Leaving Delhi, we set off for Corbett National Park about 250 km north in the state of Uttarchanal. Our mission: elephant safari! And maybe spot some other wildlife as well. We were partially successful.
We jumped a night train which arrived in the dusty little burg of Ramnagar at 6:30 am. We found a place to catch a little more sleep and then set off to organize a safari into the park for the next morning.
After a confusing and unhelpful conversation with a park office paper pusher – which ended by him ignoring us to help some other people, we went back into the street to check out some of the private tour operators. We popped into an office advertising “jeep safari” and our much sought after “elephant safari.” We received about the same level of helpfulness and enthusiasm from the private operator as we did from the park office. Apparently private operators are more interested in multiple day safari packages into the park, than a day trip like we were after. We would have to organize the permits with the park office ourself and then of course there is no guarantee of an elephant safari since it’s first come first served. Unless of course you want to use our private elephant (chained to some tree likely) which will cost 2000 rupees (about 10 times the park price). The tour operator finishes his lackluster presentation of our options by saying, “First thing. You get permit. Then you can use whichever jeep you want. You can hire from us or someone else. It doesn’t matter.” Oh vey! What a headache! Where were the annoying, nagging touts who really wanted to sell us something when we needed them? !
So we wander back across the street, wait for the end of chai break (does it ever really end?), and revisit our options with one of the park office staff. Frustrated, confused and beaten, we sign up for the park conducted tour that runs in an open tank like jeep that holds up to 16 people. Logically you don’t have the option of an elephant safari with the park tour(?), but we were tired too care. Our decision was straighforward, affordable and easy. No chance in hell we’ll see any animals.
Thankfully, we were wrong. Though the tiger continues to elude us, we had great fun watching two herds of elephants from just a short distance. The second group (of which the video is more exciting but unfortunately too long to post) was at least 20. Once the driver turned off the jeep, we could hear the pachys breathing, chomping on leaves and calling to one another from across the road – perhaps a warning of the interlopers nearby. It was pretty fantastic.
In addition to elephants, we also saw many colorful peacocks, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, a brown fish owl, a jackal, wild boar, monkeys (which noone here seems to really care about since they are everywhere), a hawk eagle and many, many other birds that our guide failed to identify. It was no thanks to the park guide that we saw most of the wildlife. Credit should go to one of the guys in our group and the driver – both of whom had keen eyes for spotting the wildlife.
So despite our lack of elephant safari we had a very pleasant day in Corbett. We haven’t given up hope yet. We’ve heard rumors of elephant safaris at a park not far from where we are now. Maybe, just maybe we’ll get to ride an elephant yet.