When a lodge owner calls to tells you that something you are planning isn’t a very good idea, it would probably be a good idea to listen. But you see, two things were at play here, the first is what is known as cobbler’s shoes and the second, well, I am nothing if not stubborn. Some things in life are worth making an effort for, Vanghat is one of them, but perhaps, as Sumantha had suggested, ensuring a daytime arrival, which the majority of people manage to do, is strongly advisable, rather than arriving at night.
When researching and planning trips for clients, I am meticulous but when I am planning my own trips, well, quite frankly, I am hopeless. I accept an invite and my tendency is to wing it, no planning or research done, I figure I will discover on arrival, job done. I also believe that I am indestructible, so all advice strictly adhered to for clients, always gets forgotten. By and large, there has never been much of an issue with my approach, apart from a couple of humdingers of situations worthy of their own blog posts, but then, I usually travel alone. I perhaps need to take more care when traveling friends are involved, but hey, they are friends, they have elected to travel with me, they know what I am like, right?
All this preamble is leading up to a story about our recent visit to Corbett National Park over Diwali. From Delhi, I usually find it is best to reach Corbett by train, it is overnight, arriving in the early morning, in time for the safari and then a lunch time check in at the lodge. However, by the time we had decided to travel, all of the trains were full. Not a problem, we decided to drive, an early start would mean that we would still be able to make the afternoon safari. I was advised against this, I declined the advice. You see, Vanghat, our lodge of choice, was an hour’s drive from Brijrani where we had booked our safari, and not only that, it would then be a 2km trek to reach the lodge. Yes, a trek, in the dark, in the buffer zone. This much I knew, this much I had planned for, I had a headtorch and walking boots. So what if the buffer zone was adjacent to the national park where, incidentally, we had just seen a rat snake, 6 wild elephants and 2 tigers? No matter that this was at night, a time when predators are on the prowl, no matter that it would take 45 mins, that’s nothing and, as mentioned, I am invincible.
The safari had been a huge success, but it then took some time to find the meeting point, where an apprehensive crew awaited us. A short while later, head torches on and in place, rucksacks handed over to porters and a “God help you ma’am,” from the driver, we set off. What my research would have revealed, had I bothered to do it, was that this wasn’t just a trek. As soon as we set off, this became apparent.
The first point to note was that we had to cross the river, which was at least 30 ft wide, on a selection of well-placed steppingstones, in the dark. What fun! I peered at my friends faces, they were somewhat less impressed than I was. The second point to note was that perhaps I shouldn’t have exclaimed, ‘Wow, seriously, how fresh?’ rather excitedly followed by, ‘Hey guys, look at these, fresh leopard prints!’ just as we made it across the river. The third point to note was that it may have been better to give in to breathlessness rather than declare my level of fitness, or lack thereof as I led the way up a hill. I heard grumblings behind me, at least I hoped that’s what they were, it was marginally better than the alternative. The fourth point to note was that maybe I should have pointed out the hole in the bridge on the second river crossing.
The fifth point was maybe the step to far, laughing delightedly at the sight of a small wooden raft which was our mode of transport for river crossing number three. I did mention it was pitch black right, a new moon night, providing no guiding light? I glanced at my friends faces. I can safely say, the dim light of my head torch did nothing to soften their expressions which were, by this stage, somewhat less than friendly. ‘Did you know about this?’ they demanded. Well of course I didn’t, I don’t research for my own trips, but what fun no? It turns out, that no, wasn’t as rhetorical as I had hoped.
It turns out, they didn’t know how to swim.
I gulped and decided bravado was the best option. ‘Oh it’ll be fine, think of it as an adventure!’
‘It’s more like being on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, I wonder what they will serve for dinner, cockroaches?’ was their retort.
‘I’m sure it will be delicious, don’t worry, things will all look a whole lot better in the morning,’ and with that, I deftly hopped onto the raft, ‘Come on, they say its only around the corner after this crossing!’
My voice was lost in the ripples of the water and the cool air of the hills as I was pulled safely across to the other side. However, it turned out there was to be one final hurdle. It may only be 100 m around the corner, but there was one more river crossing to do – a log bridge. The looks had turned murderous, I glanced up at the sky, looking for divine intervention. The stars were spectacular, a fact I pointed out as I aimed to scurry as nimbly as a mountain goat across the three slim tree trunks tied together with rope.
Safely across I turned to offer words of encouragement in an attempt to assist their safe crossing,
‘It’s ok, it’s not that deep, and… erm… they do say that the best things in life take effort,’
‘Who does?’ Came the reply.
I tried again, ‘At least we saw elephant and not one, but two tigers!’ Thank goodness for those tigers…
‘How long do you think you can stretch those tigers out for?’
‘At least until tomorrow,’ I pleaded, hopefully, ‘because I am sure it will all look a whole lot better in the morning.’ And do you know what? It did.
We woke to glorious blue skies, sitting on top of the brilliant greens and browns of the Shivaliks immediately surrounding us. The omnipresent sound of the river forming the boundary of the property was almost drowned out by the orchestra of birds, conducted by the gently rising temperatures of the advancing morning. A hearty breakfast, enough to set any avid trekker on the right path, was followed by a stroll down to the river which revealed evidence of wild elephants, tiger pug marks, porcupine trails and the brilliant flashes of the multitude species of Himalayan birds. This was definitely worth our unconventional arrival, a fact which, thankfully, we all agreed on.
Vanghat is in the most beautiful and remote location, adjacent to Corbett National Park. Initially built as a fishing lodge, changes in the Forest Department regulations meant that changes had to be made in the product offering by the lodge. They proudly claim themselves to be the last bastion of the true wildlife experience. It is rustic, charming, beautiful, peaceful and a true haven for the avid birder and trekker. With over 580 species of birds found in the park, even just a walk down to the river here can reveal:
- Lesser Fish Eagle
- Pallas’s Fish Eagle
- Mountain Hawk Eagle
- Brown Fish Owl
- Tawny Fish Owl
- Great Hornbill
- Little Forktail
- Spotted Forktail
- Red Billed Liothrix
- Rusty Cheeked Skimital Babbler
- Long Tailed Broadbill
It also offers an opportunity to do that which is so rare in and around India’s National parks – walking. At Vanghat, each day morning or afternoon treks are offered with trained naturalists which give one the opportunity to explore, birdwatch and witness beautiful scenery. We listened to the alarm calls of a barking deer, spotted tiger pug marks in fresh wild elephant dung, saw more birds than certainly I could identify and then we climbed to two waterfalls and sat and listened to the hypnotic, cleansing sound of nature’s running water. We learnt about nature, medicinal plants, had plenty of exercise and, most importantly, had a digital detox. Yes, there is no WiFi here. One can almost imagine that one is back in the time when Jim Corbett himself was here, walking through the jungles, tracking animals, swimming in the rivers and just being at one with nature – that is the main beauty of Vanghat. Safe to say, by the end of the first morning, I was well and truly forgiven by my friends.
The accommodation is simple, comfortable, the cottages have twin/double beds and the best part for me, a charpoi, that’s where I slept, a small desk, ensuite bathrooms (if you don’t like fairly large spiders, this might not be for you) and wrap-around balconies. It meets all the requirements of an offbeat jungle stay, however it is not luxurious, but if that is what you are looking for, then there are plenty of options with swimming pools, manicured lawns, shiny brass buttons and karaoke machines, surrounding the park. Take your pick, I know where I would rather be.
The food is tasty and wholesome, the staff, all from the local villages, were well-natured, helpful and friendly, the evening meals are candlelit, chat was, as I always find, enhanced around a campfire.
What isn’t there?
Well, as mentioned, we didn’t have any WiFi, but there is also no form of communication with the outside world, phones don’t work apart from on BSNL 2 G, which is actually heavenly. We also didn’t have any hot running water, but buckets are brought to the rooms whenever requested, which is far less wasteful anyway. But for us, having almost done it a couple of times in advertently on our arrival, we chose the far more bracing option, a swim in the river, getting back to nature because, that is actually what a stay at Vanghat is all about.
For all you avid birders, the following are the best time to see:
Oct – March: For attitudinal migrant birds like Forktails, Brown Dippers, Numerous Flycatchers, 50 species of Raptors/ birds of prey.
Tigers this time are quiet vocal & courtship calls are often heard, Leopards too are occasionally heard. Elephants and Otters are often seen near Camp. October is good for Butterflies too.
April – June: For visiting birds and passage migrants like Cuckoos, Bee Eaters, Pitta, Starlings etc. Its also nesting time for iconic residents like the Great Hornbill & Long Tailed Broadbills, all other residents too breed from summers till August. It’s also a good time of year for elephants in Dikhala zone.
Summer for watching wildlife from the vantage point sit outs & hides. Ghoral, Barking Deer, Sambhur, Elephants, Tiger, Leopards & even our most elusive mammal the Serow regularly offer very candid sightings as they come to drink from natural pools and shaded & cool openings deep inside the forest.
All seasons for a digital detox.
Combine a stay at Vanghat with a stay in a forest rest house in Dikhala Zone for a wildlife and wild walking holiday, 2 + 2 or ideally 3 + 3.
Philippa is founder of Indian Experiences and author of Escape to India