Three days ago, my kitchen garden in Pithoragarh, Uttaranchal was graced by the visit of a tiger. Maybe it is a vegetarian, joked the hubby while studying the big cat’s pug marks.
The very same evening, we heard that the tiger had been sighted at the golf course and had even killed a calf in a nearby village. We noticed that the street dogs had disappeared from the lanes in the past few days. Finally, we received the dreaded news. The tiger had turned man-eater. It had picked up a seven-year-old girl from the nearby village.
Glimpse of Kumaon
Our guests, who had just arrived from the plains, were noticeably excited. They wanted to see the tiger. Tall order, that! I wondered how I could possibly help them sight the man-eater. But I could certainly take them through the Champawat region that has figured in the stories of Jim Corbett.
There are several places to visit in this region and each has its own distinct charm. So even a two-day driving trip around spots in this region makes for a nice holiday in the hills. We started from Pithoragarh and drove through Lohaghat, Mayawati, Abbot Mount and Chandak before ending our trip at the Askot Sanctuary. We may have missed a close encounter with a man-eating tiger but the beautiful hills of Kumaon certainly made our day.
The hills of Kumaon are famous for big cats. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Jim Corbett came to this region to hunt man-eating tigers. In fact, the book Man Eaters of Kumaon begins with a story set in the forested hills of Champawat. For years, Corbett had roamed in the forests of Kumaon, savouring the beauty of the region, the hospitality of the simple hill folks and confronting the man-eaters.
Setting out before sunrise, the first stop of our journey was Lohaghat. We journeyed through the undulating roads flanked by deep bowls of greenery. As we wound our way down to Lohaghat, the quaint little town on the banks of river Lohawati, we marvelled at the unspoilt beauty of nature around us. Lohaghat is a dusty and nondescript place. But you have to traverse breathtaking landscapes and terraced fields, which cover the valley to get to the town. It is also perfect for those with a yen for outdoor adventure as Lohaghat has a number of trekking trails, too.
The Askot Sanctuary stands at a height of 5,412 feet and is popular among wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers. Although it is supposed to house snow leopards and Himalayan black bears, we didn’t come across any. The Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary is also close by. We did manage to catch glimpses of some deer, and a whole lot of exotic birds.
Abbot Mount is a few kilometres uphill on the Marorakhan turn off the Lohaghat road. Clouds floated over and settled down on the road and we drove right through them. After this exhilarating experience, we reached the second highest cricket pitch on earth. The sprawling cottages that surrounded the ground were deserted too, with not a human voice or movement.
We chose to stay the night at Mount Abbot and woke up to a melodious orchestra of bird song the next morning. It was almost noon by the time we could tear ourselves away from the place.