atop taking pictures. The silence was only broken by the excited voices of children even as the mahout shushed us to ensure that the animals do not get startled.
The silence and the multiple layers of bushes, shrubs all made for an eerie experience. The entire jungle experience lasted for 90 minutes, with the elephant posing for a “salute” across the river on our way back.
We enjoyed every moment of this trip and would highly recommend the elephant tour. The next day, it was time to bid adieu to our home away from home in Corbett.
Though we didn’t encounter any tigers in the region, we came away with a sense of awe and respect for nature and wildlife.