“Eighteen miles to the North – North-East of Naini Tal is a hill eight thousand feet high and twelve to fifteen miles long, running east and west. The western end of the hill rises steeply and command one of the best views to be had anywhere of the Himalayan snowy range. This range, and all the hills that lie between it and the plains of India, run east and west, and from a commanding point on any of the hills an uninterrupted view can be obtained not only of the snows to the north but also of the hills and valleys to the east and to the west as far as eye can see. People who have lived at Muktesar claim that it is the most beautiful spot in Kumaon, and that its climate has no equal.
A tiger that thought as highly of the amenities of Muktesar as human beings did, took up her residence in the extensive forests adjoining the small settlement. Here she lived very happily on sambhar, kakar, and wild pig, until she had the misfortune to have an encounter with a porcupine…..” – Jim Corbett from Temple Tigers
One of my favourite childhood memories pertains to the story telling sessions hosted by my grandmother in our village house in Fulia. Since there was no electricity, we had to fall back on the flickering lights of the Lonthon (lantern) which added the much needed ambience in those cold nights. Google rebukes me that it should be Lanthana but like a true bong, I would vehemently deny and stick to the original pronunciation 🙂
Our story telling sessions were somewhat obvious as they were always focused on two things:
- Stories from the Jim Corbett Omnibus (the Bengali translation) which I had received as a gift from my grandmother
- Her personal experiences of staying in the vicinity of the forests and wild animals. My grandfather was a forest ranger by the way
Thanks to my grandmother, I learned that Jim Corbett was not just a hunter per excellence but was a conservationist to the core. Through the storytelling sessions she urged me to explore nature and not to get frightened at the mere sight of wild animals. Thanks to her and our village home which was home to many species of birds, stray foxes, mongooses and lots of snakes, I developed a love for forests and its inhabitants and Jim became my childhood hero.
Over the past two years, we have been roaming around Uttarakhand and have been to Lansdowne, Landour, Jabarkhet, Ranikhet, Vijaypur, Nachni, Nainital and Mukteshwar. Every time we visit a new place, I try to find out if my childhood hero Jim had been there. While there have been moments when locals did not get baffled by my questions about him and his tigers, the “Wow” moment did not come till we visited Mukteshwar recently.
No sooner had I started my customary enquiries, I was blown away by “Jim was here”. Everybody seemed to know of the place where he stayed and the path that he took to the forest to kill the man eater. I was enthralled by the Pahadi folklores i.e. how the local shikaris (hunters) and then the chest beating city based shikaris failed to even to take a shot at the tigress who proved much smarter than her human counterparts. Ultimately it was Jim’s turn to do a trek from Nainital and kill the magnificent tigress over a period of 72 hours of tracking the animal in the forest. The tales included details of his disappointment upon killing the tigress and unearthing the reason why she became a man eater in the first place.
Mukteshwar is changing! The 5 km walk from our resort to the PWD bungalow where Jim Corbett stayed is strewn with new hotel properties. Apparently, more and more city dwellers are choosing this quaint little hamlet as their second home but still my customary morning walks gave me the pleasure of watching gorgeous sunrises, listening to the chirping of Himalayan birds and not meeting fellow human beings for most parts.
What has not changed though are:
The bungalow where Jim Corbett stayed. Managed and maintained by the PWD for its special guests it has now been handed over to KMVN who plan to open it up as a hotel in 2017. Mere mortals would be allowed to book rooms and enjoy the uninterrupted view of Himalayas.
Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, Nandaghunti, Trishul and Panchachuli are among the major peaks visible from the rooms / lawns of the bungalow
The forest has also managed to hold on. And it is still possible to follow Jim in his footsteps to the waterhole where he encountered the tigress. I would let the photos speak from here on. If you are interested, please reach out to the affable Bhagwat (image and phone number right at the end). Bhagwat is a self-taught naturalist who plans to starts his own travel business soon.
This old house is more than 100 years old and was developed as the servant quarters. The trek starts here as you go down to the jungle
The forest path…
The spot where the tigress was killed
And here is Bhagwat! He can be contacted at 09719586398.
Happy New Year!