Rangers Lodge, Best Homestay in Corbett Tiger Reserve

Imrans Jungle Home in Corbett

   Apr 17

The Ranger’s Story

In early 1970’s till about late 1980’s, I used to accompany my Grandfathers, both paternal & maternal, on the shikars close to our ancestral farmlands along River Kosi, and as a young child I had developed a special bonding with the island forests amidst croplands & the loads of ungulates taking refuge in them, as they used to be the target of my Nana and Dada. Around this time the forests in the region had maintained a sizeable contiguity & occasionally tigers & leopards were sighted by the farmers of Terai in district Rampur which is also a Nawab estate due to which there were number of Shikaris and most of them accompanied the Nawab of Rampur. My grandparnts were never a part of the Royal Shikaris. With fond memory, after 4 decades, I could identify Pintails, Ruddy Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, Eurasian Vigeon, Black-necked Stork, Woolly necked storks, Red-headed Ibis, Sarus Crane, etc.
There was no rifle at home then but quite a few Muzzle Loading 12-bore guns were available. Although I helped my grandparents in getting the Muzzle loader ready for the shoot, my inner side kept praying for their shots to miss either birds or any of their target species. After the arrival of our first rifle, our excursions to the forests expanded beyond Swar and Bilaspur. Here I developed further association with the pure stands of prime tropical moist and dry deciduous Sal and its associated species. By then the restrictions on Shikars had started getting implemented which led to the end of our shikar trails.
My father could see my growing interest in the jungle and its denizens and during our summer and winter breaks along with my cousin brothers and sisters we used to stay at places such as Sitabani, Dhechauri, Kilbury, Maheshkhan etc. Still I had never been to Corbett then and interestingly did not have access to either Jim Corbett stories or even his books.

Pretty early in the age we had shifted to Aligarh, which was the then educational hub, while our excursions used to be during our summer or winter breaks. The universities then did not have Environmental or Wildlife conservation studies in their curricula and that led me to opt for organic chemistry as the main subject in Graduation. In my second year of graduation at AMU, on the initiative of Late Dr Salim Ali, our university started Masters in Zoology with specialisation in Wildlife. Even though all my best friends who were also my seniors in college had opted for this course. Corbett, Dudhwa & Keoladeo, being the closest national parks, were always visited by the first two batches for their field studies on ecology, biology, management & human dimensions in wildlife conservation.
Post my graduation my father encouraged me to do Masters in Bio-chemistry while I was still interested in doing masters in Zoology with specialisation in Wildlife. Luck favoured me as another push by late Dr Salim Ali along with the dedication of Late. Dr A.H. Musavi who used to teach Anthropology & human evolution to earlier batches, our university, A.M.U., Aligarh, pioneered a full-fledged Masters in Wildlife Sciences and here my father had also played an important role in getting it started. I immediately changed to Wildlife Sciences with the support of my father. Our field centre was located away from the city at an abandoned Fort with forests still around and that became my favourite grounds to spend some quality time with birds.
During the two year course we had visited quite a fow National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries, as a part of field based syllabus. One of these visits brought us to Corbett National Park when we had walked the whole distance from Dhangarhi gate to Dhikala with an overnight at Sarapduli FRH. Around the same time, David Hunt, an expert ornithologist from UK, was visiting Corbett with some bird watchers and had walked into a bush chasing an owl where he was killed by the tiger later called as ‘Dheetu’. Then again in 1987 I had visited Corbett for a three-month project on Grassland management. Somehow the two trips had profusely ingrained Corbett into my mind absolutely unaware of the fact that later in my life I will be strongly pitching for wildlife tourism as the best tiger conservation tool & Corbett would be my destination forever.
In 1988, I was awarded the first Dr Salim Ali fellowship while still completing my Master’s degree. The fellowship money with the arrears encouraged me to visit Corbett & Dudhwa a few more times.
In 1989 I qualified national test of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to work as a Junior Research fellow and was assigned a project on “Introduction of Sangai (Manipur Brow-antlered Deer) in Pobitara WLS, Assam”. This was a dream project of Dr. M.K. Ranjit Singh, who as a senior bureaucrat in Govt. of India had extensively worked on Indian fauna especially in the north-east. He wasn’t convinced that Phumdi or the floating vegetation in Loktak lake was the preferred habitat of the deer. The deer, even till date, has been the most threatened fervid just confined to the phumdis in Loktak lake in Keibul Lamjao National park in Manipur. Later on, Dr. Ranjit singh became the board member of WII and had pushed hard for the project. My job as a researcher was to find a suitable place in Assam, the state was more inclined to research than Manipur then. The project envisaged releasing a few captive bred pairs in a similar habitat but without the lake & the floating vegetation. With the Rhino re-introduction in Dhudwa Tiger Reserve, in the late eighties, possibly the highest density of rhinos existed in Kaziranga. During my surveys, I had discobered 72 rhinos in just 18sqkm of Pobitara WLS. The area of the sanctuary has now increased to 150 rhinos. I had found a suitable spot in the grassland close to two beels (lakes formed of the backwaters) and made an enclosure of 1sqkm in order to release 04 pairs from the two different strains of Sangai from Alipore Zoo, Kolkata and Delhi Zoo. I had done intensive work on the feeding ecology, breeding biology of the two captive strains. Somehow the project was halted in the middle because of political compulsions. I then moved on and took a project on National Wildlife database pertaining to Species-habitat distribution as well as bio-geographical classification of Indian Wilderness and their forests-habitats. In the meantime I had also submitted my M.Phil on the “Crop-raiding behaviour of Nilgai in Western Uttar Pradesh” and was successfully awarded in 1992.

the rangers lodge corbett rhinos

In 1993 I got a call from Mr. Valmik Thapar from Ranthambhore foundation to work on a project related to Park-People Interface within the landscape of Ranthambhore tiger reserve. I am yet to see a person more passionate about the plight of the tigers than Valu. His aggression, writing abilities & knowledge about the tiger’s biology & ecology had made him an active member of many Govt. organisations & Committees including the National Board for Wildlife, Supreme Court’s empowered committees, etc. Here I had the privilege of attending umpteenth wildlife related meetings and got the opportunity of meeting many stalwarts of Wildlife conservation in India.
The findings of my study, on the dependence of the local population on the resources of Ranthambhore such as fuel wood, timber, grasses, grazing grounds, minor forest produce & the productive potential of the habitats to sustain that dependence besides straying of ungulates into the crop fields as well as depredation of livestock by tigers & leopards, had given enough fuel to Valmik to speak loud & wide with the govt. in order to strategise the policies on conservation viz a viz tigers and their natural forests.
During my research in Ranthambhore, I had realised the potential of wildlife tourism in terms of giving economic benefits to the local communities viz a viz employment & income generation alternatives besides supporting the Govt. expenditure on the conservation. During the sessions in the evening I can recall Valmik’s indifferent as well as aggressive reaction to any idea involving tourism in tiger habitats. I used to put my point across that tigers & their forests are invaluable resources for the humanity but unfortunately carry abstract values, which cannot be immediately quantified. In a developing & democratic country it is impossible to conserve resources which do not give immediate monetary returns and their whole existence deters all other development schemes since they are the constitutional liabilities besides being the favoured topic of discussions for the elites and well fed few. The tourism skills in me were getting trained while I was the blue-eyed boy at the Taj, Sawai Madhopur, being a friend of the then general manager, for I used to give talks on the tigers of Ranthambhore besides the plight of tigers in the entire landscape.

One of my mentors, Mr. Vilas Gogate who was the master taxidermist at National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi for more than 4 decades, had met the owners of The Claridges, New Delhi who wanted to set up a restaurant on the lines of Corbett in the outer lawns. The Claridges, New Delhi, was marketing & managing a resort in Corbett and were looking for a naturalist. Mr. Gogate asked me to join here and implement the idea of tiger conservation through wildlife tourism. It was the golden opportunity for me to come back to Corbett and then promote tiger conservation through sensible tourism. I realised here that the visitors needed to know the basic inquisitiveness as to “why do we need to save the tigers in their naturally evolved Bio-diverse forests” more than just the tiger sightings & the tigers being the cynosure of all the eyes. Tigers needed more saviours through their voices & actions and the wide variety of tourists, once educated about the importance of tigers for the humanity, would be the perfect friends & partners in tiger conservation using their positions to generate a strong political will for the tigers & its habitats in natural forests. I recruited a team of guides to work with me and I am proud of the fact that today they have all become very good naturalists and have earned their names through their skills of nature interpretation. I had the privilege of training all the three batches of guides besides scores of drivers. I had also pioneered the group transported canter safaris through Ramganga conducted tours. A Mitsubishi canter was designed with horizontal seats with audio facility on every seat. I can recall giving the introductory talk for about 10 minutes on every canter trip and what should one expect to see more than just the tigers. My trained guide used to be with the driver giving the commentary enroute. The safari became the most popular safari and finally the Govt. took control of it and unfortunately the experience now has suffered majorly.
During my tenure with The Corbett Hideaway, I had developed quite a few slide shows on various aspects of wildlife conservation & post every slide show I used to strongly pitch for people’s participation in tiger conservation by instigating the political will. The best strategy was to make all my audience write letters to the Prime Minister of India as well as the Minister of Environment & Forests then. Somehow I was highly satisfied with my role there. Suddenly the development took a major turn in Corbett landscape & number of resorts on the eastern periphery started coming up with little knowledge about wildlife tourism. The carrying capacities of the tiger reserve were decided, which were further strengthened post the endorsement of Ecotourism policy envisaged by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. By 2002 the room inventories around Corbett had gone 3 times beyond the tourism capacity of the park. The tourism capacity itself is debatable but in no way it will ever match with the room inventories around Corbett. The outcome of all this brought a major deviation in the destination’s prime objectives. I had serious conflicts with my owners and finally I realised that I do not have the qualifications to promote anything else other than sensible wildlife tourism where the visitors were supposed to go back as partners in tiger conservation rather than just to unwind themselves with the luxuries & non wildlife activities. I finally left in 2004 but remained in Corbett.

I got an offer from the pristine southern periphery of Corbett where I developed a resort on the concept of an Eco-lodge, which later on became the best wildlife resort in Corbett in terms of landscaping & planning, solid waste management, water management and above all the qualitative naturalistic experience while enjoying the personalised hospitality. The Govt. still did not come up with a policy on wildlife tourism & the development around the tiger reserve continued unabated. Consequently, the southern periphery too reached its threshold in terms of more rooms & more resorts.
In 2010, I somehow realised the potential of home stays or B&B’s, as they are definitely more popular elsewhere in the world & India offered a great potential especially for the boutique destinations. In 2011 because of personal reasons I left the resort on the southern periphery & started building my house there, closer to the Headquarters of Corbett tiger reserve.
Right on the southern edge of tiger’s core critical habitat, I had laid the foundation of my five-bedroom house on the lines of British architecture very similar to the buildings of forest rest houses inside the park. I have been running it for the last six years & slowly the wildlife enthusiasts are getting attracted to stay with me to experience my naturalistic skills besides homemade authentic Indian & Mughlai recipes from my wife. My long inning with quite a few resorts in Corbett gave me ample experience to design my rooms, bathrooms and other paraphernalia of hospitality.
Now, I organise dedicated wildlife itineraries aptly blend with jungle safaris, night stays in FRH’s, Cultural walks through forest & hill villages, intensive bird watching trails, walking safaris through forests with emphasis on ethno-botany, indirect evidences, air-borne species and for the general feel, absorption & listening to the voice of silence in the naturally evolved bio-diverse forests. Besides, I also organise Himalayan safaris for landscape photographers, visits to the local villages & markets.
I presume that I need to market myself more on the social networking sites to be visible to potential guests who would have 300 to 400% tiger sightings besides learning the phrase “Tigers are the guardians of Humanity”.

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