Out in the wild

Out in the WILD

Wild attractions and the singular one-horned rhinos of Kaziranga offer a visual treat to any wildlife enthusiast, writes N J Ravi Chander

A jumbo in the bush. (Photo by J R Sachin Kumar)

We bid adieu to Meghalaya, ‘the land of the clouds’ and hit the road for our next stop, Kaziranga, the abode of the unique one-horned rhinoceros and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our long drive from Meghalaya stretched more than six hours covering over 290 kilometres. Although we were travel-weary, it was more than compensated by the verdant greenery, scenic views and tea gardens that greeted us on our way.

One can also spot highway patrol cars at intervals. We shake off the travel fatigue with a refreshing sip of tender coconut water at a wayside stall. The drive resumes soon but further down we are halted in our tracks by forest rangers who instruct us to get down, throw a few questions at us, thoroughly check the car and its occupants and after satisfying themselves that we are just tourists out to have a jolly good time, raise the barricade and allow us to proceed. As we speed on, we are greeted with a strange sight. A group of local residents were bunched around a forest jeep, housing a leopard in a cage. We learnt that the animal was hit by a speeding vehicle while it was crossing the road and was being taken away for treatment. 

One-horned beauties

Kaziranga National Park is located in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of the state of Assam and hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses which incidentally is also the flagship animal of the region. Interestingly, the rhino population has grown from a few dozens in the early 1900s to 2,413 thanks to strict anti-poaching laws and conservation efforts of the Assam government. Once widespread across the entire northern part of the Indian sub-continent, rhino numbers plummeted as they were hunted for their horns or killed as agricultural pests. Located on the edge of the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot, the park combines high species diversity and visibility.

As we enter the town, our eyes meet tall elephant grass on one side and tea gardens on the other. In the vicinity, we spot mahouts astride on their elephants. The jumbos ferry cargoes of leaves, wild grass, bamboo and logs from the forest. We pull up quickly and plead with the mahout for a photograph. He obliges. We take a picture and tip him for the favour. We were astounded to see many tame elephants kept as pets in this forest town. The sight of these majestic beasts ambling down the highway along with their mahouts is common in these parts.

Out in the wild

Before embarking on our jeep safari we settle down for a traditional Assamese thali at the Hornbill restaurant. The fare includes steaming rice, hot rotis, lentils, bamboo shoot pickles and other accompaniments. While one waits for the food to arrive, the useful information about the national park, including safari rates, latest wild animal count etc., displayed on the walls of the hotel, engage your attention.

We opted for the evening jeep safari in Western zone and were escorted by an armed guard. One can also opt for the morning elephant safari in Central zone which promises to go closer to the animals but is of shorter duration. Crossing the tall grass we could see rhinos grazing. They were at a distance and hence we were unable to get a clear view of them with the naked eyes. We spotted around half a dozen rhinos and our joy knew no bounds. We spent a good 10 minutes craning our necks to get a better view of these magnificent beasts before moving on.

As the safari slowly moved on, we witnessed elephants foraging. Wild water buffalo, hog deer, swamp deer, sambar, langur and wild boar also made appearances. The big cats — tigers and leopards —were elusive. As the sun began its descent, we were lucky to get a breathtaking view of the sky as it turned a glorious crimson. The birds came to roost on the trees. Many exotic birds like the white-fronted goose, ferruginous duck, pelicans, red-crested pochards, northern shovellers, owl, parakeet and the great hornbill can be spotted here.

Prized catch

A surprise awaited us as we were nearing the end of the safari. Out of the blue, a big adult rhino emerged from the grass to slake its thirst and my son was quick with the lens, shooting the magnificent animal. This was one picture that we desperately craved for and it was a moment to treasure. Cries of ‘wow’ went up all around. The much-prized photograph was immediately shared on social media.

No trip to Kaziranga is complete without a visit to the Kaziranga National Orchid and Biodiversity Park. Established in 2015 by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasants rights body, the park is run by a cooperative society.

It is an abode of more than 600 species of rare orchids collected from the North-East, besides local varieties of flowers, fruits and ethnic food. It also houses a rice museum.

For sheer variety, this trip will count as one of my most memorable ones. Highly recommended for wildlife enthusiasts, nature-lovers and photographers.

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