Utterly tired and exhausted when we reached The Golden Tusk, the one and only thing on our minds was to CRASH OUT.
Like most of our holidays, this was a miserly planned one with regards to time. We had, but two days in our hands to be there and back. The one thing that reined our thoughts and discussions as Chhaya and I drove the 275 odd kilometres from NOIDA to Jim Corbett National Park, was the strong urge to spot a tiger on the Jungle Safari the next morning. I must have driven like a man possessed, a driver driving at Grand Prix for despite some traffic snarls, we made it in five hours flat. We were at The Golden Tusk at 11 am.
When we arrived at the gates we did not want food; there was no desire to go sight seeing; and no wish even to meet our coordinator and know about the itinerary––those things were pretty low on our list of priorities. All that we wanted was to CRASH OUT. Was it a blunder to have set aside just two days for an excursion in Jim Corbett? May be. May not be. Read on.
Mr Sandeep Agrawal who had helped us undertake the trip at a very short notice also guided us to The Golden Tusk. Meeting the gentleman personally was a great pleasure. Moments spent at his residence on the return leg, felt like being with an extended family.
Mr Prakash welcomed us at the resort with a disarming smile that took away a part of the travel fatigue. An exceptionally cordial concierge, he made every possible effort to make our short stay memorable. Since the trip was planned in a hurry, all we were interested in was a decent place to stay for the night. We had not cared to know much about the resort. Over a refreshing welcome drink Prakash told us briefly about the available amenities and meal timings. Let alone two, we had not imagined a single swimming pool in that resort. Not to talk of a spa in the middle of nowhere. Although we were not prepared for a swim and did not avail the spa facility, even the deliberatel slow walk past them to our room was refreshing. Then there were a whole lot of contraptions and apparatuses for the children and the adventure seekers. Everything around seemed to be conspiring against the idea of a siesta––a thing that was, until then, uppermost on our minds.
The room, overlooking the swimming pool on one side and a vast green patch ending into the distant hills, had everything one would dream of (and more) after a long and tiring drive. Besides being neat and tidy, and well furnished, the accommodation was spacious with abundant natural light. There were balconies to savour the exotic surroundings.
A warm water bath was so refreshing that we consigned the idea of a nap to a later part of the day and chose to go around the resort before lunch. The buffet was lavish––a variety of Indian, Western and Chinese cuisine and, of course, a good spread of desserts, my weakness. It was a tad confusing. What and whatnot to eat? So we went on a binge.
More out of kopophobia rather than actual fatigue, we forced on ourselves a half-hour siesta. All through those thirty long minutes we were like fidgety children waiting to get over with a forced rest period. By 3 pm we were out again taking a stroll through the local village. We experienced life––pure as pure can be. Two hours were gone in a jiffy. It was teatime.
Tea and really high eats! I love good food. Had a field day. Sitting by a dry riverbed on the lawns of the resort, we shared a cup of tea with Mr Sumit Lakhotia, the Director of The Golden Tusk. He floored us with his genuine concern for the comfort of the guests and his plans for expansion and improving the facilities. His regard for the environment was admirable too; he was working towards a near zero waste facility. I was specially drawn to something that he had in mind to keep the golfers entertained in the future. Wow! That would perhaps be another of the many reasons I would want to be back at The Golden Tusk at a later date. After tea, with a lot of enthusiasm Sumit showed us around the resort. On display were some rare plant species that he had procured from different parts of the world. Then he took us to a grove where, at dusk, all the birds in the area had gathered. We got an opportunity to feel a cacophony we had never experienced before. A parliament debate on the Lok Sabha television was the only similar thing we could recall.
At dinner, the smiling staff (and the chefs) displayed an overwhelming sense of hospitality. They were like hosts entertaining personal guests at home––going out of their ways to ensure that the guests tasted almost everything that was on offer and returned satiated. Extra care had been taken to ensure that even the toddlers were absolutely at home.
After dinner, we spent some time by the poolside. The shimmering water in the subdued light, and the countless stars in the clear sky––don’t remember when we had seen such a clear sky last––was a treat not only to the eyes, but to the mind and the soul as well. Sleep had receded far behind in our scheme of things. We would have spent the entire night stargazing in the armchairs by the poolside. But the lure of a Jungle Safari––our raison d’être at Jim Corbett––coerced us to return to the cosy comfort of our room.
We were out at dawn, waiting eagerly to hop on to a vehicle and enjoy the Jungle Safari. Surprisingly, a feeling of melancholy pervaded the morning air. For many awaiting the vehicles, it wasn’t the first trip to Corbett Park. They had never seen a tiger in their earlier trips and were not sure whether they would ever spot one.
Talking of ‘HOPE’. I belong to that category of people who carry an umbrella when they go to a temple to pray for rains. I was looking forward to a rendezvous with a tiger. We joined two young keen bird-watchers and a guide with a driver on the Safari. It is no wonder that in the prevailing atmosphere of hopelessness (with regards to seeing a tiger) everyone burst out laughing when I asked the guide what were we expected to do if a tiger were to attack our vehicle. People were mighty amused with my hopefulness. We enjoyed the pleasant chill as we drove into the forest.
The guide’s knowledge of the flora and fauna was profound. He had been perambulating up and down that forest ever since he was a child. He knew literally all the birds and could tweet like them. He had an answer for every question. The most striking thing that endeared him to all of us was his unadulterated love for wildlife. We stopped occasionally at the behest of the two young men who would discuss the names and characteristics of the birds with the guide as they went along clicking pictures. The guide shared interesting nuggets of information as we went along. Looking at the elephant poop and the pugmarks he told us that an elephant had just crossed the road we were driving on.
Apart from over a score of different types of birds including a colourful wild fowl, we were lucky to see a few deer and a mongoose. A tribe of monkeys with doting mothers and frolicking little ones made a beautiful sight. A winding road through the forest; scattered small bodies of water in an otherwise dry riverbed and myriad shades of green––it was a different world.
Suddenly, the guide nudged the driver to pull up by the side of the road, and with a finger placed on his lips in the universal gesture urging observance of silence, in a hushed voice he told us to mind a sudden increase in the chatter of monkeys. They had all climbed a tall tree. Then the guide pointed at some deer running helter-skelter. “A tiger must be around,” he said. And, lo and behold, Chhaya spotted one in the distance, drinking water. Spellbound, we saw it walk away majestically after quenching its thirst. There was enough time to click some memorable pictures.
“Been there! Seen a tiger!” A prayer had been answered.
As we moved along we saw another beautiful sight––a full-grown elephant sashaying along the road. Another dream had come true!
Soon we were running out of time––there is a provision for levying fine for overstay in the restricted area. Although we were now in a hurry, we did not miss a peacock dancing. The last memorable sight was of a large number of vultures perched high on top of the rocks. As per our guide, they were by far the happiest members of the Corbett society––there was always enough to scavenge from.
Back at The Golden Tusk, we tore ravenously at the breakfast laid for us; thanked everyone for making our stay so very special. Wheels had rolled by noon. On the way back, the traffic didn’t permit us to pick up speed. We reached NOIDA and drove into our parking lot by 10 pm. We did CRASH OUT this time.
The stay and the fine hospitality at The Golden Tusk, the Jungle Safari, rendezvous with the tiger and the drive to and fro––everything seems like a dream.