The soft rustle of green leaves, interspersed with bright layers of sunshine-the sudden break in the melodious chirping of birds, and the chaos that follows…slowly, from behind the groves-peeks out those unmistakable embers of orange-draped in the hues of black stripes, even if, only for a fleeting moment- yet leaving a permanent pugmark on the withered forest scape, and an indelible impression on our psyche-“ Hail the king of the jungle, the lord of all he surveys”…and, if he decides to grant you an audience in his royal court-your day is made.
The winters, when they descend on the purid landscapes of the north-tend to encourage a rather laid back attitude, when all one wants to do is wrap up in a warm quilt, with a cuppa coffee, and a nice little book to keep you company!!!- But this weekend, I wanted to do something different-something to break the routine, to head out..Corbett happened to be one of the best bets, as it lay at a considerably comfortable distance from Delhi, and also happened to be one of the co-ordinates, that I had missed on my travel radar.
Day 1- After a grueling 6 hour drive from our pad in Delhi, criss crossing through the hamlets of Uttar Pradesh, barging through and battling with insane truck drivers, and post a none-too-tempting hurried breakfast of oil-rich eggs, and burnt slices of “Carvest Gold” bread (Believe me guys- there can be no better imitators like Indians)- we hit our oasis- the Corbett Suman Grand. A nice cuppa of blue curacao, and a hearty meal later- we were all set to hit our first target- the Garjia Devi Temple-famed in these parts, as the revered tiger goddess.
Delhi-Gahziabad-Kashipur-Corbett- 265 KM- Travel time-7 hours
First impressions were absolutely fabulous- the parting rays of the evening sun had begun to descend on the crystal clear waters of the kosi, and right across its golden banks, stood an imposing, beautiful structure, that seemed to have ascended from the heavens itself!!! The air was filled with devotional numbers- some that appealed to the pristine senses of the inner soul, while the others were simply rehashes of popular Bollywood numbers- that hurt the ear, as much as the intellect. And so, the climb began- up a flight of stairs, that were crammed with devotees from far and near, who all paid obeisance to the mountain goddess in their own whimsical ways. After an eternity of jostling and pushing- we were finally able to make our way to the top-and believe you me!!-our senses were treated to a eastman color view of the all encompassing arena of the foothills-I stood, ensconced, as if in the middle of a painting-before another shove of a Garhwali shoulder, told me that it was time to leave..
The kosi had also swelled up a little more than normal in the evening- and the sun’s crimson rays had laid out a carpet of gold for the lucky few who were there that fateful evening-instinct prodded me to savor a feel of these pure pristine waters-and just as I stepped in the shallow banks-a sense of unusual calm and serenity engulfed my entire being. Unwilling to step back- I observed, in rapt silence, the complete awe of the beauty that lay strewn across the landscape, beauty that had been etched out by the one above, with painstaking accuracy, and to the finest of detail. Unwillingly, almost with a sense of resignation, I stepped out to return to our resort- where the chef had laid out a fine mish-mash of delectable dishes- that I proceeded to just wipe off the plates, my hunger buds ticking a little faster than usual-gearing myself up for the D-day ahead.
Day 2- Forest Capers- 0530 hrs- an open gypsy, and the ice-cold wind whooshing in on your face!!!-this wasn’t something that I had bargained for- at least on a vacation. The driver, Mohan, said in a comforting tone-“Saab ji-Tiger dekhne ka sabse achha mauka abhi hai- Dheeraj Rakho (Be patient). And patient I was- to the effect that I had developed a running nose, and a conspicuous sore throat within ten minutes of this forest ordeal…That’s when I decided to take this challenge up, in true Ajay Devgan style-aka KAAL- as I wrapped myself up in a blanket, and stood up from the backseat- Lo and behold!!- an unending sea of green and yellow unraveled itself-acres and acres of age-old trees, dense bushes, vast open expanses, and the foothills in the backdrop, even as the sun began its ascent on the horizon- Corbett had decided to welcome us with aplomb, and ever so slowly, akin to a shy Indian lass, had begun to let us in on her secrets-secrets that had the promise of more to come, so near, yet so far. In between, our sojourn took us through small rivulets, and an arena of bare, marble-like rocks, that were considered to be the resting point of the majestic beast- but, unfortunately- the royal beast had decided to give us a miss- I guess that the forest court had urgent matter s that needed to be attended to. Yet , the other inhabitants of the Jungle were kind enough to greet us- a speckled Sambhar deer here, a rhesus monkey peeking from behind the trees, anthills of varied hues and sizes- played out an opera of the Jungle, and the symphony that emanated was pure “manna for the soul”. Time stands still in these parts, and at certain tracts- the foliage is so dense , that even the harshest rays of the morning sun cant permeate in the surroundings, and a deep, dark treat awaits you, as these passages resemble the entrance to the Netherworld..and within minutes- the entire arena is metamorphosed into a brilliant garden of colors, where the sunrays bathe the landscape in the hues of melted gold. In the evening, back in the resort- I sat back and contemplated on the beauty that I had witnessed in the day gone by. Soon enough, night fell ominously over these parts, wrapped up, as if in the halo of black mist, and the twinkling light of the resort lamp-posts stood out like a pair of mating fire-flies. Prompted by the chill resplendent in the air- we asked the resort staff to arrange for firewood- which they did, ever so promptly, and within minutes-the cackle of burning timber, and the yellow-orangish hues of the flame lit up the entire room.The subtle sheer silence, broken only by the ever-so-faint tap of the burnt woodlogs, the slight twinkle of the array of stars that had enveloped the bluish black sky..led us in the arms of Lady Sleep, as she opened her tresses, and let them flow across, putting to rest our tired bones, and holding forth the divine promise of the lovely morning that beckoned us...
One stop- Corbett Suman Grand-Great food/Wonderful service/all in one- Great Value for your money.
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Day 3-“Bite the bait”- there can be no greater gift in heaven- then a full night’s sleep- so I realized as I stepped out and greeted the sun, with open arms- my agenda for the day was to do “Nothing”-basically to relax, unwind and explore the resort environs. Post a fairly filling breakfast- we had just stepped out of the resort-when our resort manager gestured us towards his cabin. Inside we were greeted by a person, in his mid-30s maybe, slightly bald, and with a face that seemed to pop-out of a pirate’s merry band-but what struck me most was his jacket- an assortment of pockets, of various hues and sizes-straddled with hooks, and the like!!- “Sir-How about a small round of Fishing- the river’s right in the backyard and teeming with fish”- My imagination went into hyperactive mode- as I envisioned a full bodied Mahaseer, getting cooked and grilled to perfection, over a small heap of forest wood, right on the river banks-Snapped back to reality by a poke from my best half- I decided to give it an earnest shot.
The river bank was a curious mish-mash of white stones baked to perfection, and slippery tracts of muddied water that resonated with a “Sploosh” sound, as we negotiated the indifferent path. Much to my surprise- Our tutor for the day, started throwing out small pieces of stale bread in the river current. Out of nowhere almost- tiny heads began to pop out with alarming ferocity, as they hungrily snapped up our offerings-“This is our pad for the day”- our maestro declared, and proptly proceeded to throw the mile long line in the fierce waters of the Kosi, home to one of the best freshwater game fish- the golden Mahaseer.
Another hour and a million tries later- my patience levels had begun to dip to dangerously, as I was wilting under the twin onslaught of the harsh and unbearable rays of the winter-sun, as well as the unrelenting attitude of this smart creature of the water, that had given a fitting riposte to all my furtive overtures to lure her. Huffing and puffing all along- I had swung my fishing line across for god –knows-how-many-times, and now it all had started to tell on me. Just as I had hurled the wire one last time before bidding adieu- I felt a slight tug- Absolute Joy!!!- the tug assumed the proportion of a fierce pull, as both of us tried to close in on the kill..A few seconds later-it emerged- in a cloak of yellow gold, and a suit of silver armor- the Knight of the Kosi, dangled helplessly in front of us. It was quite a huge catch, and my arms had begun to pain under the weight – yet that moment of triumph was awesome- after 75 minutes of patience, fortitude and sweat-I had managed to rein in, and catch the river-tiger. I held out my catch with a feeling of pride, and got myself clicked to retain memories of my Kodak moment-yet, when I turned back my eyes on the poor creature, which was now on its last legs, and was struggling to hold on to the final straws of life-my heart melted.” How could I be so cruel!!”- questioned my soul, and I answered in the affirmative, as I unhooked the fish, and let her return to her abode in the riverbed-far from our world of hatred and cruelty. My tutor was taken aback by the entire episode, and was pretty much awed by my act of kindness. “Shehar ke log bhi dil rakhte hai- Socha na tha”-these words epitomized the vast distrust and venom that the dwellers of the hinterland harbor towards their peers from the city, and based on past observation-they have been correct, in the rhetorical sense-That day- I walked back in triumph, having quashed that belief, and winning over his heart in the process- a trophy that I would cherish, in all my years to come…
Too tired and pooped out to take another step- I returned to the resort, and flopped in the bed, in my complete ensemble- shoes, dirty clothes, et al. The salubrious nap, was broken by the continous rapping of the door-“Chai laye hai-Saab”- and a heady concoction of Jasmine, ginger and mountain herbs snapped me out of whatever fatigue that I had, and had me up and running for more..A small game of table tennis, idling out in the resort gardens, feeding monkeys in the parking area, and a few yawns later-it began to dawn on us that this was the last day of our trip- the end of our rejuvenation exercise, time to return to the mad race of corporate life..Yet, our trip was incomplete- we had missed our date with the tiger- which had eluded us all through the trip, hidden away in the thick confines of the Kumaon forest, away from the peering eyes of all and sundry..
“Sir-How about a night safari on the road to Mohaan-might prove to be a good experience, before you head back tomorrow”-The manager seemed to have read our mind, as I was unconsciously ruminating over the missed date with the lord of the forest, and my head nodded in the affirmative-although I must admit that my wife was petrified at the thought of a gypsy ride in tiger country, that too in the midst of complete darkness. However- post a little bit of cajoling and coaxing- she was ready for this forbidden foray in the forest, and we left the resort in their open-top 4X4, whistling it’s way past the dark confines of the lonely road. There was not a soul in sight, and the crystalline headlights of the gypsy, were the only source of vision across a landscape , that was completely bereft of any kind of light- the same forests that had an aura of beauty under the hallowed rays of the sun-had assumed the cloak of black, and mocked at us in silence- an evil, shrill silence that had us hooked to the edge of our seats, throughout that 15 minute drive, that seemed to last an eternity…well, almost..
Stationed at a small barrier near the settlement of Mohaan-we waited in anticipation of our moment of truth. The headlights had now been switched off, and the stars in the sky-scape were enacting a game of hide-and-seek with the floating clouds-the odd raucous sound of a million crickets/grasshoppers in the background-the strange swish of a whiff of wind, as it rushed past- had us engulfed in an uneasy sense of anxiety, and fear, at the same instance..And then, it happened…From the bushes behind-emerged a vast creature of great proportions-eyes that bore the unmistakable mark of royalty; slightly visible stripes of black, coated over a velvet smooth yellow coat- The Corbett tiger stood in all it’s might, right in front, staring back at us, in all it’s finery and grace. We were glued to our seats, and those few seconds of the royal rendezvous left me with memories of a lifetime-memories that one can keep in the treasure trove of the heart. Then almost, as nonchalantly, as it had come- the royal creature decided to bid goodbye- a strong leap, a few steps, some rustles and swishes later-it disappeared in the confines of the forest-nowhere to be seen again..i touched my wife’s hand-it was cold..it took us a minute to realize the enormity of the moment, and then, we touched base with reality..
There is no conclusion-no end to experiences, as our entire journey of life is nothing but a rhapsody of emotions and feelings that give a concrete shape to our thoughts and desires- Yet, there are few who chose to go off the beaten path-to tap in on the secret jewels that god has created, in the backdrop of Mother nature…and Corbett happens to be one of those-“A Sheer Experience”…