Dhikala – Jim Corbett

If you haven’t seen Dhikala, you’ve missed everything!

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Dhikala, spooky name in itself! It’s a forest lodge that is run and managed by Forest Department, Uttarakhand. Dhikala FRH is among the most remote Locations inside the Corbett tiger reserve. It is said that no visit to Corbett National Park is complete without a stay at Dhikala FRH. Corbett Tiger Reserve in itself is located in the core area of Corbett National Park. To reach Dhikala one has to reach Ramnagar first. Then one has to get the documents verified at the Corbett tiger reserve front office in Ramnagar.

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There are fixed charges for safari vehicles and day visit vehicles. No private vehicles are allowed inside the main gate. After successful verification of documents one has to reach Dhangarhi gate, the entry gate for Dhikala. You have to show your permits to forest guards here, for the second time the verification is done here. Forest Guards brief you about the rules and do’s and don’ts. Additionally you have to pay for Jute Garbage Bag. Once inside the main gate, it takes 1hour 15 minutes to complete the 30 kilometers journey to Dhikala FRH.

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Dhikala is located 28kms from the main gate at Dhangiri. Since private cars are not allowed inside, it is advisable to ask the safari guy to make arrangement of your parking outside in some resort. This 28 Kilometers journey from Dhangadi gate to Dhikala itself is full of adventures. One has to cross dense Sal forests and Ramganga River tributaries (seasonal rivers) at several points, and may experience a bit of offroading too!

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The animals you are most likely to spot while going to Dhikala are herds of spotted deer, sambhar, barking deer, barasinga, wild boars, elephants, hyena, jungle fox, monitor lizard and if you are very lucky, Tigers.

Off to Jim Corbett

Its location at core area of Corbett National Park made it a perfect place to stay for any wildlife enthusiast. Originally it was called Hailey National Park later renamed Corbett National Park after it’s founder Sir Jim Corbett.

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Travel Dates: 19-20-21 January 2015.

Route Taken: Delhi-Moradabad-Kashipur-Rampur-Dhikuli-Dhangari gate.

Stay: Dhikala FRH, Booked 45 days in advance.

Travelogue:

If you have not stayed at Dhikala, you have seriously missed Corbett in true sense.

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We got a chance to stay at this wonderful property during Jan 2015. Corbett has many zones, Dhikala zone is the main core zone of the protected forest reserve. There is heavy rush of wildlife enthusiasts who want to visit Dhikala. It is located 28kms from the main gate at Dhangiri. But to our surprise there was not much rush except for those who were staying there. It had rained a day before so everywhere there were lush green leaves and no dust at all which everyone complained about.

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Tip: I advise Everyone to make sure to plan your trip well in advance  prior minimum 45 days booking is required.

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Since we travelled in winters, it’s the peak season for wildlife enthusiasts to spot wildlife of the Dhikala zone. And yes if you are lucky, you may spot the Tiger too!! Rooms are very spacious and have excellent views. Location is very secluded from normal life and wildlife in abundance! Food is tasty but only buffet system available except tea/milk/eggs, No Buscuits or snacks were available. Best time of safari is during early morning and late afternoon hours.

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Tip: Do Visit the other Forest Rest Houses in Gairal, Sarpdhuli and Sultan.

Mobile Connectivity: No network/data/internet connectivity once you are in core region of Corbett

Room tip: Book any, All rooms are the same more or less. FRH at Dhikala is facing Ramganga Reservior giving plenty of photographic opportunities.

Booking: Dhikala can be only booked on Corbett Tiger Reserve website.

Day 1: Dhikala

4:00 pm We started off from Dhangiri gate and reached FRH Dhikala at around 5:30 PM. Lots of Photographs taken on way. This is a journey of a lifetime, seems as if there is a fairytale and you are travelling deeper and deeper in woods. It’s very cold here during this time and to our welcome, we are attacked by a gang of monkeys. They are creating a racket and just want our food packets. But how can we let go our food? The monkey snatched it from my wife, I snatched it back knowing we are not getting fancy food here.

The manager of the FRH is Forest Officer. He allotted us the rooms 102 and 104. It was a perfect setting of the room windows. The views from both the rooms were amazing! There was a little seepage on the walls but who is bothered about the rooms? It’s the jungle we are interested in.

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It is already late and there is nothing much to do inside the premises. It is electrically wired and gates close after 7:00 pm. You are not allowed outside the complex once it gets dark and safari had timings too! There is a dining hall for the tourists and the food served is basic but tasty. The kitchen is managed and operated by KMVN. There is buffet system for dinner and you are charged INR 270 per head. For breakfast and lunch its INR 250 per head. Food is simple but tasty. They have good cooks. They serve dinner by 8:00 pm and end it before 9:00 pm. It’s cold and we are tired too. So after food we rush to our beds and sleep on time.

Day 2: Safari

Early morning at 6:00 pm there is a knock on the door… “sir your elephant is ready and waiting”. What the…. *…. I didn’t order any elephants! There was some confusion; he knocked on the wrong door! We had asked for tea and it is served hot and tasty. Safari timings for morning are from 6:30 am in winters till 12 noon.

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All of us wanted to sleep more and its cozy inside our quilts, but wait, we’re in Dhikala! Me and my brother were here to enjoy wildlife and take excellent photos. So we did the same. One can capture amazing pictures from the front ground of the FRH itself. We went for breakfast to the dining hall downstairs, had boiled eggs, butter toast, poha and parantha and later a cup of tea. My mom wanted to rest and so she went back to her room. Rest three of us went with the driver for safari.

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We started from Thandi Sadak, Machaan and later to the Grassland area. There were tourist gypsies everywhere and people were taking full views of flora and fauna. One can spot many birds and different species of other animals, Tiger being the Lucky Sight! There was a spot where there were many cars parked and everyone was waiting for the tiger, there were some noises from the bush,  I thought why will the tiger appear before so many audiences, people specially the girls who cannot wait patiently, they start chirping like birds and eventually make noise.

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Please note wild animals are shy and they don’t come ahead of the bush area when there are noisy people around.

The Fearless Stare:

I had this intuition and asked our driver Feroze, to overtake these people and move ahead. After going a few hundred metres… Bang! There we spotted a Tiger!! I suddenly asked the driver to stop and take reverse.

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What a Sight! He was a Magnificent Cat. He was a young male tiger sitting in the bush playing with long grass. My heart stopped beating, and I’m sure it was the same scenario with my wife and brother too. All of us were excited to see the tiger near us (except the zoo) and also the same time very frightened too. It was a flowing mixed emotion one after the other. Everything was so surprisingly calm and quiet. The tiger slowly moved towards us and gave a stare while he crossed the muddy road and disappeared onto the other side of the bush. I cannot forget that Fearless Stare form the Big Cat.

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A fully grown tiger is almost 6 to 7 feet in length and is a powerhouse of enormous strength and a large heart with full of courage. It is his territory, we are at his mercy, He’s the lord of this jungle. I managed to click a photo of this tiger and he is looking straight towards us. It’s scary and rest two of us still can’t figure out what’s happening. They are still shaking. People came to know about this sighting and they were rushing towards the spot. Rushing cars gave tiger reason to leave and disappear as if he was not interested. And by god’s blessings the sight was only for us! It was the most daring adventure of my life. I haven’t faced any wild animal before and at the first time attempt, a Tiger! We had spotted the tiger and people who came rushing didn’t. They again crowded at the spot where there was spotting done by us.

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It was a sense of fulfillment among us while we moved ahead of the stupid people. After moving ahead for a few hundred metres, the tiger , there he is, it’s the same tiger who disappeared into the bush came out again on to the muddy road. He started walking towards the tall grass and finally disappeared. This time we got enough chance to click good photos.

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It was getting late and we had to return before the time specified. On way back we had visited the Machaan or the watch tower. It’s where you can see everything below and without interrupting the normal flow of life. After spending some time here we returned to Dhikala FRH. It was 2:00 pm and lunch time. Had good lunch and took some rest.

The Post Office:

After lunch we clicked photos in and around the complex. We had ample time to explore Dhikala FRH premises. It had everything from Amphitheatre to play areas and library museum and to my surprise a Post Office. The post office was closed for the day, rather it never used to open. They only operated during the first Tuesday for letters and money orders, otherwise only as and when required. I requested the forest officer to open the post office for us and he was kind enough. I bought stamps and an envelope and wrote a letter to my home back in Delhi. This was the only postal letter in many years being sent through this post office, it only receives letters and that too in months. That’s why the post office had been shut temporarily but operational on demand.

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It was one of the first attempts to letter writing and using India Post. It is funny incident for the forest officers, as in the era of emails and mobile phones no one is even bothered about the use of Postage. It’s 5:00 pm by now and safari timings are about to end. We have to go for a second round of safari. Now we are bothered by the travel guides who are free from their safaris and very keen to be hired, but we will not hire them for one hour and pay him full day’s pay! If he’s free then that doesn’t mean that I am bound to hire him.

It’s not compulsory for any tourist to hire any guides in Dhikala.

It’s getting dusky as sun is getting down. So all four of us could only make up to the nearby Machaan. This machaan is 3 storeys in height and gives panoramic views of the Ramganga River, the Reservior, water hole and the jungle. It’s a good spot to click photos. Once back from machaan we take a brief trip to Chaurs or Grasslands and return back to Dhikala.

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There is some rush around the main building. Some people have gathered for evening supper. We have to wait for the dining hall to get free for a while so that we may enter and get settled. We order tea with boiled eggs, bread and butter. Something is missing in this travel. We haven’t had any pakora or fries since the very first day. Without pakoras any trip is not complete. My wife asks him to prepare some for us but the KMVN staff refuses that they don’t have raw material for pakoras and they are busy preparing dinner for the guests. She returns with disappointment. But we have an idea. I ask her to go back again and tell him to prepare potato fingers for us, potatoes are staple for any kitchen and available everywhere. She first requests them and when they refuse again she is furious. Unki BAJA dali. They were feeling insulted now… LOL. But somehow our deal was done. We got 2 full plates of potato fingers fried in no time.

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Now with our tummies full, we are all happy. After roaming here and there for some time, it’s cold and chilly winds pick up pace. We should not be roaming outside! We dicided to go to the rooms and enjoy the rooms as of now before there is a final call for dinner. We go to dinner table at around 9:00 PM  and were last to enter.

Dinner is served and its tasty too! Somehow we get signals in the lawn outside and it’s a delight. We call dad back in Delhi and share our experiences with him. Then we return to the room. Brother and mom sleep on time, me and my wife notice that there is some sparking outside on the circuit board. It is ignored for some time and it sparks again. After a big spark, Lights go off for the entire floor as fuse has some problem. The electrician is called in to solve the electrical issues. All issues sorted out, we go to sleep.

Day 3: Sarpduli, Gairal, Sultan

Its morning and chilly as usual. We asked for tea and it’s served hot. Since today we have to return so we sleep till late. We sleep again after having tea and biscuits and get up at 9:30 AM. The kitchen is about to close and we have to rush downstairs to eat breakfast. Today they have parantha and upma apart from the normal butter toast boiled eggs and tea. While the family packs the bags, I go down to the reception and settle the bills for checkout. Brother is still clicking photos. He hasn’t had enough yet. After all cleared at 12 noon we finally leave Dhikala.

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On our way back to Dhangadi, we take detours towards other FRHs. It was a good choice made by us. First we reach Sarpduli, then Gairal and lastly Sultan before reaching the main gate. Sarpduli FRH was built in 1908 and is relatively new as in comparison to the other FRHs. Sarpduli means Otter in local language. Though we didn’t spot any freshwater fishing otters, but the place in itself gave us the chills. It’s a place frequented by elephants and one can also see large schools of Mahaseer Fish in the river nearby, Mahaseer is a fresh water fish. And one can obviously find its hunters, Fish eating Eagles and Kingfishers. Sarpduli FRH is at a secluded location and has no frequent visitors.

After Sarpduli we proceed towards Gairal. Gairal means broad nose Indian Crocodile. This place was built in 1903 and is an excellent place for bird watching, spotting monitor lizards and Gairals in the nearby pools. Gairal is a little extra detour on way if we go from Dhikala to Dhangadi Gate. One has to skip the main road and go deeper into the jungle for Gairal. Gairal is the second best location in the Dhikala Zone. It has big and spacious accommodations for tourists and a dormitory too. Additionally it has a canteen and a restaurant too just like Dhikala.

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Its lunch time and we decide to halt here for lunch, Maggi.. India’s Favorite Jungle Lunch. The kitchen staff did justice to maggi and he added veggies and spices to it adding to taste. Tea was served along with the Maggi. What a luxury, you are in the middle of nowhere and believe me… absolutely Nowhere and you are being served with full etiquettes and food here is tasty too! We chose to sit in the lawn outside and he serves us there itself. To our disappointment there are no Gairals spotted there.

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After a brief photo session, we proceeded further towards Sultan. Sultan is the first FRH when we are coming from Dhangadi and in this case the last since we were coming from Dhikala. Sultan was also built in 1903, and is the smallest of the FRH located in Dhikala Zone. Accordingly is suitable for a small group of visitors as it has only 2 rooms. Here there are no canteen facilities and obviously one has to cook for himself in the kitchen provided. It’s very peaceful here in sultan and there is a dense Sal jungle here making it a very good spot for bird watching and deer spotting.

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We were too tired by now and I was the only one interested in getting off the vehicle and take some photos. I did justice to sultan as well, clicking some good photos of the surroundings. I got a chance to see the traditional kitchens of the Forest officials and it was a new experience as I saw very new objects. The kitchen is very basic and has a wood fuelled Chulha. There I saw a “Lalten” for the first time in my life and this shows that there is no or minimal electrification in the area. There was a satellite radio as well for communication with the world outside.

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After we left for the main gate, we reached Dhangadi in no time. The forest guards checked our clearance certificate issued by the forest officer inside Dhikala FRH. Once outside we are still inside the Jungle area and the Restrictions are the same as imposed by the forest department inside.

The roads are maintained beautifully till the main Dhikuli Barrier where our car is parked. We had earlier parked our car in the parking of KMVN Dhikuli. He had charged us INR 150 per day for Parking. It’s slightly expensive! I clear the bills of the Driver and adieu.. we see him off and are free! With a driver there is a bound environment of etiquettes and what to speak and what not to! Also now there is no time bounding as well. Ab jaha chaho waha jao.

We started to proceed towards home! Yeayyy!! With every extra mile; the free souls from jungle life are getting back into the city life!

Good Bye Sir Corbett!

With lots of things having done, With loads of memories from the jungle, With over a two thousand Photographs, With loads of things to share back home, We’re proceeding towards home to start a fresh Day!

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