Assam is one of the picturesque states of India and falls in the remote northeastern part of the country. The richness of the region’s flora largely reflects the diversity of habitats. The fertile plains on the banks of mighty Brahmaputra River support a wide range of vegetation along the habitat of other rare wild species. There are 51 forest types found in Northeast India broadly classified into six major types — tropical moist deciduous forests, tropical semi evergreen forests, tropical wet evergreen forests, subtropical forests, temperate forests and alpine forests. Also out of the nine important vegetation types of India, six are found in this very region.
Though there are numerous national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Assam, out of them, 3 of the best national parks with rich habitats are mentioned below.
1. Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat district of Assam is a World Heritage Site. It is the home to the two-thirds of the world’s Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. It is also the home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, tigers and swamp deer. Kaziranga is recognized as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International for conservation of avifaunal species. Probably the greatest achievement of the park has been the conservation of Asian rhinos, as from merely a dozen rhinos a century back, the park today has a thriving population of more than 2000 of them. Today, conservation in the park is an elite affair, with latest technologies such as drones being used to monitor wildlife and intruding poachers.
Kaziranga is a vast expanse of elephant-tall grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park includes numerous small bodies of water. Kaziranga has been the theme of several books, songs, and documentaries. The park celebrated its centennial in 2005 after its establishment in 1905 as a reserve forest.
The park covered an area of approximately 430-sq-km initially, but this has gradually increased. Due to limitless poaching of its prehistoric survivor, Kaziranga was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1940.
Major Wildlife Attractions of the park beside the great one horned Indian Rhino include a large population of Indian Elephants, Indian Bison, Swamp Deer or Barasingha, Hog Deer, Sloth Bears, Tigers, Leopard Cats, Jungle Cats, Otters, Hog Badgers, Capped Langurs, Hoolock Gibbons, Wild Boar, Jackal, Wild Buffalo, Pythons, Monitor Lizards, etc. Regarding the grasslands, the park is a raptor country. These include the Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black-Shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, Pallas’s Fishing Eagle, White Tailed Eagle, Grey-Headed Fishing Eagle, Himalayan Griffon, etc. Huge numbers of migratory birds descend on the parks lakes and marshy areas during winters, including Greylag Geese, Bar-Headed Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Falcated Duck, Red-Crested Pochard and Northern Shoveller.
It is a fascinating experience to get to witness this diversity, with activities such as elephant, boat and jeep safaris which offer a chance for close-ups with predators and prey alike inside this wild county. Accommodations have sprung up due the popularity of the national park, which range from luxurious resorts and lodges to guesthouses and homestays for the budget travelers.
To Watch: In Northeastern Diaries, Award winning wildlife photographer and filmmaker Sandesh Kadur goes on a mission to document the natural and cultural treasures of this region.
2. Manas National Park
Located in the Himalayan foothills, Manas National Park in India is contiguous with the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. These two parks combined serve as a last refuge to many of the Himalaya’s greatest diversity. The Indian park is known for its rare and endangered endemic wildlife such as the Assam Roofed Turtle, Hispid Hare, Golden Langur and Pygmy Hog. The park is also famous for its population of the Wild water buffalo.
Located in Assam in North-East India, Manas has been declared as a biodiversity hotspot and a World Heritage Site. Covering a massive area of 39,100 hectares, it spans the breadth of the Manas River and is bounded to the north by the forests of Bhutan. The park is also an important tiger and big cat habitat, as it is a part of the core zone of the 283,700 hectares Manas Tiger Reserve, and lies alongside the shifting river channels of the Manas River. The site’s scenic beauty includes a range of forested hills, alluvial grasslands and tropical evergreen forests.
Manas National Park provides habitat for 22 of India’s most threatened species of mammals. In total, there are nearly 60 mammal species, 42 reptile species, 7 amphibians and 500 species of birds, of which 26 are globally threatened. Noteworthy among these are the elephant, tiger, greater one-horned rhino, clouded leopard, sloth bear, and other species. The range of habitats and vegetation also accounts for high plant diversity that includes 89 tree species, 49 shrubs, 37 undershrubs, 172 herbs and 36 climbers. Fifteen species of orchids, 18 species of fern and 43 species of grasses that provide vital forage to a range of ungulate species also occur here.
Accommodation options in Manas are present, though not as splendorous as Kaziranga. There are a few good lodges and guesthouses which cater to enthusiasts who come seeking an unexplored wilderness, and offer activities such as jeep and elephant safaris and cultural interactions with local tribes.
3. Dibru-Saikhowa National Park
Declared as a National Park as well as a Biosphere Reserve, Dibru-Saikhowa, spanning an area of 340 sq. km in Tinsukia district of Assam, harbors a unique habitat which is endemic and has undergone radical transformation after the earthquake of 1950.
The ecosystem of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is home to a wide range of animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, butterflies and insects. The park is inhabited by 35 species of mammals, 502 species of birds, 104 species of fishes, 43 species of reptiles, 105 species of butterflies and 680 species of plants. Twelve species of mammals recorded in the Park are listed in the Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Among them are the tiger, elephant, Asiatic wild buffalo, hoolock gibbon, capped langur and slow loris. The park is the last critical refuge of many endangered species of birds like the White-winged Duck, Bengal Florican, White Rumped Vulture, Black Breasted Parrotbill, Marsh Babbler, etc. 25% threatened birds of India have been recorded in Dibru-Saikhowa. As per recent survey figures, there are estimated to be 324 elephants, 31 tigers, 836 Assamese Macaques, more than 400 wild buffaloes and 48 feral horses in the Park. Another very special part of the ecosystem is the endangered Gangetic river dolphins, sightings of which are common in the massive Brahmaputra while on boat safaris.
Destruction of habitats due to increasing human activities is the main threat to wildlife here. About 10,000 people living in Laika, Pamua & Dodhia forest villages are largely dependent on the natural resources of the park. People of the surrounding villages too, have uncontrolled and easy access to the park and are overly exploiting its natural wealth. Conflict and distrust between people and Forest officials have limited the success of several conservation projects. The ST & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 will recognize the right of people over forest land, forest produce & forest management. This may encourage encroachment and ultimately result in habitation loss and extinction of several species of animals and plants. However, on the good side, ecotourism is being encouraged in the region, and local youths are today more aware about the preservation of the forest. There are a few local NGOs who have been doing commendable work.
The park can only be explored through boat safaris and nature trails, due to its unique geography of being located in an island. The forest staff are helpful and so are the local naturalists who help visitors in spotting numerous species. Due to the remote location of the park in very eastern Assam, only a few enthusiastic tourists visit every season. Accommodations are a few. They are basic in nature but adhere to the ecotourism policy of minimal impact with the nature.
To Tour: The Great Northeast India Wildlife Tour is a once a lifetime 17 days experience through some of India’s least explored areas, covering a total of 5 national parks and 2 wildlife sanctuaries.