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EXPLORING INDIA : From Kaziranga to the Himalayas to the desert of Jaisalmer to the backwaters of Allepey to the sun baked coral beaches of Lakshadweep....A first hand account of exploring this beautiful country.



Friday, October 21, 2005

Jim Corbett: the legend

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Jim Corbett is a legend in Kumaon. He had left his footprint all across Kumaon saving lesser mortals from the jaws of man-eater tigers. Come to Ramnagar and you will feel the legend. The word Corbett had to be there somewhere in the names of any hotel, resorts or restaurants. Affectionately called the Carpet Sahib by local villagers, he seemed to be equally popular or may be better known than the father of the nation in this area. We had read about him in school, probably in class VII. It felt great to be at Arundel, his house at Kaladhungi which is now a museum run by the Corbett National Park. On our way back, we got the opportunity to travel by NH121 that runs right through the national park.
The Corbett Museum, Kaladhungi :
This is Arundel, the winter home of the Corbetts located at Kaladhungi. It is on the Kashipur -Bazpur - Haldwani road. Corbetts used to live in Nainital during summer and came down to kaladhungi during winters. A shortcut to Nainital starts right infront of the house. Nainital is just 32 km from this point and we travelled by this road to Nainital.
The house is located on a spreawling 10 acre complex. There are two seperate houses located close by. Few of Corbett's belongings are on display. In one section, there are some paintings depicting his life. The museum remains open upto 5 pm in summer. The gate fees charged is 5 rupees for adult and 1 rupees for child. It is managed by the forest deptt.
If you are a Corbett fan, you should not miss this. There is a luxury resort named Corbett Camp Jungle Lore very close this museum. But honestly speaking, this place is very far away from the actual Corbett National Park, around 30 km. The visit had renewed my interest in Jim Corbett. I came across many stratling facts whcih were not available in our school book. I had compiled a brief on the life of Jim Corbett which I share with you. If you are planning a visit to the park, you should know about this great gentleman.

The life of Jim Corbett (1875 - 1955) :
He was born as Edward James Corbett on 25 July, 1875 at Nainital. His father Christopher William Corbett had left military service and moved to Mussorie in 1858 where he got the job of postmaster in Mussorie. There he met Mary Jane who also had moved to Mussorie after lsoing her husband in the sepoy mutiny of 1857. They got married on Oct 13, 1859. Therafter he was transferred to Nainital in 1862 (and it took almost a month for the family to relocate). Jim lost his father when he was just 6. He wrote about how his mother Mary Jane had to struggle to bring the children up. They in fact had very large family. Jim’s parents had a total of 14 child of which 8 were from their wedlock and 6 (3 each) from there first marriages.

His brother Tom used to take young Jim into jungle for hunting for food. It is Tom from whom he leaned the first lesson in hunting. Growing up with the jungles made him a master of the jungles. Corbett started with a catapult to shoot down birds. He got his first gun, a double barreled muzzle loader, from his cousin Stephen Dease as a gift. Stephen wrote a book on birds of Kumaon and Jim collected more than 100 specimens for him with his catapult. He shot his first leopard when he was just eight. His reputation grew fast in Kumaon and received his first request to track a man-eater in 1906. The first man eater he killed was the Champawat Tiger in 1907. Between 1906 and 1941, he had slayed ten man-eaters in different parts of the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal.

Corbett was not just a hunter. He was a naturalist. He loved the wild and respected the big cat. He never killed a tiger for money or fun. He killed only the man-eaters to save lives. He was affectionately referred to by the locals as Carpet Sahib who would search jungles with inhospitable terrains for days in the trail of that eluding man-eater tiger. The combined total number of people killed by the man-eaters Corbett hunted exceeded 1500. The Champawat tiger itself had killed 436 documented victims. Similarly, the man eating leopard of Rudraprayag (see the photograph), killed in 1925, had 114 victims to its name. Deeply pained at the growing number of hunters and destruction to wildlife, he campaigned for the need to preserve the wildlife and devoted his later part of life for this purpose. He helped create the Association for the Preservation of Game in the United Provinces, and the All-India Conference for the Preservation of Wild Life, and he established India's first national park, inaugurated in 1934 in the Kumaon Hills as the Hailey National Park. This has been renamed in his honour as the Corbett National Park. In later part of his life he also took to wildlife photography.

Corbett was also a keen entrepreneur. After schooling, he joined the services of Bengal and North Western Railway at the age of 17. After few years he left service and started his own business. He had acquired a company called FEG Mathews & Co. for carrying out his business. He also started a large farm in a village near Kaladhungi. The farm is located in a village called ‘Chotha Haldwani’ is now a tourist spot. He owned many houses in Nainital where the Corbett household were settled. Corbett family had an established real estate business in Nainital which Jim carried forward. In fact his mother was said to be the first real estate agent of Nainital. Corbetts had a house in Kaladhungi where they lived during winters. It was built by his father.
Jim Corbett had also served in the army and took part in 4 wars. He had raised a battalion of Kumaoni locals and took few of them to fight in France in 1917. In 1939 Corbett volunteered to take part in the WW-II and trained allied soldiers in jungles survival in Burma. But the stress took a heavy toll of ageing Corbett. He had infected both Typhoid and Malaria during this period. After recuperating, he started penning his hunting stories. His first book, The Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1946), turned out to be best seller and has been translated into more than 30 languages., The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (1948), and the Temple Tiger and More Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1954). He finally retired to Kenya with his sister Maggie (Margaret Winifred) in 1947. He had a special bond with Maggie among all his siblings right from his childhood. There he took up farming and continued to write. He died there of heart attack in 1955.

Want to know more. This site on Jim Corbett put up by Corbett Study Group had a very detailed description of Corbett’s life.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 11:29 AM | 4 comments

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Traveling to Kumaon : Kausani

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Five days of holidays were lurking. My cousin brother Rajuda had called me up to know whether we would like to go to Nainital. I do not miss such opportunities. So it was not a long planned trip but a sudden decision. I added Kausani to the itinerary. On the fine morning of 8th Oct, 2005 we set out for Nainital in the Maruti Zen of my cousin brother. While the north India including Dehradun were jolted by a powerful eartquake, we were trying to manouvre a treacherous stretch of sinking area with ankle deep water on the Haridwar - Najibabad highway. My brother called up from Bangalore to know how was the earthquake and then we had enquire back at Dehradun to know how it was. I had got a road map prepared with the help of my colleague Ajay Bisht who hails from Almora. But still the route was unknown to us and we will be driving alone. That provided the element of adventure. We drove the little car through lonely stretches in the hills and in the jungles leaving occasional curious onlookers baffled as to what the AS in our car’s number stands for. In turn, we were mesmerized by the splendor of the Kumaon hills. 5 days seemed to have passed in a blink. Its now time to chronicle the journey. For a change, this time I plan to start with the final destination of Kausani and end with the last part of our journey from Kausani to Dehradun with a night halt at Ramnagar.

Nainital to Kausani via Almora :
It was the third day of the journey. Kausani is approximately 125 km from Nainital. However covering that distance took us almost 6 hours. The road was hilly all through. Once you take the road out of Nainital, a left turn at the end of the mall road and by the bus stand, you reach a place called Bhowali which is 11 km away. At Bhowali, the road on left goes to Almora / Ranikhet via Khairna Bridge and the road on right goes to Haldwani and the tourist spots of Bhimtal (11km) and Naukachiya Tal located another 4 km from further on the same road. We had planned to see the Bhimtal and the Naukachiyatal. At Bhimtal you will be charged 20 rupees as parking for going to both Bhimtal and Naukachiya Tal. Visiting both the lakes consumed about an hour and half of our available time. The Naukachiya Tal is the largest lake in Kumaon and most tourists enjoy boating there. We too enjoyed boating for about half an hour as my little daughter wanted to ride a swan shaped boat. Four seater boats are let out @60 rupees for an hour. There is one more lake called the Sattal around 12 km away on a different route that branches out of the Bhowali – Bhimtal road. This completes the circuit of lakes in Nainital. We did not go there as we had had enough of lakes in two days – the Nainital, Khurpatal, Bhimtal and the Naukachiyatal.

For continuing the journey to Kausani, we came back to the junction at Bhowali and this time we took the left turn towards Almora. This road to Almora is very good and I must say you will not get better road in the hills then this. The Kushi river will accompany you along the road. This river is mentioned in Ramayana. At Khairna, the road bifurcates and one road goes to Ranikhet. There are actually two bridges located very close. If are going to Ranikhet, then skip the first one and take left turn at the second bridge. Road signs are good and you need not ask for guidance. The straight road goes to Almora. It is NH74E. It was almost 3 pm by the time we had reached Almora and all worms in our stomachs were crying for food. The bitter part is that there is no roadside restaurant, not even a dhaba on the entire stretch upto Almora. There were many sweet shops before you enter Almora, but no restaurants. Do not get into the Almora town. It is a quite large town and we were told that you may get stuck in traffic. However if you are going to Binsar, you will have to go through the Almora town. About 2 ½ km ahead of the town, a road goes down which is a kind of bypass. There is no road sign here, but a few shops and waiting taxis / jeeps will help you to identify this. This also is the end of the good stretch of road we had enjoyed all the way from Nainital. After traveling a kilometer or so maneuvering potholed road, we get confused as to whether we are on right track. The road got narrow and seemed to us kind of a galli through town. Never mind, it in fact is the NH74E. And fortunately traveling a few more kilometers we found a restaurant named Mountain View Restaurant. This is the only restaurant you will get on the entire road upto Kausani. So, fill your stomach with whatever you get. There also is petrol pump close to it.

After the late lunch, our journey continued and we crossed a place called Koshi. Few kilometers beyond Koshi you get a junction --- the road up goes to Ranikhet (this is the Almora – Ranikhet road) and the road down goes to Kausani. We reached Someshwar valley where also you will get a junction. Continue straight for Kausani and take the turn for Ranikhet / Dwarahat. It was about 11 km to Kausani from here. By the time we had reached it was evening but not dark. The moment we reach the centre of the place, hotel agents swarmed upon us. We got to see 3 hotels before deciding to stay at Uttarakhand Tourist Lodge which is located at the centre of town itself. I also checked the Kausani Village Resort about 3 km down the hill on the Baijnath road. It was nicely located but all the 8 good cottages were booked. It is off season in Kausani and so we were offered lucrative prices. Cottages were offered at 300 to 400. Even at Uttarakhand Tourist Lodge, we got deluxe rooms at 400 as against normal season rates of 1200.

What is unique to Kausani? It provides you the best panoramic view of the Himalayas. Its USP is the sunrise. During the main season in May-June, the sun rises from behind the Himalayas providing you a magnificent view. Similarly in the afternoon the setting sun casts a pinkish – orange glow to the ice capped mountains in the horizon. But unfortunately for us, it being almost winter, the sun had shifted towards south and so had gone behind mountains closer to Kausani. So we did not get to see the much talked about sunrise. Nevertheless, the place provided us a very peaceful break. It was quite different from the packed tourist spots like Nainital. It resembled somewhat New Tehri to me. Like New Tehri, all shops were closed by 7-30 pm. One should come here in May – June or may be in Feb-March to enjoy the beauty of the Himalayas.

The place had a good forest cover. It was warmer than Nainital. There is a forest rest house as well. All hotels are built on the side of the hill that faces the Himalayas. It is immaterial where you stay as you will get to see the sunrise from any hotel. Do not fall for the words of the agents. But if you want to stay in cottages amidst almost jungles, go to the Kausani Village Resort. There is another one named Mountain View Resort which is also nicely located on the same Baijnath road. But being a forest area, there were too many insects of both the flying and the crawling variety. So be ready for these if you want to stay in cottages. In the morning many species of bird were seen in the area. They were feasting on the insects that were everywhere -- on the trees, on the walls. One can also have a good view of the Garur valley from here. The road via Baijnath goes to Karnaprayag. In the morning I saw one bus in the town that was going to Badrinath via Bageswar and Karnaprayag.

Here are the phone numbers of the resorts –
Uttarakhand Tourist Lodge : 05962-258012, 258333, 258211 (Fax), 09412924222 (mobile)
Kausani Village Resorts : 09412958936 (mobile)
Blossom Hotel & Resort : 05962-258113, 09412095911 (mobile)

Kausani to Ramnagar via Ranikhet
It was day 4 of the journey. After breakfast, we left Kausani and set out for our next destination Ramnagar. It was not possible for us to drive 400 plus km in a day to reach Dehradun. So we had planmed for a night stay at Ramnagar, the town adjoining Corbett National Park. It is the railhead and one has to come to Ramnagar for visiting the Corbett. There are many roads for going to Ranikhet. One can took the diversion at Someswar or can come back to Koshi to cathc the Almora - Ranikhet road. We took the diversion at Someshwar for going to Ranikhet. The condition of the road spiralling through paddy fields of Someswar valley is not very good but the scenery is pleasing. After about 12 km from Someshwar we had to cross a steel bridge. There you get a junction – the road on the right goes to Dwarahat and the left goes Ranikhet via Binta. Traveling for about 40 km more we finally caught up with the Ranikhet – Dwarahat highway. Ranikhet was 16 km from this point and the road was good. I noticed a restaurant named Wayfarer few kilometers outside Ranikhet, but did not stop there because it was too early for lunch. We entered Ranikhet town by paying toll. I found this really ridiculous. Why do we have to pay toll for private vehicles? We had such toll system on highways for commercial vehicles in Assam a few years back until a Gauhati High Court held it illegal and all those toll collection booths were removed. We had to pay about 70 rupees as toll on the entire trip. Ranikhet looked more a military town rather than a tourist spot. It had a fairly large cantonment area. We stopped there for a while and then continued our journey. Take the road straight through the town and drive about 4 km till you reached a place called Kanyadhuri where one has to turn right for Ramnagar. Ranikhet to Ramnagar is 92 km and it is all hills except for the final stretch of about 15 km through the Corbett National Park. We again had to face the problem of lack of eateries on the road – no restaurant or dhaba. We prepared ourselves for a fast and ate the stock of fruits, but fortunately at around 3 pm, we were delighted to spot a restaurant named Danapani Restaurant. It was located about 2 km before Tota Am. This is the only restaurant between Ranikhet and Ramnagar and so you have to have your lunch / late lunch here. Fortunately, the food was not bad. Around 4 pm we entered the Corbett National Park area. The NH121 passes through the jungles of Corbett. It was a very pleasing drive through dense forest. Inside the jungle we even saw a fox in daylight! We also met wild pigeons, murgis and peacocks. We had read about stories of Jim Corbett in our school in rapid reader named ‘Aranyar Katha’ meaning the Stories of the Jungle. There was a beautiful hunting story named ‘Mohanor Manuh Khua Bagh’, meaning the Man Eater of Mohan. We had passed the place named Mohan inside the park and it made all of us nostalgic. I had planned to come to Corbett last year but it did not materialized. But this time I will surly come. The place has an alluring charm. We had stopped at places for photographs. We saw the official entrance into the Corbett. I was told that you need to drive further deep into the jungle through this gate for visiting the park. Finally we had reached Ramnagar town when it was almost dark. We put up at the Hotel Anand Delux which is located on the road to Kashipur. We paid 300 rupees for each room and it was so-so. Anyway, you will not be staying here for visiting the park.

I also collected information on visiting the Corbett National Park. The park normally opens in the first week of October. However, this year roads could not be prepared on time due to excessive rain. So the park is still not open. For visiting Corbett one has to have prior booking. One need to stay put in the forest rest houses inside the park for which capacity is limited. The total capacity in various ranges in 113 only. Booking can be done from Delhi, Dehradun and Ramnagar. The office at Ramnagar is close to the bus stand. The park had an official website named http://www.corbettnationalpark.org/. (However this link is not working now) I had downloaded many information, maps, etc. from this site last year. If you do not have booking, then the only option is to try for day visits conducted from Ramnagar that cost 600 rupees per person. But for that you will have to stand in queue early in the morning at their office and you also need luck as the capacity is only 32. Many resorts have come up around the park area. They are costly and I feel it make little sense to stay there if you want to visit the park. You can take your own car inside the park or take hired gypsies that charges around 1500. I will write more once I visit the park sometime next year.

Ramnagar to Dehradun is 250 km via Kashipur ( 26 km). From Kashipur we traveled by the same route by which we came. There is a road junction at Kashipur. While coming, we turned right at Kashipur for going to Nainital via Bazpur and Kaladhungi. The road straight goes to Ramnagar. We finally reached Dehradun at around 5 pm bringing an end to these 5 days of traveling through the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 5:38 PM | 4 comments

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Travelled in Kumaon

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We had an wonderful five days of travel through the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal last weekend that extended till the holidays of Dusserah. In these five days we had travelled to Nainital with a brief halt at Kaladhungi. AFter spending two nights at Nainital, we went to Kausani via Almora. After spending a blissful night at Kausani we came down via Ranikhet and spent the last night at Ramnagar, the entrance and rail head to Corbett National Park. We had travelled in the Maruti Zen of my cousin brother who also lives in Dehradun. In all we had travelled about 850 kms in the five days driving in the magnificient hills of Uttaranchal and also through the Corbett National Park. I will be writing about the places soon. But this time photographs have already been developed and had been put up in my photo site.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 2:58 PM | 1 comments

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