Dhikala Corbett National Park

Jungle safari in Dhikala
Jungle safari in Dhikala

Last week I stayed in the Dhikala zone of Corbett National Park also known as Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) in Uttarakhand. A visit was long due given the last time I visited Dhikala was when I was 17! The memories of thrilling (and cold) elephant safaris, the sound of wild animals at night across the forest rest house trenches, the occasional run into a wild boar or a barking deer right outside your room and the unbelievable stories of the local staff's experiences in the forests came flooding back and I wondered why it took me so long to visit this most amazing part of the national park. Visit our Instagram page to see more photos of Corbett and Himalayan foothills.

Rufous Woodpecker

Corbett Tiger Reserve is located in the Shivalik foothills of the Himalayas and has several zones where visitors can stay and do jungle safaris. These zones are Dhikala, Jhirna, Bijrani, Dhela, Sonanadi and Durga devi. As a limited number of authorized gypsies (jungle safari jeeps) are permitted each day inside the Reserve, getting permits is a huge challenge as they sell out very quickly. Bookings are done online only and you must be on top of your game (have your group's identification cards in front of you, high speed Internet access and familiarity with information that is required to complete the online registration form) if you want to book a ride or stay. 

Corbett Tiger Reserve is probably one of the few national parks in the country where one can stay inside the forest in government owned and operated forest rest houses but getting an opportunity to stay inside the National Park in one of the forest rest houses is rare as these too get sold off quickly online. You can stay in private resorts and hotels outside the Park and do day visits but that's just not the same.

Forest Rest House Dhikala
Dhikala Old Forest Rest House

Staying inside the Park is not everyone's cup of tea as there are several rules and restrictions in place including power outages, no television, no cell phone reception, no alcohol, no non vegetarian food, no littering and no music/partying of course. However, what a stay in the forests of Corbett National Park offers is an experience not even the best five star resort can offer, so if you're willing to sacrifice the above and rough it out for a couple of nights, then definitely consider staying in one of the forest rest houses.

Out of the five zones in CTR, Dhikala is the most sought after. It is the biggest zone in the national park and the landscape and natural habitat is believed to support the highest density of tigers due to abundance in prey base. It's expansive grasslands support herds of elephants and other herbivore including the rare Indian hog deer. The Ramganga river flows through the zone and is home to not only the Indian marsh crocodile but also gharials and smooth coated otters. The recent episode of Bear Grylls with Prime Minister Modi on Discovery Channel was filmed in the very same Dhikala zone of Corbett National Park.

Owls of Corbett National Park
Brown Fish Owl

Birds are plenty and if you're a birder you will see several species of unique birds that are not easy to find elsewhere. Entry to Dhikala zone is from Dhangari gate which is 18km from Ramnagar (closest big town with a train station). The zone is open from November 15 to June 15 and is closed during the monsoon season. 

Maroon Oriole in Corbett National Park
Maroon Oriole

I recommend those of you interested in staying inside Dhikala to plan for at least two nights. This way you can do up to four safaris. Tiger sightings (if that's your ultimate goal) are not as frequent in CTR as they are in Ranthambore or Tadoba. Tigers here are more shy and tend to play hide and seek so odds of seeing tigers are lesser than they are elsewhere. But if seeing a tiger is not your priority then you will be rewarded with unbelievable landscapes, sunrises, sunsets and of course plenty of the lesser known wildlife such as elephants (bathing, feeding and playing with their young), herds of spotted deer, hog deer, sambhar deer, yellow throated pine martin, leopard and birds. 

Hog Deer
Indian Hog Deer

Mammals sighted during this visit included all of the above, except the leopard and tiger, although I heard it growl, saw several pug parks and it's scat (that too in the middle of the road). At one point when we were in the grasslands and were photographing a herd of elephants, we heard a sambhar deer call from the dense forests behind the herd. No sooner than that happened, the matriarch of the herd made a low rumbling sound after which all the other elephants got together - alert, still and surrounded the young. But still, no grand appearance from the lord of the jungle!

Pallas's Fish Eagle with young
Pallas's Fish Eagle with young

We spotted over 80 species of birds in the three days we toured the Dhikala zone. Our top five birds were: 
1. Scaly thrush
2. Common green magpie
3. Rufous woodpecker
4. Pair of brown fish owls
5. Maroon oriole  

It was great to visit Dhikala after such a long time and I hope my next visit is not after another 20 years! My visit was made even more memorable because I had an excellent guide / driver - Arif. He has been guiding in the Park for the past 11 years and is thorough with not only the routes but also birds, which is a huge deal as most new guides / drivers don't know much about anything else. Unfortunately, their focus is only on the tiger but that's what majority of people visiting a national park in India come to see.

If you require any help with visiting Corbett National Park and surrounding areas, please email info@travelwith.in or call (+91) 9717148483