Exploring in & around Corbett national park & a stay at The river view retreat, by leisure hotels, (Corbett , Uttarakhand)

This post is about the stay at Corbett river view retreat (by leisure hotels) Uttarakhand, jungle safari, driving around the place & the 6 hours each side drive from gurgaon. 

In a nutshell:

A good stay at the Corbett river view retreat, on the bank of river Kosi, thoughtfully done resort with flora that was a treat for the eyes, good but visually not wow (or different) bungalows & rooms , overall good infrastructure of the campus – kudos to the area designer. Very simple, well behaved & Nice but absolutely not professional staff with a few exceptions (travel desk). The only reason I might wish to go back here is for the traveldesk Manager & to do a jungle trip with their outdoor activities manager Ankit singh (rare breed of people who have perfect balance between being professional & also warm & friendly at the same time).

The drive:

The drive from gurgaon to this resort in Corbett took us 6 hours – a distance of 290 km (translates to 48 kmph). That sounds strange as the first half of the journey has excellent highways that have speed limit of 100 kmph.

Here are few observations on the drive.

1. In UP, Trucks were moving on the overtaking lane (right) consistently & bikers with upto 5 people in one motorcycle (no helmet, no mask) were on the left center. On top of this, there were thousands of oversized sugarcane trucks, many bullock carts, tractors with trolley carriage & jugaads all over the road. Slow moving & not agile. So overtaking all of these was a challenge constantly.

2. No clean washrooms for the women was a huge problem. Delhi Jaipur & Delhi Agra highways have good washrooms for women. Nothing remotely close to that were to be found in this stretch. Even in some petrol pumps, the washrooms were average to filthy. 

3. After crossing delhi, we were impressed with a fabulous highway leading to Ghaziabad – The road infrastructure off delhi was just admirable (massive wide highway). This however worsened as we moved towards Corbett. Parts of the highway was on construction & in bad shape (so we kind of told ourselves TODAY’s PAIN TOMORROW’S GAIN & ACCHE DIN AANEY WALE HAI:))

4. Strangely we were paying toll for the pathetic under construction highway. There was serious pandemonium & wastage of time at every toll. I think out of the 6 hours a cumulative 1 hour was negotiating traffic at the tolls. It’s jungle rule at these tolls – no clear indication of where the queues are. Haryana & rajasthan tolls I have found to be managed much better.

5. And then, a sudden pleasant changeover from this UP lawnessness happened as we entered the serene mountainous roads of Uttarakhand where the local people were mostly were following traffic rules (exceptions were mostly UP, DL & HR numbers) …… & of course this road came with a breath of fresh air (that we had to unfortunately enjoy from within the mask!!!).

The resort:

We read about this resort from a social media post by social media star Pawan soni. He had mentioned that he visited the resort twice as he liked the place very much. We absolutely loved a picture by Pawan on social media that showed him & his family in the backdrop of a beautiful stream next to the resort. So we decided to go for This resort.

The people at the resort

We had a Good experience at reception. Absolutely loved the not sweet yet flavorful kaadha hot drink that was served to us as we reached the check in counter. Not sweet but refreshing & full of flavors.

The Travel desk guy was excellent- he proactively explained all options to us with patience. He also helped us book a safari.

I will compare this experience to a taj safari property that we have booked for January 2021 – in November 2020 only they asked us which slots we would want to do the safari & they have booked us from now. For river view resort we had received no such intimation – so we had to choose from the two safari entrance gates that were relatively less popular among tourists (as most other safaris had been already booked online by the time we checked in).

At the reception, after check in, We were told that baggage will be sent to room. The baggage however Did not come in 90 minutes. After 4 follow ups the reception stopped taking our calls. We went to the car parking. Found our car key lying in a slot – anyone cud have taken the car & driven away!!!!

At that point there was No security at gate!!!

We Carried the luggage to our room ourselves. We ended up Wasting time in the process & way less time was left to enjoy, before the sunset.

The reception asked if we need wake up call on safari day. We said 5 am. They called at 5.15. On next day we obviously did not ask for wake up call as we were not going for safari again. But Someone called from the reception & woke us up at 5.30 am!!!! Crazy.

Like I mentioned, the staff members were Nice people but there was severe lack of coordination, systems & processes. Supervision was poor. The guys seemed to be under too much pressure & hence At the dining hall, the Waiting staff always seemed to be on horseback. Every question that we wud ask were half answered or while the guy was speaking to us, his eyes were on something else, always distracted.

For Lunch the only option was buffet.

We also saw a beautiful semi open air restaurant on the other side. We asked about it to a waiter & got the reply ‘Other restaurant closed now. Open for dinner’.

At Dinner time we went to the other restaurant & were told that it was shut for renovation.

We were told ‘ we Will serve food from this menu in regular restaurant. Not here’. We went back. Later we saw some guys sitting in the restaurant & having a drink!!!

A bar had been set up outside the ‘under renovation’ restaurant too. So was it open or was it shut? I have no idea. Really really funny (in an irritating way).

Day 1 Nescafé sachets were in the tea kit in the room

Day 2 we were downgraded to bru !!!!

The place we stayed

The room that we got was excellent from the perspective of utilities. It was just like staying in the city. Normal city hotel room. The good thing was that the windows were large & one could gaze out to the nature outside during the daytime.

Our room was quite Spacious.

Inside the room, on one side, there was a Sofa with center table to sit & chat.

On the other corner there was a Table to work (or edit pictures).

We got a Nice bed & a Good washroom.

The room was situated in a 2 storeyed bungalow. Each floor had two guest rooms, a common area to be shared by both the rooms , a balcony & a kitchenette.

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In the common area had a sofa to sit & chat & a dining table on the other side. There was a fireplace lookalike & a large television.

The common balcony was to be shared with one more room. We were lucky that no one else was there in the other room. So we enjoyed it on our own.

It was fab experience to enjoy the Morning cup of tea here, with a nip in the air, sound of chirping birds, Aroma of flowers. Outstanding.

The Small kitchenette was interesting. We could have carried our induction cooker & done some small cooking around with local food ingredients.

The campus had a real long list of Different kinds of plants. Huge variety of flowers. Raat ki rani flower (aroma of the flower comes out in the night) the was the one that intrigued us the most.

The coolest place in the campus was the deck restaurant – situated on a wooden deck next to the river Kosi. Excellent open air place to spend time when the sun is around. After dark the place is beautifully lit up. The sound of water is still around. Visually the day of course is better.

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Activities arranged by the resort

There were many places to visit around Corbett, in addition to the jungle safari.

The gentleman at the Traveldesk was excellent. He patiently explained all the options. He offered gypsy ride to all the places.

Inside the reserve forest it is mandatory to take the designated government approved gypsy. There are about 75 such cars that go to the forest every morning, we were told. The same cars drop the guests back & do an evening safari.

However in all other places there is an option to take one’s own car. We requested that we be assigned a local guide who can go with us in our car. This was not a part of the standard offer. However the gentleman spoke to his seniors & arranged this for us on our request. A big THANK YOU for that. It made a sea of difference.

As we reached our car, we met Ankit singh, our guide for the evening. He was carrying packed food & beverages for us for the day trip, that had been given by the hotel.

The drive to Bhaunkhal mountain top (5000 ft) was fun. Narrow but very well maintained roads. All the drivers on this route whom we came across were following the traffic rules. The place was secluded – had we not had ankit with us in the car, chances are that we would have returned mid-way.

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The mountain top was just like ‘top of the world’. 5-6 colors of different layers of the mountains, a setting sun & a shining silver sliver of a river flowing zig zag in the valley far away, the enjoyable wind, jungle flower plants & a lot more.

Ankit arranged for a small table (for the good) & two camp chairs for us to sit & enjoy the view & sip our chai.

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Ankit patiently explained to us stories of the animals in Corbett, their habits, how locals co-exist with the fierce & not so fierce animals, his childhood memories of the forest, the good habits of local population, the plants & lot more. He happens to be in the top ten guides we have had in our lifetime.

Ankit took us to a bay leaf tree & showed us the bark of the tree (cinnamon). He showed us a weed plant too. A local vegetable called Ram karela had grown on a tree – it is not much bitter & is eaten as subzi here.

The lady of the house near the hill top had a small shop to sell local produce. We bought some fabulous red dried chillies, green undried bay leaves ( excellent flavors) & mountain ginger with strong flavor.

A walk to the century old hanging bridge was fun. The river Kosi flowing past was attracting many birds.

We also visited Corbett falls near kaladhungi, saw a very interesting bird Great cormorant & also the lovely Ruddy shelduck onway.

The waterfall was not very big – have seen many more that are way bigger & much more imposing. However the feel of the real jungle while driving there & finally walking up the last few steps , was memorable. Loved the sound of the water complimenting the chirping of the birds.

Jim Corbett, after whom the forest has been named, used to stay at a place called kaladhungi , an hour’s drive away from the hotel. The house in which Jim stayed, is now a very well maintained museum. We loved the souvenir shop in the museum as they were selling local lentils, spices & many other things that are usually not found in delhi NCR. The girl at the counter also told us the recipe of how to cook this food.

More on Jim Corbett at the end of this post.

Birds & animals we saw at Corbett

There are 4 kinds of deer – spotted, sambar, barking & barasingha. We saw the first 3. We entered the forest thru durga mandir gate. This is up in the hills. So unlike herds of deer seen in the plains (Dhikala gate), we saw solitary deer amidst dense vegetation.

Birds we saw & could click –

Great cormorant

Ruddy shelduck

Plumbeous water redstart female

White capped water redstart

blue whistling thrush

Red billed blue Magpie

Pied kingfisher

Plumbous water redstart male

White browed wagtail

Food during the trip

To summarise, the food was good as compared to any commercial establishment. In general it was not wow. Will mention the dishes that we liked a lot. In our multiple meals we did not find the chef celebrating local dishes – no storytelling. The same buffet could have been in a delhi hotel. Their dessert chef is very good. Consistently had great sweet things.

We had the second best meal in Corbett on day 2 – at an eatery named sanjha chulha in a place called ringora, few kilometers drive from the hotel. Scroll down for details.

On day 3, on our way back, we had the best meal of the trip, at a shack next to Corbett waterfalls. Scroll down for details.

Day 1 lunch – highlight of the buffet was ‘home style chicken curry’ (4.5/5) that beat the mutton bhuna (3/5) curry hands down. Simple , thin, flavorful gravy with great taste.

The daal was very good (4/5).

The saag was nice (3.5/5).

The gourd curry (2/5) was simple & nice but it had hard seeds (harvested late than ideal it seemed).

Custard was outstanding (4.75/5),

rasgulla made Inhouse was brittle (1/5), cake was ok (2/5).

Dinner day 1 we had at the deck.

We ordered Tandoori chicken that was just good. (3/5).

We ordered Shami kabab but what came was a deep fried kabab with meat & daal filling – similar in concept to Wenger’s in Connaught Place delhi. It was ok. (2/5)

Day 2 breakfast buffet

All was usual & good. (3/5)

Day 2 dinner

Absolutely loved the aloo parwal curry (4.75/5). Remember having 3 helpings.

Rest all was usual & good (3/5).

Day 3 breakfast

All was usual & good. (3/5). Sookhi aloo curry (4.25/5) was the highlight.

Overall rating of food at the resort is about 3.5/5

During high tea in the evenings & also during breakfasts, a Chai thela was of prime interest to all. An elderly gentleman dressed in local attire was constantly making tea in small batches, pounding masalas & ginger himself & serving the tea too. Huge relief from someone pouring a cup of pre made tea from a container.

Sanjha chulha ringora

We started asking around every local person from day 1 – where can we get local food. We unanimously got the same answer – go to Ringora. Order the food. They will serve after 2 hours.

So we went. We found the eatery named sanjha chulha. Their highlight was Maggi & local cuisine. A lady from the hills was running the place & a young girl (surely looked 18+) was helping her in making the food. They have a phone number & one can call & order the food in advance & go and eat lunch.

We placed order, paid an advance & went back to eat after an hour.

They had served us a local daal, a saag, a raita, ragi roti (they call it mandua) & long grain local sticky rice.

Loved every bit of it. Everything was home made & very good. Overall rating of food here is 4.5/5

Unnamed eatery in kaladhungi

This is located next to the gate of Corbett waterfalls & opposite a police station in kaladhungi that specialises in anti poaching.

We stopped her to eat Maggi. As we sat, we noticed there were a few samosas kept. After the third stare at the samosas, I decided to try one. Wow. Thin outer layer. Outstanding aloo filling inside – real spices used (did not seem to be powdered ones), perfect balance of taste. Different from the Haldiram’s types. Rate it 4.75/5

The guy was still making Maggi. We were surprised. He said 10’more minutes. We were surprised as Maggi advertises 2 minutes!!!

While waiting we saw a board ‘rajma chawal’. We asked if he has. He said ‘no, I have made chholey chawal today. But rice is sold out.’ We asked for a plate of chholay. Again outstanding. Thin gravy & perfectly cooked chholay. Perfect balance of taste. Rate it 4.5/5

Finally the Maggi arrived. He actually took time to cut veggies, cook them in spices & then make the Maggi for us. The best version of Maggi I have had in a decade. Perfect everything. Rate it 4.75/5

Overall rating of this shop averages out to 4.6/5

We asked him name of the shop. He said ‘no name’. His father had started it. He runs it now – cooks everything himself. Surely a Hidden gem.

Random Stories that we heard about forest from different local people we met in the trip

Sal tree – a local dating is ‘Sau saal khadaa, Sau saal padaa, Sau saal sadaa’ – sal tree lives a hundred years, it’s wood remains intact for a hundred years & it takes another hundred years to decompose.

Elephants can run fast, almost upto 40 kmph. Elephants can climb mountains & have been found here found at upto 4000 ft height. They use their trunk to hold trees to get supportwhile climbing up. While climbing down they slide down by holding the fore legs straight & bending the hind legs.

The story of Kaandi haathi – once by chance while passing by, an elephant happened to eat fruits & gur from a truck that was parked on the roadside for repair. The elephant Loved it. They usually have Strong sense of smell , they are intelligent & have great memory. So the elephant started stopping trucks by blocking the road. When there would be traffic jam, the elephant would take veggies & other food items from the truck. Once people got restless & blew horns from their cars & flashed lights. The elephant turned violent & broke car screens etc.. another time supposedly the elephant took out a man from a bus & tossed him around. Animals are generally always good & on their own. If we poke them, problem starts. Kaandi haathi was an exception. The Name was given by locals to the elephant due to ‘kaand’s done by the haathi!!!!

Tiger is a very lonely animal. Male tigers mark their territory & Live alone in a territory. Upto 3-4 female tigers live in that territory. Whenever the tiger feels hungry it goes out to hunt but many birds & animals of the jungle announce it loudly as soon as they see / smell the tiger. That makes the potential preys alert & they start running away, thus making it difficult for the tiger to hunt. Old / injured tigers have even a bigger challenge to hunt. Deer runs faster than tiger. So tiger has to use its brains to plan an attack.

The story of Jim Corbett –

Here is the story of Jim Corbett, the naturalist, hunter, writer, taxidermist & a philanthropic, after whom the national park is named –

 

His full name was Edward James Corbett (Jim was a nick name). Born in 1875 in Nainital. For both his parents this was a second marriage. His mother had escaped the 1857 sepoy mutiny (her first husband was killed in the battle of Harchandpore & she escaped from Agra fort to Mussourie). Jim grew up in Nainital where his father was posted. During winter months they used to come down to a village named Kaladhungi that was relatively warmer.

 

Jim lost his father at the age of 6 & by the time he finished his matriculation, he joined Indian Railways (as the family needed a steady source of income). He was posted at Mokamehghat, Bihar . He used to come back to Kaladhungi & had killed 3 man eating tigers that time.

 

At mokamehghat, he had opened a school for children of coolies & laborers.

 

During First World War, he joined the British Army. He served in France, Afghanistan & Waziristan. There he rose to the rank of Major & Colonel.

 

Before World War 2, he was assigned to train soldiers in jungle craft.

 

Jim was a pioneer wildlife photographer – he not only clicked still pictures but also shot wildlife on a cine-camera.

 

Jim was a specialist taxidermist – he used to himself skin & stuff the animals killed by him. He used to paint wild life, play guitar, banjo & flute. He used to make furniture at times.

 

While Jim killed man eating tigers, he had a huge concern about conserving nature.

 

Jim used to be a favourite among villagers. From setting up health care facilities to joining the villagers in local celebrations, Jim was almost like family.

 

Jim played a major role in setting up of the national park in 1936 – it was called hailey national park (after lord hailey, the then governor of United provinces). In 1952, after Independence, this was named Ramganga Naional Park. However, it was renamed as Jim Corbett National park in 1957 after locals of the area requested for it – to honor the man they loved.

 

Jim shifted base to Kenya after independence. He set up a safari company there & lived till 1955. He wrote most of his hunting memoirs during this time.

 

We had visited the park a decade back. We had heard that animals come out more in summer & the forest looks most beautiful in winter. We went with the expectation of soaking in the forest & drove from Gurgaon.

 

There are 5 gates of this 1300sq km forest. We went in thru the Durga mandir gate. This area was dense & on the hills. Unlike our previous experience of flocks of deer & other animals on the plains, this time we saw more solitary animals.

 

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