An Amazing Trip to Kaziranga: Part 1



WARNING: LONG POST AHEAD!




I had first visited Kaziranga National Park as a child way back in the mid-80s. At that time, we used to live in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. For us sisters, Kaziranga was a rival jungle. We were the Manas girls -nothing could beat Manas. Perhaps this attitude of ours prevented us from enjoying the beauty of Kaziranga and its memories remain vague and uneventful. With time and age, I have come to appreciate every single vista of greenery, our present selves being trapped in concrete jungles. 


Hence, when the time came for the husband and me to visit our respective home towns in Assam, we decided to grab the opportunity and stay a night in Kaziranga, breaking the tedious 500 km journey from Guwahati to Tinsukia via NH-37. For the record, Kaziranga is a World Heritage Site and hosts two-thirds of the world's Great One-horned Rhinoceroses, attracting hordes of tourists every year. Still, we had not expected the scale of commercialism that touched Kaziranga and the number of resorts and homestays offering their services on the internet stumped us. One of our family friends came to our rescue and suggested that we stay at Agoratoli Resort (www.agoratoliresort.com), a government-established but privately-run establishment. Our heartfelt thanks go out to him.

We started from Guwahati on 15th January 2013 at around 7.30 am and entered the National Park area after a drive of about 5 hours. Leafy canopies greeted us on both sides of the road and we shifted to our ‘alert’ mode. The best part about Kaziranga is that you can spot wildlife on the highway itself without delving into the forest. Soon, the left hand side of the road gave way to rolling marshy fields – a perfect setting for the famed one-horned rhinoceros. My sister, who had passed by the same road a few days back, had reported sullenly that she had seen only monkeys that time. But luck was on our side. 

We stopped at a View Point built by the side of the road and there we caught sight of the first rhinos of our trip, as well as our first ever sighting of bar headed geese. A gaggle of these geese were flocking about on the ground while a little ahead, a few wild water buffaloes lounged around in the swamp mud. We also noticed some hog deer grazing peacefully. I focused my binoculars on what looked like small black specks and they turned out to be a family of capped langurs. So, altogether we saw rhinos, wild buffaloes, hog deer, bar headed geese and capped langurs – not bad at all!


The Great One-horned Rhinoceros

 Bar headed Geese and a Capped Langur

Flight of the Bar headed Geese 

Kaziranga is made up of four ranges or zones. The Agoratoli range covers the eastern part, the Kohora range comprises the central part, Baguri range is the western part of the Park and Burhapahar, the fourth range, covers the first additional area attached to the National Park. Kohora range seemed to be the hub of all tourist activity with scores of resorts, eco-camps, restaurants and homestays in the area. On the other hand, the Agoratoli range, where our resort was located, appeared to be quite distant from the mainland. Which was what we wanted – to be away from the hubbub and in the midst of nature alone.


We reached Agoratoli Resort at around 2.30 pm and just had time to have our lunch before going on the Jeep safari. The last safari leaves at around 3.00 pm, so don’t be late. While we waited for lunch to be served, I browsed through the books kept in the lounge area of the resort. The interiors were done very tastefully and everything had a touch of elegance. The food matched up to the standards and we were glad that we chose to stay in this resort. 




The resort's interiors


Post lunch we embarked on our first Jeep safari and were told that we might have to return earlier due to the fast failing light. We were too excited at the prospect of entering the jungle and brushed aside the remark. In a few minutes, we reached a large spread of wetlands called Sohola Beel. A lone wild buffalo was standing by the water side and it raised up its head to take a good look at us. There were numerous migratory water birds near the water, consisting of cormorants, widgeons, mallards, gadwalls and rudy shelducks. One entire stretch was dominated by bar headed geese alone. We spotted the absolutely beautiful northern lapwings wading along the water, accompanied by grey headed lapwings and tiny sandpipers. 


 Wild Water Buffalo

 Bar headed Geese

A couple of Mallards

Gadwall (male)

Eurasian Widgeons

 Northern Lapwing



The forest guard in the vehicle urged us to move ahead as evening would set in soon. The journey inside the jungle was a topsy-turvy roller coaster of a ride. I held on to the side of the open Jeep while the baby slept soundly strapped on to me.  Suddenly the vehicle came to a screeching halt and we found ourselves staring straight into the eyes of a rhino. It was just a few metres away from us, the closest we had ever come across a rhino. We passed it and soon the scenery changed from thick forest foliage to a water body on one side of the road. A Changeable Hawk Eagle sat by the side of the water on a branch, with a just-out-of-water look. Hog deer were in plenty near the water, although I was secretly wishing them to be swamp deer instead. 




 Changeable Hawk Eagle




After some time, the driver stopped the Jeep at one juncture and silently pointed towards the water. We craned our necks and saw the graceful black-necked stork walking proudly by the water-side. We had our fill gazing into its lovely tall form and started the journey again, only to be stopped within a few metres. A huge sambar deer had come out of the bushes and was staring defiantly at us from close quarters. We spotted a circular wound near its neck and came to know later from my dad that it is the result of some parasitical infliction and almost all male sambars suffer from it. 


 Black-necked Stork

 Sambar deer


Light was falling fast and it dismayed the photographer husband. Just as he was about to give up we came across the grey headed fishing eagle. A few clicks and the guy happily put away his camera. Darkness had set in earnestly and we kept our sights focused on the forest on one side of the road. Birds along the water were no longer visible clearly. Suddenly a huge male buffalo crossed the road and stood waiting for us to pass it by. It looked ominous with its gigantic horns and the driver sped up the vehicle. No sooner had we passed the buffalo than we came across a herd of elephants. There were young calves in the herd and anyone will tell you that nothing is fiercer than a mother elephant. We did not pause for a second and drove on at full speed. 


 Grey-headed Fishing Eagle

Stork Billed Kingfisher


The darkness made it difficult to locate anything and finally our Jeep safari came to an end. We were dropped back in the resort. Hot cups of tea and pakodas refreshed us and we spent some time in the room downloading the pictures and trying to identify the birds. Other groups of tourists had arrived in the resort and the air was filled with laughter and squeals. A bonfire was lit under a tent and the adults gathered around with their beverages while the kids romped around. We met up with the manager of the resort and he turned out to be quite a bird enthusiast as well. Dinner turned out to be another delicious affair. We were ravenous and totally forgot to click pictures of the numerous ethnic dishes that we had ordered. The food was homely and fresh. 

 View from our cottage


Here I must mention the hospitality shown by the attending waiters and staff of the resort. They were extremely courteous and took proper care of our baby while we had our dinner, discoursing over the day’s findings. The only disadvantage I could think of in the resort was the lack of privacy in the rooms. There are two rooms for two families in a cottage and the partition wall between the rooms seemed too thin. We could clearly hear the conversations in the next room. I spent a sleepless night worrying about waking the other family up in case my baby cried. I hope the management does something about this problem.


I think I should stop here now. Day two will be continued in another post. It was another exciting day and deserves a separate post of its own. I shall include a few important links and facts on Kaziranga in case anyone wants to visit the National Park. Do wait for me to update my Kaziranga trip. See you!


PS: The photographs were clicked in very low light. Kindly bear with us the poor quality. Also, the birds were at quite a distance and since one is not allowed to alight from the vehicles to get a closer look, the pictures did not turn out that well.  

Update: Part 2 here (Have included the complete list of birds and animals sighted) 

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