In this Nainital village, Corbett’s Great Wall stands between villagers, tigers
Elders in this Nainital village of 180-odd families say not a single person has been killed in more than 100 years.india Updated: Feb 18, 2018 12:10 IST
Some memories, it is said, are carved on stone.
In Chhoti Haldwani, they form a wall of stone, encircling 180-odd families living in the quaint, little village in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district.
It’s the village adopted by a man lovingly called “Carpet Sahib” in the hills and valleys of the Himalayan state. To rest of the world, he is the legendary hunter-turned-conservationist Edward James Corbett. For most, he is simply Jim Corbett.
The 5-km-long and 5-feet-tall wall was erected by Corbett around 1925 as a buffer between the villagers and wild animals as the area was teeming with tigers and leopards at that time, often attacking cattle and killing humans across the state.
Corbett is credited with killing several man-eater tigers and leopards in Kumaon and Garhwal regions which he had immortalised in such classics like Man-Eater Leopard of Rudraprayag and the Man-Eaters of Kumaon.
Corbett, born and brought up in Nainital, adopted Chhoti Haldwani in 1915 after leaving his job in the railways. He lived in the village briefly before leaving for Kenya where he passed away in 1955 at the age of 79.
Village elders said there has not even been a single instance of a big cat killing a human in Chhoti Haldwani for more than 100 years though such incidents are common across the state, where a growing human population often triggers deadly man-animal conflicts with loss of life on both sides.
Rough estimates put the number of people killed by tigers since 2000 — when the state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh — at around 30. During the same period, nearly 300 people have been killed by leopards.
“Although big cats (have) killed a few bovines but luckily no villager (of Chhoti Haldwani) was ever killed or injured by a tiger or leopard,” said Trilok Singh, 71, whose father Sher Singh frequently accompanied Corbett in hunting expeditions.
The villagers are dependent on the forests for fodder for bovines and firewood and often come across wild animals.
But the villagers still draw from lessons imparted to them by Corbett about animal behaviour and how to deal with such situations (see chart).
“Since the village was surrounded by jungle and the movement of wild animals was frequent, therefore Corbett after talking to villagers decided to erect the wall from his hard-earned savings,” said Mohan Pande, who heads the Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti, a society to promote eco-tourism.
The village is located about 40 km from the Corbett National Park, an area the conservationist was instrumental in converting into a protected zone.
The village is also one among a cluster of 25 villages on the edge of the thick forests of Pawalgarh tiger conservation reserve — a breeding ground of leopards, tigers and form its prey base.
Pawalgarh was declared conservation reserve in 2015 — the year when Corbett’s village turned 100. One of Corbett’s most fascinating hunting story is recorded in his book, The Bachelor of Powalgarh’, about an outsized Royal Bengal Tiger he had killed though it was not a man-eater.
Bivash Pandav and expert on big cats at the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, said Chhoti Haldwani is an example of how human and animals can live in close proximity without disturbing each other. And he attributed this to Corbett’s teachings.
Mohan Pandey, who acts as a guide for tourists keen to spot tigers drinking at the Baur river, said he has been trying to spread the word among visitors and locals on the importance of a balancing act between wildlife and sustainability.
As per the 2014 census, Corbett had the highest estimated tiger population at 215, followed by Bandipur (120 tigers) in Karnataka and Kaziranga Tiger Reserve (103 each) in Assam. In tiger population, Uttarakhand with an estimated 340 tigers is ranked second after Karnataka which had 406.
Pandav said the reason for less human-animal conflict in Chhoti Haldwani and its surrounding areas could be attributed to the fact that the forests around Corbett reverse have a rich prey base essential for the big cats.
In the middle of the village, still stands a platform where Corbett used to sit and interact with villagers, sharing his experiences of the forests and giving lessons on protecting the tiger, whom he described as a “large-hearted gentleman”.
Singh said Corbett’s lessons were passed down word-of-mouth to next generation.
And another prized possession of the village is a double-barrel rifle gifted by Corbett to Sher Singh and now owned by his son, Trilok.
But for the villagers, it has outgrown its utility as they don’t need to kill wildlife for protection.
Carpet Sahib’s “wall” is enough to ensure their sound sleep at night.