Encompassing portions of the Bhabar foothill and the Tarai forest belt, the dense jungle of Kaladhungi is spread at the base of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. Located at a distance of about 30 km from Ramnagar, on the road to Nainital, the interconnected forests have always swarmed with wildlife. For centuries this has known to be the tiger-land. However, for over a century now, the region is best known by its most popular human face – Jim Corbett.
If you are heading to the Corbett National Park or the Nainital area, spare a day for this region where Jim Corbett, fondly remembered as Carpet Sahib by the natives, grew up from just a wilderness sportsman to one of the most popular wildlife conservationists of the pre-independence India. Although, Corbett shifted out to Kenya after partition but the heritage he left behind at village Choti Haldwani in Kaladhungi, meaning black rock in local dialect, will forever continue to inspire Corbett lovers and motivate generations of wildlife enthusiasts. For the uninitiated, however, it would make more sense to have read his accounts before relating to such heritage sites.
The chief attraction of the region is the winter house of Corbett, now converted into a museum by the state Forest Department, located bang on the tri-junction of the road to Nainital in Choti Haldwani, a village which was set up by Corbett after he bought land – 221 acres, for agriculture purpose, from the then British government. It was in the backwoods of this farmyard that Jim acquired the near-perfect knowledge of jungle telepathy and took to larder hunting; starting with shooting birds. The wilderness-craft helped him become the Sherlock of the wilds, an acclaimed sportsman-cum-wildlife photographer and a pioneering conservationist.
Right from his childhood, at his family’s initial property – the Arundel, now in ruins – Jim used to go off into the jungle for several days at a stretch or took extended walks in the backwoods on moonlit nights in search of wildlife, birdlife or even butterflies. Here he mastered the art of imitating the calls of wild animals or birds and the jungle code of conduct including how to keep the predators away in the night by lighting a fire. According to Corbett, his backwoods supported at least five tigers, eight leopards, a family of four sloth bears, two Himalayan black bears and a number of hyenas.
The forested setting of his parental summer-home Arundel sparked the naturalist in Corbett even before he reached his teens. The Arundel farmyard was surrounded by rain-watercourses on two sides and the Baur canal by one where all sort of wild animals came to quench their thirst, whereas, the sandy beds of watercourses recorded wildlife as well as birdlife movements round the clock. Later he built his own house, part of a sizeable farmland, which he bought in Choti Haldwani village.
By way of his determined generosity as well as cooperation, Corbett enjoyed the reputation of a patriarch in his village. His house was open to just about anyone in distress day or night. He had earmarked a couple of cemented platforms under mango trees in his garden where he even attended to medical needs of aid-seekers. Apart from his extraordinary ability to hunt and kill maneater tigers or leopards, it was his generous and helping nature that brought him respect and deep admiration from the villagers which is why he is very much alive through his accomplishments and the heritage which he left behind. The museum house still stands on a raised platform surrounded by a garden comprising bamboo and other big trees. Currently, more than 140 families reside inside the walled Corbett estate.
A sizeable portion of the 6 km long 5ft high anti-pig wall which he himself built surrounding his village exists to date. The network of cemented waterways, which he himself built to check unnecessary seepage of water, is still operational. As his farming progressed, Jim provided newer houses and gates in the boundary wall for villagers and gradually, the estate developed into a model village. Corbett’s initial attempts in account narrations won him many friends. Subsequently he was often found hobnobbing with governors, collectors and viceroy etcetera arranging hunts for them in the forests of Kaladhungi on his invitation and their interest.
Another site of note includes the 20m high Corbett Water Falls, located within a walking distance of about three km from his house. A refreshing walk through the Sal woods would take you to the falls of Dhunigar stream, which Corbett regarded as one of the best spots to sight tigers or leopards. The falls could alternatively be reached from the forest gate located, on the road to Ramnagar, at a few minutes of driving time from the Baur iron bridge.
Start from the Baur canal-head towards the Corbett Falls crossing the FRH, the Arundel ruins, the family bathing site by the canal, the museum, boundary wall, Moti Singh’s house, the chaupal as well as the iron bridge on the way to complete the Corbett heritage trail. A majority of such sites or landmarks including interiors of the forests could be visited in a day-long walk. Once at Kaladhungi you could hire a guide or join the conducted walks to visit and relate to his accounts.
Other tiger-related sites within reach of Kaladhungi, where he carried on his lone war against poachers, includes Pipalpani, Powalgarh and Mohan, etc. Later on, when he took to photography, he had set up his own jungle studio in his farmyard in 1938 and succeeded in filming many a wild tigers.
Average Altitude: 350m
Best time to visit: Winters; April for birdlife
Travel Lure: Corbett trail, wooded walks, birdlife rich forests
Accommodation: Limited; confirm in advance