Swamps and evergreen savannas alternate at the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985 located in Assam in northeastern India is the privileged place where is found the refuge of the rare prehistoric single horned Indian rhinoceros and has also become a Tiger Reserve, for the presence of many specimens of Bengal tiger. The Indian Rhino is different from the African species that has one horn in them instead of two.
Assam is situated between Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh, and is famous for the huge plantations of tea. The Kaziranga nature reserve extends along the banks of the Brahmaputra river at the foot of Mikir hills and houses animals like the buffalo, elephants, deer and a variety of birds including pelicans. But since 1926, its reputation has largely been due to the Indian Rhino, threatened with extinction because of its precious horns.
Over the centuries the unicorn rhinoceros was hunted ruthlessly and that is why it has become rare. They are lost in the mists of time the evidence on the many alleged or actual benefits of the horn powder of this unfortunate animal. The reason was primarily linked to beliefs and superstitions that were handed down from generation to generation. It was said, in fact, that it had magical and healing properties and everything was focused precisely on that single horn on its forehead.
The road runs straight across the plain where the rice fields alternate with endless plantations of tea. Only when it begins to ripple in the gentle undulations, resumed the jungle, with wide grassy clearings and thick forests full of life. Among the only huts in the fields and tiny villages for hundreds of kilometers, reaching Kaziranga national, was an excellent exercise for thinking about Indian countryside and its pleasures.
Soon we arrive in the last wooded stretch along the point of interest of this place, the national park, so, from time to time we even stop to watch the animals in this season of dry, short grass. Together with the shacks and a few brick houses, we find many paths that cross the surrounding woods, in whose thick greenery were built since colonial times, small hotels and sites, which pompously call themselves as resorts, where lovers of nature find shelter for the night.
We could feel ourselves in another era, in a place lost in time and space, of which there was not even, then, a good knowledge. Meanwhile we enjoy the sweetish scent of blood and incense that rise from obscure temples, with hints of sacrificial rites and litanies in monotonous rhythm of drumbeats. In the remote areas among the tall trees, we can feel, without seeing her, the heavy breath of the tiger, hidden in the thick of wet ferns, that only the elephant with its immense huge body can easily penetrate.
In front of the Kaziranga jungle, the large dark room of the resort is almost deserted. A dapper waiter serves Assam tea primly. It's five o'clock and animal skulls look at us sternly behind the thick glass surrounded by a heavy hardwood carved black frame, hanging between the antlers of sambar and those with a crescent of black buffalo. The sun is about to go down permanently behind the sands of Brahmaputra islands.
The clucking cry of the hornbill breaks the silence between the distant palm trees as a row of girls in colorful sarees, return from the tea plantations with panniers full of tiny leaves, which are the first of the spring, green gold, the most tender, precious and fragrant. They are poured into large piles, because eventually they go in lands so remote that it can not even be dreamed of in the most daring thoughts, unconfessed desires, before closing in huts of mats from palm leaf roofs, in the shadow of the cool night. There remains only the light of some fire faraway. Then only high smoke among the palm trees. And the mysterious night of the black jungle.
It's still dark. It is 5:30 am. Homer would say that the rosy fingers of dawn are going to stretch into the sky. A slight breeze blows almost fresh from the forest, on the plain of dry half grass, which from its normal development of a couple of meters was reduced by at least half. The elephant is a dark mass that grunts grumbling while ripping a bundle of green from a bush nearby with little eyes half-closed, perhaps bothered by the task that awaits him every morning, that load on its back a couple of tourists and take a ride up to the point where the plants are more dense and occasionally passing a tiger.
His mahut, whispers sweet words over the big ear that fanned a bit, and then he continue to ruminate the perch, docile enough to do this for an hour walk without puffing. Every now and then he stops. Around it looks like a fairytale landscape. From the earth through the halls with a mist on sparse grasses that makes everything a bit unreal.
Half hidden in the bushes, in small groups or isolated, small deers raise the nose seeing the great mass that moves on the grass. Four antelopes however do not even nod to move. The elephant that follows us is female and her babies stand by her like a shadow, almost merges with her that occasionally gives him a nudge with her trunk to make it go forward. They are getting used to what will inevitably be its fate. It's better than dragging logs in the forest.
The sun has now emerged from the fog when a large gray and wrinkled rump moves ahead of us in the reeds. Quite a rhino with the babies alongside lazily moving towards a muddy puddle, munching grass. Maybe we just see, the view of the rhinos is proverbially very limited. They seem not to notice our passing. A little farther on, another and then two more. No wonder, Kaziranga is the park that contains two-thirds of all Indian rhinos, including more than hundred tigers and many leopards, but these are rather shy and do not come out willingly.
At one point our elephant feels something he does not like. He stops and begins to nod his head while flapping ears and raising his trunk. The mahout caresses the hairy big head, accompanied by some bludgeoned stick, but quietly, almost out of habit than anything else. The babies burrow between the legs of their mother. There is no way, you cannot go forward from there and then there is a rustling of grass in the early morning mist, something that before was there and now it's gone, a yellow and black stripes ghost, who refused to appear, but prefer to hole up in the thick bushes.
At 7 o'clock the sun is high and the heat begins to be felt, the animals move in the shade and on the porch of the lodge, breakfast is ready with porridge, bananas and strong Assam tea. Maybe James Brooke savored in the same way, although disappointed by the inability to grasp the elusive Sandokan, but he, the killed a tiger with a sharp blow gun, like what is still there hanging on the wall under the horns of the black buffalo.
In the afternoon, we have another long ride off-road, to the immense banks that form the infinity overflow basin of the Brahmaputra bed that acts as a barrier to the park. We see still more rhinos, at least ten, alone or in small groups of three or four, monkeys and hoofed animals of all kinds. There are plenty of wild boar with long tusks, that also serves as an ornament for many of the surrounding tribes that inhabit the surrounding hills.
Every so often we encounter groups of birdwatchers that are great patrons of the area, not only for the famous hornbill and the black eagle flying over the highest peaks of the trees, but for the amount of birds that inhabit this large wetland south of the Himalayas. Kaziranga is also home to numerous species of birds, both migratory and predators.
There are many endemic species. The fact is that when you see a group with nose in the air in the direction of a grove of thick trees, you recognize immediately the nationality of binoculars from the size and length of mammoth telephoto lenses especially those of the Japanese. When we get close to pass the track partially occupied by their means, they shake their hand behind their back, angrily, as saying pass quickly and quietly, while not losing an eye into the high branches of plants.
If you hear a rustling of leaves, it is expected the short flight of the hornbill between a branch and the other. At once the photographers take a gusts of photos hopeful to capture the fleeting moment, the magic feather illuminated by beam of sunlight.
On the dirt track instead we occasionally see traces of tiger pug marks perhaps passed in the night. Then, only the sounds of the jungle between the upper branches. Its time to go back. We find ourself in the evening for dinner while others tell of wonderful shots of colorful birds, special calls to uncover any prey.
The presence of the river Brahmaputra running through the park and wetlands and small lakes that dot the area, make Kaziranga a natural habitat with unique features to preserve the species in danger of extinction. These favorable conditions have allowed the spread of the rhino as well as also numerous species of elephants, buffalos, gibbons, royal bengal tigers and Indian leopards.
The park also preserves another rare species of the Ganges dolphin, and hosts some of the largest snakes in the world like the King Cobra to the reticulated python to African Rock Python. Then there are some species of lizards, and even endemic species such as the turtle of Assam as well as fishes.
Kaziranga Travel Tips
The Kaziranga National Park remains open between November and April. The best season is from February to April when the tall grass which cover the grasslands are cleared and dried and are very low. In the rainy season the park is closed, while between October and January, the grass is very tall and thick and almost completely covers the fascinating wildlife.
The nearest major airport is at Guwahati (200 KM) and a minor one at Jorhat (120 KM). You can hire a car or take a bus to the park.
In Kaziranga, located in the districts of Golaghat and Nagaon you can discover each area of the park like Kohora, Bagori, Agoratoli, Burapahar and the Panbari forest ranges. Among the activities on offer, the first is of course the observation of animals, including bird watching. Guided tours are present by elephant back or jeep, while movement on your own is prohibited.
The dawn is the ideal time to observe it, while the typical local fog dissolves the early solar lights on the marsh and moist grasslands, which constitute its ideal habitat, to explore the wilderness of the national park, with the possibility of spotting rhinos surrounded by other endemic animals like deer, gaur, wild water buffalo, wild boar and an incredible variety of bird life. If you are lucky enough, you can also see the Indian tigers, that are very common in this area, but difficult to watch because of the grass, where it can camouflage well.
There are viewing places in the strategic areas of the park like Sohola, Mihimukh, Kathpara, Foliamari and gum trees. At Bagori range there is an information center to help visitors learn about the nature reserve, and are accompanied inside by forest guides.
Through jeep safaris you can explore the park in search of the Indian rhinoceros and other mammals that inhabit it. In 1904, the Rhinoceros unicornis had almost disappeared from India. The establishment of protected areas has allowed a slow recovery of the species.
The resorts are located in areas around the park. Try the vegetable curry and local chicken curry, besides the chapati, Indian bread and rice. Nearby the park, to the west it is worth reserving a day for an excursion on the Brahmaputra River.
From the town of Jorhat, ferries lead to Majuli Island, the largest river island in the world, tangled among the sandbanks formed by the river and full of temples, called the Satras. In the same island on the Brahmaputra you can visit many temples dedicated to Vishnu.
Moving from Kaziranga, you can visit the elegant towns of Tezpur and Sivasagar, ruled for six centuries by the Ahom dynasty. The signs of their kingdom can be seen in the towers and palaces located in the town center.