The regular visitors to Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, particularly in their quest to see a wild tiger in the forest, don’t forget to reach a prominent spot locally called as Mota Saal. It is in the Dhikala zone of the vast forests and is close to FRH Dhikala. The name literally means a big and thick trunked tree of Saal (Shorea Robusta). The Park is a rich forest of Saal tree. The Saal tree also called as Saakhu after teak is the 2nd most important source of wood in India. The Saal tree is known to grow slowly but still it goes up to an height of thirty to thirty five meters and its diameter can be as much as 250 centimeters. The wood of tree is believed to be really hard one and there is a famous saying about the tree- sau saal khada, sau saal pada aur sau saal sada. It literally means that Saal tree has a life of 100 years after which it can lie down on the ground for next 100 years unrotten and then it would not rot in less than 100 years.
One of these great, enviable and majestic trees, found itself a very prominent place in the Corbett National Park. It is located few km from forest rest house Dhikala. The tree is so thick at trunk that it stands apart in the vegetation of the area. Its vast girth and must be the reasons for it being called the Mota Saal or fat saal tree. It stands prominently on a jungle road and is visible even from a distance. It has become a reference point in the otherwise un-marked jungle. But as the fate would have it, one day it got struck by big lightening. The tree got burnt by the sheer brute force of lightening. Its thick stem got slashed and what was left on the ground finally was a pale shadow of the original behemoth. But still it stands conspicuously on the jungle road. Its location is such that wild animals and tigers in particular pass through the road and intersection overlooking Mota Saal.
Though I had visited the Corbett National Park earlier, my introduction to the folklore of the tree occurred only in December 2012. In that visit, prompted by my guide, I consented to see it. The tree or, to say, the remains of it even in its torn down state looked impressive and I could just imagine the sheer majesty it must had represented in its prime. The guide particularly pointed that in early morning we had the best chance to spot a tiger around the tree as the tiger passed through the spot into nearby grass fields for hunting deer etc.. The tourists egged on by the stories of the tiger therefore frequently visited the spot to catch a glimpse of otherwise elusive and nature’s ultimate beauty-the tiger. On any given day in the tourist season you would find a swarm of tourist vehicles thronging the place with their eyes looking for bright burning eyes of the tiger.
After few unsuccessful attempts to spot a tiger in the park, I decided to focus on the foklored venue of Mota Saal to catch a glimpse of tiger. In April 2013, I was there with my family. I had started right at the day break from the FRH Dhikala and reached there via thandi sarak in no time. Though it was the morning of April, the weather there, for obvious reasons, was quite cold in the thick and deep forest. The river Ramganga flows at some distance from there. After few looks here and there, I stationed myself near the unmissable Mota Saal.
The jungle calls followed soon. In the forests the calls of Barking deer and of Langur monkeys is believed to be most authentic means to locate a tiger. We could hear those jungle calls at some distance. Although the Langurs and deers were invisible to us most of the times, but we could easily sense that the tiger was nearby. We got to the edge of our seats even more when our guide threw a caution to not make any noise. The tiger was perhaps very near to us and there was a thin chance that we might get lucky; we were as vigilant as we could be and, in fact, were getting goose bumps. There was so much of silence in the jungle that I could hear the sound of breaths of my family members. The children hid themselves partially behind my wife and me. I switched on my camera. Suddenly our guide raised his hand in one direction and told us in a hushed voice- tiger, tiger, tiger!. Our eyes swiveled in that direction immediately and we could see the face of tiger clearly, coming out of the forest to cross the jungle road. Then it came out of the woods and we could see its full body and long tail. The tiger noticed our presence and glanced towards us for a moment, but with its inimitable confidence and style continued to cross the road. It was only a matter of moments but the sight of the tiger was simply the most unique and exhilarating experience of my life. My heart literally skipped a beat or two and I believe all of us virtually forgot to breath for those few moments. We breathed only after the tiger had vanished into the forest again. What a sight it was! The most beautiful and the powerful and the most confident animal on the planet had just crossed in front of our eyes. The excitement was so much that I even forgot to zoom my camera and even in that cold April morning, I had few little beads of sweat on my forehead! I looked back at the Mota Saal; it was there, calm and still. Perhaps, it had been a witness to so many similar breath stopping experiences and had become a witness once more along with us.