264km (164 miles) NE of Delhi; 436km (270 miles) NW of Lucknow
Covering 1,319 sq. km (509 sq. miles), Corbett became India's first national park on August 8, 1936, when it was declared a reserve; 37 years later Project Tiger, a government undertaking aimed at saving India's dwindling tiger population, was launched here in 1973. Today the biggest draw of the park remains the possibility of spotting a tiger in the wild but despite the fact that 140 or so tigers reside here, sightings are not to be taken for granted, and your chances of an encounter are far better at Ranthambore (Rajasthan) and Bandavgarh (Madhya Pradesh). The advantage of Corbett, however, is that you can overnight in the park, and it's a relatively affordable option. It's also the closest and easiest park to get to from Delhi. Staying here also means you place less pressure on those increasingly popular parks (if you equate a real vacation with the most luxurious safari lodgings, you'll be far better off at either the much lauded Aman or Oberoi properties adjoining Ranthambore, or the gorgeous Taj safari lodges near Bandavgarh).
Corbett National Park's landscape consists of Sal forests and bamboo trees, with an abundance of other wildlife, including leopards, wild elephants, boars, black bears, sambar, four-horned antelope (chausingha), monkeys, and, among the reptile population, pythons and the endangered gharial crocodile. Corbett's many water bodies are a birder's delight, with more than 400 species recorded. Inside the park, you can hole up in a watchtower near a waterhole for hours. Areas outside the park, especially along the Kosi River, are almost as good.
Born in Nainital, Jim Corbett was a reformed hunter who, like so many of the world's conservationists, spent his formative years hunting large animals for pleasure, killing his first leopard at the age of 8. During the 1920s, he gave up killing as a hobby but regularly shot man-eating tigers or cats believed to be threats to humans, but with an increasing sense of loss. (To get yourself in the mood for a visit to the park he helped create, pick up a collection of Corbett's fearsome hunting tales or a copy of his first book, Man-Eaters of the Kumaon, which recounts how he hunted and killed the Champawat tigress that was responsible for the death of 434 people.) When the reformed hunter finally passed away in Kenya in 1955, the park he helped establish was renamed in his honor.