Sunday, April 13, 2014

Trip to Corbett National Park from Delhi

The Planning and Booking Process

We (three of us) began planning for a visit to Corbett some time in February (more than a month before the actual visit which was in first week of April). Online research told us that Dhikala is possibly the best of the different Corbett zones, and a stay in the government maintained Dhikala Forest Rest House, right in the heart of the forest is well worth the effort instead of the multiple options outside the forest zone. Note that Dhikala is both the name of the zone; and the rest house where we stayed.

The booking and understanding the process through a couple of phone calls (to Director of Corbett Reserve, Ramnagar office - 05947-251489) were all achieved through the government website: http://www.corbettnationalpark.in/.

We weren't able to get a room in Dhikala, but were able to book beds in the dormitories at the same from the above mentioned site. This was included in the permit booked which allowed entrance to the forest area and night stay (at most three people in a permit).

Alternate options: If you plan your visit late, it is unlikely you'll succeed in getting stay at Dhikala which is by far the best option. Other options are going to the other Corbett zones (even there it might be difficult to get booking), or to the other rest-houses in Dhikala zone (some of which don't have catering facilities), or stay outside at a private resort and book a day visit which is via a canter. I would recommend first or second instead of third because the canter can take only a well defined path and go back without exploring the inner jungle areas. In case you book accomodation (night stay); and have permits for the same, you don't need to book the day visit (this we understood after a call to Ramnagar office).

Some other links which we found online during our research which talk about different zones/stay options (note: this blog doesn't have any affiliation with those sites):
Link1
Link2


The Visit

Phase 1: the drive down
Delhi - Ghaziabad - Gajraula - Moradabad - Kashipur - Ramnagar

We left on Saturday morning by 4.30am and crossed Ghaziabad border by 6am on NH24. With a brisk pace-setting Swift Desire, we made our first (and only) pit stop in Gajraula by 7am near the Tadka Dhaba and 24X7 McDonalds.

(Note: having read online that the Tadka and Bhajan dhabas are good, we found at least 2-3 of both names and had no idea which one was being referred to. The one near McDonalds is good; where we stuffed ourselves with paranthas.)

We drove on till we reached Moradabad; and sadly we took the route through the city, though it would have been better to bypass the city traffic.After passing through Moradabad, we continued on the Moradabad-Kashipur road which turned out to be a mini-disaster.

It seems there are multiple routes between the two, one of which is a proper good highway. The one we took was in good condition but there was a sudden 5km stretch where there was no road at all - or rather the road had sunk into the ground. With delicate precision, we navigated through that stretch wincing occasionally when the bottom of the car scraped the road.

(Note: enroute to Ramnagar, we found indicators on the road to Jim Corbett Park in a different direction to Ramnagar, but I am not sure where that lead, to a different zone maybe. Our destination was the Dhikala zone, and hence Ramnagar town.)

The rest of the route was relatively better including the stretch from Kashipur to Ramnagar and we reached our destination - the Forest Department Office (right opposite the Ramnagar Bus Stand) by 10.15am.

After verifying our permits, we hired a jeep from there (Rs 3500 for one day - two safaris). The driver, Azim turned out to be quite knowledgeable and helpful.

We parked our car at the nearby government guest house (paying Rs 150 for the same) and set forth in the jeep towards Dhikala at 11am.

Highlight of the entire trip: The entire process was fairly transparent, and at no point did we feel that we were being taken for a ride. The government officials at Ramnagar and Dhangadi gate, even the hotel staff at Dhikala were all cooperative and professional. That is something we should appreciate, given our penchant to criticize the authorities or the government wherever possible. There was also a genuine attempt to sensitize visitors to keep the environment clean by giving a garbage bag at the Dhangadi gate. The thought process in itself impressed me most of all.


Phase 2: Journey to Dhikala Forest Lodge - Saturday afternoon

The distance from Ramnagar to Dhikala Lodge is 54 kms; out of which 18 kms is till Dhangadi gate and 36 kms inside the forest. It is only when we entered the forest, we realized this part was a safari in itself. We travelled for nearly two hours in the forest before we reached Dhikala.

And what sightings we got. Our first foray into the forest before we did an actual safari was the most productive. 
Himalayan Bulbul
Grey wagtail
On our way we passed the other smaller lodges (Sarpdauli, Gairal, Khinnaunoli). Near one of these, we spotted three jackals roaming freely - our first sighting.

A jackal roaming freely near Sarpdauli Lodge
We spotted a barking deer, subsequent to which we were fortunate enough to spot a family of wild elephants (male, female and child). They were some way off the road and our putting sand on themselves in a bid to repel insects.

An elephant family putting sand on itself. The playful baby is rolling on the floor
And then, the big one. 4-5 kms before reaching Dhikala we spotted a female fully grown tiger crossing the road. We just got a glimpse for a few seconds, as she had already crossed the road and leisurely stepped into the dense foliage beyond entirely indifferent to our presence. It happened too quickly to even catch our breath, forget capturing the same on camera.

We arrived at Dhikala, happy but exhausted.

Phase 3: Jungle safari on an elephant - Saturday evening

The first sight of Dhikala is an absolute pleasure to behold. Right behind the lodge lies the flowing Ramganga river with plenty of water (though that is more due to a reservoir). The blue river with lovely mountains and the lodge with monkeys and twittering birds - mainly mynas and spotted doves make it a picturesque sight to behold.

View from Dhikala Forest Rest House

A monkey surveying itself in the mirror and planning to drive off with the jeep

After having lunch and a brief rest, we went on a elephant safari which is a unique experience in itself. They have four elephants and booking is on a day-to-day first-come-first-serve basis. The elephant safari was a great experience where the friendly elephant withstood our weight effortlessly and took us into the jungle.

However, only after sitting on the elephant and seeing the mahout directing it made my realize the amount of pain the poor animal might have suffered while being trained for this purpose. The thought made me slightly queasy and I am not sure if I like the idea so much.

The advantage of an elephant safari is that they go off the track right across the tall blades of grass and follow any bird call which might be made on a tiger sighting. They don't have any fixed path and cut across trees or branches effortlessly whilst we attempt to evade them hitting our faces.
Elephant safari - through the forest

The experience was special, and whilst we didn't spot any tiger, we covered a fair amount of grass. We spotted a herd of deer (all stags), some wild boar. The herd of deer was enormous and we had never seen so many of them (around 200) together. They allowed us to get fairly close (advantage of being on an animal) before feeling alarmed and fleeing.
A large herd of male Spotted Deer

Closeup view of the stag party!

Another family of wild elephants greeted us, this time a larger herd of around 6-7 of them. They were near the river bed relaxing as we went sufficiently close to them, yet keeping our distance.

A peculiar set of branches forming a pattern which had been destroyed in a forest fire years ago

View - setting sun
 
We spotted a number of different birds twittering in the sunset. A couple of black drongos followed us for some time probably for the insects off the elephants. For a complete list of birds spotted, see below.
Black Drongo

Paradise Fly-catcher. What a tail!

The night was magical with a lovely clear sky, lots of stars and pleasant weather despite being the month of April. The experience of jungle stay was truly unique.

Phase 4: Jeep safari - Sunday morning, and back to Ramnagar, end of trip.

Early morning, I woke up to find a deer in the camp. He had ventured into the area and soon scampered off.

We left for the jeep safari at 6am, at dawn with the sun lazily planning to stretch itself out for another long day. Despite April, and the summer season, the first one hour was quite cold in the open jeep. We went across various terrain - shrubs and grasslands alike in hunt for the tiger. We listened for alarm calls but to no avail.

Pose, please!

Tall elephant grass stretching on all sides. Good luck spotting a tiger through that!
We continued to spot and hear lots of birds as they made merry in the morning breeze. We also spotted a few birds of prey this time around.
Crested Serpent Eagle

Black shouldered kite

Fish eagle?

Having expressed an interest to spot a ghariyal, the guide took us to a point where the Ramganga river bank was visible and then with his extraordinary eyes (even through binoculars), he spotted a couple of them lazily lying on the bank, what looked just like the sand embankment to us.
A Ghariyal lazing on the river bank - pic taken from more than 100 metres distance
Later, when we went back to Dhikala for breakfast, we saw another baby from the Dhikala backside, which was either a ghariyal or a crocodile (not sure since the snout hadn't grown enough). Without a zoom view, they just look like logs of wood.
Crocodile/Ghariyal - quite a small one, looks larger in the pic
Other spottings during the safari included a family of three tortoises all hanging to a log of wood adjacent to the water body.
River Lapwing
We eventually went back, had breakfast and left back for Ramnagar around 10.15am, on our way spotting the same family of three elephants as yesterday. This time, though they were closer to the jeep path, and seemed unhappy due to our presence wanting to cross the road.

[Note: wild elephants are more dangerous to humans here than even tigers, since they are often displeased due to jeeps and even chase the same on occasions.]

The male adult elephant roared angrily a couple of times, and we decided to move on in best interests of everyone.

We reached Ramnagar back by 12.15 or so, collected our car back and left for Delhi. We drove on and on and on, stopped for lunch at Gajraula again (McDonalds this time) around 4pm and eventually hit Delhi border by 7pm.


Costs:

Permits and stay (booked online): Rs 1700 or so (three people at most in a permit) if staying in dormitory.
Hiring a jeep and driver for one day (two safaris atmost): Rs 3500
Dhangadi gate: Rs 50 entrance fee
Dhikala: Rs 50 at checkout time, don't remember for what.
Elephant safari: Rs 300 per person
Guide charges (for jeep safari): Rs 400

Summary of trip:
  • Plan dates of journey at least a month in advance
  • Book stay and permit at Dhikala online from http://www.corbettnationalpark.in/
  • On travel day, go to Ramnagar Forest office (opposite Ramnagar Bus stand) and get permits verified. Book a jeep from there.
  • Enter from Dhangadi gate, enjoy the forest.
  • Spot wildlife, don't litter the place and maintain decorum respecting the animals.
  • Return
Sightings:

Species of wildlife -
  • Jackal
  • Wild elephants
  • Wild boar
  • Barking deer
  • Spotted deer
  • Sambhar
  • Hog deer
  • Tiger
  • Ghariyal (fish-eating crocodile)
  • Turtle
Species of birds seen -
  • White crested laughing thrush
  • Himalayan Bulbul
  • Black Drongo
  • Green bee eater
  • Magpie robin
  • Bay-backed shrike
  • Herons - Pond and Grey
  • Egrets (all kinds)
  • Cormorants (little and big)
  • Common Kingfisher
  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Red wattled lapwing
  • River Lapwing
  • River Tern
  • Jungle Fowl
  • Paradise Fly catcher
  • Pied Buschat
  • Pippit
  • Parakeets
  • Common Myna
  • Jungle Crow
  • Spotted Dove
  • Great-necked stork
  • Baya Weaver
  • Crested Serpent Eagle
  • Ashy Prinia
  • Sparrow Lark
  • Black shouldered Kite
  • Common Stonechat
  • Red vented Bulbul
  • Fish-eagle
  • Peacock
  • Kalij Pheasant
The usual cautionary note: Sightings in a jungle are purely luck-based. Don't visit with the sole intent of spotting a tiger, but instead to enjoy a jungle atmosphere and experience something unique and special.

11 comments:


  1. Nice Information. how are the facilities at lodge? is it suitable to travel with family? I have heard all the lodges are closed inside core area. Any Idea whether they will run the Lodge in future or going to close it? I am planning for a trip later this year.Thanks in advance.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Srinu,
      The facilities at Dhikala Lodge are excellent even for family members (there were lots of families there). Dhikala has been running for years and is in the forest area, and there is no plan to close AFAIK.
      Please go ahead with your trip; and you can use the contact numbers mentioned above to contact the Forest Dept who will give more info; only thing to remember is all national parks are usually closed from June-Sept during monsoons.

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    2. Thanks Arun for your reply!..will be going in october, Do you have any idea about Rajaji National Park? Do they have safaris? I am planning to cover these two parks togethar.

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    3. Hi, Please make sure the park is open in October (it usually opens somewhere around that time, may be mid-oct).
      I haven't been to Rajaji, but I believe they do have safaris. Please check out this link which looks to be a genuine site - www.rajajinationalpark.co.in

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    4. Night stay in Dhikala is from November 15th to June 15th every year.

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  2. I have read all your articles and they are excellent. Yeah i will be going once the park opens..i am a frequent traveller to national parks in mostly in MP , Maharashtra and Karnataka. So this time planning for North(Jim corbett and Ranathambore).Thanks again.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Srinu.
      Can you suggest to which ones you went in these states? I've been to Tadoba (planned for Pench); and am always looking for more options.

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    2. tadoba, pench, kanha ( i visit these 3 regularly) and went twice to kabini and bandipur..once to nagarhole(it is a waste) and went to Gir and velavadar Very recently

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I like this article. Thanks for sharing the content and such nice information. I hope you will share some more content and inform us.

    luxury resort in jim corbett

    ReplyDelete