Kaziranga National Park, the home to two-thirds of world’s Great one-horned Rhinoceros in Assam, is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
When To Visit:
- The park stays closed from 1st May to 31st October every year.
- The winter season from November to March is mild and dry and a perfect time to visit the Park. There are better chances of spotting Rhinos.
- The Park is closed on Sundays. It remains open from 0530 hrs to 16oo hrs everyday however the safari timings are fixed.
A trip to this land of Rhinos materialized a few years ago. North Eastern part of country is relatively lesser explored and I was pretty chuffed with the idea. The trip itinerary included two days at Kaziranga and two days at Shillong exploring the root bridges, caves and city in small doses.
We landed at Chabua Airport and spent a night with a local friend. It takes roughly five hours for a road trip to Kaziranga from Chabua. The road passed through small villages and it was obvious that the spoils of larger cities had not yet contaminated the natural beauty of this part of the country. The road snaked its way through the lush greenery that flanked it on both sides.
By the time we reached at Aranya Lodge managed by Assam Tourism Development Corporation, it was almost evening. The lodge is spread over large property with twin rooms designed as cottages. The rooms are named after the wild animals native to Kaziranga. The two rooms we booked were ‘Bison’ and ‘Buffalo’.
Next morning was dedicated for Elephant Safari. The park is divided into four zones. However the elephant safari is allowed only in two zones, Central zone or Kaziranga Range at Kohora and Western Zone or Bagori Range.
- Elephant Safari is conducted by Forest Department.
- The safari begins as early as 0530 hrs in morning. The last safari in morning is till 7:30 am.
- Permits available easily at booking centers are required before embarking on the safari. The fee for permit is not included in safari. It has to be paid separately.
- Most tourists prefer the Western Zone for the safari.
- The price for safari at the time I visited were somewhere around 500 INR but it may have increased to anything from 900 INR to 1200 INR
Our ride through the park was to commence atop Phoolandevi, a large female tusker. I genuinely worried that the elephant would not be able to outrun an angry rhino. It was only later that I came to know that rhinos do not mess with elephants!! A loud trumpet by our elephant made the rhinoceros lounging in the mud to stand up and retreat in grass without showing any aggression towards the matriarch.
The calf ‘Babu’ accompanied its mother as she took us around the park and like any other kid was wandering away in the tall grass. For the entire safari, the mother was concerned about her brat and we held on to our dear life every time the mother elephant panicked and searched for her vanishing child.
River Brahmputra is one of the major rivers that cuts through this vast land which has large areas of elephant grass, marshy land, lakes and huge and dense tropical forest. The elephant-grass, so called because it rises above the full-grown elephant, is quite rough and it bruises open the skin of the rider if not careful. The guides had advised us to wear full-sleeved clothes for the safari and as we entered the tall spear-grass and elephant-grass, leaving the plain grassland behind, the razor-like sharp edged grass blades rubbed against our denim clad legs. We were glad that we heeded guide’s wise advice.
As we continued our pursuit of the bulky rhinos, hordes of swamp deer, grazing away from the tall grass, curiously looked towards us but were not threatened by the human presence. Some wild water buffaloes and wild boars lazed at the marshy waterhole known as beel.
The mahouts have developed an impeccable sense of spotting the rhino hiding in the tall grass. If the rhino stubbornly doesn’t come out of its hiding, the mahouts make the elephant trumpet which scares the poor rhino and it tries to move thus exposing itself to the tourists. And that is exactly what our mahout did…when we reached the spot where a rhino sat with all his feet folded neatly under the bulky tank-like body, enjoying the cleaning ritual by the pecking egrets, the elephant was coaxed into trumpeting loudly. The lazing rhino had no other choice but to stand up.
Contrary to what we heard about its temper, the rhino seemed quite peaceful and in awe of the elephants. It is usually a shy animal….talk about a tough exterior with a soft heart. Rhinos are mostly loners with the exception of the mother and child. We came across at least two pairs of cub rhinos and their mothers.
We also found an antler but the mahouts forbade us to take it out of the reserve partly because of some locally believed ill omen and partly because it was a part of that eco-system.
It was almost time for breakfast when we returned from safari. We headed to dine at multi-cuisine restaurant of IORA-The Retreat Resort just off the National Highway 37.
Our jeep safari was scheduled for evening.
The jeep safari took us deeper in the reserve. This part of forest had all evergreen and deciduous trees and lesser high grass and spotting of rhinos was little easier. At one point our jeep had to stop to let a huge rhino cross the trail.
- Jeep Safari is conducted in central, western and eastern regions.
- Jeep safaris usually venture deeper in forests and are better for spotting wild life.
- The safari starts at around 7 am and lasts for approximately 3 hours. There is also a slot for afternoon safari.
- The jeep safaris allow 6 people at a time in jeep. The fee may range from 3500 INR to 4500 INR
We were lucky to spot the endangered species of vultures and eagle perching at higher trees. But even after many requests, the jeep safari refused to take us closer to River Brahmputra which is the core of the forest. We were told it was impenetrably dense with tigers ruling the land.
With more deer and more rhinos, the safari was quite an adventure but I would have loved to see the elusive tiger.
For wildlife lovers and for those who want to escape from the city chaos to spend some time in the lap of nature with loud chirping of birds an occasional grunt of rhino and deafening trumpet of elephants, this is the place to be.
- The nearest airport to reach Kaziranga are the Tezpur airport, Guwahati and Jorhat airports.
- The railway sttion closest to Kaziranga is also Guwahati.
- There are many resorts outside the reserve who have their own safari routines.
- Taxis are available for to and fro journeys to nearby cities too.
- Many resorts are available around Kaziranga. Iora and Aranya are among few good ones.