The mesmerising view of the majestic Himalayas, the mysterious forests flooded with pine, deodhar and saal trees, a diverse variety of flora and fauna, a unique conglomeration of picturesque landscapes and a culture and history full of tales of bravery – this is what Kumaon has been offering to tourists from across the globe for centuries. Nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas, Kumaon is located in Uttrakhand – the northern hill province of India with its headquarters in Nainital.
The wilderness of Kumaon has continued to fascinate visitors since time immemorial but wild Kumaon actually came into the limelight because of Kumaon’s favourite son – the man who was known to the locals as the Gora Sadhu for his philanthropic work in the region and who thrilled the world with his famous hunting stories where he described his chilling experiences in the forests of Kumaon. The world knows him as Jim Corbett – the famous hunter who turned into a conservationalist and played an instrumental in bringing Kumaon on the world tourism map. His writings that are captured in a series of best selling books like the Maneaters of Kumaon, My India and Jungle Lore give a perfect depiction of the inimitable wilderness, culture and traditions of this region.
Exploring the wild side of Kumaon is not something you can plan in a short and swift visit for the wilderness of the region extends from Nainital right upto Nandadevi at a height of 25000 feet. In addition the Mahakali River along with tributaries like the Goriganga, Dhauliganga and the Ramganga enables the forests of Kumaon to support a rich and diverse form of wildlife.
However, from a wilderness perspective you can start your journey from Ramnagar – the Corbett city where you can station yourself in order to explore the number one national park of India i.e. Corbett National Park. Home to around 140 Royal Bengal Tigers, the Asiatic elephant and more than 600 species of birds, Corbett National Park is one the biggest and the most scenic forests of India. With variance in landscaping and vegetation, Corbett NP leaves you spellbound with its dense cover dominated by Saal forests and the vast stretch of grasslands. The Ramganga river flooded with crocodiles and gharials that flows through the park adds a sparkle to this divine forest.
I get to hear from a lot of tourists who visit Corbett (or for that matter any national park in India) that their trip was a wasted effort because they were not able to sight the tiger. This, as a lot of fellow wildlifers like me would agree, is a gross misconception. Big cats are masters of camouflage and sighting them in the wild is a matter of pure luck. More so in Corbett, because of the rough and rocky topography, tiger sighting is luck… by chance! If you go with a mindset of admiring and enjoying all forms of nature, you would be able to respect the forest and come back as a satisfied tourist.
Anglers have something to look forward to in Kumaon. As you go uphill towards Ranikhet from Corbett, the upper reaches of Ramganga is teaming with exotic and rare species of aquatic wildlife including the golden mahaseer. You need to acquire adequate fishing permits from Ramnagar in order to try your hands at the rods.
The forest cover continues to enthral you as move further up to cross the calm hillstation of Ranikhet and Kausani – vantage points for a breathtaking view of the Nandadevi mountain range amidst thick pine forests. Kausani, as a matter of fact, hosted Mahatma Gandhi who described it as a paradise. As you cross Almora district, the forest covers thickens since this marks the beginning of the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. A trekking paradise, Binsar offers a majestic view of Himalayan peaks like – Chaukhamba, Trishul, Nanda Devi, Shivling and Panchchuli. On a sunny day, one can have a glimpse of the holy shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath and Gangotri.
The journey from Corbett to Binsar is just one of the many ways of discovering wild Kumaon as it has much more to offer. I keep on re-emphasising on the fact that Kumaon has something for all genres of nature lovers. As Jim Corbett says that it is the surroundings and the beauty of these valleys of Kumaon that “will not be forgotten and will live in my memory, the lodestone to draw me back to that beautiful valley, as yet unspoiled by the hand of man.”
(The husband-wife couple – Kahini Ghosh Mehta & Shivang Mehta – are wildlife photographers and film-makers and run camps in Corbett National Park and Rishikesh. Know more about them by visiting www.naturewanderers.com)