Monday, March 13, 2006

More Corbett Highlights

The tiger was obviously the best part of the trip to Corbett, but there were other memorable moments as well. Our second day, after staying the night in the heart of the park and listening to the tigers call each other in the darkness, we were up before dawn again for an early-morning safari. We were slightly delayed by a rainstorm, but it quickly cleared and we piled into our jeeps, eager for glimpses of wildlife.

Most of the jeeps headed for water, hoping to catch deer (or tigers!) coming down for a dawn drink. We took a road that paralleled the park’s major river and we were not disappointed. A whole herd of wild elephants came marching through the grass across the river. There were probably about a dozen of them, including several wee elephants. Or at least as wee as an elephant ever gets. They paraded along the banks for a while, and we kept pace across the river. Then they turned towards the water and so we parked the jeep and just watched as they lumbered into the river, drank and splashed for a few minutes, and then proceeded the rest of the way across and trudged across the road not far in front of us. It was fun to watch them disappear into the forest since they cause quite a disturbance with trees and bushes swayed and rustling and being knocked down right and left.

Our closest wildlife encounter actually came on the grounds of the Dikala camp itself. A large Sambar deer had entered the compound and the guards hadn’t bothered to chase him out, so he just hung around the Canteen, hoping for handouts. It was impressive to be spitting distance to something that big with huge horns. Several of the kids, feeling bold, staged pictures where they were standing near the beast. This ended quickly, though, as the Sambar got too friendly and started nudging people with his horns. Boy, you know it when you are snuggled by a Sambar deer!

We also got a far-away view of a tiger kill. The tiger had brought down a Sambar deer, but the wounded creature had dragged itself into a bog area where the ground was much like slightly-firm quicksand. It didn’t sink completely, but the tiger couldn’t safely go out to consume its meal. So the body just lay there until the carrion birds started visiting. It had been there several days by the time we were there but the vultures were still there en-masse. We were far enough away that we couldn’t see much of the carcass (which was really fine by me), but it was still eerie to see these huge black birds circling over a lump on the ground.

The weather itself made the trip memorable. There were several rain storms over the three days we were in and around the park and while they caused minor inconveniences (like very wet elephant rides) they also made for some breathtaking views of the jungle. The sky would darken but there would still be patches of sunlight that lit up the greenery in that vivid shade that only exists when it’s storming. Everything was sort of electric—you could feel the storm on the air, hear the wind moving through the grass and the trees, and smell the rain on the way. And we were out in it! A little scary but exhilarating.


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