Hunting tigers, or not

Sunday, May 27, 2018
Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
We were up at 03:00 this morning for a 03:30 departure so we could be at the famous Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve. Corbett was an Englishman born in the Himalayas in India, in, and who loved its people and fauna. At a time when there were many tigers yet in the wild, he was called upon to kill tigers who had become man eaters. This was a rare event among tigers less so for leopards, usually caused by sickness or old age, which prevented them from killing their normal prey. Once a weakened tiger discovered how easy it was to kill humans, this became the obvious solution until Corbett intervened. 
Some of the tigers he successfully hunted had already killed and eaten more than 400 people before he ended their carriers! He was a much beloved benefactor who later became a conservationist when this became necessary for the preservation of tigers, leopards and other wildlife. When the area was set aside as a tiger sanctuary, after his death, the land was eventually named in his memory.
A month ago, Dave had asked someone he knew locally to make the necessary arrangements for us to enter the park. Jasbir was ready to go on time with the vehicle, and with our eyes more or less open we drove back into town to pick up Eugene and then started out in the dark, over mediocre roads. The sky was light by the time we arrived in Ramnagar, where the park office is located.
Upon entering the office, we received very disappointing news. No reservations had been made, as was required, there were no more spaces open for the day, nor were there any cancelations. No Corbett reserve for us.
There was another reserve nearby, which was the best we could do on no notice. We made the best of a disappointing situation and secured the services of an Indian-made Jeep copy, called a Mahindra (which is licensed by Jeep to make it and which looks very like a Willy’s Jeep). An extended bed in back allowed a rising safari arrangement, seating five westerners or seven local folks (in some cases – not all Indians are slim).
When we arrived at the park entry we found there was a long line of jeeps waiting to enter and start the circuit (of which there was just one). There must have been 50 or 60 vehicles visible which didn’t bode well, especially since a circus atmosphere prevailed with much shouting and honking and laughing, few signs of a desire to spot wildlife.
We had to wait quite a long time to enter, and unfortunately our premonitions were correct. We drove a two hour circuit, ate lots of dust, and saw a few spotted deer, a few barking deer, an eagle or two and monkeys here and there (but one sees those everywhere, even in central Delhi).
Marjolaine and I enjoyed seeing the terrain which would be identical to the Corbett reserve, but the latter is obviously better and seriously managed. We decided we’d be back another time. We drove to Kaladhungi, to Jim Corbett’s house, which is now a museum and took the time to visit, which was well worth the time.
Because we had started so early, it was not yet lunch time so we decided to drive up to the hill station of Nainital, almost 7000 feet up in the Indian Himalaya. The winding road cut back and forth as we rose steadily in altitude among the steep-sided crags. The views were stunning, the lack of guardrails sometimes alarming. But we made it into town shortly before noon and found the best hotel in town for lunch. Eugene told us this was not a resort for westerners, it caters to a local clientele, so the standards are not what we’d hope for, and we could see signs this was true.
The men had a cold beer to wash the dust down, in this case pretty literally, and even Marjolaine had a luncheon glass of Chardonnay, a rarity for her. We ate and talked about our day so far, and how we’d to be able to do it over. Eugene shared his local perspective on the “game drive” on which we had been. His opinion? “It was just a racket to make money!” We had to agree. Perhaps one day we’ll make our way back to this part of India and try again, but the chances don’t seem strong at the moment.
Jim Corbett was born in Nainital, and Dave has read all his books, so he hoped to find his birth-house and had some information on its original location. However when we arrived in the vicinity it appeared the house was no longer in existence. We drove around the beautiful, natural lake Naini, trapped in a natural tectonic valley. On this warm sunny Sunday, the water was full of paddleboats, sailboats, and rowboats and the streets were awash in colorfully-dressed families enjoying the beauty of the scene.
Having driven completely around the lake, we turned back toward Moradabad, a trip that took us about three hours. Dave and I had a discussion about hunting, our different rifles, anecdotes, ballistics, wish lists etc. Eugene listened quietly. Dave asked how he was doing and he responded with laugh: “I wonder how ministers can talk about guns and ammunition!” We laughed too and said it was about hunting, a way to provide inexpensive and healthy meat to our families. Hunting is mostly illegal in India, country where many people are vegetarian, so this is a societal difference and perhaps incomprehension.
We finally dropped Eugene with smiles, handshakes and best wishes, and drove back to the hotel. We showered the dust off, and changed, had an enjoyable dinner in the restaurant, and will now, no doubt sleep well after a very long day.

Comments

Mary
2018-05-31

Thanks for the photos and comments. Hard to imagine a time when a tiger killed 400 people. With the number of vehicles touring the park, it's not surprising that wildlife kept out of sight.

2022-01-27