Today got off to an early start at the park lodge at Gairal in Jim Corbett National Park
when the shutters of our bungalow began to swing wildly, opening back and forth.. Shortly after midnight, what had been a sweltering humid summer night with nary a breeze became transformed as a windy hailstorm blew through our campsite at Gairal. While the storm passed within an hour or so, I never would have expected that type of weather here this time of year!
After falling back asleep, we woke up again at 5 a.m. to go on this morning's safari. As we did not have a guide in our jeep this morning, but rather, only a driver, initially I had a concern that this absence would adversely affect our wildlife viewing. How wrong this concern turned out to be! More than any of our previous wildlife guides here in India, our driver not only turned out to know what seemed to be the names of every tree, bird and animal, but possessed the uncanny ability to spot animals which would appear invisible to unseasoned viewers such as ourselves.
We covered quite a bit of distance through the park during our 6 hour safari, beginning at Gairal and driving for much of the time along the Ramganga River through the Ramganga Valley and over to Ramganga Lake. Certain parts of the route we had covered yesterday on on safari, but yesterday we had ventured only so far as to the vicinity of the lodge at Dikhala. The landscape in this part of the park, when compared to the area around Dhangarhi where my first 3 afternoon jeep safaris took place, is far more spectacular. The landscape varies quite dramatically here. Geographic features include rolling grasslands, thick forests, brush thickets and jungle-like oases. The view from Ramganga Lake is absolutely beautiful.
Animals we saw today included sambar, barking deer, wild boars, spotted deer, marsh crocodiles, herds of elephants, macaques, common langurs and a number of bird species, including owls, eagles, peafowl and pheasants. The highlight of our viewing, however, occurred when we watched a large male Bengal tiger dart across the road in front of our jeep. We had been some distance away from this locale when suddenly our driver heard a particular type of deer bark in the distance. We proceeded to race over to the vicinity from where the bark emanated, our driver explaining en route that this particular bark is the warning of this deer that a tiger is in its midst. Sure enough, several moments later, a very large tiger quickly strolled out of the thicket, crossed the road, and then disappeared again into the thick underbrush. This cat looked huge! For about a half hour thereafter, we drove slowly along the adjoining road, scanning the virtually impenetrable thicket in search for further signs of the tiger. About a 100 meters down the road, we heard again the warning call of the deer and heard some animal rustling in the nearby thick woods, but we saw nothing. After seeing that feline cross the road, I definitely would not take walking in tiger territories lightly.
It is now late afternoon. I am writing this entry in the shade of a mango tree at the farmhouse of the Delhi lawyer - Shyam - I had to pleasure of running into yesterday at the Jim Corbett National Park
park office who had also arranged our stay with his family at the tourist lodge at Gairal. While at Gairal, Shaym invited us to stay with them at their beautiful farm retreat on the outskirts of Ramnagar, which we accepted. We are enjoying our R&R here immensely. The farm consists of a number of beautiful bungalows, a pool, a kitchen and a common outdoor area set amidst a number of fruit trees on several hectares. Thanks again Shyam for the great Indian hospitality!