Chhoti Haldwani Kaladhungi – Village nurtured by Jim Corbett

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The mouth of the Boar Canal

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 by now my mind and heart started talking in different ways. Both said “GO” but in opposite directions. I’m in the dense jungles of Kaladhungi near Chhoti Haldwani that encompasses Bhabar foothills and Terai forest belt in the Kumaon range, at the base of the Himalayas.

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

JOURNEY TO KALADHUNGI
Immortalized in his book “My India” by Jim Corbett, the buffer zone village of Chhoti Haldwani, awakens to the incessant calls of Indian Cuckoo. I learn that it’s when the Kafal fruit ripens, the Indian Cuckoo appears on the scene. Arriving overnight from New Delhi, a crowded private bus from the busy fruit market at Ramnagar takes me to Kaladhungi, on a busy motorable road, cutting through the forests of huge Sal and Teak wood trees. Alighting at 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

CORBETT HERITAGE WALK
Corbett’s initiatives are part of this village’s folklore. Motivated to catch a glimpse of 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 muzzle loader gun, a legacy of 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 turning point came when Corbett built a stone masonry wall, using river bed stones to replace the thorn fence, around the village, leading to a dramatic reduction in human wildlife conflict.
Corbett isn’t an ordinary mortal for the villagers here. Actually 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 a slightly uneven narrow side bank walls, it was one of precarious balance. The walls of the canal were just less than 2ft wide and I was told not to look down. But when I did, it became clear why I was 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. The Boar Canal is credited to bring waters from the Boar River to people living a life off the jungles. The opportunity here was to familiarize 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 mid 1850’s was amply clear. The grill filters and step ghats help wild animals escape drowning. At several places the water flows underground only to surface later. This was done keeping in mind both the topography and wildlife movement. There are several sluice gates that 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

KALADHUNGI FOREST WALK
Kaladhungi forests present challenges to experience, and a walk through the jungles is about living the moment. At day break the next day, we stepped out to visit Corbett falls, passing by a few thick bushes walking through a narrow pathway and suddenly the scenario changed dramatically into tall trees. I instantly knew we went beyond the village periphery into the dense jungle. Now this is where the attacks normally happen if we are stalked, explains Mohan Pandey. The barking deers and chirping birds did convey some danger on our tracks. Suddenly something moved! Gasp! But a sense of some relief did creep in though, when told, that the wild animals retreat deep into the jungle by dawn, except near the water hole. We do spot a few deer tracks, and elephant droppings (interestingly serves as a forest manure) to suggest, there were movements around the place a few hours back. 

Women performing the celebrative Jhora dance 

JHORA DANCE CELEBRATIONS
Back in the village, an evening of Jhora dance celebrations, at the spacious front yard of Puran Joshi’s house, awaited me. The full moon provided an unforgettable ambience for the dance performance. To the beat of the Puran Joshi’s Hurka, the women in ceremonial attire sang the songs and moved in circular formation holding hands together, stepping forward and backward with a slight jump and also bending bodies with slight shoulder movement, a treat to watch while spreading moments of happiness all around. I could see a renewed joy on their faces when we asked them to do the dance once more. Part of their deep seated beliefs and traditions, I think this folk dance is culturally important in the Kumaoni lives, as a way to stay socially connected.

Kumaoni dinner served hot on Timlaa leaf

DINNER CONVERSATIONS
Later that night, Puran Joshi invited me to have dinner at his house, and I couldn’t resist getting a taste of their simple Kumaoni food, served hot on the Timlaa leaf.  Joshi in his conversations told me “We do sustenance farming like Mangoes and Grapes in addition to 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. We have a unique connection with the forests as we are forever in search of fodder and firewood” notes Joshi.

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

LIVING LIFE KING SIZE
Mohan Pandey sums up saying “Our lives are closely connected to the forests around us. This is an unforgiving terrain, but we move on with our lives with extra caution. 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 Ittu Sa Restaurant run 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 get connected with what nature has to offer, 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.

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  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…

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