There are truly a lot of flavors of Jim Corbett National park – you just have to choose which one you want. It’s a beautiful forest, very green with two rivers, many tributaries, and a large lake. It hosts a lot of wildlife, tigers, elephants, crocodiles, deer, and many others. The way it is split up, though makes it harder to cover all of it in one trip. Over time its proximity to Delhi and Nainital has made it a corporate offsite hotspot. That means a lot of large luxurious hotels. There are also a number of secluded and serene hotels for nature and calm lovers.
Depending on what you are looking for, here are a few tips:
Wildlife and Photography: Whatever any hotel or jeep owner may tell you, most of the Corbett wildlife exists in the Dhikala zone. The Ramganga Lake and the river of the same name that feeds it both are in this zone. Most of the 240 tigers of the sanctuary are here, as are the elephant herds and the crocodiles. The exotic birds also flock in the lake. However, no day trips in Jeeps are allowed in this zone. You need to stay in the government guest house in Dhikala that has 30-35 rooms to get a Jeep safari. The guest houses are cheap and no-frills but hard to find available. The only alternative is to take a ride on one of the few canters that are allowed in for a day trip. The locals will claim that tigers and other wildlife can be spotted in Bijrani – don’t believe them. You may spot a tusker and a few deer – feel grateful.
Adventure and Nature: There are a lot of hotels around the main Ramnagar area that serve the purpose. They are close to both the Bijrani entry gate and the river. There are several other adventures around like zip lines and go-karts. There are hotels available in nearly all budgets and most of them are quite good – take your pick. Most will consider the safari to be an adventure too, just don’t expect too many animals, though you can find a lot of birds.
Luxury and Get-Togethers: This is a rare combination for a wildlife sanctuary. There are luxury lodgings in most sanctuaries these days but the scale of Corbett is unparalleled. There are large resorts like Hridayesh, Namah, Lemontree, and Taj that can accommodate large groups in a very natural setting but still give a luxurious experience. Most of these resorts are in Ramnagar and have the safari gates nearby as well as the river behind them. There are many cafes on that road along with some roadside places serving tandoori chai. The local surroundings aside, the rooms in most of these are top of the line luxurious. The resorts will help make the adventure activities more comfortable – as an example expect blankets in the safari gypsies on a cold morning.
Blend with Nature: There are a number of resorts that give a more jungle experience, a little rustic but still more than comfortable. Location may be an issue with some of these, especially the ones located near Mohan but there is enough to make up for it. A few resorts are located up a hill with a really broken steep road up that needs a 4×4 to drive up or down. I happened to stay in one of these. These are far from the Safari but the experience of the resort and the room was awesome. More on that later.
There are four major zones in Corbett and it is Dhikala vs. everything else. I have spoken enough about Dhikala, so let me talk of the others. Bijrani is the most popular of them all but there isn’t much there. No lake, no river, just some rainwater holds that form small drain offs. The shrubs and bushes are thick in November making it hard to look too deep inside. Not the best place and time for wildlife sighting. Moreover, the zone starts about 25 min from the entry gate. It still is what the local guides recommend the most.
There is the Garjiya zone that has the same entry gate as Bijrani but runs closer to the road around Corbett. It is recently opened and hence doesn’t have its separate entrance yet. I haven’t been there but it’s not advertised as the favorite for animal spotting. To my understanding, it has no lake or river either.
The other zone with a river is the Durga Devi. The other two less popular zones are Jhirna and Dhela. I haven’t been to any of the three but the resort people don’t recommend any of these for animal sightings. Though I think they only mean tiger sightings as most people don’t seem to care about other animals. I think the river would at least bring along some beautiful bird sightings.
While everyone cares for the ferocious cat, the most majestic sightings in Corbett involve elephants. If you are lucky you can see a herd of the massive creatures but even a single tusker can be quite interesting to see. Their gait is majestic and their nonchalance is beautiful to watch. That sighting can make the long drive to the safari gate worth it. On one of my earlier trips, our jeep was chased by a young calf – that was not as much fun though.
The resort I was staying at, Paatlidun, helped organize the highlight of the trip. A riverside picnic where you get to sit on stones with feet dipped in the cold waters of the Kosi river. This is followed by hot tea and pakoras. The spot is very scenic and mostly private. The drive is quite beautiful with views of a meandering Kosi disappearing into the distance.
The best part of the resort was its jungle feel and rooms set among the trees just as to blend in. A sit-out opened right into the forest, it was fabulous. The food was delicious and was in large part made out of things grown in their own kitchen garden. The 16 rooms were spread across two separate areas and hence we hardly came across any other guests, except at the evening high tea, which seemed to be a popular event. Finally, the stay was made even more enjoyable by the brilliant night skies that we could enjoy sitting next to small bonfires set up right outside our rooms.