Kaziranga: Rhino At Large

by Subhasish Chakraborty

Having been born and brought up in Assam, a chance to visit my beloved National Park was like revisiting the paradise I left behind some ten years back when we relocated to Kalyani in West Bengal. The chance to speak in chaste Assamese and savoring the mouth watering Assamese cuisine was irresistible.Manager's BungalowThe Jali Kamra

We reached Guwahati by the early morning Jet Airways flight from Calcutta and a coach was waiting at the airport to pick us up for our onward journey to Kaziranga National Park. The 6 hours drive from Guwahati to Kaziranga was beautiful as we passed by quaint Assamese villages, undulating hills and lush green countryside.

We checked in at the very popular Diphlu River Lodge, which has carved a niche for itself as far as providing high quality jungle hospitality is concerned. No wonder, the resort was teeming with foreign tourists. At the dinner table we discussed threadbare our itinerary for the week and retired for the night.

After our early morning breakfast, we rattled along the meandering jungle trail on our four-wheeled drive through the early morning mist. Since it was December, there was a nip in the air and as we traveled deep inside the forest we became excited at the sight of untamed One-Horned Rhinos grazing in the grasslands of Kaziranga.

This one-of-its-kind National Park has quite a bit of history attached to it. The history of Kaziranga goes back to the time when Lady Mary Victoria Leiter, wife of Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India visited Kaziranga. She had come here with sole intention of spotting the rare and elusive One-Horned Rhinoceros. But alas! That was not to be.Victorian Era BungalowThe Elegant Raj-era Lounge

On Lady Victoria’s persuasion, Lord Curzon declared Kaziranga as a Reserved Forest in the year 1905 and the rest as it is known is history. From a little known Reserve Forest in the North-East of India to a Game Sanctuary (1950) and ultimately culminating with the status of a National Park in the year 1968, Kaziranga rose like a phoenix in India’s wilderness landscape. The ultimate honor or distinction was however the UNESCO’s 1985 declaration, designating the Kaziranga National Park as World Heritage Site.

Lord Curzon aside, any mention of Kaziranga would be incomplete without a reference to one of India’s greatest modern day naturalist – Dr. Robin Banerjee who single handedly catapulted Kaziranga National Park into a name to reckon with in the international wildlife landscape through his epoch making 50 minutes Documentary entitled – “Kaziranga” sometimes in the 1950’s. He went on to make 32 Wildlife Documentaries in all and in the year 1971 was awarded with the Padmashree from President V.V. Giri.first flushBungalow by Night

The Resident Forest Officer informed us that Kaziranga was amongst the first National Parks in India to conduct scientific research and census. The park has used state-of-the-art techniques like Satellite Imagery to ascertain changes in vegetation and other scientific assessment concerning habitat suitability for Ungulates.

Kaziranga is ideally located on the southern bank of the mighty river Brahmaputra, which happens to be the only male river in the world. The National Highway 37 passes by the sanctuary and the foothills of Karbi Anglong provide the perfect backdrop to the National Park. Rhino’s aside, the park is renowned for its rich bio-diversity.

As many as 35 mammals have been spotted at Kaziranga and there are at least 15 species that are on the verge of extinction. As we traversed deeper inside the forest, we spotted varied species like the Hollock Gibbons, Capped Langurs (they are cute), Bristly Hare, Sloth Bears, the Swamp Deer, Sambhar and Barasingha. If luck is on your side, you might even spot the elusive Gangetic Dolphins that are a treat to watch. As far as the big cats are concerned, a few exist here but then it is very difficult to spot them, as they are few in numbers.

The beauty of Kaziranga lies in the fact that it is covered with tall grassland and there are small streams and reservoirs (bheels) spread throughout the contours of the park. The Savvanah woodland, Deciduous forest, marshy water bodies and swamps only add to the beauty of the National Park.The Exclusive Tea Tasting ZoneThe FireplaceThe Lavishly Done Bedroom

A visit to Kaziranga is not only about wildlife. It is also about the colorful tribal culture that exists in this part of the world. You would do well to venture out of the National Park and visit any of the 39 odd villages that exist in the neighborhood.

Kaziranga has been eulogized not only by TV documentaries, but also by renowned writers of the stature of American Science Fiction & Fantasy author – L. Sprague de Camp. The renowned Assamese vocalist Dr. Bhupen Hazarika has mentioned about Kaziranga in some of his songs. So also the celebrated BBC environmentalist Mark Shand who did an exclusive documentary on Kaziranga’s first female Master Elephant Rider or “Mahout” appropriately entitled – “Queen of the Elephant”.

A visit to Kaziranga is filled with nostalgia of the bygone days as well as of a future, which is promising as far as forest conservation is concerned.

Traveler’s Fact File:
Getting There: Jorhat is the nearest airport, which is located at a distance of 98 Kms. Indian Airlines and Jet Airways have regular flights to Jorhat from Kolkata. Another option is traveling by air to Guwahati from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Kolkata and from Guwahati drive all the way to Kaziranga National Park. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Jet Lite etc. offer regular flights to Guwahati from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Kolkata. From Guwahati Airport coaches and taxis can be hired to visit the National Park.

Accommodation: There are numerous options to suit every budget as far as accommodation in Kaziranga National Park is concerned. The Government of Assam, Department of Forest runs a Forest Lodge – “Aranya” which has both A/C and non A/C rooms. The rooms are tastefully furnished with running hot and cold water.

Apart from Aranya Forest Lodge, there is the superb bamboo and thatch Diphlu River Lodge. There are 8 impeccably appointed double bedded rooms and 4 double room cottages. The Lodge offers the very best of Assam’s traditional style cottages designed in the shape of raised Machans with thatched verandahs. Almost all the cottages are river facing. The interiors are tastefully done up with intricate tribal weavings and high thatched ceilings.

There is also the fabulous Wild Grass Resort as well as Bonhabi Resort that offers quality jungle hospitality.

For reservations and further information on Kaziranga National Park, please feel free to contact: barbara3@rogers.com