Kaziranga National Park :The home of world famous one horn rhino, Kaziranga National Park is the best place to see wild animals, birds, reptiles etc. closely. The option of seeing by car and on elephant ride gives the visitors a great opportunity to go close to the nature. The destination is gradually gaining popularity among the tourists for its unique location and picturesque scenic landscape
Kaziranga Wildlife Reserve
Ever since my childhood, I have been fascinated by the majestic one-horned rhinoceros. I used to sit and imagine the ferocity of the 4200 pound animal. I was watching a brutal face off betwen the rhino and a large water buffalo in Discovery. I marveled at how swiftly the rhino ripped off the part that came close to its horn. Such savagery it carries. From the looks it seems peaceful and non-chalant, just minding its business. But then dad had a "near brush with death" about 15 years ago. He, along with a team, was on an elephant for an expedition to do some preliminary research on the bio diversity of the forest. Little did he or the rider knew that there was an animal behind the hedge, totally camouflaged. In a matter of seconds, a rhino appeared from nowhere and frightened everyone on board as well as the elephants. Problem was not with the people but with the now-frightened group of elephants. They were spooked and bolted towards the forest. Probably that was the day dad understood the meaning of inertia and momentum. Sitting on a running elephant is as good as experiencing a 9.6 richter scale earthquake. Everthing fell apart. The harness that strapped the cart almost broke loose Luckily the riders knew there craft very well. They were able to calm the animals and bring them to a halt before anything went south Father was thankful and promised this would be his last animal ride.
Fear for animals(they call it zoophobia) got the best of my father. He has set a legacy in our family by cooking up tales of horrific animal encounters he never had in real life backed with story about how he survived that fateful day. Especially among the children. Of course, everyone else knew it was too good to be true.
Although it was the first ever incident that the riders themselves faced, they lived their whole life in the forest and among the animals. They never wavered and chose to stay on. Its rare for an incident like to this to happen on an everyday basis.
Kaziranga is a beautiful place. It has been declared the World Heritage site in the year 1995. Statistics show the number of tourists visiting this place has increased manifold. Land is 37, 529 acres of wild life reserve. Stepping a foot on the land during the safari is strictly prohibited for the safety of the people as well as the animals. There are towers raised at every nook and corner of the reserve to check with poachers. They have the executive order to shoot the poachers if they are found walking/strolling anywhere in the reserve. Officials fondly call these animal rescuers the ‘poacher hunters’.
Our family came up with a plan to visit Kaziranga the spring of 2016.
Father is able to fight his inhibitions and decides to tag along with our family to enjoy an elephant ride in the reserve. He said he wouldn't complain this time if he had to go through the same ordeal once again. He remarked, " Nature warned him the first time, may not warn him the next, and would simply trade his soul for the sin of coming back again." Mom scoffed at him for keeping such beliefs.
Getting down to facts, there are three gates(each for eastern, western, and central ranges of the forest respectively) to which you have access to the forest. Elephant ride begins early in the morning at 5am. This is the time animals(rhinos, water buffalos, reindeers) come out in the open and eat their breakfasts, the grass. The good part about this is you will have a chance to watch these animals from a close distance. Elephant safari happens once a day and starts from central and western ranges.
Here are the timings :
Elephant Ride Timings (For Central Range and Western Range only):
1. Morning 1st Shift : 5.30 am-6.30 am
2. Morning 2nd Shift : 6.30 am-7.30 am
You can find more details here.
It is a 45 minutes - 1hour ride. This was my first time I have had a ride on the elephant. The whole body weighs around a ton yet makes no noise when it walks the forest. Its incredible how these animals are trained. I sat on a platform that was 10 feet above the ground. We were taken slowly into the woods. The occasional ascent/descent it makes through the bumpy forests feels majestic. It might twitch your spine a little bit as it walks. But the experience overall is great.
I wouldnt recommend this to baby boomers, and people with backaches and hernia.
Please make sure you do your settings right to take pictures on the move. Its difficult to pull off a shot. Animals are quite shy and scuttle away at the first sight of humans. I managed to take few pictures below :
After finishing the trip, we had breakfast at IORA resort. They offer buffet in the morning. Food was fantastic. A quaint ambience with wooden interior with archaic British styling.
Its tad expensive and there are many more good hotels nearby offering similar services. We checked into Aronya tourist lodge, a government hotel for 2 nights. They charged a little over 1500Rs per night. It was a splendid stay. We stayed in a cottage house, overlooking the dense forest of pine trees. Except we didn't quite like the food there. So we chose IORA instead, for our breakfast.
But its worth every penny. Staff members are polite and welcoming. They will give you the correct information on what safaris to take and how to reach the gates. I advise you bring your own vehicle or rent a car from Guwahati. Travelling around the reserve is expensive. You will need to pay a lot for travelling short distances. For instance, they charge around 700 Indian Rupees from your hotel to the West range if you want to take elephant safaris in the morning.
Hotels have tie ups with the jeep safari association. They will arrange your jeep safari. You need to shell close to 2000 Rs per jeep per family to take the tour. This is the standard everywhere. The package includes pick up and drop service, and the tour itself.
We met a wonderful person who was to be our tour guide that day. Punen Gogoi, a veteran, has been working as a tour guide, an actor, and a president of the Jeep Association of Kaziranga for more than 27 years. He has been featured in BBC documentary. He has been a strong advocate for wildlife protection and made a lot of contributions for the safety of the reserve.
During his formative years, he always mimicked the sounds of various animals by closely watching their backs from the thickets. He can imitate sounds the leader makes to lead elephants. He can tame the rhinos with his voice. Having his company during the tours has proved to be a blessing for adventurers, botanists, wildlife photographers, and the likes. He knows exactly where to go and where to take scenic shots. He can turn the animals’ attention towards him. The moment can be a visual feast for photographers. See pictures below.
My dad got a little skeptical again when Punen narrated a story about his close shave with death. An 18 feet cobra laid eggs near a patch of dirt and grass. One jeep veered the vehicle off the road and hit that patch, destroying all the eggs. They never noticed and continued with their journey. Moments later, Punen was driving his jeep to the same spot. Mother snake realised the damage done and made bizarre noises. It was an uncharacteristic display of anger and vengeance. The snake hurtled towards the oncoming vehicle. Punen saw the snake and floored his reverse gear. Non suspecting patrons were taken back , jolting back and forth. The snake hissed and flapped its head wide, spiralling on the dirt ferociously towards the vehicle. Punen knew if the snake got on to the vehicle, it would kill all the passengers on board. He hastily took a sharp turn and set the vehicle in forward motion away from the inching snake. The car gained momentum and speed. The snake wasn't able to keep up its pace with the vehicle and had to let go.
Punen immediately radioed all the drivers to adjourn the evening trips and called for the authority’s attention to send teams to find and take the snake to a safe location.
It happened in the yeat 1999. From that point, the decision was made to clear the roads off all the hedges and grasses. The long grasses are burnt down from time to time to discourage animals from crossing the roads. This makes it hard for the poachers to do poaching as well.
We saw a wide range of birds on a variety of grasslands. Its a 3 hour long tour. We were in the middle of the winter and the sun sets in quickly.. So we got the best of both the afternoon and the evening sunset. If you have a little athleticism in you , stand on the jeep and hold tight to the railing. Even though it gets a little shaky up there, you will get 360 degree view of the forest. If you are lucky, you might as well spot a few “animals” hiding behind the thick forests.
Pictures say a thousand words. This is validated by what I have witnessed in Kaziranga. I am so happy to see animals at peace.
There was a deluge in the year 2012 that swept away thousands of animals. Almost 75% of the area was under water. Animals have had only 25% area to survive. It was a total savage.
Punen knew the smell of the animals very well. He knew there was an elephant nearby. He turned off the ignition. He pointed his finger towards the direction where the smell came from. We could see grey trunks hanging in the middle of the crops. And there were them. It was a sight to watch.
This was rather a dramatic day. Elephant ride was the most memorable one, one could ever get close to experiencing the wildlife. This seemed like an African movie flashing in front of me, unfolding the unique, scenic view of the natures’ finest. Punen took us to a tea joint before before we called it a day. Kaziranga is sprawled by a number of tea gardens, each spread across hundreds of acres of land. This tea was strong and aromatic.
When we quipped about the hotels’ not so good food, Punen suggested a place called the Hornbill.
We freshened up and after took our evening snacks, we left for the place. It was nothing less than a spectacular food. We were hungry and we devoured everything from salads to desserts.
We ordered vegetable platter. The cook prepared the dish with local spices. They call it the “ bilahi tenga” which is a juice of meshed tomato marinated with onion, local lemons and a paste of garlic and fried spices. We got back to our hotel. Sat for a few hours in the balcony. It was a moonlit night and thought of the majestic species we saw earlier that day.
We turned on the heater inside and prepared for the bed.