About the Book
‘Tree Tops is ths last of Jim Corbett's books, and the only one not set in India. Written shortly before his death, it is the story of Princess Elizabeth's Visit to Tree Tops in Kenya, where Jim Corbett was then living. Written in Corbett's characteristic engaging style, there are vivid accounts of elephant herds, of a fight between two waterbuck stags, and of a confirontation between twor rhinos.
Jim Corbett’s Story of the visit paid by Her Majesty the Queen to Tree Tops in 1952 was written only a short time before his sudden death in Kenya on 19 April 1955. He was then nearing his eightieth year. When he had visited English in 1951 he had shown few signs of his age, but he had in fact never fully recovered from the effects of the severe illness from which he suffered in Central India, in the course of training British troops in jungle fighting before they took part in the Burma Campaign.
I do not know how far the picture formed of him by his readers differs from that which will live in the memory of his friends. In one respect perhaps the reader who has known him through his books may have some advantage over them. He seldom spoke of the hardships and dangers of those encounters with man-which gave such an incomparable thrill to his record of them. He felt, I think, that these were matters which lay between him and the great beasts whose strength and courage he respected, and whose lapses into ways that were a menace to man he could in due season forget. Man of his acquaintances probably failed to realize that the name and deeds of this quiet and unassuming man were a household word among the hillfolk of the scattered hamlets of kumaon. I doubt indeed if he would ever have given to the world the earliest of his books, Man-eaters of kumaon, in 1944, had he not hoped that its publication might contribute something to the funds of St. Dunstan’s, which had in the previous year opened a training school for blinded Indian soldiers. I soldiers. I remember how modest was his own estimate of what this did not contribution might be. He did not realize how enthralling were the stories he had to tell, nor how greatly their interest would be enhanced by his manner of telling them. Yet, the world was soon to acknowledge, he possessed, in fact, that supreme art of narrative which owes nothing to conscious artistry.
Since, however, he is necessarily the centre of his own stories, they have much to reveal of his own history and way of life. Those who have read My India and Jungle Lore will not need to taold that he was one of a large family and was brought up during the summer months at the Himalayan hill station of Naini Tal, and in the winter on the small property held by his family at kaladhungi in the foothills below it. Sport was in his blood, and from boyhood he set himself to gain that intimacy with the jungle and its life that he would need if he was to enjoy such sport as his modest means allowed. He never forgot in after life that habit which he then taught himself of noiseless movement in the jungle nor his rare understanding of its sights and sounds, and it was then that he began to acquire that unique combination of speed and accuracy in the use of the rifle to which he later to owe so much. One who knew him at that period has said, however, that even in his youth he took no special pride in this achievement. Good shooting was to him an obligation rather than an accomplishment. If things were to be killed, then this should be done instantly, and without pain to them.
As soon as he left school at Naini Tal, he found employment with the Railway Department, at first in small posts but afterwards in charge of the transport at Mokameh Ghat, where the Ganges River created a broad gap between the two railway systems. There is a great bridge over now, but at that time more than half a million tons of traffic were ferried across it every year, and had to be transhipped from one gauge of rails to another. The conditions of work were exceptionally arduous, and that he carried it on for over twenty years was due not only to power of physical endurance, but to his friendly personal contacts with the large force of India labour which he employed as contractor. They gave an unmistakable proof of their own feelings for him during the First World War. He helped to raise a kumaon Labour Corps for service overseas, and took his section of it to France. It was then that his Indian subordinates at Mokameh Ghat arranged with the labourers that they would together carry on the work on his behalf throughout his absence. In the War he was give the substantive rank of Major in the Indian Army.
The nature of the work during these years gave him little leisure for sport, but during his holidays in kumaon he was able on three occasions to answer the calls which were made on him for his help against man-eaters. Between the years 1907 and 1911 he disposed of the Champawat and Muktesar man-eaters and the Panar leopard. The first and last of these marauders were believed to have killed between them no fewer than 836 human beings, and they were perhaps the worst of the man-eaters from which kumaon suffered in our generation, though others of a later date became more notorious. The leopard of Rudraprayag, for instance, which was officially recorded to have killed 150 human beings, acquired so wide reputation in India because it preyed on the pilgrims who followed the route to a well- known Hindu shrine.
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