Power to the People! And it worked.
The next day, mahouts and shooters rode seven elephants to that spot of lantana in that field just beyond Sundarkhal—and one of the shooters shot the tiger. The tiger shot dead, January 27, The next day, we heard—and Sanjay instantly confirmed via email—that a man had been killed. He was also a Sundarkhal villager. Once again the villagers shut down the road—not waiting this time for more people to be killed.
So there had been two tigers after all. After hearing nothing more for a week or two, I wrote Sanjay. He told me that that trap lying beside the road in Mohan had been once again pressed into use. The tiger was captured unharmed—and has presumably been released—far, one hopes, from its Sundarkhal beat along the highway and the Kosi River.
The Man-Eaters of Kruger National Park
What caused this marauding pair to start killing and eating people? No one, of course, is sure. Both tigers were apparently in the prime of life and quite healthy when they embarked on their new careers. Sanjay tells me that there is some speculation that the first victim was actually a mentally disturbed woman who habitually roamed the highway, day and night. India is no different from New York in that regard: it tends to ignore its mentally ill population—who are often released onto the streets and left to their own, often all too inadequate, devices.
One day in late , this woman simply disappeared. Her body was never found. And, of course, I had been right to be a bit alarmed when it finally dawned on me that we were sitting between tigers and their drinking water as we watched that maneating thriller on the movie screen. More right than I knew, of course, because there still was a maneater in the neighborhood.
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We saw Sundarkhal, the field where the boy was killed and eaten, and the nullah beside which the second victim was killed—the woman out with her friends to collect the leaves from the curry tree—one beautiful afternoon en route to Mohan and beyond. That trip, more than anything else, united the recent horrors with Jim Corbett and his story of the Mohan maneater. Cliffs, sometimes hundreds of feet high, composed of the light tan sedimentary rocks of the Siwaliks, occur all along the eastern bank of the Kosi River.
True, that tiger had killed as far south as Garjia where we were —but the cliff in this incident was further to the north and east. Corbett has occasionally been criticized for seeming a bit, shall we say, overdramatic in his descriptions—perhaps occasionally embellishing a bit here and there for the sake of his story line. Perhaps these vignettes are rendered a bit vivid by his writerly legerdemain. One such was this opening scene along the Kosi, with the woman falling over the cliff. She did not plunge to her death hundreds of feet below in the river bed.
The rest of the women started to leave for their village to get help—but the injured woman called out and begged that someone stay behind with her. That someone who volunteered was a 16 year-old girl. When the rescue party arrived, they found the injured woman and a few splashes of blood. Nothing else. A rock cliff with a narrow ledge running partly across it and ending in a little depression in which an injured woman is lying; a young girl frozen with terror squatting on the ledge, and a tiger slowly creeping toward her; retreat in every direction cut off, and no help at hand.
No wonder I was enthralled as a teenager in the s. But there are other memorable moments in this story of the Mohan maneater—phrases and scenes that have kept coming back to me long after I had forgotten precisely from which Corbett saga I had gotten them. More than once I have thought of this line as I trudged from the canteen back to my sleeping tent in safari destinations around the world—or for that matter in the Adirondacks where at least where I tend to be there are no poisonous snakes whatever to be feared.
A biographer has said that Corbett himself was deathly afraid of snakes—and felt he had to kill one to ensure success each time he set out on the tracks of a maneater. Indeed, his story of the Kanda maneater—another destination within the modern Corbett Park boundaries, just above the Ramganga River, to the west of Kartkanoula near where he finally shot the Mohan tiger, begins with just such a tale—a particularly horrific story that shows, if anything, that Jim Corbett was on occasion at least borderline certifiable.
The throat, as it faced me, was a deep orange red shading to golden-yellow where the body met the ground. The back, olive-green, was banded by ivory-colored chevrons, and some four feet of its length from the tip of its tail upwards was shiny black, with white chevrons. If, as it seemed about to do, the snake attacked, up or down hill I should be at a disadvantage, but across the shale scree I felt that I could hold my own.
A shot at the expanded hood, the size of a small plate, would have ended the tension, but the rifle in my hands was a heavy one and I had no intention of disturbing the tiger that had showed up after so many days of weary waiting and toil. After an interminably long minute, during which time the only movement was the flicking in and out of a long and quivering forked tongue, the snake closed his hood, lowered his head to the ground and, turning, made off up the opposite slope.
A close call, an attack by a king cobra, narrowly averted! The snake had just reached a sharp ridge of hard clay when the stone, launched with the utmost energy I was capable of, struck it on the back of the head.
Translation of «Kruger National Park» into 25 languages
The blow would have killed any other snake outright, but the only, and very alarming, effect it had on the hamadryad was to make it whip round and come straight towards me. A second and larger stone fortunately caught it on the neck when it had covered half the distance between us, and after that the rest was easy….
I was elated at having killed the snake. Now, for the first time in many days, I had a feeling that my search for the man-eater would be successful. And with such deadly force. I am, I confess, a fairly gullible person. Believe it or not. The snakes Jim Corbett avoided stepping on in the moonlit nighttime a few years earlier had been in Garjia—the town where our hotel lay between the road and the Kosi River.
Corbett had left in haste to pursue the Mohan maneater—and had not had the time to write for, and receive, permission to sleep within the Garjia Inspection House. So, instead, he slept outside on the grounds. The Inspection Bungalow where Corbett slept en route to Mohan. Right: Cliffs across the Kosi opposite. During the night he was awakened by the noise of what he thought were stones falling of the cliff across the Kosi River on the other side of the road.
The sound bugged him so much, he had to go see what it was—and as the light was sufficient to avoid stepping on those snakes—he crossed the road to investigate.
The Man-Eaters of Eden: Life and Death in Kruger National Park
I have heard land-, water- and tree-frogs making strange sounds in different parts of the world, but I have never heard anything so strange as the sound made by the frogs at Garjia in the month of May. We drove, of course—making frequent stops to see and photograph Sundarkhal village, the spot where the boy was killed and, down by the river, devoured, and also the place on the east side of the road where the second person to be killed—the woman who with her friends were collecting curry tree leaves—was attacked by that first tiger. We saw Mohan from a curve on the hill—perched down along the western bank of the Kosi River—with the hills surrounding it, on one of which lay the village of Kartkanoula now Kath ki Naw.
It was a Saturday, and the roadside bazaar was in full swing—with itinerant merchants selling meats, vegetables, spices, clothing and utensils—the staples of the simple village life of rural India. The nearby houses seemed, if anything, even more modest that those of Sundarkhal; some of them seemed nothing more than mere hovels. Views of Mohan: from upper left, the Kosi River swings south down toward Garjia. Mohan is at the bend in the river. First ridge of the Himalayas, with the town of KartKanoula somewhere up on the ridge line; scenes of a Saturday market; a typical house in Mohan; and the Durga Devi Gate up in the hills.
We started to climb up the ridge immediately after leaving Mohan—going several miles until we reached the Durga Devi gate into Corbett Park. The forest was dark and dense throughout that climb. At Durga Devi, Sanjay stopped the car and went in to talk to the guys in the small guard house—and in due course someone emerged with a key and unlocked the gate.
Corbett Park has a good system: no matter which gate you enter, provided that your papers are in order and your fees paid, you line up with the other open field vehicles at the gate—and at the assigned time once in the morning, once in the afternoon you drive in. There is a strict limit to the number of cars that can go in through a particular gate in the morning or afternoon. The beauty of this particular afternoon sojourn into the forest through the Durga Devi Gate was that we were the only car we saw the whole time.
That and the hypnotic true beauty of the Sal forest that we were quietly driving through. Sal trees are kind of tall and skinny—and partially deciduous—meaning they tend to drop their leaves in the dry season—towards the end of which we were in. They are highly prized for building, as the trees are straight and their wood is hard.
They need protection—and of course, they were indeed protected where we were. It is ironic that Jim Corbett spent 25 years of his life working for the railroads—and part of his assigned tasks, especially early in his career, was organizing labor forces to cut forest timber for rail road ties and for fuel—one of the reasons he became such an ardent conservationist later in life. The only mammal we saw that afternoon was a kakar—a barking deer, not all that far from the gate, and no longer there when we returned.
Otherwise, we saw tons of birds and some termites—in one instance in a huge nuptial flight that had the birds all excited. We did hear, at one point, the bell of a sambhar deer—warning us as Jim Corbett was wont to say of the presence of a tiger or a leopard. Sanjay did not say which. This was the road—or rather the western extension of it—on which Jim Corbett explored and then staked out a young buffalo—as he closed in on the Mohan maneater.
Starting high on the ridge at Kartkanoula, the road goes down in a series of hairpin turns, for miles until it reaches the Ramganga River at the former town of Chaknakl—at the junction of the Ramganga and Mandal Rivers. We crept slowly down along that road, taking those hairpin turns, stopping as the occasion arose for a spot of excellent birding, as the route descended down to the wild Ramganga—home to Mahseer fish, several species of kingfishers—and to the lesser fish eagle we had the great luck to see taking a bath on the Mandal River a few yards upstream from where these two rivers meet.
Corbett's end-paper map of the Kumaon District as modified by Sanjay Chhimwal showing the locations of Sundarkhal scene of the recent man-eating episodes and Kath ki naw modern name of Kartkanoula , where Corbett shot the Mohan maneater. Chhimwal added dashed lines from Kath ki naw to connect with the forest road shown in photos above , leading down to water's edge where the Ramganga and Mandal Rivers meet.
Sundarkhal is also on the western side of the Kosi. Jim Corbett once said the very greatest pleasure he had from his outdoor life was fishing in wild submontane streams—for Mahseer and other game fish. It was the fishing and the fish—but far more than that. There were pythons in the pools, occasional leopards and tigers coming to drink, calls of the wild—and wonderful bird life to behold. Sometimes the action was fraught—fast and furious encounters with large, strong fish who would take the line and reel it off seemingly endlessly—only to have the line go slack in apparent success at having thrown the spoon—then only to find the fish taking off once again after it had rested and regained a measure of strength.
But these times were also supremely peaceful as well. And it apparently was here, along the Ramganga just after it merges with the Mandal see map above —downstream a bit just below where Corbett killed both the hamadryad and the Kanda maneater, that the entire idea of having a nature reserve—a tiger reserve—apparently came to Jim Corbett and his fishing and hunting buddy, Sir Malcolm Hailey, then the Governor of Uttar Pradesh province. Judging by the understated quiet and beauty of the place, it is perhaps easy to see why and how this wonderful protected area came into being.
The Ramganga River at low water in March Chaknakl, it seems, has given way to two other nearby villages. And, if this really was the road, where was Kartkanoula—itself morphed into the still-extant village of Kath ki Naw? For Corbett himself says he explored the deserted road, looking for the tiger, for only a few miles from the village. Corbett had checked out that road the day after he arrived at Kartkanoula.
He marveled at the white butterfly orchids—with which he said that virtually every other tree had bedecked itself. And he took special interest in his first sightings ever of what turned out to be Mountain Crag Martins—a species of swallow that, he tells us, could fly rings around all others, including the Tibetan swallow that spends the winters in Kumaon. I had forgotten these tidbits from the story—but one thing Corbett said about that road had stuck vividly in my memory. From the town side, he could see a small patch of grass on the flat top of the rock; when he returned a bit later up that road, he saw that the top of the rock was not in fact visible from its other side.
A perfect place for a tiger ambush. Corbett had brought two young buffaloes from Ramnagar to serve as bait. One of these he tied out on the road. Twice a day, at dawn and again at dusk, he stalked the buffaloes—finding them either sleeping peacefully or munching the grass he had provided them with. For five minutes I stood perfectly still with my eyes fixed on the upper edge of the rock, watching for movement. At that short range the flicker of an eyelid would have caught my eyes, but there was not even this small movement; and after going forward ten paces, I again stood watching for several minutes.
The fact that I had seen no movement did not in any way reassure me—the man-eater was on the rock, of that I was sure; and the question was, what was I going to do about it? The hill, as I have already told you, was very steep, had great rocks jutting out of it, and was overgrown with long grass and tree and scrub jungle.
Bad as the going was, had it been earlier in the day I would have gone back and worked round and above the tiger to try to get a shot at him; but with only half an hour of daylight left, and the best part of a mile still to go, it would have been madness to have left the road. So, slipping up the safety-catch and putting the rifle to my shoulder, I started to pass the rock. The road here was about eight feet wide, and going to the extreme outer edge I started walking crab-fashion, feeling each step with my feet before putting my weight down to keep from stepping off into space.
Progress was slow and difficult, but as I drew level with the overhanging rock and then began to pass it, hope rose high that the tiger would remain where he was until I reached that part of the road from which the flat bit of ground above the rock, on which he was lying, was visible. The tiger, however, having failed to catch me off my guard, was taking no chances, and I had just got clear of the rock when I heard a low muttered growl above me, and a little later first a kakar went off barking to the right, and then two hind sambur started belling near the crest of the hill.
Yet the tiger was a killer of humans, and that was intolerable—so, of course, he shot it where it lay. The tiger barely flinched—and the villagers were put out of their own brand of utter misery. Corbett is famous for having forsaken his rifles for his cameras. He saw earlier than most that habitat destruction engendered by an expanding economy and an ever-growing human population, coupled with their more or less unfettered slaughter for food and trophies, threatened the existence, not only of tigers, but of all the other living components of these ecosystems of the northern Indian hills.
Man-eating, of course, can only flare up when people and tigers meet. The two tigers who, in tandem or seriatim, claimed the victims from Sundarkhal along the Ramnagar-Garjia-Mohan road in late and early , seemed to have been perfectly healthy specimens. The babble of often confused and conflicting rhetoric in Indian newspapers and on the internet sparked by the killings of the Sundarkhal villagers, is in itself fascinating.
Most arresting—and disturbing—was the suggestion by some conservationists that the peasants had no right to extract resources from the park—even in the buffer zone where the forest often comes down to the very edge of the road. Nor was this the attitude simply of wealthier Indians involved in conservation generally, and perhaps in Project Tiger in particular.
I heard that very same view expressed, matter-of-factly, by a young woman at a dinner party in New York, not long after getting back from this hypnotically riveting trip. The real hero of this story is Sanjay Chhimwal—and others like him. A young man in his thirties, Sanjay told us he was born and educated locally. He is better than I at editing digital maps and sending them via the internet ether half way around the world to an often confused enthusiast wanting to understand where he had just been. Sanjay, more than anyone or anything else, integrates the Corbett world and man-eating events with the current scene on the ground in Corbett Park and in Sundarkhal village.
Sanjay Chhimwal sees both sides of the story. He is working as a guide in the ecotourist industry—so of course has a stake in the success of Corbett Park, Project Tiger, and all other conservation efforts in his domain. But he is also part of an active, knowledgeable population of young, smart, educated local professionals who take up the cause of the tiger while not abandoning the people of which they remain a part—by sharing their deep knowledge at the same time keeping city-slickers from harming, or being harmed by, the wonders they came to ogle—and which they too hope to see conserved.
Coda: "What a Beautiful Place". We went back to India--and to Corbett Tiger Reserve--in We decided to spend a night down the Durga Devi road in a remote tourist encampment along the banks of the the Ramganga.
The Man-Eaters of Eden: Life and Death in Kruger National Park-- book review
The road, it turns out, had been washed out as it approached the Ramganga crossing. So I got to ride an elephant instead. Kumar walked across the river and up the steep incline to the camp on the far side. He was the last to arrive. Login Sign Up Now. About ACX. What is ACX? How It Works. I am an Promote Yourself. Social Media. More Tips. Production Resources. Producers For Hire.
Audiobook Samples. Awards and Recognition. The Charge of the Light Brigade. Performance Notes Looking at the famous cavalry charge both historically, and with a nod to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's famous verse about it. Short, concise, informative.