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 Park was an excellent exercise for thinking of Indian countryside and its pleasures.
Soon I arrive in the last wooded stretch along the point of interest of this place, the national park. So, from time to time I even stop to watch the animals in this season of dry, short grass. Together with the shacks and a few brick houses, I find many paths that cross the surrounding woods. In its thick greenery are small hotels and sites built since colonial times. They pompously call themselves as resorts, where lovers of nature find shelter for the night.
I could feel myself in another era, in a place lost in time and space, of which there was not even, then, a good knowledge. Meanwhile, I enjoy the sweetish scent of blood and incense that rise from obscure temples. There are hints of sacrificial rites and litanies in monotonous rhythm of drum beats. In the remote areas among the tall trees, I 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 me Assam tea primly. It is five o'clock. The animal skulls look at me sternly behind the thick glass surrounded by a heavy hardwood carved black frame. There hang the heads of 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 returns from the tea plantations with panniers full of tiny leaves. The tea leaves 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 cannot 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 far away. Then only high smoke among the palm trees and the mysterious night of the black jungle.
It is 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. It is perhaps bothered by the task that awaits it every morning. It has to carry the load of a couple of tourists on its back and take a ride up to the point where the plants are denser and occasionally pass a tiger.
Her Mahut whispers sweet words over the big ear that fanned a bit. Then she continues to ruminate the perch, docile enough to do this for an hour walk without puffing. Every now and then she stops. Around it looks like a fairytale landscape 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. Her babies stand by her like a shadow. They almost merge with her who occasionally gives a nudge with her trunk to make them go forward. They are getting used to what will inevitably be their 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. A rhino with the babies alongside lazily moves 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. It includes 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 it does not like. She stops and begins to nod her head while flapping ears and raising her 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. Then there is a rustling of grass in the early morning mist, something that before was there and now it's gone. There is 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. 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. He 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 infinite overflowing 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. It is not only for the famous hornbill and the black eagle flying over the highest peaks of the trees. It is for the number 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 I get close to passing the track partially occupied by their means, they shake their hand behind their back, angrily, like 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 gust of photos hopeful to capture the fleeting moment, with the magic feather illuminated by the beam of sunlight.
On the dirt track instead, I occasionally see traces of tiger pugmarks perhaps that passed in the night. Then, only the sounds of the jungle between the upper branches. It is time to go back. I find myself in the evening for dinner while others tell of wonderful shots of colorful birds, and special calls to uncover any prey.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
AUTHOR Kalyan Panja