Updated: Jun 13
More than hundred years ago, a tigress made her home in the dense forest of Mukteshwar, just behind the famous Veterinary Research Institute.
The institute is famous for producing vaccines to fight cattle diseases. You get one of the best views of the Himalayan range from the staff quarters of the institute. People who have lived in Mukteshwar, claim that it is the best place in the Kumaon region.
It seems that even the tigress thought so. Therefore, she happily settled in the forest hunting wild life and occasionally stealing cows and goats for survival.
All was going well until she had an unfortunate encounter with a porcupine. In the fight, the tigress lost one eye, and got some fifty quills embedded in the arm and under the pad of her right foreleg. Sores formed wherever she tried to extract the quills with her teeth. This made her slow and irritated. She could no longer hunt animals as swiftly as she did before. Survival was becoming difficult.
Once when the tigress was lying in a thick patch of grass, starving and licking her wounds, a village woman approached the same patch of grass to cut some for her cattle’s fodder. At first, the tigress took no notice. The woman, not realising that there was a tigress lying in the grass, came dangerously close to the animal .
As soon as the woman was close enough to the tigress, she struck harshly once with her paw, trying to shoo the woman away. The blow was so strong, that it crushed the women’s skull, killing her instantly.
Next day, the woman was found dead by the villagers, grasping her sickle in one hand and tuft of grass in the other. After hitting the woman, the tigress, unaware of a human being as a probable hunt, limped off a distance of about a mile and took shelter under the hollow of a fallen tree. It is fascinating to understand here that an animal will never eat a human for survival unless they have tasted the human blood under extreme circumstances, such as inability to hunt or an accident.
Two days later, a man came to cut the fallen tree for firewood where the tigress was resting. The tigress, having attacked a woman once, repeated the same act with the man, clawing his back.
After she clawed his back skin off, she sniffed his blood and licked some liquid blood to taste it. She was hungry, so she ate a small portion from his back. The wheel of deaths had started.
A day after, she killed her third victim, this time deliberately and without any provocation. Humans could not run away as fast as animals could from the tigress. She realised that this hunt was much easier, and convenient to do.
The animal eating tigress had now officially become an established Man Eater .
Jim Corbett, the legendary hunter and specialist in hunting Man Eaters, heard about the tigress. He was intrigued, but held himself back as there were already several hunters in Mukteshwar, known in those days as Sportsmen, who were looking out for the tigress, keen on bagging her as their game.
Even after much effort, none of them could succeed and the death toll rose to twenty four. There was wide spread panic and concern in Mukteshwar now.
As the situation remain unresolvable, the in charge of the Veterinary Institute requested the Government to seek help from Jim Corbett, who was stationed at Nainital at that time.
The year was 1907, and Jim Corbett was all of 31 years old at that time.
Edward James Corbett, known as Jim Corbett was an India-born British hunter, tracker, naturalist and author who had hunted down and killed a number of man eating tigers and leopards. He held the rank of colonel in the British Indian army and was frequently called upon by the Government to kill man-eating tigers and leopards that were preying on people in the villages of the Kumaon region.
Jim Corbett authored one of the most famous books of all time, The Man Eaters Of Kumaon, Jungle Lore, and many others recounting his hunts and experiences, which enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success.
Due to his love for the Jungles, he also became an avid photographer and spoke out passionately for the need to protect India's wild life from extinction. From a very early age, Jim was fascinated by the forests and the wildlife around his home in Kala Dungi. Through frequent excursions, he learned to identify most animals and birds by their calls.
Together with his friend, Fredrick Walter Champion, he played a key role in establishing India's first national park in the Kumaon Hills, called the Hailey National Park . The park was renamed in 1957 to honour Corbett, as The Jim Corbett National Park.
Between 1907 and 1938, James Edward Corbett is known to have hunted a total of 33 man-eaters . It was also estimated that these man-eater tigers and leopards were responsible for the deaths of over 1200 people.
More than hundred years ago, Kumaon region was full of fearsome dense forests and rugged mountains. Villages were far away from one another and forests were full of wild life. Tigers and leopards roamed about freely but never attacked human beings . Problem started only once a tiger turned man eater. At that time, there was no transport in this region and you had to walk from one place to other on your two sturdy legs. Roads became empty even during day time when a tiger turned man eater in the area.
The moment Jim Corbett got the message about the tigress turned man eater, he left Nainital for Mukteshwar on foot at midday. He covered a distance of ten miles and stayed for the night at the Ramgarh Dak Bungalow. Khan Sama at the Dak Bungalow warned Corbett to be careful as he reached last two mile stretch to Mukteshwar. The tigress was active in this area and had killed some people there.
Corbett left Ramgarh early next morning. In Mukteshwar, he asked for way to Dak Bungalow where he stayed for the night. This Dak Bungalow became PWD guest house after independence. It is a heritage property now and is also referred to as Corbett cottage. The guest house is now a property of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, KMVN in short. It has been fully renovated and at present is one of the best places to stay in Mukteshwar. You get 180 degree view of the mesmerising Himalayan range from here.
I and my wife tried several times to get reservation at this guest house but failed. We were keen to stay at this place as it is associated with the name of Jim Corbett. But we got lucky on our 52
marriage anniversary as we got booking to stay here in the month of May this year.
You get view of snow-capped peaks from all the four rooms. We got room number 202 , where Jim Corbett usually stayed. This is what we were told by the KMVN staff. There is a covered veranda as you come out of your room.
You get uninterrupted view of the mountains. As you climb down stairs from the guest house, you are in a large garden. Right next to garden is a small cafe serving tea, coffee, cold drinks and snacks. This place is also known as sun set point.
The Sun looks like a red hot ball going behind the hills . Outsiders have to pay a ticket of sixty rupees to come to this garden to enjoy uninterrupted view of Himalayas and glorious
The horizon of Mukteshwar is truly stunning. The magnificent Nanda Devi range and the Panchachuli group of snow covered peaks present themselves at full glory. A dream destination for photographers, the small town also witnesses glorious twilights with crimson and maroon streaks spattered across the evening sky.
Nanda Devi, Nanda Khat, Nanda Kot, Hathi Parvat, Nandaghunti, Trishul, Rajrambha, and Panchachuli are just some of the major peaks visible from Mukteshwar. Surrounded by lush green forests, Mukteshwar is perched high up on the Kumaon Hills at an altitude of eight thousand feet above sea level. With less than 300 families residing in this obscure hill station, there is hardly any traffic, even in the market area. Layers of snow on the terraced farm fields look like decorated white sheets on the mountain slope.
Mukteshwar is also known for its organic food. One of the best places here to enjoy organic food is Nirvana cafe. We loved Millet Piza here. Believe me, it was very very tasty. You also get here organic thali highlighting village food. Soup made of Bhatt ki dal was a speciality.
So, after a night’s rest, Jim Corbett left the dak bungalow, after a good breakfast to track the tigress. He first went to the open ground next to post office. As he was soaking in natural beauty, the postmaster and shopkeepers in the adjoining market joined him. News of his arrival to hunt man eater had spread through entire Mukteshwar. After gathering information, Corbett decided to visit nearby villages to get precise location of the tigress.
As Corbett reached Mukteshwar road , he spotted a small girl about eight years old , taking her bullock to nearby village. It was lucky day for Corbett. Name of girl was Putli and name of her bullock Kalwa. This is how conversation went along:
We are not stealing Kalwa, are we?
No! she answered indignantly.
To whom does it belong? Corbett asked.
To my father, she said. And where are we taking him?
To my uncle.
And why does uncle want Kalwa?
To plough his field.
But Kalwa cannot plough uncle’s field by himself. He is only one bull?
Of course not, she said. Putli looked at Corbett. But then, how could she expect a Sahib to know about bullock and ploughing.
Has your uncle got only one bullock? Corbett next asked. Yes, she said; he has one bullock now. But he did have two.
Where is the other one? Corbett asked.
The tiger killed it yesterday, she said.
Now this was an important piece of news. Corbett asked the girl if she could show him where the tigress killed the buffalo. Yes, I will, Putli said eagerly. Corbett’s next question was have you seen the kill? She said no, but she had heard her uncle telling father about it. Putli took Corbett up to a spot from where a cattle track was leading into the jungle. The girl told Corbett that this is the spot about which uncle told father where tigress killed the bullock.
Corbett accompanied the girl home so that she was safe. The girl was travelling alone in a Man Eater area with a fully grown bullock, and he thought it was highly unsafe for the little girl.
After the girl was safe inside her home, he returned to follow the track. He found the dead bullock deep inside the jungle, and from the behind the cattle, only a small portion had been eaten. It was lying at the foot of a bank about twenty feet high and some forty feet from the head of a deep ravine. Between the ravine and the kill was a stunted tree smothered by a wild rose bush.
After surveying the area, Corbett went to his friend, Badri’s orchard, for tea and snacks. Badri insisted on accompanying Corbett with his men and building a small Machan near the tree. It was a dark night with no moon. To add to the woes of Corbett, it rained heavily that night.
The tigress did come in the raining night, and Corbett could hear her chewing on the bones but could not see her. He took his chance and fired in the direction from where munching sound came. Bullet missed the man eater by six inches.
Next morning, Badri came with a cattle of tea which Corbett badly needed. They went back to the guest house in orchard where Corbett dried his clothes. He had a hearty meal and then planned for the next day. Two beat parties of fifteen men each were formed. Their task was to shout and clap and throw rocks to draw tigress towards stream near two deep ravines and little open field. Jim Corbett reached their first.
Both the beat parties also reached the spot but there was no sign of tigress. One of these men, Govind was standing next to Corbett. All of a sudden, he stopped talking and asked Corbett to look behind him. Wow, tigress was slowly walking and was just four hundred yards away from them.
There were wide rose bushes next to open ground which almost formed a tunnel. As Corbett was entering this tunnel, his hat hit the thorns of the bush and fell down. His head struck curved thorns and blood started flowing from his forehead. At the same time, he heard the sound of crackling bones and he knew tigress had reached the kill before him.
All of a sudden, the sound stopped. Perhaps tigress had seen Corbett. She roared and charged towards the hunter at full speed. Corbett allowed tigress to come near him and as she was just six feet away, Corbett took aim and fired. The bullet hit the tigress, she lost balance and fell into waterbody in the ravine.
All the thirty men of beat party clapped and shouted man eater is dead. She was brought to the orchard where Corbett skinned her with his hunter knife. It was known than only that she was a tigress, she had lost one eye and there were about fifty quills of porcupine in her body, the main reason for her turning a man eater. Her skin was displayed outside post office for people of Mukteshwar to see that man eater tigress was no more. This post office is more than hundred years old.
Jim Corbett says shooting a man eater gives one a feeling of satisfaction. Satisfaction at having done a job that badly needed to be done. Satisfaction at having outmanoeuvred, on his own ground, a very worthy antagonist.
And the greatest satisfaction of all, was having made a small portion of the earth safe for a brave little girl to walk on.
Corbett rested for the night at Dak Bungalow. He left this place at four in the morning and at mid-day, he was back home at Nainital after an absence of seventy two hours.
Mukteshwar gets its name from ancient Mukteshwar Dham temple. The temple, dedicated to lord Shiva is situated at highest point in the town . Nearby, there is a stone "Chauli ki jali", where childless couples visit to pray Lord Shiva to get children.
Jim Corbett came to Mukteshwar to hunt a man eater but fell in love with its natural beauty at first sight. People of Kumaon considered him a saint who had been sent to rescue them from man eaters. Corbett was a simple, gentle soul who made friends with locals easily.
He could converse with them in their local dialect as he knew all local languages. Mukteshwar was of course special for him and he loved staying at dak bungalow , savouring mesmerising and stunning Himalayan views.