Kaziranga National Park

Spread over an area of about 430 square kilometers, the Kaziranga National Park located in the Indian state of Assam a treat to the eyes apart from of course being a World Heritage Site. Home to a majority of the one-horned Rhinoceros, it is also home to the country’s National animal, the Royal Tiger. The Park is sectioned into three zones, the Western zone, the Central zone, and the Eastern Zone, a very popular hotspot for the swamp deer, the one-horned rhinoceros, tigers, water buffaloes and the mighty elephant, apart from the specie of man of course going by how difficult it was for us, a family of six people to find accommodation in this beautiful National part precinct in the north-eastern part of India. Kaziranga was once under extremely harsh criticism when it came under the scanner during a 2017 documentary that revealed a hardliner strategy to conservation where shoot-at-sight orders caused the killing of over 20 people, but being in the ring on land, we were thankfully not shot, but interestingly we also got to get off the jeep and saunter about at a particular point in the jungle, literally by a water pond. The dangers of allowing tourists to get on foot in a national park do not escape me, particularly when we spotted a tiger giving us a catwalk, literally on the path of the jeeps soon after upon coursing through the jungle right about 15 minutes later!

The terrain of Kaziranga is extremely beautiful. There are sections of the park that are filled with a vast expanse of Elephant Grass, then there are marshlands, dense tropical broadleaf forests where the land shrouded by lush ferns at different heights just as the taller trees climb over, waterbodies and ponds filled with lotuses of various sizes and colors. The park is crossed by 4 major rivers including the mighty Brahmaputra which is infamous for its flooding or even changing its course over a period of time. Most of the safari lodges or resorts in the vicinity maintain a very sustainable approach being quite dimly lit and green in its make and planning. The food in India, for an Indian, is definitely not an issue, but being so close to the Himalayan kingdoms some must-have fare would be the Thukpa, or the soupy noodle broth that is infinitely delicious. Onward from Guwahati, the Park is about a 5 to 6 hour ride away, on really decent roads, and once in the taxi, there will be none at all foraying into the National Park. The place of merit, that is always almost sold out is the Diphlu River lodge, but all failing the Kaziranga Eco-village can cut a quite decent deal.

But the star of the day when in Kaziranga is definitely the safari. In the morning getting onto an elephant is quite the challenge. No, I am not talking about mounting the elephant but simply cinching tickets to the safari on the elephant is a big deal, as elephant safaris are sold out really quickly, and rightly so. We managed to get the early morning 5:30 AM elephant safari in the Western Range of the Kaziranga national park. The elephants strut in early in the morning with their mahouts ready to get the tourists on their backs, getting a meal in the process or indulging in their morning routines. My four-year-old was more than happy to feed the elephants bananas and in the feeding his glove too disappeared into the elephant’s mouth which he promptly rejected. Then without an iota of fear he stepped forward to retrieve his glove. Standing right behind him I stepped forward in a flash to prevent him from being squashed whilt the elephant itself took a step back. My heart obviously stopped. Later while being chided for his bravery by his Grandfather, he said, the elephant was being kind to me as it stepped back! That mini-adventure was quite something. But being on the elephant on a 45-minute ride, we witnessed rhinos foraging, lotuses blooming in a small pond, and birds chirping away to indicate the rising of the sun. The moments pass by slowly on an elephant’s back unlike on a zooming safari jeep but the feeling is amazing. Catching the crack of dawn is beautiful anywhere on the planet.

In the afternoon we headed out on a jeep, getting into the park as we passed by the fayrers who were heading back, we were shocked at how dusty they had become. A layer of dust rested on even their eyelashes. That was clearly crazy and wearing my prided lenses I worried in an instant, chiding myself to have left my sunglasses, hat et all the paraphernalia back in the room as the safari began at 3:30 and the sun usually sets in this location by 4:30. However our driver was quite the sensible kind who kept his distance from the other cars, enough for the rising dust on the tracks to not settle on us. The landscape of Kaziranga and it’s terrain is very beautiful. The rhinos we saw were many, who stared at us, and ate their food, but didn’t really seem to mind us. As I write this today perhaps a week after we headed on a safari, I was forwarded a reel where the day before yesterday, a rhino chased a tourist jeep. The tourists were heard screaming. My son said why didn’t the rhino chase us. But I think the rhino was simply trying to hitch a ride, it was possibly so tired of the village, oops jungle life!

The best part of the safari was the tiger spotting for sure. The elusive and shy jungle cat is the pride of our nation. Its glossy coat with a walk to remember is very mesmerizing. Standing atop the jeep we heard all the birds chirping frantically, it was almost the end of our safari and the sun was slowly bidding its adieus, and I assumed the birds were chirping to announce sunset, but then the bird calls got more rapid and quirkier, then we saw the majestic tiger walking along the tracks right in front of the jeep. Once it finished its side catwalk, it gave us a Dekho before turning back on us and walking with so much oomph and glory into the bushes before disappearing without a trace. No crunching sounds on the dry wintery grass or no stripes showing from the gaps in the jungle, it simply walked with a lot of pride. Tiger spotting is exhilarating, it is too much fun, the wait, and the watching. Treading slowly, not making too much noise, and simply watching with empathy, doing absolutely nothing if I may add, except to observe the winning qualities of an explorer who will be treated with wins in a national park, just the same winning qualities that make it in life!

Obviously one goes on a safari at one’s own risk!