The entry to the reserve
The term wanderlust was probably coined by someone who studied my family as the sample population.
I love travelling! So does my husband. Our 6 year old loves to go anywhere and everywhere but home. Therefore it is needless to say that our family travels a lot. Add to that my husband's profession of being an Army officer… we are pretty much nomadic.
Say the world ‘travel’ and we all say in unison, ’Let’s go!’
My hubby , Mr. Army man, cannot really plan outings as you can never be sure of your leave in the army even when you have left for a vacation. His leave has been cancelled many times, even minutes before it was supposed to start. We have cut short our trips on numerous occasions too because he was needed back. So we do not plan. We just pack and leave whenever we get the chance.
Two years back, in the month of January, our daughter , who over-doses on Chhota Bheem, said on a whim, ’I want to meet a tiger.’
We both looked at each other and thought, ’Why not? Let’s go to Corbett!’ Little did we know at that moment how memorable the trip was going to be .

Overnight stay in the jungle…super excited we were!

A vacation in a tiger reserve cannot be similar to any other. This one needs special preparation. I usually consider myself an expert on any topic after thirty minutes on the internet… so a few tips:
-Carry comfortable clothes, lots of layering is needed if you are visiting in winter.
-Don't carry bright clothes. Wear khaki /olive green ones so as to merge in the surroundings.(Who wants to stand out when there might be hungry tigers around,right?)
-Carry a torch.
-Don't forget your camera and better still, carry a handycam.

Take the road
Driving for both of us is a high. We are not bus or train travellers. Distance doesn't bother us...the more the better. Once we drove down from Amritsar to Mumbai, beat that!
Well, the journey of 230 kms from Dehradun to Ramnagar took us about 7 hours as the road condition was not really great. The headquarters of CTR(Corbett Tiger Reserve) are situated in Ramnagar and the permits for night halt need to be collected from the office before entering the park.

We got the permit and were informed that private vehicles are not allowed inside CTR and only guided gypsies are allowed. There were authorised gypsies parked in the complex which had been modified and fancily customised by the respective drivers with all sorts and sizes of slogans and stickers on wild life. We chose one (of course going by our munchkin's choice of stickers) and left our vehicle in a paid parking. 
My daughter and I were already enjoying the open gypsy ride with the wind in our faces while my husband was not amused. You see, thanks to his line of job, he forever travels in a gypsy. Well, we two continued giggling and having fun.

Prepare to be awed!
We reached the Dhangari Gate and entered the park after getting our documents verified. The moment the gypsy got on the trail,it was a different world altogether. We could hear no sound of the outside world, everything around was pure and raw. It was captivating yet frightening.
The journey from the Gate till Dhikala Forest Lodge took us around half an hour and the entire route was through the reserve forest. We are I am extremely fond of selfies and pictures and was about to ask the driver if we could stop for one(there were absolutely amazing views) when he said,
'See what you want but we won't stop too long and you CANNOT for any reason whatsoever get down from the vehicle, even for a second.'
That was when I realised that we were now in someone else's territory. The jungle belongs to the animals who only understand survival. They have no rules and our safety lay in respecting and understanding that. I decided the selfie could wait and sat down.
Along the way we saw many deers and my 6 year old was ecstatic. Seriously, these animals are so majestic, even I was super-excited and almost shouting when the driver told me not to scare the poor animals. I was a little embarrassed and decided to concentrate on my camera. This is the first click.

Not bad,eh!

Dhikala Forest Lodge
Nestled in the heart of the forest is Dhikala Forest Lodge which has various types of accommodations-rest houses, hutments, annexes and cabins. We had booked Old Forest Rest House-the oldest and the most famous.
The moment we entered, there was another gypsy parked there and a group of college going excited youngsters was alighting.
‘We saw a tiger!’;one of them literally hugged me in excitement. She was hysterical.
‘Oh awesome!’ I tried to be a good sport and hurried to the reception desk where my hubby had already checked in.
Little miss was upset. ’I did not see a tiger. I want to see him, now!’ Any of you reading, if a parent yourself, understand that 'now' spells doom when uttered by your kid. The tantrum that followed settled only after gorging on a huge bar of chocolate while I unpacked the stuff inside our room.
The room was comfortable and the view outside it breath-taking. See for yourself.
View outside the room

When night descends
We settled in our room and soon it was time for dinner. The mess at the Lodge serves buffet at fixed times of the day. The prices are nominal and the food quality palatable . Only vegetarian food is served inside the reserve for obvious reasons. After coaxing & cajoling my very fussy eater, I managed to make her devour a chapati and some dal. The moment we stepped out of the mess, the 200metre distance to our room was in pitch darkness. There is no electricity line inside the park. The Lodge runs on generators which are switched on only for the rooms at night. Thanks to the better sense that had prevailed,we were carrying a torch.
When you are scared, your mind can play some very nasty tricks on you. Mr.Army man is never scared of anything and I? Ok let's not start but being a writer,I imagine a lot. Let's just say it is a side-effect of my passion.

The first safari
We woke up early in the morning the next day and went on a guided safari in our jeep. It was breath-taking and the scenery spectacular. Deers,sambars,wild boars and wild fowls were all in their morning glory.
Our guide was a very learned man who enlightened us a lot about wild life.
Trust me,no experience parallels a drive through the jungle....raw, vulnerable and spell-binding!
We stopped a number of times to the sound of 'call' as the guide termed it, waiting for the majestic striped feline to appear. Sadly though, it was not to be our lucky day. After two hours of climbing atop watch towers and venturing and waiting inside grassy terrains ,we returned to the Lodge without having sighted the tiger. This time, I was more disappointed than the little one.

The rendezvous!
After leisurely relaxing in the gardens and going through books in the tiny cozy library boasting of Corbett's adventures with the man-eaters of Kumaon, we were ready for another tour into the thick jungle,now towards the water body, in a hope to spot the tiger. The 4x4 eased onto unmotorable terrains inside the widestretched water body and my daughter was jumping with joy,'Our jeep is swimming!'
The guide called out to us,'Look there! Two wild elephants.' We looked in the direction he was pointing and saw a couple of elephants at a distance, who were like specks walking towards us.
The guide gestured to the driver to start the gypsy.'Let us move towards the road. We don't want to risk getting stuck at this dead end in case they move towards this side.' The guy was an expert, no doubt.
We stopped near the road and waited for the elephants to appear. The guide was meanwhile busy guessing whether they were mother-daughter duo or a couple. 'Where is the elephant? Where?', daughter dear was shouting when suddenly out of the thick vegetation in front of us,the smaller one of the two appeared and turned away from us, oblivious to our presence. We were watching awe-struck when the larger one appeared and apparently assumed us as a threat.
'It is a tusker following his female. Start!' the guide shouted at the driver. The driver hurriedly started the engine and we turned right on the road,in the direction opposite to the one the female had taken. The tusker came charging at us, his ears flapping, tusk raised and his sound deafening. I was shrieking, our daughter was bawling and my husband who was earlier filming a video of the elephants was shouting at the guide to hurry. It felt like a scene from Jurassic Park where a dinosaur is chasing the open gypsy. Let me tell you here that wild elephants,especially tuskers are no comparison to the elephants we see on the road and the ones in zoos. The wild ones are gigantic and very ferocious if threatened.
The gypsy sped to safety and the tusker decided to follow his female instead of us,thank God!
I sat down in the gypsy,soothing my very upset entire perception of pachyderms changed. The guide calmly remarked, ' A tusker turned over a double-decker last week.' I did not feel like going looking for a tiger after this. We decided to head back to the Lodge.
'Oh shit! In your commotion, I couldn't film the entire thing.' Hubby was disappointed. That's an army man for you. We both were shaken with fright and he was fretting over the 'awesome' video he could have captured.

The elephant safari
We had booked the elephant-back safari for the next morning and I knew my daughter was not going to sit atop one after the tryst. The only option was to desensitize. We took her to the place where domesticated elephants used for safaris were kept and showed her. No doubt, these were half the size of the tusker and were feeding merrily. As imaginative kids are, she soon conjured up a story and declared that these elephants were 'good' elephants and the one in the jungle were 'bad' elephants. She even chose one named Chanchal for the safari.Well whatever it took to get her to go to the morning ride we had already paid for.
The next morning,we all dressed up in maximum possible layers and ventured out at 7:00 am for the safari. Two foreign tourists were sitting on one side and we were seated on the opposite. It was very uncomfortable for me as my weight did not match the one on the other side and the mahawat kept telling me to move forward. I had no mind of falling inside the jungle and did not budge. He was adamant and I was literally risking falling off when he said,'Ab theek hai' and started. Needless to say, hubby was very comfortable(much to my irritation).
The pedestal to get on the elephant

I soon got the hang of it and it did not feel uncomfortable any longer. The benefit of elephant safari as compared to the gypsy one is that elephant enters into territories that the gypsy cannot and you have higher chances of sighting wild life from close quarters. Shivering in the biting cold, we saw a majestic sambar almost hidden inside a large bush. A little further into the dense foliage, we saw two elephants. The two foreign tourists were sharing excited whispers while I was whispering to the mahawat,'Can we turn back please?' He smiled and gestured me to be calm. To Hell with calm,I wanted to disappear.
'Bad elephants!' kiddo whispered,'Don't be scared mom,our Chanchal will save us.' I was embarassed to be scared now. I gathered all my courage and put up a brave face. The elephants were indifferent towards us and did not even look twice.
As Chanchal turned to the other side, the mahawat said,'Memsaab, you are safer atop an elephant than in a gypsy. The animals treat our elephants as a part of their own and do not feel threatened'. I managed a smile. Despite this small scare, the ride was amazing. We were taken to a water hole where we waited for some time but had to be satisfied with the pug marks around it. No tiger was in mood to make an appearence.
It had been over an hour and neither my bladder nor my back could take the extreme cold any longer. Thankfully, the mahawat announced it was time to go back. We returned to the Lodge and I looked at the black board where anyone who saw a tiger wrote the date and time. The last one was of the hysterical group we had met when we checked in. Some things are just not meant to be. I sighed and left.

The end of the road
We checked out that day and on our way out of the park as well, there were a couple of times when the driver stopped at the sound of a 'call' but tiger evaded us. May be he wanted us to return and that we surely will.
We were all silent throughout the journey. All of us were contemplating the events of the days past.
Staying inside an enclosed compound in the heart of a jungle was scary yet thrilling.
The safaris were adventurous and exhilerating.
The rendezvous with the tusker had been an adrenalin rush.
Seldom does one get a chance to live close to virgin,unadulterated nature where you hear no motors,no horns...only the sound of birds chirping at daybreak and animals calling out to each other at dusk. No 5-star hotel,no exotic locale compares to this!
So give up the inhibition, let lose, prepare to be awed and thrilled...go visit Jim Corbett National Park!

Unforgettable journey!

It will definitely be one Hell of an experience!

Author's note: All the pictures have been taken by me while on visit to Jim Corbett National Park.

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