Chhoti Haldwani Kaladhungi – Jim Corbett’s Legendary Village

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The mouth of the Boar Canal
Reading Time: 6 minutes

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.

Harvested paddy fields and a few brick houses at day break in Chhoti Haldwani

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. 

The Chaupal and The Gun played a crucial role during Corbett times

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 wall of protection as a shield against boars and porcupines that raid crops at night

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.

The Boar Canal with sluice gates to supply water to 40 nearby villages

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.

Safety net and step ghat for animals to climb out just before canal waters flow underground

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.

Dense forests of Kaladhungi enroute to Corbett falls

Also read: Kotagiri – Keystone to Indigenous Tribal Welfare and Development

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.

Women performing the celebrative Jhora dance 

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.

Kumaoni dinner served hot on Timlaa leaf

DINNER CONVERSATIONS

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”.

Self-sustaining farming including cash crops like Mangoes, Grapes, and Dairy farm

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”.

Quality accommodation provided by Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti 

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.
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29 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent, Kumar. Brought back many memories of the Himalayan Kumaon range and the Terai forests. Life there, as they said, can be edgy but the people living in the area have an intimate relationship with the forests and take good care of each other. Have visited the site years ago, am sure much would have changed, but the trees look the same….. simply majestic. Your write-up evokes nostalgic memories of time gone by….never to return.

    • Thanks Swarnalatha. They have a give and take relationship with the farm lands and forest lands and they seem to enjoy it to the hilt. As for the trees, whether its the summer or winter, their majesty is unparalleled.

  2. Excellent write up. Relived my memory of my visit to Nainital and Kumaon 20 years ago. Unfortunately couldn’t visit the Jim Corbett park but later read about him a lot. As you rightly said people only relate to the Safari. Very nice write up giving an insight of this region..a national treasure

  3. Compelling portrayal of many slivers of the region which would never be known to the urban dweller. You’ve shown a side of Jim Corbett I was not aware about. Keep going – in following your passion and sharing your experience in this way.

    • Thanks Seshan. Corbett was more a conservationist than a hunter. He dipped into his savings to help the farmers gain from the lands, and took nothing from them in return.

      • Oh I have huge respect for him, always thought of him more as a conservationist than as a hunter. He’s given beautiful descriptions of the region and some encounters with tigers outside of the man-eater component. I just wasn’t aware of the fact that he had done so much for the villagers.

        • Thanks Seshan. He kept them as tenants without them paying for land rent. He gave away to those 40 villager families who were his tenants his 221 acres land, absolutely free of cost when he decided to leave India for good. He invested in their lands to help them grow hybrid food crops, everything at no cost to them. Also he paid for their land revenue dues till his death. Such was his love and affection to the villagers that they held him as a God sent messenger.

  4. Well written article Kumar……few suggestions
    Since it is a travel blog,details wrt, how you heard about the village, cost of trip, how to reach from say Delhi, food etc would help

    • Thanks Bharathi. The book of Jim Corbett “My India” is the reason I came to know about this village. But my motivation was to have an interaction with the community there.

  5. Well Written Article Kumar. Your writing gives a motivation to visit the place . Feel this is the palce for a Break from work and relaxation. Keep writing!

  6. Very nice writeup with many unknown insights Kumar athims.. Keep exploring and share your experiences so that we get a chance to know about the history of these places. For sure, I’d not have explored this much had I visited there, but would have only enjoyed the nature. Good to know on these amazing facts..keep rocking ji…

  7. Well written article. I have never had an opportunity to visit these places however your write up motivates us to pack our bags and visit these amazing places. Excellent choice of words and like your style of writing. You should post more frequently .

  8. Wonderful and absorbing narration! We have a holiday scheduled in late June to Corbett National Park (off season??) and will surely make it a point to enjoy in the first person, all that you have written about the Corbett Village and the locals there!

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