We’re halfway through our second day on the northern periphery of Corbett National Park and I thought it would be good to share more or less what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. This is our shortest main stop of the trip but it’s also a very dynamic one. And many of the issues we’re wrestling with here have helped process what we saw in Pancheshwar and set the stage for what we will see and experience in Agora.

First, to place us, Corbett National Park is perhaps India’s most famous and important tiger reserve. Nestled just north of the most populous state in India, it’s a starkly different stretch of forest, mountains, and river valleys than the rest of what’s around it. Since the mid-1950s it has been a fairly good tribute to India’s conservation initiatives, including Project Tiger. With the adjacent Rajaji National Park, Corbett has the largest population of elephants on the continent, the highest concentration of wild tigers anywhere in the world, and a dramatic number of bird species and prey animals. It’s a wild place stuck in the middle of a land in the process of exponentially fast development.

Yesterday, we traveled by car from our small nature lodge base, Taarini, to one of the tourist hubs for the park. There, we mounted two elephants and rode along a bustling road to the Kosi River. Riding an elephant, even in a very unnatural setting, is a powerful experience. The wisdom, strength, and kindness of the animal is evident immediately. They are imposing but giving. It was fun to watch the students light up as they interacted with the mahout, or elephant handler, and his elephant.

Once we got to the river, the elephants took turns filling their trunks with water and spraying their riders. The hot sun – pushing temperatures over 100 degrees – was washed away by the cool water being shot like a water gun over our students. Here are some images from the experience:

We had good conversations after our elephant experience about the sustainability and ethics of what we had just done. The students were thoughtful as they weighed the obvious joy of interacting with an elephant against the treatment of the animals and the obvious overdevelopment of the surrounding area. We left with good questions to continue pondering.

By the time we were back at camp, it was time for some dancing, dinner, and sleep.

Today, we woke up early and spent 3 hours on safari in the Durga Devi area of the park. We didn’t see the big iconic species but we did spots 3 species of deer, many endemic birds, tiger pug marks, and lots of healthy Himalayan Golden Mahseer. It was a powerful contrast from what we had felt in the area near the elephant encounter. The park was quiet, unspoiled, and full of life. It added another layer of thought to what we had discussed yesterday.

This afternoon, we’re going to head to a “ghost village.” This community, like the hundreds more like it in Uttarakhand, is slowly being abandoned by the people who had lived there for centuries before the arrival of tourism in the area. Pushed out by regulations and attracted to the lure of more money in the developed parts of the country, residents of these villages are quickly disappearing. We’ll get to think even more about tourism’s role in people’s lives locally as we speak with the few people who still live in the village and observe the ecosystem they have long been part of.

We are very grateful for everything Corbett has given us. More to share soon!

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