One of the oldest forest of India & also one of the most loved parks of India, Kaziranga needs no introduction. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, Kaziranga is solemnly responsible for bringing the One horned Rhino out of extinction. In just a span of hundred years, the conservation efforts of the park has helped increase the population of the One horned Rhino from a mere 100 to more than 2000 today. Also, the park boasts of the highest tiger population density. Kaziranga is one of the largest tracts of protected land in the sub-Himalayan belt, and due to the presence of highly diverse and visible species, has been described as a “bio-diversity hotspot”.
I have memories of visiting the park when I was a little child, and hence started my love affair with the jungle. Kaziranga has always provided a sense of thrill and adventure to the people of Assam, and every other house has its own story of their experiences in wild Kaziranga. I remember a time, when one uncle was traveling by bus to a certain destination for which he would have to cross Kaziranga. And from what I remember, the bus had to stop right in the middle of Kaziranga in the middle of the night, not because a tire had gone punctured, or the bus was damaged, but because there was a Tiger right in the middle of the road. The passengers were frantic, all heads outside the window, each trying to catch the slightest glimpse of this magnificent creature. But the Tiger didn’t move an inch, he kept staring at the bus, as if to certify his dominion over its territory. He was the king, and the bus had to respect that. And I guess, after he could sense fear from all the souls present in the bus, he did leave with his head held high with pride.
Three months back, and I was again on my way to Kaziranga. This time, I was no more a child. Grown up and now a nature enthusiast, I was now interested to learn about the place, to know about its animals, birds and plants. I had reached by night fall and had to search for a place to stay. Thankfully, Kaziranga has many shelter options, from British Victorian era hotels, to heritage bungalows, to modern luxurious hotels. I found myself a decent place to stay at, for all I cared about was for the next day to arrive so that I could enter the forest. After some inquiry, I found out that there are two options of safari, one in an elephant, and the other by a jeep. I chose the elephant safari, for sitting on top of an elephant was any day more exciting than traveling on a jeep.There are also two different timings for entering the Park, one is at 6 A.M early in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. The early morning safari is definitely better, for most of the animals are very active at that time. Also, the park can be accessed from 4 different routes, each route having its own charm. All I had with me was one day, so I wanted to enter the most sought after route. A few conversations with the locals regarding the best route, and I had the next days itinerary ready. On having made all the bookings and reservations for the safari,I was ready to head for a good nights sleep, but not before a soothing glass of alcohol which was offered to me by my friend, which I off course couldn’t resist.
Next day, it was still dark when i woke up at 5 A.M. Quickly we got ready, and off we were to the safari base. A few other visitors were also present, and all faces excited with the anticipation of the wilderness ahead. The elephants started showing up one by one along with their mahouts. It is a wonderful sight to see the love between the mahouts and their Elephants. You feel as if there is a certain connection between us and animals, a lost linkage, like being one with nature and Mother Earth. One by one all the visitors climbed upon the various Elephants. Our Elephants name was Lakshmi. As we buckled up and started the journey, the Sun had begin to rise somewhere in the horizon, painting the sky with a mesmerizing art work. We were inside the forest at last. There was a magical mist all around. It felt like i was living a dream. A blanket of whiteness had surrounded the landscape, as if blurring the vision that i perceived with a touch of purity. Fifteen minutes into the grasslands, and we were greeted by four Deers. A little later, there was a group of a few Swamp Deer. It didn’t take much effort to see the magnificent Rhino. At first there was one, and then there were many of them. I was happy to be on top of the Elephant, for the Rhino is to be feared and respected. On closer inspection, the Rhino looks like an ancient creature. More than a mammal, it resembles certain breeds of herbivorous Dinosaurs. The mahout told us that Rhino’s are responsible for many human deaths, and if the rhino wanted to, it could even tear an entire Elephant apart. It seemed it was baby time, for most of the Rhino’s that i saw had their toddlers following them from behind. An adult Rhino is very protective of its baby, the mahout warned.
The Elephant safari was indeed an experience of a life time. About ninety minutes later, the safari ended. I was delighted. I had seen Rhino’s, fearsome Wild Asiatic Buffalo’s, 2 breeds of Deers, 2 different Crane species and a bluish red Kingfisher. Hunger had invaded my mind now, and after a hefty breakfast along with some heavenly Assam tea, we decided to explore the villages surrounding the National Park. The indigenous people of the area seemed quite friendly and nice. Their homes were very well built by clay and mud, and very enviromental friendly. Our explorations led us to a old Ganesha temple, where the main idol was a giant rock formed like an Elephant. Local tales say that the rock was never carved but found in the shape of an Elephant, and also that the rock keeps growing in size with each passing year. A truly strange phenomenon which i would definitely come later to investigate. Overall i did manage to click some nice photographs. It was time to leave for the next destination. But i did made a promise: to come back and explore all the various routes of Kaziranga, and maybe do a documentary on this rich bio-diversity hotspot.