The family drawing room of the renowned 'Shikari' of his time Late Rai Bahadur Prem Ballabh Belwal – a prominent & leading citizen of Ramnagar at 'The Chairman's Complex' on Kosi Road resembled more like a natural history museum.
From the main window, a big mounted tiger glares out over the crowded & noisy bazaar. Two tiger skins measuring more than 11 feet adorn the walls. There are tiger skin rugs on the floor, tiger skin throws on the furniture, tiger and leopard heads in the bare spaces.
In a corner, there stands an erect & huge sloth bear standing more than six & a half feet high grinning deceitfully. Belwal's ancestors had cleared more than 2000 acres of jungle here and the family continues to manage the land since a night in his boyhood when booty-seeking bandits axed his father to death at the family home of Sawalde.
Prem Belwal was 10 years old when he acquired his first weapon- a muzzle loading shotgun & shot 'sambhars', antlers, hog deer, jungle fowl or other meat for his family and the people of his village.
At 13, he acquired a regular shotgun- a double barrel 12 bore BSA with which he promptly killed his first leopard by a ball shot.
From a departing British Official, he purchased a .405 Winchester Rifle. By the time he was 18, he had bagged a dozen leopards that had killed scores of children, cows & buffaloes and his first man-eater tiger, which he wounded from a 'machan' and later killed on foot as the animal was beginning to charge.
My aunt was married in the Belwal Family on May 48. It was much talked about marriage those days as the guests stayed at Ranikhet for over three days. With this relationship, it was the beginning of bonhomie & camaraderie between every Bhandari & Belwal. Almost all our winters, we moved down to Terai Bhabhar to spend our winters there with Ramnagar- Sawalde- Dhela- Laldhang – Jaspur ,etc, becoming our focal points for Shikar.
Above - a typical Terai Bhabhar belt till 1930s was known as black fever country. Malaria scourged those who attempted to settle down here. While, land & jungles were cleared here & there, but most often, the landscape reverted to its original as sickness took its toll among the farmers. Even hunters tended to shun the area, preferring to seek meat or trophy in the higher healthier countryside beyond, where there were fewer mosquitoes and leeches. Tigers thus came to flourish in this belt & grew to be the biggest in India.
University of Illinois signed a contract in 1959 to establish an Agricultural University in the State of Uttar Pradesh. 16,000 Acres of highly fertile land were given to the University where massive land clearing projects had started and the virgin black earth, perhaps the richest soil in India, was set in growing bumper crops of wheat, corn & sugarcane.
Thus to promote modern farming, UP Agricultural University was established in 1960 with American aid. The establishment of this university brought about a revolution in agricultural education, research and extension in India.
My Grandpa, Prem Belwal & I were so enamoured with the setting up of this
University under American assistance that I left Allahabad University & joined at Phoolbagh(Earlier name of Pantnagar) after my selection in BVSc & AH Stream by Mr Lambert-our Dean-only to leave it after a few months in 1962 .
The credit for starting the functioning of the University goes to our first Vice-Chancellor Anthony Parker Stevenson (1-12-58 to 2-1-64), who could keep people fruitfully engaged on the university farm, the labs and the classrooms despite the lurking fear of tigers & leopards roaming the area. How can I ever forget a Tiger lifting a young boy right in front of our eyes in broad daylight on the 'Chakferi' Rivulet Bridge inside University Complex while our group was cycling back from Rudrapur.
With Americans visiting Phoolbagh & nearby areas often, they also started visiting Ramnagar, Kala Dhungi & places around & met Prem Belwal & his son Anand Belwal ( My Uncle)- both ace Tiger Hunters & Big Farmers.
Both Prem Belwal known as Baba ( Grandfather) , a veteran of 72 Tigers & his 30 Tiger son Anand ( My Uncle ) were famous for eliminating the menace of Man-eaters in the area. Both have had great experiences with tigers. They knew their pulse, moods & personas.
Prem always said that a Tiger was a perfect gentleman unless it had picked up the vicious addiction of man eating habit. Jim Corbett - a generation older than Prem Belwal lived 18 Miles away from Ramnagar at Kala Dhungi & they became colleagues.
They worked together when they organized a shoot for the British Governor Malcom Hailey in the early 1930s. Prem remembered Corbett fondly recalling their numerous tete- a- tete at his house at Ramnagar & at Gurney House, Nainital. Sometimes Maggie, his Sister also accompanied Corbett to Ramnagar. Corbett's main interest was fishing.
He besides being a dead shot was also an expert angler with great proficiency in fishing 'Mahasheers' especially in Ramganga River. Enter General Thimayya (Timmy) now in the above scene of Terai Bhabhar.
Being interested in Shikar, he had heard a lot about the Belwals of Ramnagar. Most of hhis briefings had taken place at KUMAON Regimental Centre (KRC), Ranikhet that he, being the Colonel of the Regiment, visited frequently .
Timmy & my Grandpa were good friends & the former often mentioned his dream of shooting a tiger in 'Terai Bhabhar' Area. His desire was promptly conveyed to
Prem Belwal - by my Grandpa. It was towards the fag end of 1959 that the KRC Commandant Lt Col Ram Singh contacted Belwals of Ramnagar with a request for arranging a Tiger Shoot for the Chief. Prem & Anand were happy that General Thimaya would be coming to Ramnagar. Promptly it was conveyed to the KRC that Gen Thimayya would be the honoured & personal Guest of the Belwals & that he would have the privilege of 'first shot'.
It was April end 1960. Prem Belwal had unexpected American Guests .Mr Stone & Greene along with their families suddenly landed at Sawalde, Ramnagar .They had come to UP Agricultural University ,Phoolbagh on a visit & the American Staff had sent in the request in the form of a letter to the Belwals to accommodate them for a possible Shoot.
Lo & behold, Prem Belwal accompanied them personally & gave the privilege to 6 Feet 3 Inches tall & huge Stone to take the first shot. Here you see the photograph where he is seen with his trophy. Gen Thimayya was a household name. He had carved a niche for himself during 1947-48 J & K Operations.
People remembered him for his bold Military Leadership in the Vale & his tank assault on Zoji La. The news of his arrival in Ramnagar spread like wildfire. For all serving & ex-servicemen, he was a Role Model – a real National Hero who always stood for them.
Slowly & steadily, people from the Hills had started contacting the Belwals about his arrival & possibility of seeing the most popular Chief of the Indian Army.
Luckily for Gen Thimayya (Timmy), a requisition from District Magistrate, Nainital addressed to Prem Belwal for destruction of a man-eater tigress was received in mid May 1960. Immediately, Prem Belwal sent a message to the Chief to make it convenient to visit Ramnagar & camp for about a week with them.
It was a God sent opportunity for Timmy to avail of this opportunity. Prem Belwal arranged accommodation for General Thimaya & his staff at Paulgarh Forest Rest House (FRH) & supervised all arrangements personally. The State Revenue, Forest &Police Officials went out of their way to make Timmy's stay as comfortable as possible.
Arrived General Thimayya in four Jeeps .He was personally received by Baba & his son Anand at Paulgarh FRH & a host of other senior government & civil
officials. Gen Thimayya true to his element & demeanour met them as if he was part of the Belwal Family himself .This singular quality had made him such a popular 'SOLDIER GENERAL'. I vividly remember that a small Radio
The Communication Party had in the meantime established radio communications with the outside world. As a young lad, I still remember the Signal Operator calling out " Hullo- Alpha, Bravo- Charlie, etc". For us, this was a big event & we saw a huge copper coloured Timmy in his Smok Denison standing tall like an oak tree- laughing & joking with all present! I was tasked by Baba to undertake small errands & it was altogether a novel & great experience for most of us.
Just the next very day, the Belwals had picked up the track of the man eater. They found the trail in the farm lane next door. Prem Belwal from the pugmarks in the inch deep dust had well estimated tigress's size & age. Later, Prem told Timmy that man-eating tigresses train their cubs to kill humans or at least cubs continue to kill people after having left their man-eating parents.
Since the beat of the man-eater tigress was more or less ascertained, now the real planning began. On their return to the FRH, Prem & Anand took a conference of their two senior 'shikar' aides Bishambhar & Gopal & explained to them the sequence of events from then onwards. As the terrain was known to the Belwals like backs of their palms, exact places of erecting 'machans' and tying of the male young buffaloes 'katras' on either side of the stony 'nallah' was explained.
As General Timmy was tall & huge, Prem instructed Gopal to make sure an easy access for the Gen to climb the 'machan'& make his sitting place strong & comfortable.
Two elephants had in the meantime been arranged & these were tied behind the mango grove of the sprawling Paulgarh FRH Lawn. The 'mahouts' were seasoned & so were the elephants. The respective places where the baits & 'machans' were erected were about 2 Miles from the FRH. Both Bishambar & Gopal left in the afternoon to tie the 'katras' on ground ,& thereafter, they would climb the nearby trees & provide early information of the kill, if any.
The distance between the'machans' & 'katras' was between 50-60 yards & the positions selected provided reasonably good fields of fire, small standing bushes notwithstanding. Prem had directed the local 'Patwari' & Forest Staff to arrange for about 20-25 experienced beaters with sticks & spears who were good in making noise & driving the tigress to a desired direction, if need be. With all things set, Prem & Anand sat for a drink with the Chief at the Sitting Room of the TRH. Timmy wearing his characteristic Smock Denison had a number of 'shikar' stories to share while I & my cousin Umesh son of Anand were sitting in a corner enjoying their 'gap shap'.
I was 14 years old & my cousin just about 10 years. Baba called us to come near & told us that while I was to sit behind Timmy & Anand in one Machan, Umesh will sit with him in the second one along with Bishambhar. Although Timmy had brought his personal rifle but Prem gave him his 450/400 & kept .375 Magnum for himself. Anand would carry .405 Winchester & both I & Umesh were to carry a 12 Bore DBBL as a measure of abundant caution. Timmy was extremely impressed with the weapons & continued to ask a lot of questions about these from Prem & Anand. After a a sumptuous meal of a variety of jungle meat, all of us retired for night. Prior departure, Prem told Timmy that he should be ready with little notice to venture out for the Big Game.
At about 5 AM the next day, Bishambhar had come panting to Baba to tell him that there was a kill on the Eastern edge of the stony 'nallah' .The tigress had eaten more than half of the bait & had dragged the carcass some distance towards the bushy end. Baba sounded an alert & both he & Anand picked up their jeeps along with other aids & rushed towards TRH. We hopped in at the earliest opportunity.
Gen Thimayya was ready wearing his favourite Smock Dennison & Big Army Olive Green Hat & was standing outside on the lawn. Last minute briefing was done by Prem to all present. Arms & ammunition were checked & rechecked. All other 'shikar' stores including binoculars,knifes, ropes, medicines etc were carefully arranged in two haversacks & one each given to me & Gopal.
In the meantime two elephants had been readied along with the beaters & the entire the group left tactically towards the stony nallah at noon. Bishambhar was in the leading Elephant with Baba & Umesh sitting on top. Gen Timmy, Anand & I were on top of the second elephant that was spaced about 50 yards to the left. The Beaters had distributed themselves into two – each party of about 8-10 people with long bamboo sticks & spears moving towards the flanks of the elephants.
We left keeping on either side of a small stream .Well, these streams form deep 'nullahs' in the rainy season afford concealed trails to tigers & leopards. Now the forest was dense enough at places with high grass - through which the elephants moved ahead. We were moving cautiously yet steadily looking all over .Even the elephants & beaters were making no noise so as to attract attention. Prem was keeping Timmy in his line of sight & was occasionally waving his hand. It was hush-hush. One could hear a pin falling! We were reaching short of the stony 'nallah' now.
Suddenly, the left elephant made a funny movement .Both Anand & Prem had saw it & Timmy was tapped on his back by Anand to be extra alert. We had reached our' machan' areas & slowly we occupied these. Prem could see the carcass lying at a distance as Bishambhar had pointed it out to him. It was now certain that the man-eater was lurking around the area. It could also be a long wait.
But it was not to be ! Lo & Behold, the tigress appeared right in front of Timmy's 'machan'. As per the 'guest first shot protocol' Anand tapped Timmy's shoulder to go ahead. Timmy later said " I had the cross hairs on her right shoulder. The bullet, I found later hit a bit lower than I intended but it was enough to smash her shoulder & send her sprawling". She rolled away from us thrashing around, roaring, tearing up the bushes and raising hell.
Both Prem & Anand knew that a wounded tiger was the most dangerous animal .Prem now saw some movement about 60 metres in front of him & he fired from his .375 MAGNUM. The bullet hit her in the neck & stopped her dead. It was an indeed miraculously lucky shot considering the distance against fading light. Ten feet & nine inches measured between pegs - she made a handsome trophy. It was an old tigress with one of her canine teeth broken. Right fore paw was deformed from an old muzzle loader round. Also she carried in this paw four fresh LG pellets. Sad enough, she also carried scars of old wounds made by long embedded homemade lead balls from a village gun.
We returned to FRH leading the triumphant procession & reached by late evening. Entire Ramnagar had collected there to have a glimpse of Timmy & of the Man- eater Tigress.Well, Timmy was accorded a grand civic reception. He thanked the people for having showered upon him such great love & respect with people shouting `` OUR CHIEF THIMAYYA- ZINDABAD- ZINDABAD".
Early morning the next day, prior departing, he presented two packets of imported combat disruptive lengths of special cloth –one each to Prem & Anand asking them to get fatigues stitched for 'shikar'. I remember Baba & my Uncle Anand wore these wonderful camouflage outfits for a long time. General Thimayya soon after left in the jeeps after thanking Prem , Anand & all Officials profusely & waving his hand till he disappeared .And, we could again hear distinctly on the radio set " Hullo- Alpha-Bravo- Charlie –FATEH ".