Corbett: The Green Community

After the safari in the famous Jim Corbett National Park, dig into an organic meal, discover the pleasure of grinding flour in a water mill or just sip a cuppa with friendly villagers.

Back to a life where nature rules, Corbett National Park, village Kyari Kham, Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, India

Tracing Jim Corbett’s Footsteps

Jim Corbett with Bachelor of Pawalgarh, Uttarakhand, India

A hunter turned conservationist/wildlife photographer/writer, landlord turned giver, Jim Corbett lives on in the hearts of the people in the green state of Uttarakhand. Not only did this Britisher help the villagers by killing man-eaters, he also gave them a way of life. We saw a documentary related to his life at the Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort, but a walk through the Jim Corbett Museum in Kaladungi is the best way to get to know him. This was actually his winter home. All his life hangs on the walls — letters, photographs, paintings, the formation and history of the national park. The grounds also house the graves of his dogs. Here, we came to know of his generosity. After India’s independence, he decided to move to Kenya and handed over the village of Chotti Haldwani to the villagers who were living there. He had established that village and many of its systems.

The man who guards a gun given by Corbett to his father, Uttarakhand, India

The village is right behind the museum and houses a homestay, Ittu Sa restaurant, a wall Corbett had built to keep away the wild animals and most important a treasured single-barrel, muzzle-loading gun which is now the pride and joy of Trilok Singh Negi. The gun was gifted to his father Sher Singh Negi by Corbett. Singh fondly recalls he was called ‘Carpet Sahib’. Our joy: we got to take photographs with the gun as souvenirs. My suggestion is to walk around in the village for the signboards can guide you to all the major landmarks in the area. Or just sit with Trilok Singh in the chaupal (village centre) and enjoy your conversations over a cup of tea.

If Trees Could Talk

The 100-year-old tree in Pawalgarh Guest House premises, Uttarakhand, India

Among the iconic trees in this national park area, the 100-year-old semal tree (Bombax ceiba) in the premises of Pawalgarh Guest House is where Jim Corbett is picturised with the iconic Bachelor of Pawalgarh. The Bachelor was a magnificent Bengal tiger, 3.23 meters long between pegs and the only non man-eater that Corbett killed. And it was also the last tiger he killed. This story too finds its way into the book Man-Eaters of Kumaon.

Local Is The New Global

Savitri Garjaula has brought an organic revolution in her village, Uttarakhand, India

We took a tour of the organic farm at Durga Organic Farming School in Mankanthpur village. A self-help group run by the dynamic Savitri Garjaula, it has managed to change the game for farmers in her village and neighboring ones. “Once upon a time, people thought jobs were slavery and farming was the best work to do. Nowadays people think farming is not a good profession, but for me it is the best. After all, we feed people. If everyone moves to the city, who will feed the people?” she says. The inspirational lady has won awards, and along with 25 women, she makes pickles, amla juices, healthy ragi snacks, turmeric powder. Tourists can get treated to a good meal at her home, on request, of course. We dug into a yum meal comprising gehad dal (soy lentil), aloo methi (potato spinach), ragi roti and boiled rice. We ended the meal with a bowl of hot kheer, cooked in fresh cow milk. 
 (While she is not present on the web as yet, you can connect with her at +91 8859032491)

The Jim Corbett museum in Kaladungi houses a souvenir shop and his dogs’ graves

For all of us who like jams, pickles, chutneys, the museum in Kaladungi houses a souvenir shop run by Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti. Besides organic grains and cereals, there is plum chutney that you must get back home to enjoy with breads or just take a spoonful to please the palate.

Ittu Sa literally means very small and this village restaurant is very simple

Ittu Sa restaurant in Chotti Haldwani also serves traditional Kumaoni meals — breakfast (INR 100), lunch and dinner (INR 200). The restaurant is a simple place with traditional Kumaoni interiors.

Sewayian upma and methi thepla for breakfast with orange juice

The breakfast at Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort satiated our senses and stomachs. With an extensive variety comprising Indian delicacies such as sewayian upma, idli sambhar, methi thepla, aloo paratha, poori bhaji, the morning meal is best enjoyed in the open. There are other cuisines on the menu too.

Grinding Flour With Water

The iron stopper is manually lifted to allow water to flow into a tunnel which churns the stones inside

An ignorant city dweller, I wanted to know what a ‘panchakki’ was. So if you are like me, then panchakki is a water mill (pan is paani which is water and chakki is mill). The classic book ‘The Mill on the Floss’ by George Eliot is based on this, explained my fellow traveller historian Rana Safvi. The water mill, owned by Vinod, works on the energy of the water. There is an iron gate to stop and open the flow of the water coming from a nearby canal. Once the gate is opened, the water rushes into an underground tunnel and turns the large grinding stones of the flour mill. And people do come to get their flour ground here, affirms the owner.

Take A Walk

Rabbits, hens, calves, birds will be your companions on the walk

Since green is the norm in a forested area, there is nothing better than exploring the area on foot. As we were staying in Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort, we walked around Kyari Kham village at sunrise. The early morning vista of birds and langurs feasting on fruits and collecting energy for the day was a wake up call for the spirit. Peacocks called out from the jungle and the sun was playing hide and seek, its rays giving a shimmer to the dry river bed. The area is known for mulberry farming which is supported by the government. The region also has a network of canals, made by the iconic Jim Corbett, which ensures a constant supply of water. Many farmers have opened tea shops and offer a delectable plate of momos and maggie. You might like seeing your cuppa brewing on a mud stove lit by wood. The farmers also make vermi compost and if you sit around long enough, you can play with rabbits, hens, calves and make new friends.

Participate In Community Festivities

Women celebrate the festival of colours

The city’s community bonding is mostly around socializing over wine and cheese but in the village community means enjoying festivals sans boundaries. The excitement normally builds up a week in advance. However, the festivals do work a little differently for both the genders. We were lucky to witness the way women celebrate the festival of colours holi — it was right out of a black and white movie. Out in the open, homes without boundaries, the women sat in a circle, singing folk songs with a distinct Bollywood feel, dancing to the rhythm of the dholak (a traditional drum). We were greeted with gulal (dry colours) and some coconut prasad and treated to coffee and snacks. The simple ways were a reminder that there’s more to festivals than selfies.

Climb Up A Hill To Garjiya Devi Temple

The goddess is worshipped here, river Kosi, Uttarakhand, India

It’s difficult to separate India from its many temples and gods. The word ‘girija’ comes from the word giri which means mountain. This particular temple is atop a small hill on the shore of river Kosi. Daughter of Himalaya and wife of Shiva, devotees come seeking blessings for all kinds of problems from Girija devi. The temple dates to the Mahabharat era. King Virat worshipped the devi here and so did rishi Kaushik, better known as Vishwamitra. The temple has miraculously survived a flood and legend says that the temple bells start ringing if a calamity is approaching. The complex also houses a 10th century idol of Vishnu and Lakshmi (the preserver and his wife). The uniqueness lies in the different way the couple are seated, entwined and connected.

Sweets, Shops & Juices

Ramnagar market is the place to find your dose of regional sweets. The most famous in this area is ‘bal mithai’. This is actually a milk cake which is churned till it becomes chocolate in colour and sugar pills are stuck on it. The yum dessert can be eaten anytime and anywhere. Among the well known sweet shops are Rawat and Kundan in the main market.

There are some souvenir shops too in the area where you can get tees, fridge magnets, stuffed tigers, jackets and more. We found one in Aasthana mall in Lakhanpur area. And we also enjoyed a glass of fresh sugarcane juice.

Safaris

The park offers gypsy safaris from six zones and they need to be booked in advance. Some might like an hour’s ride on the elephants in the buffer zone near Dhikala. We settled with feeding them jaggery, which can be bought at the nearby shop.

Laze Around

The Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort has a spa and that worked wonders for tired souls like me. And there is a small library too. A no noise area, I could have slept off under one of the trees hearing the song of the birds. The open Orchard Grill is the place to drink your poison along with fresh grills and watch traditional dances. Let the green neighborhood work its magic on you.

How To Reach Corbett, Uttarakhand, India

  1. Most international flights land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi at T3.
  2. The closest town is Ramnagar and is well connected via road (260km). The route from Delhi goes via Hapur, Garhmukteshwar, Moradabad, Thakurdwara, Ramnagar, Corbett National Park.
  3. The nearest railway station is also at Ramnagar. Major trains from Delhi are Ranikhet Express, Corbett Link Express and Kathgodam Express.

Things To Keep In Mind
1. Preferably wear cotton clothes and keep yourself covered. 
2. Carry a water bottle, some places are not clean. 
3. Carry some sunscreen, medicines and first-aid kit. Mosquito repellants are a good idea. 
4. Keep your passport under lock and key. 
5. Bargaining is a good idea in the market. Keeping some cash handy works.
6. There are many beggars but it is not a good idea to encourage them.
7. Locals ask for money if you want to take their photographs, so change is handy. It’s better than begging. 
8. When trying street food, make sure you have a strong stomach. 
9. Everyone pretends to be a guide, but is not. You can ask for credentials. 
10. Temples are sacred spots and keeping them that way helps. Donations are an individual choice. 
11. Tips are welcome. Normally a 10% works well. But you can choose to give as per your discretion or not give also. 
12. Do carry a pair of binoculars for the region houses 600 species of birds, over 150 varieties of plants and trees and a large number of fauna. The jungle is home to precious life forms and it is best to follow some do’s and don’ts when inside. Read them here.

What Would Help

(The trip was on invitation by Corbett Wild Iris Spa & Resort and organized by Travel Correspondents & Bloggers Group)