Jim Corbett. Like many other children of my age, I’d devoured his books about the man-eaters of Kumaon. Boy’s adventure stories, as I recalled later. In my twenties when I reread them, I found that the stories are about his hunts, but they do not revel in the kill. More, I found loving descriptions of his native Kumaon, and realized why he is now feted more as a conservationist than a hunter. So, staying in a homestay just outside the walled village of Chhoti Haldwani, I was intrigued to see the inscription by a gate that you can see in the photo above.
Corbett owned a tract of land at the point where the wonderful hill road from Nainital through Pangot and Kilbury joins State Highway 41. He gave it to several families who still farm this land. A low stone wall, nine kilometers long, surrounds this land. A century ago this land was full of wild boars, which would destroy crops. Corbett was unwilling to hunt them down, and had the wall built at his own expense. In the short run it was a wonderful conservation measure. But in the long run, human expansion has urbanized the jungle and, by depriving the boars of space, driven them to extinction. Still, one is advised not to walk around this wall alone at night. You see stray deer, and there is a slight danger of running into a leopard or a tiger. I wonder how this land will fare in another fifty years.
Corbett’s old house sits just outside the walled fields. I wandered through the small museum that this has now been turned into, and came across letters which bear on the transfer of this land. I was amused to find the phrase “manufacture of red tape”. He used it again in his story about the man-eating tiger of Mukteshwar.
I wandered through the museum, looking at the photos and paintings which show Jim Corbett at various ages. I’d never seen a photo of the man before, and was struck by how ordinary he looked. Wandering about the grounds of the museum I saw a little memorial to his dog, Robin. If you’ve read Man-eaters of Kumaon, you might remember that one of the stories is about Robin.
After the visit to the museum we cut through the walled village to get to our homestay. The path wound between houses and then through fields and orchards. I wondered about Corbett, a person who seemed to be completely at home in India. But his India was very different from now. The forests of Corbett National Park, originally set up through Corbett’s efforts, and the adjoining areas perhaps are the last we see of it. Fortunately, these are preserved as a transnational biosphere reserve which might give our wildlife a chance to adapt to climate changes.