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Corbett Tiger Reserve

Based at Ramnagar, 250km northeast of Delhi and 63km southwest of Nainital, Corbett Tiger Reserve is one of India’s premier wildlife reserves. Established in 1936 by Jim Corbett (among others) as the Hailey National Park, India’s first, and later renamed in his honour, it is one of Himalayan India’s last expanses of wilderness. Almost the entire 1288-square-kilometre park, spread over the foothills of Kumaon, is sheltered by a buffer zone of mixed deciduous and giant sal forests, which provide impenetrable cover for wildlife. Most of the core area of 520 square kilometres at its heart remains out of bounds, and safaris on foot are only permissible in the fringe forests.

Corbett is most famous for its big cats, and in particular the tiger – this was the first designated Project Tiger Reserve, in 1973 – but its 110 or so tigers are extremely elusive. Sightings are very far from guaranteed, and should be regarded as an unlikely bonus. Nonetheless, although there have been problems elsewhere with the project, and with the very survival of the tiger in India in serious jeopardy, Corbett does at least seem to be prioritizing the needs of tigers over those of other wildlife and of tourists. Still, poaching is not unheard of, though it’s Corbett’s elephants that face the most serious threat. The best place to see them is around the picturesque Dhikala camp near the reservoir; spring is the best time, when the water level drops and the animals have more space to roam. The reservoir also shelters populations of gharial, a long-snouted, fish-eating crocodile, and maggar, a large marsh crocodile, as well as other reptiles. Jackal are common, and wild boar often run through the camps in the evenings. The grasslands around Dhikala are home to deer species such as the spotted chital, hog and barking deer and the larger sambar, while rhesus and common langur, the two main classes of Indian monkey, are both abundant, and happy to provide in-camp entertainment. Bird life ranges from water birds such as the pied kingfisher to birds of prey, including the crested serpent eagle, Pallas’s fishing eagle and Himalayan greyheaded fishing eagle.

The closest of the various gates into the park, 1km from central Ramnagar, is Amdanda on the road to Bijrani camp, 11km away, a base for day-trips. Dhangarhi Gate, 18km along the highway north to Ranikhet, provides access to the northern and northwestern portions of the park along the Ramganga river valley, and to the main camp of Dhikala.

  • Jim Corbett (1875–1955)