“The tigers of Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh national parks are more used to tourists but it is characteristic of Corbett’s tigers to be quite wild—which means they are shy,” explained wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee. But the felines turned on the charm on his trip to Uttarakhand’s Jim Corbett National Park in June. Between February and December 2016, Mukherjee will make a series of trips in the Himalayas with Bollywood composer Shantanu Moitra for project #100DaysInHimalayas. Together, they will cover reaches running from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, and into the neighbouring foothills of Nepal and Bhutan—and they’re taking National Geographic Traveller India along for the ride.
Moitra too was happy to be in the foothills in Corbett, to “see where the Himalayas were born,” he said. It’s typical for new tourists to straightaway ask the guide, “Will we see tigers” Moitra observed, even though there is much else to see in these forests. On their first day of safari, they entered the park to see a tiger lying peacefully right in front of them. “And you understand why people ask,” Moitra says. “It’s a majestic animal. When he saw us, he looked up as if to say, ‘I know you’re here, don’t make too much noise, I’m catching up on sleep.’
They sat in the jeep for two hours, and when the tiger started walking towards them, as the waterhole was behind, they reversed for nearly half an hour. “Dhritiman just went berserk clicking,” Moitra says. “The tiger was lazy, gentle, with the classic Dilip Kumar look and walk.”
Corbett is also home to over 650 bird species, and is India’s oldest national park, with grasslands and sal forests fed by the Ramganga River. Founded in 1936, the park was renamed in 1956 after Jim Corbett, the hunter-turned-conservationist who helped establish it as a reserve for the endangered Bengal tiger.
For six days in June, shortly before most of the park shuts for the monsoon, Moitra and Mukherjee stayed in Dhikala, the most sought-after zone for sightings. “You can see tigers in many places but Dhikala is very special because of its amazing landscape,” Mukherjee said; it has the largest grassland in Corbett. “It’s also time for the elephant migration,” Mukherjee said. Pachyderms congregate at Dhikala from Corbett and even Rajaji National Park nearby for the new grass and the breeding season. “There’s lots of tusker action and fights,” he said.
Mukherjee and Moitra drove to the end of the grassland at Kalagarh Dam nearby. “Everything creates a surreal experience when you’re in the grassland—it’s open like in Africa—and see water bodies and elephants and mountains in the backdrop,” said Mukherjee.
Keep posted for updates from Mukherjee and Moitra, as this mountain bromance yields stunning photos of the Himalayas’ stark beauty, and stories of its charming people. Missed the previous dispatches? Read more on #100DaysInHimalayas.
Saumya Ancheri is the former Assistant Editor of NGT India's web team. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.
Dhritiman Mukherjee is as elusive as the animals he photographs. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic Traveller, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, WWF, UNESCO, Birdlife. He is a RBS Earth Hero award winner for inspiring people for conservation.