Jim Corbett. Colonial shikaari. Environmentalist. Master storyteller. Generations of Indian children have grown up reading Corbett’s stories. In his long years in the jungles of Kumaon hills, Corbett experienced certain events which defied logic. 

One of these experiences happened on the night of 5th April, 1929 when Corbett was on the hunt for the Talla Des man-eater. He and his men were trekking through the Sarada gorge en route to Kala Agar. Tired after a long day’s walk, Corbett was enjoying a cigarette along the river bank when he noticed something odd.

On the far side of the gorge (the Nepal side), three lights suddenly appeared together. Shortly after, two more lights appeared. Initially, Corbett considered them as the start of a forest fire. Soon, one of the new lights moved downwards and merged with one of the earlier lights.

A few more lights appeared within a few minutes and Corbett realised that he was looking at lights and not fire. He concluded that some shikari might have left something during the day and had probably sent back his men with lights to look for the same.

But the lack of any sound, human or otherwise, bothered him. Nor did any of his men hear anything. Next morning, when dawn broke, Corbett scanned the far side with his field glasses. He found no trace of any forest fire, nor anything suggestive of human involvement.

The area where he had seen the lights was, in Corbett’s words, “.. a perpendicular rock where no human, unless suspended from above, could have possibly gone.”

He did hear from his aide, Gangaram, the story of a sadhu from ancient times who had angered the goddess at Purnagiri and was hurled down the gorge. The locals believed the lights were the penance of the unfortunate saint and they were careful not to spend the night in the gorge ever.

Corbett had a more paranormal sort of experience during the hunt of his last man eater, the tigress of Thak, in 1938. Sheer terror of the beast had led residents of Thak to abandon their village. Corbett decided to spend a night in the village, sitting over the carcass of a buffalo bait killed by the man-eater.

It had been moonlight for two hours when a strange, unnatural sound greeted Corbett. Corbett described it as “…the despairing cry of a human being in mortal agony…..” He ruled it out as hallucination because a Kakar had suddenly stopped barking and a Sambhar had dashed off scared as soon as the sound had emanated.

Next morning, the headman of Thak village informed Corbett of the most recent kill by the man-eater which had led to the temporary abandonment. The headman told Corbett that the unfortunate victim had kept on screaming as the big cat dragged him away, up the hill.

 When Corbett asked him to replicate the scream, the headman did so. In Corbett’s words, “It was the same – but a very modified rendering – as the screams I had heard last night.”

But probably the strangest experience Corbett had was the one he refused to write about. While hunting his first man-eater, the tigress of Champawat in 1907, Corbett spent a night at the Champawat forest bungalow. Corbett only referred to it in the following lines:

“I have a tale to tell of that bungalow but I will not tell it here, for this is a book of jungle stories, and tales beyond ‘laws of nature’ do not consort well with such stories.” So, what happened to Corbett at Champawat bungalow?

The source of information about Corbett’s strange experience is Maurice Nestor, Corbett’s nephew. Maurice would later recall Bahadur Khan, Corbett’s trusted servant, mentioning that his master was very noisy inside his room that night. It seemed he was talking loudly to himself.

After a while, the door of the room opened suddenly and out jumped Corbett, shirtless, covered in sweat and breathing heavily. Corbett simply told Bahadur and his other men that he would prefer spending the night with them rather than in his room.

Corbett would spend another night at the bungalow but he would sleep in the verandah and not in his room, with his men setting up a large fire outside in the courtyard. Incidentally, on the first night, the local tehsildar was supposed to stay at the bungalow with him.

But just as evening was setting in, the tehsildar took Corbett’s leave. The latter was horrified at the thought of this unarmed man travelling long distance at night through man-eater-infested territory. But no amount of pleading or protestation could change the official’s mind. Thankfully, we know he reached his destination safely.

So what happened to Corbett at the bungalow? Did the tehsildar’s strange behaviour induce a panic attack in a body and mind fatigued by the constant chase of a deadly animal? Does ball lightning explain the strange lights Corbett saw at Sarada gorge?

And what about the eerie scream in a deserted village? Maybe it is futile to try and extend a logical explanation to each and every incident. After all, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…”

Do let us know your thoughts/takes on Jim Corbett’s strange encounters, dear readers.