Near-nature experience

Near-nature experience

Kaziranga is best known the world over as home to the one-horned rhinoceros; what many might not know is that, it can make for a reinvigorating holiday destination even if you choose to give the famous rhinos a miss.

It was in October that we visited the place, a season when the national park is not accessible to visitors. Yet, the nip in the air was perfect for unearthing a nest with local flavours to relax.

It’s a comfortable road trip from Guwahati to Kaziranga down the spruced up National Highway 37, over five-six hours, with halts for tea and meals at roadside restaurants. They have come up in recent years and many offer delectable traditional recipes and a host of greens, which are disappearing from most household kitchens in the towns and cities.

The ones that I would like to recommend are Triptire Ahaaz and Anuraag Dhaba, on the Nagaon Bypass, for their exquisite Assamese thalis, in which you feel the freshness of the ingredients with every bite.

And even if it’s off-season, do stop by at the site on the highway right after you have crossed the Bura pahar (the ‘Old’ or ‘Aged Hill’ as they call it), where you see many cars parked and people peering into the distance to spot a rhino or two. I was lucky I spotted two of them beside the several buffaloes and egrets lounging at the swamp.

We settled on Wild Grass for our resort stay at Kaziranga, an ideal place to just sit and be. It’s not only better in terms of pricing than the relatively new resorts, but also provides an experience that none others can offer. Wild Grass is tucked in a village just off the highway after one has crossed the Kohora junction.

Started in 1989 by Manju Barua (the proprietor), it considerably shaped tourism in Assam by introducing the concept of eco-friendly resorts. It displays outstanding interiors, marked by furniture with an antique touch, and architecture that has used solid wood. The guest rooms are in buildings that replicate a saang ghar (a house elevated on bamboo or wooden stilts), the quintessential dwelling of the tribes in upper Assam.

No tech, please

Technological intervention is not something that is given high premium at Wild Grass. There are no air-conditioners, telephones or televisions in the rooms; nor bells that would have bell boys scurrying to receive orders. If one needed something, one would have to walk up to the reception.

In hindsight, that isn’t a bad option, considering the fresh air and the opportunity for brisk walks right in the lap of nature. Nature here is not manicured; it’s raw in its beauty. The proprietor, who stays on campus, explains how Wild Grass has managed to maintain its charm over 25 years.

His frontman, Kamini Barua, shares his passion for eco-friendly living and, along with the rest of the staff, has given guests indelible memories to go back with. The off-season rates for rooms here are Rs 950 per day, and the during-peak-season between November and March, prices are at Rs 2,500.

Wild Grass also happens to be a bird watchers’ paradise. Palash Bora, a young ornithologist employed there, took us on a guided early morning tour around the campus and we spotted a yellow-footed green pigeon, an Indian Roller, five species of babbler, a tiny muniya, plenty of sparrows, a kingfisher, a couple of egrets, and an owl that was incidentally out in the day. Palash informed that there are about 85 species of birds, both migratory and non-migratory.

Soon we found ourselves walking through the roads of Bocha, the village that surrounds Wild Grass. We walked past a pretty thatched house here and there that exhibited amazing plants and flowers. We also stopped at Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi’s house, where she runs a handloom centre, and I picked up a few nice runners and stoles at good prices. By the side of her house, her husband’s collection of about 50 orchids cheered the onlookers.

Behind this village rests a section of the expansive Hathikuli tea estate, which is famous for its organic tea. Palash took us for a walk through the estate as well. By eight o’clock, we were back at the resort for breakfast, which was complimentary.

Two hours later, we were on an open jeep, on our way to the Doinang Sildubi Borbil Mishing Village, a few kilometres away. I saw two young women working on handloom set under a saang ghar. The shy Sunita Kutum told me, “I weave about 50-60 chadars in a year.”

Tourists can buy handloom products from the houses in this village, but prices may vary depending upon which part of the globe you come from. Therefore, visit these places with a local guide who can bargain. The day we hit the road back to Guwahati, we remembered to stop by the quaint Hathikuli store on the highway to pick up some organic tea at sweet prices.

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