Kaziranga National Park
|Total area||430 Sq km|
|Distance from Guwahati||215 Kms.|
|Nearest Airport||Jorhat (88km)|
|Nearest Railway Station||Furkating (75km)|
|Best time to visit||November to April|
|Status||World Heritage Site|
Mornings in the Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern state of Assam are generally misty. So much so that the main gate of the Park is called kohra, or mist. As the sun rises slowly above the horizon, the area metamorphoses into a spectacular sight. The tall, dense, lush green elephant grass wrapped in the haze makes the first impact on the visitor. As the sun slices through the mist, shallow swamps interspersed with large patches of semi evergreen forests emerge gradually. Not far from the place, India’s most notorious river Brahmaputra flows effortlessly, unmindful of the havoc it is capable of wreaking during the monsoon.
Morning is the time of high animal activity in Kaziranga. A flock of Rosy Pelicans glides across a water body in search of a suitable place to hunt. A couple of otters lift their heads curiously to scan the jungle. Suddenly, a small herd of hog deer disappears to a shrill alarm call. There is certainly a predator on the move. Any casual movement in the elephant grass could mean a tiger, a rhino or even a wild buffalo.
This is Kaziranga National Park, where more than half of the world’s population of one-horned rhinoceros can be found. The Park boasts of the highest density of tiger population (nearly seventeen animals in every hundred square kilometers). Kaziranga can also be called the National Park of Giants. Name any Indian species that is large in size and you are likely to find it here. Elephants, rhinos, wild buffaloes, gaurs, tigers, swamp deer, sambar deer; Kaziranga has it all. While we are still on Kaziranga, the hoolock gibbon deserves a special mention. This tailless ape is found in the hill forests of Assam.
Kaziranga also has a commendable population of birds. One can find huge flocks of pelicans, rose-ringed parakeets apart from crested serpent eagles, grey-headed fishing eagles, red jungle fowl, Bengal floricabs, bar-headed geese, whistling teals and swamp partridges. The commonly found storks are black-necked, adjutant and open-billed. Egrets and herons of almost all types can be spotted sitting on the peripheries of water bodies fed by the Brahmaputra.
Unfortunately, the river that pumps life into Kaziranga also snatches it away sometime. Every year during the monsoon, the entire area is submerged in the floodwaters of the Brahmaputra. Ironically, the river whose literal meaning in Hindi is ‘the son of Lord Brahma – the Preserver of the Universe’, swallows around a thousand hog deer and many other wildlife species during the floods. At this time, all the wildlife is forced to take shelter on island like places including the watchtowers, made for forest guards, that can survives the ravages of the floods. These towers are infested with snakes during these months. But what is even more amazing is that these snakes and guards live together in harmony, respecting each others right to live.
Each tower has a small sanctum sanctorum dedicated to Devi Durga, who is believed to be the saviour of the jungle. Everyday, before going out on patrol, the guards invoke the Devi to help them guard the jungle from poachers who, unfortunately, are equipped with better firearms. The rate of poaching and deforestation in the northeastern states of India is much higher than in other parts of the country. Each year, a number of forest-guards in Kaziranga lose their lives in unending battles with poachers.
The main reason for these conflicts in Kaziranga is the rhino. There are more than 1200 rhinos in the Park. It is believed that the rhino-horn (actually a massive overgrowth of hair) has unique medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. A rhino-horn can fetch as much as 5,000 U.S. Dollars in the international market. It is in great demand with Chinese and ancient Indian medicine practitioners. The rhino’s blood and flesh is considered to possess magical qualities and even its urine is used as an antiseptic. No doubt, poachers see the rhino as an easy source of income and ‘power’.
The rhino is an animal of definite habits. It seldom ventures out of its territories, uses the same trails to commute, and even defecates at the same spot most of the time. After observing the rhino for days, hunters dig a pit big enough to accommodate the animal on its route and cover it with leaves. Unaware of the conspiracy, the rhino falls into the pit and is killed.
Tigers pose another major threat to rhinos. Despite the mother’s strict vigilance, rhino cubs often fall prey to tigers. But instances of tigers getting seriously injured in the process have also come to light.
Once Kaziranga was an easy ground for the shikar parties of Rajas and Maharajas (one of the Ranas from Nepal killed 97 rhinos in a month!). Their hide made excellent shields and their body parts were used by royal ‘hakims’, or doctors to make aphrodisiac. But when the rhino population dwindled to a mere twelve in 1908, the authorities introduced stringent laws to save the species. In 1926, the area was declared a reserve forest and was closed for hunting. For the next twelve years, Kaziranga enjoyed being at an arm’s length from human beings. It was during this time that the Park was rejuvenated and grew into a healthy forest. In 1938, the area was thrown open to tourists once again.
Today, Kaziranga is one of the biggest success stories of wildlife protection in the country. From twelve rhinos in 1908, Kaziranga had a whopping rhino population of 1200 by the turn of the century. However, the outer limit that the Park can sustain is 500. The lack of space and grazing area leads to serious conflicts amongst the rhinos and it is not uncommon to come across badly injured bulls in the Park. Nevertheless, the forest department is relocating rhinos to other National Parks in the country.
The best month to visit the Park is December, when the bird population touches a peak. Elephants are the best way to commute in the jungle. Jeep can also be hired from the office of forest department, but it restricts movement to the trails.
Jeep Safari: The ideal way to explore the Park is in an open jeep. You will be escorted by the resident naturalist accompanied by a forest guard. Jeep rides are regularly arranged
Elephant Ride: A visit to the Park on elephant back is a popular way of seeing wild animals. However elephant rides are always subject to availability on that day, as first priority is given to patrolling by the park authorities.