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Corbett beyond Tigers and safaris

A butterfly trail inside the forest can be equally interesting

It wasn’t quite far inside from the main road leading to Haldwani from Ramnagar. We had taken the jungle road from the Chunakhan Forest Rest House. Forest check post is just about a kilometre from here. From the check post you start a 20-25 minutes trek to Barati Rau Waterfall. The forest personnel in-charge of the beat post was initially reluctant to let our group go towards the fall, citing the COVID restrictions. He relented, only after charging the tourist fees, for which I never got the receipt.

He insisted on taking a local guide along with us, his argument being that there were bear cubs in a cave close to waterfalls. A local guide will help us in knowing the direction as well as save us from any untoward incident. We were ok with that. There had been many incidents of human conflict with wild cats in this area. 

Interestingly this forest still has the small canals, lifts and pumps installed by the Britishers, all of them still in working condition.

After all, jungle was full of all type of wildlife and reptilians. It wasn’t a touristy area, was outside the national park, hence it is the wildlife who calls the shots here. You don’t get to see them is purely because they are in no way interested in coming close to humans. Otherwise, you can always feel someone watching you venturing into their territory. That is the thrill of being here, more so because you are walking on foot, almost entirely unprotected. What saves you is the unfettered rules of the jungle. When you are here, you hardly care about tiger, you just enjoy the untouched bounty of the nature on each step, under every leaf. 

Well, when it is about Corbett, tigers will never be out of fashion. But overbearing trend of tiger safaris have actually harmed Jim Corbett National Park located in Terai region of Uttarakhand a lot. But that has been generally the case with almost all the tiger reserves of north and central India in past almost a decade. However, Corbett ecology has been more disturbed by happy going fun loving tourists from northern cities close to Corbett. 

Fun loving travel might no be that bad thing for tourism per say, but Corbett needs serious wildlife enthusiasts, and that is the reason why efforts are being made to diversify the overall wildlife and nature experience in Corbett country, how we fondly refer to it.

Jim Corbett National Park has a big area. It is among the top 10 biggest national parks in India. But it also has a big surrounding protected forest area, which does not falls under the national park. Being part of the wildlife corridor, this protected forest area and their adjoining regions too have large concentration of wildlife and natural beauty in abundance. 

But unfortunately, this too was the part of region which got notoriety because of its late night, high decibel DJ parties inside the jungle. Things had gone out of hand so much that the top court of the country had to intervene to protect the calmness of the jungle. Won’t say that it is all changed now, but attempts are definitely being made. There are always ruckus creating, bossy tourists who would try to overpower resorts and other service providers.

Some years back, I had come to Corbett for a media fellowship workshop on Tigers, tiger habitats and conservation. This time around, tiger was nowhere in the agenda. 

Latest trip was just about butterflies. Since butterflies can only be viewed on a walking rip, hence that can’t happen inside the National Park, but it was definitely within he Corbett Landscape and in protected forest area. 

Butterfly parks and butterfly walks around metros and cities have now become common, but ironically butterfly walks in wild have been a recent phenomenon. 

Terai belt and lower regions of Kumaon are blessed with rich diversity of flora and fauna. Besides being home to two of India’s biggest national parks- Rajaji National Park and the Jim Corbett National Park, they are also haven for birds. Bhimtal and Sattal areas in the Nainital district were always best for the butterfly enthusiasts. For those who are unaware, Bhimtal has a Butterfly Research Centre and Museum run by Peter Smetacek, who is also referred to as India’s butterfly man. Hence when idea for promoting Corbett beyond Tigers was developed, butterfly walks came up as a natural part of it.

There are many stakeholders to this whole effort- voluntary organisations, tourism departments, forest department, resort & hotels, butterfly experts and environmentalists. And, fortunately all have come together here to provide a wonderful experience to the travellers. 

Tyar Foundation in partnership from Alaya Resorts and Spa and with support of India Tourism and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has been organising Titli Tyar festival in Kyari village of Ramnagar Forest Division of the  Corbett landscape. Idea behind this festival was to provide some alternatives to tourists coming to Corbett as well as creating awareness about butterflies and their very important role in our ecosystem.

All this was done through various activities- like butterfly walks in the early mornings, interaction with children and involving them in fun activities in the day, seed bombing (of host plants) demonstrations in the evening and moth watching session in the night. It isn’t easy to cultivate this interest afresh among tourists. But idea has been by large very successful despite of the fact that first two editions the Titli Tyar festival in 2020 and this year were held in middle of COVID pandemic. Goal was to create such an interest that people come here exclusively for butterfly watching. There have been encouraging results in this direction already.

Why Kyari? 

Kyari village is a very interesting place with tourism perspective. It is not very far from Ramnagar town, hence is easily approachable. But it is 7 kms off the main Ramnagar-Haldwani road. Village is surrounded by the thick cover of protected forest, but village itself is a revenue village, hence it does not fall under forest department and it is easier for resorts to come up here. Village has two tributaries of Ramganga River flowing in its either side- Khichdi and Dabka. They add to its beauty. Forest cover as well as river streams, make it an ideal place for birding, nature walks and butterfly trails.

We had a host of activities on the butterfly trail. By the end of the walk second morning, our eyes were already tuned to looking and locating butterflies while walking around. So, while we were on a hike to sort of hidden Barati Rau Waterfall inside the forest, we kept locating butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies all the way along. Isn’t that interesting!

When we were at the waterfall, many other local tourists had reached there to have a jungle picnic. We met many more on the way down to entry post. Everyone was apparently going without a fee, as when we reached to the gate, the forest beat in-charge of the post was nowhere to see. Nobody was there to monitor… perhaps we were only the unlucky ones!

You can watch a video of Titli Tyar 2021 on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

Have you been to a tiger reserve to exclusively do something else than a tiger safari? Have you been to a butterfly trail in the jungle? Tell us more about it in the comments section below.

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    1. That is true. I always believe that jungle is the thrill of the unexpected… be it anything, a new flower or even an unseen dragonfly make it worth a trip, instead of running on the expected lines in a caravan of safari jeep behind a bored up big cat

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