Jim Corbett National Park is not only the oldest national park in India, it is also one of the most popular tourist destinations among all the national parks of the country, registering over 70,000 footfalls every season.
Established in 1936 as Hailey National Park to protect the endangered Bengal tiger, the name of the park was later changed and kept after the legendary hunter and environmentalist Jim Corbett who stayed in India around the early 1900s and killed several man-eating tigers which had wreaked havoc in the present day Uttarakhand region.
Located in Nainital district of Uttarakhand, the Jim Corbett National Park was also the first in India to come under the government’s Project Tiger initiative. The over 520 square kilometre national park is an epitome of natural diversity, both in flora and fauna.
It contains at least 488 different species of plants, making up for the dense and dark moist deciduous forest. Apart, there are no less than 50 species of mammals, 580 bird species and 25 reptile species. Apart, the topographical diversity of the national park is also unique, for it has everything that makes up for a perfect natural ecology, right from hills and valleys, to lakes and rivers, marshy depressions, grasslands and riverine belts, from ravines and ridges, to gorges and waterfalls. Forest covers almost 73% of the park, which is remarkably visible, while 10 percent of the area consists of grasslands. Even the elevation ranges from as low as 1,200 to 4,000 ft (350 to 1,240 mt).
The park has sub-Himalayan belt geographical and ecological characteristics, which make the winter nights cold. But the days are bright and sunny. It rains quite heavily from July to September.
Corbett has been a haunt for tourists and wildlife lovers for a long time. But as the increase in tourist activities, among other problems, continues to present a serious challenge to the park's ecological balance, tourism is only allowed in selected areas of Corbett Tiger Reserve.
The town of Ramnagar is the headquarters of Corbett Tiger Reserve. There are overnight trains available from Delhi to Ramnagar. Also, there are trains from Varanasi via Lucknow and Allahabad via Kanpur to Ramnagar. Reaching Ramnagar, one can hire a taxi to reach the park and Dhikala.
Ramnagar is also well connected by road with Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Nainital, Ranikhet, Haridwar, Dehradun and New Delhi. One can also drive from Delhi (295 km) via Gajraula, Moradabad,Kashipur to reach Ramnagar. A direct train to Ramnagar runs from New Delhi. The roads to Corbett are excellent. The best time to visit the park is from mid-November to mid-June.
There are hotels in Ramnagar and Kashipur. But it is more appropriate to stay in some of the lodges and hotels strewn around and inside the national park. There are several forest rest houses at vantage points inside the park. Though the facilities are bare minimum in them, but their exquisite locations make them perfect halting points.
Like most hotels, the forest rest houses too need to be booked well in advance, because given the number of tourists that drive into Corbett, it is always a matter of uncertainty to find a good accommodation at the last minute. Rooms hardly go vacant in any time of the year. Guides are available and so are jeep and elephant safaris like it is at most other national parks.
Trekking options are limited because of fear of tiger infestation. In 1985, famous British ornithologist David Hunt was killed in a tiger attack, following which the restrictions were implemented. In recent times, with increasing population around the park and growing pressure on its ecology, tiger attacks have surfaced and many people staying in the human settlements just outside the park have been killed by tigers.
Nevertheless, the dangers are not threatening and with assistance of a forest guide, some trekking in the buffer zone is easily possible. Tiger is not easily seen, but the sighting of a wide variety of deer, wild boar, elephants, rare birds, reptiles etc are much common. There is a crocodile breeding project at Jim Corbett and sightings of huge crocodiles are also possible, apart from pythons and leopards.