Mission – Kaziranga Wildlife Reserve
Time Travelled – 01 Nov 2016 to 02 Nov 2016
Trip Type – Solo Backpacker
Transport used – Local bus plying between Khanapara and Johart.
My grandfather was once charged by a rhino at Kaziranga back in 1967, he wouldn’t be alive to tell me this story if it was not for his elephant who trumpeted at the right moment. The story always kept me captivated, and I wanted to see this magnificent beast for myself.
Reaching Kohora range of Kaziranga wildlife reserve is quite easy for a budget backpacker. There are buses plying between Khanapara and Jorhat every hour, just the driver needs to be told in advance about the stop. Do not book the hotels/guesthouses online, either reach and select, or call them to book directly. I stayed at the soil conservation guest house, which is a bit inside but very comfortable with a super friendly staff.
There are two ways of exploring one of the most coveted wildlife sanctuaries in India, one is through jeep, and the other is on the back of an elephant. The jeep safari takes place between 1PM and 3PM everyday, and the elephant safari is from 5:30AM to 8:30AM; both having a slot of one hour each. I had reached a bit late for the jeep safari, but the guesthouse manager was kind enough to take me into the forest in his own car, which is not allowed, but the manager was a resourceful person. It was late afternoon, extremely sunny and most of the animals were hiding in the shadow of the dense part of the forest, still I was able to spot a few deer and a couple of rhinos, enough to get me excited about the elephant safari the next morning.
Day 1 was more about getting acquaintanted with the forest, the people, and the place overall. Post the drive, the manager took me to the newly opened Orchid Kaziranga Biodiversity Park. Now this is a place only meant for people who are interested in flowers and plants overall, the range of orchids in the park is huge, and since it was the inaugural day, I got a free tour of the place along with a beautiful cultural show towards the end of the day.
Elephant safari can only be booked one day in advance and that too only on the spot. The concerned party gives preferences to large groups and foreigners over Indians, it was all happening in front of me, there was a certain sanity to the queue but to no avail. The rangers were in a fix as only eight of the thirty elephants had returned from the grazing grounds for the next morning’s safari, thereby crippling the total seat count to around 20. In spite of being last in line I was able to score a ticket for the safari the next morning at 7:30AM.
Around 7:30PM we went to the local meat market to buy some pork and fish. This was one of the most raw meat markets I had ever scene, the assortment of fresh fish was never ending, and the line of hanging upside down pigs reminded me of inner parts of Cambodia. The meat was available at dirt cheap prices, with chicken being more expensive than fish and pork both. The manager had invited me to his house for dinner, with our purchase ending up in delicious pork with bamboo shoots and fish curry.
Next morning, the time for elephant safari came an hour later than scheduled due to the first group delaying departure. It was crazy sunny and made for a hot and prickly morning, though I experienced the advantage of being a solo traveller by being the only passenger sitting on the gentle giant. My ride was a ten feet tall, twenty year old, weighing nearly three tons, handsome male elephant, who continuously chomped on tall green grass.
Personally, I do not like the idea of riding any animal and especially elephants because of the way they are emotionally broken down to obey the commands of their mahouts. But at Kaziranga, the elephants seemed to be very comfortable in their playground, and do not work for more than three hours a day. The elephants get a lot of ‘me’ time here and also seem to be friends or atleast acquainted with the rhinos.
The safari takes you about 700m to 800m inside the grasslands, where you come across a lot of sambar deer, hog deer, wild buffaloes, the mighty rhinoceros, and the tiger, if you are blessed by the heavens. The rhinos in the park have got immune to human presence, with tourists flocking in on a daily basis for six months a year. I came across four rhinos, two adult males, one adult female, and one young male. The rhinos mostly maintain a cautionary stance despite of the great tolerance they show to the human interference.
The first rhino I saw up close had just finished munching on something and had a reddish/brownish tinge around his mouth. The beautiful pouting pose can give the Instagram girls a run for their money, the other three rhinos were equally stunning, but they did not have the pouting charm. At that moment the time stops to make you drool in amazement of the grandeur of these majestic beasts.
Kaziranga was ravaged by the Assam floods of 2016, and water in the main park was almost fifteen feet above ground level. All the animals were scattered, and even though there is no official count on the toll it took on the animals, the rangers say that many rhino calves and smaller animals either drowned or were washed away. Almost everything was restored when I was there, and it did not seem like a place that was damaged by floods just three months back. Also, there is a constant poaching threat on all the rhinos in the park, the horn is essentially made up of hair, and fetches big dollars in the black market.
I will definitely visit Kaziranga again and stay there for a longer period, and travel to other ranges to better understand the culture and animal diversity of the park; the place is an experience and a must go for all wildlife enthusiasts. More than the might, it is the pout which has made a permanent spot in my heart for the thick skinned animal.