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It’s not very often that one stays in a resort which is based on the foundation of deep respect towards environment and local lifestyle. Corbett Iris is one such resort right in the centre of the Pavalgarh zone of Jim Corbett National Park. Building a resort in a jungle comes with myriad responsibilities and I found Corbett Iris to live up to my expectations of a resort sensitive to its immediate environment.
Pic above : Way to our cottage, Spa and Pool (Pic by : Parnashree Devi)
Not only do hosts understand their fragile surroundings deeply, they also exhibit a proactive attitude towards conservation of not only wildlife but also local culture/heritage and lifestyle. In fact, the resort is great for discovering the cultural and heritage value of the area. Most come here in search of wildlife, but this resort instead promotes a deeper understanding of the history and social fabric of the place. Throw in some adventure sports (See links below) and one gets to see the other side of Corbett which I found more engaging and enjoyable than stressing myself with spotting a Tiger.
Pic above : My luxurious room at the resort and the live bar in garden
A walk in the Village area:
I found my host and staff to be well versed with the local lifestyle. The resort was a stone’s throw away from both jungle and the Kyari village. My tour guide educated us about how the local plants support the life in the village. Some of the plants shown to us held great medicinal value. Teak (aka mahaneem), sagaun, saal (used in making train berths earlier) lined the pathways.
Pic above : Me dozing under the historical semul tree, the semul tree , and Jim Corbett’s house turned into museum.
So did semul tree. The largest semul tree in the area is at the British era guest house. It was under this tree that Jim Corbett killed his last tiger famously called Bachelor of Pavalgarh. Jim stopped shooting tigers when he learnt that this particular tiger was not a man eater (I later rested under the tree on the last day). Not far from here is Choti Haldwani ( Kaladungi museum) . Jim Corbett stayed here. The village was established by him only and there are many families, of his time still residing in the village. That’s a trail where guests take a walk.
Pic of village walk above : Stop for samosa, Mr Vinod educating us about local flora, fauna and lifestyle and haathikaan
Coming back to the village, most interesting plant was haathikaan (literal meaning:
elephant ear) whose huge leaves looked like colocassia (Arbi) leaves. Its paste is used to heal the wounds of cattle when it survives a tiger or leopard attack. The tree of Rohini aka sindoori has cooling effects (Thandi taseer, as they say it) Women put it at hair parting as a substitute of vermillion (sindoor) while men apply it on forehead as tilak. It is said that elephants eat its berries to maintain mental balance during mating season. The jackfruit tree, rich with fruits, was also commonplace in the area and so was litchi. I had seen a litchi tree for the first time and mistook the raw fruit as jackfruit. I embarrassed myself when I asked, “Is it a miniature version of jackfruit?”
There are 300 homes and 1000 people residing in Kyari village. They have lived here for generations and man animal conflicts are bound to happen. Most of the land in this part is used for agricultural purpose. The elephants often destroy the crop and hence a fence was built with mild electric shocks passing through it. However, the very intelligent elephants soon discovered the part of fence which has earthing and is therefore devoid of any electric shock. I could see the signs of the elephants destroying this part of the fencing.
Pic above : Village walk and Kumauni lunch. What’s not to love?
Besides the jumbos, the forest is also home to 40 tigers, 25 leopards, 90 species of butterflies and 365 species of birds. We crossed the now dry Khichdi river to explore more. Other plants we saw were Timli (flowers used in Hindu prayers and its fruit eaten), Gutel (It fruits in June and July and its powder helps in gas problems), Kuri. Kuri is a dense hedge and thus a preferred nesting site for bulbul which also eats its berries called laltana. It is also relished by monkeys. We saw small peach fruits. We were told as one goes higher in altitude, the fruits are bigger and juicier, thanks to conducive temperature and climate.
Not far from here is Sitaban. A temple exists here as it’s said that Goddess Sita was swallowed by land at this very spot. She also prayed here and her sons Love and Kush were born here. We were once again face to face, not with elephants but with their activities. A herd had just passed by. As we entered the dense jungles near Sitaban, we came across mercilessly trampled and crushed branches and leaves. We stopped in our tracks fearing a sudden hello from the jumbo in the narrow pathway we were negotiating.
THE FOOD AT CORBETT IRIS WON MY HEART!!
Corbett Iris is great to sample local food from Uttarakhand. The authenticity and great taste is of course a result of employing local talents. The food is simple but so delicious, I ended up suspending my dieting plan and bite off more than I could chew. The lavish breakfast (Idli, poha, jalebi, dosa, pancakes) leaves you spoilt for choice. Each dish tasted great except for the pao bhaji served like a vada pao/ burger. The muradabadi daal, a local delicacy stole the breakfast show. It’s nothing but thick moong dal (a lentil) topped with spices and coarsely chopped dry red chillies. Most of us had 2 or 3 helpings.
The lunch was equally exciting. They sure know how to make ordinary food taste great. My favourite was Aaloo Gutka (Potatoes, fried crisp with local spices), kadhi (Silk smooth), Biryani (tastes like home), Kumauni Raita (Mustard seed powder churned with yoghurt and spices) and a very spicy red chutney.
Pic above : Roti making session (Of course I didn’t even try, only posed!)
The Kumauni themed dinner had us stuck to the food counters. We all ganged up near the
roti (Indian breads) section where some of our friends tried their hand at making round rotis. Not wanting to lose my face in a game I was sure I would perform badly in, I chose not to try my hand. I instead focused my energy on the maduwe ki roti which the staff offered me. Fresh from the oven, laced liberally with desi ghee (Indian clarified butter) and jaggery, it melted in my mouth. It set the tone for more unusual hors d’oeuvres on the way such as the unique Mushroom cappuccino soup, mug wrapped in a leaf. It is a soup with mushroom bits and the texture of a cappuccino) The many chats and chaats (Street food) kept us engaged before the main course showed up. The main course, again Kumauni comprised Bhat ki Chulkani aka Bhat ki Daal , Jhingora rice and kheer (rice and milk desert) thoughtfully served in a bowl lined with a leaf. The Kumauni theme dinner and set up is organized every Saturday.
Pic above : Mushroom cappuccino soup, hearty breakfast and muradabadi daal. I overate!
The time we had at Corbett Iris spa and resort was memorable. Set in the middle of jungle one can swim in the pool here, indulge in spa and body massages, do adventure activities, eat local Kumauni cuisine, follow Ramayana and Jim Corbett trail, take a village walk and safari, enjoy musical nights and of course stay in luxurious room. All this for astonishingly low prices for a luxury property like this!
Here are some of the very impressive steps Corbett Iris Spa and Resort has taken to promote responsible tourism, eco tourism via their CSR:
- In the vicinity (Powalgarh Conservation Division) Iris is the first one to install STP. It’s heartening to know that they are reusing the water for the gardening.
- When the land was bought, it had many fruit trees including-Mango, Aamla (gooseberry) , Jack Fruit and Fig. The cottages and other public areas, including the pathways were designed in such a way that none of these trees were cut down. Almost all of the trees, retained produce fruits. All this fruit is used in the resort itself in different dishes. Instead of chopping off the trees, they were made a part of the landscape. The best example of this was when I entered spa. A mango tree was right there in the middle of the spa and added to the aesthetics of its interiors. They incorporated it in the building during construction. The many mango trees lend a delectable character to the resort especially when I visited in April. It’s the time when mango trees are loaded with tiny fruits.
- Iris management has encouraged local villagers for employment. The best part is they pick raw manpower, train them and retain them as their employees. To our amusement we discovered that almost all of the staff (F&B production and service/housekeeping/Front Office) can sing and dance. Their versatility was evident on the wonderful Kumauni dinner night when we were treated with melodious folk music and dance of Uttarakhand. 4) They have encouraged local villagers to construct houses, which they have taken on rent and IRIS employees are staying there.
- In spite of Iris management sourcing the milk ( as it is required in bulk for guests) from market, they have engaged a villager who is supplying them milk for the staff cafeteria.
- Recently on the earth day they have planted trees in prompt places ( school and community hall in village). All the villagers joined hands with them and they have initiated cleaning of the village.
- On every Thursday and Saturday, there is a local bazaar (vegetables and other eatables) which is mainly organised by villagers. Iris management initiated purchase of vegetables from them instead of running to Ramnagar, the nearest town.
- During the village walk, we were taken to a tea shop in core village area for a stop over. It was heart warming to learn that the main purpose of serving tea during our evening walk is to promote the humble shop, owned by a villager.
- Iris management has firmly thought of starting a NGO, the purpose is just to ensure the upliftment of village Kyari and ensure ‘Clean Kyari Green Kyari’
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Note: I was hosted by Corbett Wild Iris Resort and Spa. The resort conducts many such adventure sports within the forest. Check their website for more info or ask me in commenst below. I was accompanied by travel blogger/journalists Mrs. Alka Kaushik, Mr. Dipanshu Goyal, Ms. Parnashree Devi, Ms. Swati Jain, Ms Suhana Sajwan
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