SPINE CHILLING MOMENTS
“Any moment a tiger can dart out of these bushes”. My guide Mohan Pandey whispers, sounding quite cool. “Probably it’s watching our move”, he says. His words sent a chill down my spine. I realize, if the tigers get thirsty, they head straight to the water body; forget the time. Standing near Bhumka Chaur, where our Boar Canal trail ends, I reckon there’s little chance for an escape. The possibility of an encounter remains a thrill, but my mind and heart started talking in different ways by now. Both said “GO” but in opposite directions. I’m in the dense jungles near Chhoti Haldwani Kaladhungi that encompasses the Bhabar foothills and Terai forest belt in the Kumaon range, at the Himalayas’ base.
JOURNEY TO CHHOTI HALDWANI KALADHUNGI
Immortalized in his book “My India” by Jim Corbett, the buffer zone village of Chhoti Haldwani awakens to the constant calls of Indian Cuckoo. I learn that it’s when the Kafal fruit ripens, the Indian Cuckoo first appears on the scene. Arriving overnight from New Delhi, a crowded private bus from the busy Ramnagar fruit market takes me to Kaladhungi, on a driveway, through forests of giant teak and salt wood trees. Alighting at Chhoti Haldwani Kaladhungi Dak Bungalow, I tug my luggage along, trekking slowly to the 221-acre village, nurtured by Jim Corbett.
JIM CORBETT HERITAGE VILLAGE WALK
Corbett’s initiatives are part of this village’s folklore. Motivated to glimpse the glorious past, I do the heritage walk, past harvested fields, though the sun isn’t kind.
In a quiet corner of the village, I find the last surviving chaupal (a raised sheltered platform). “Corbett met villagers here and instilled confidence in them” observes Mohan Pandey.
Moments later Trilok Singh emerges with the single barrel muzzleloader gun, a legacy of Jim Corbett. “This was once our lifeline for protecting the crops from the raids by boars and porcupines” says Trilok Singh.
The breakthrough came when Jim Corbett built a stone masonry wall, using riverbed stones to replace the fence of thorns around the village, leading to a drastic reduction in human-wildlife conflict.
Corbett isn’t an ordinary mortal for the villagers here. He’s looked upon as a savior for generations to come. Corbett lives on here.
BOAR CANAL WALK
Corbett’s efforts towards repurposing of Boar Canal for irrigation changed villagers’ lives. For most of my walk along the Boar Canal, on slightly uneven narrow side bank walls, it was one of precarious balance. With the canal walls less than 2ft wide, Pandey warned me not to look down. But when I did, it became clear why I got warned. The water was gushing downhill, and the canal was 6ft deep. One false step would have meant nasty surprises for me. We had just begun the nearly 8km walk. They credit the Boar Canal to bring waters from the Boar River to people living a life off the jungles. I familiarized myself with the wonders it created along the way.
The care for wildlife while building the canal in the mid-1850s was amply evident. The grill filters and step ghats help wild animals escape drowning. At several places, the water flows underground only to surface later. They did this, keeping in mind both the topography and wildlife movement. Several sluice gates divert the waters to the nearby villages. The precision in technology applied amazes me. My thoughts reach out to those who toiled hard to make it a dream come true.
KALADHUNGI FOREST WALK
Kaladhungi forests present challenges to experience, and a walk through the jungles is about living the moment. At dawn the next day, we went out to visit Corbett’s Falls, passed some thick bushes along a narrow path, and suddenly the scene changed dramatically to tall trees. I instantly knew we went beyond the village periphery into the dense jungle. Dry leaves crackled and crunched under my feet. Now, this is where the attacks usually happen if they stalk us, explains Mohan Pandey. The barking deers and chirping birds conveyed some danger on our tracks. Suddenly something moved! A sense of relief crept through when told that the wild animals retreat deep into the jungle by dawn, except near the water hole. We spot a few deer tracks and elephant droppings (interestingly serves as forest manure) to suggest there were movements around the place a few hours back.
JHORA DANCE CELEBRATIONS
An evening of Jhora dance celebrations at Puran Joshi’s house’s spacious front yard awaited me in the village. The full moon provided an unforgettable ambiance. To the rhythm of Puran Joshi’s Hurka, women in ceremonial dress sang their songs, moving in a circular formation. Holding hands, they stepped back and forth, and with a slight leap, bent their bodies with a slight movement of the shoulders. It spread moments of happiness to everyone around and remained a pleasure to watch. I could see a renewed joy on their faces when we asked them to dance once more. As part of their deep-seated beliefs and traditions, I think this folk dance is culturally vital in the Kumaoni lives to stay socially connected.
Later that evening, Puran Joshi invited me to his home for dinner. I couldn’t resist trying his simple Kumaoni food, served hot on Timlaa leaf. Joshi, in his conversations, told me, “We do sustenance farming like Mangoes and Grapes besides our regular farming on the fields and milk distribution from our animal farm”. I ask him if it is not terrifying to be the first point of attack for the wild beast, as his house is at the very edge of the forests. He says, “observing animal behavior from close quarters is our daily balancing act”. Adds Joshi, “we have a unique connection with the forests as we are forever in search of fodder and firewood”.
LIVING LIFE KING SIZE
Mohan Pandey sums up by saying, “This is an unforgiving terrain, but we move on with our lives with extra caution. It closely connects our lives to the surrounding forests. We need to live in harmony with nature, without putting our lives at risk and into trouble. This is our home and our way of life”.
The village society runs eco-tours, homestays, and a restaurant and shares the gains with the villagers. Corbett lived here for the poor. The people here live his dream. The best seasons to visit this place are from October to April. If you need to have a break from city life, then this is the place to go. I feel it helps us connect with what nature offers and a real jungle life to boot.
Contact Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti (CGVS) https://corbettvillage.in for your stay and trails. You will be glad you did it.
LET’S CONNECT 🙂
Does this trigger memories of similar experiences? Please share with us.
Like something in particular or curious to know more? Please express freely.
I would love to connect with an engaged audience. It helps me bring more to you.
Request you to subscribe / social share / comment below.
Together we can change the world and make it a better place to live in!!!