Magical, majestic Manas

The beauty and glory of Manas National Park is best enjoyed when one stays deep inside the park, surrounded by forests, suggests A Sarwar Borah

Core forest area

There are holidays, vacations, travels, and then there are experiences. Memories from our travels stay in our mind, but experiences touch our heart and change our lives. One may say that one needs to have an eye and ear to find these experiences, but if your heart is in the right place, these experiences will come to you.

An experience could be a natural phenomenon, a gesture extended by people, whom we meet during our travels or an activity in which we participate, and when all three get clubbed, it becomes a once in a lifetime experience.

Driving around a 20 km stretch of a gravel road through a forest reserve to spend a night at a forest lodge was one such experience. What set it apart further was the fact that it is situated in the core area beside a mountain river across which lies a different country. 

The destination was the Manas National Park, a part of which extends to Bhutan, and there it is called the Royal Manas National Park. Located 150 km from Guwahati, the drive up to Manas is a comfortable ride barring the last few kilometres to the forest office and the entrance to the forest reserve. Like several other forest reserves and national parks in India, most of the hotels and resorts are located near the entrance gate to the forest reserve, outside the park, but ask anyone who is acquainted with Manas, and they will suggest that one must spend a night at the forest lodge in the core area called Mathanguri.

What makes Mathanguri special is a road by the lodge that leads to one of the many roads to Bhutan from Assam. During the 20-km journey to the core area, quite a few vehicles bearing Bhutanese number plates will cross by.

Manas river is a transboundary river in the Himalayan foothills between southern Bhutan and India;  (top) thick foliage in Mathanguri forest. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR
Manas river is a transboundary river in the Himalayan foothills between southern Bhutan and India; 
(top) thick foliage in Mathanguri forest. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Colonial

The main Mathanguri forest lodge is a well-maintained old structure reminding us of the colonial era. There are a couple of new structures that are also part of the Mathanguri forest lodges, but the experience of living in the heritage building overlooking the Manas river is unparalleled.

There is no internet, TV, no network on your mobile phones and all you can do is just talk with your partner with the sound of the gushing river and some nocturnal insects providing a background score. Either you should have a taste for that kind of silence where nature speaks and humans listen or adapt to the environs because there is no escaping from it.

Before darkness sets in, one can spend time on a part of the Manas river bank close to the lodge and witness the setting sun behind the mountains in Bhutan on the other side of the river.

If you are lucky, then a herd of wild water buffaloes could descend down from the Bhutanese mountains for a swim in the Manas river.

As darkness sets in, generators are started and the quiet lodge lights up; thereafter it is you, your conversations with your partner, and the silence of the surroundings.

Forest core area
Forest core area

 

Food for thought

The forest lodge and the dining area is nestled atop a hillock overlooking the surrounding river and the mountain. The sitting area inside the canteen is humble with tables and benches and the rustic kitchen has an opening that allows food to be served to the diners. There are not many options on the menu — rice, sabzi, dal and an omelette. Chicken is served only if the order is for four people. So, if you run out of topics to talk then one can also join the cook at the kitchen and they will share tales of how life was during the Bodoland insurgency days and how the mode of doing business between Bhutan and India has changed over the years.

The night falls in early because, next day early morning, one has to set out for the forest safari.

Safari is an experience that is difficult to describe in words. Animals can be spotted better during March-April as the foliage is less during this time.

Another reason why Mans National Park is an experience is because of its people. Can you imagine a safari service provider completely on trust saying that it is okay if you don’t have cash, you could transfer the fee later to his bank account. That’s what experiences are made of.

 

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