Wildlife and hospitality in the land of the one-horned

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By: Kamal Baruah

The rain had showered sooner than we expected. It was weekend morning but nothing could dampen our energy and enthusiasm for a tour. Since the weatherman had predicted clear sky for the next day with possibility of sunny day, I jumped headlong into adventuring the jungle territory with my family. After an hour, puffy puri at roadside Dhaba satisfied our hunger. The good road so thrilled and excited us to go further that I kept my accelerator foot over a long drive despite the usual traffic on NH 37.

We followed the road, went across the saddle between two turns at Burapahar. The lush greenery Tea Estate of Kanchangiri welcomed us through the Eco-Sensitive Zone of KNP – Kaziranga National Park. The park has a huge area of four hundred plus square km. I kept driving through the animal corridor over speed breakers of fifty km long stretch. The entire road is in dire need of repairs. Ironically the sensor operated automated barriers and speed limit cameras have failed to prevent wildlife casualties.

The beautiful views of hillside resort brought a smile on our faces whilst clouds were moving over the hills. We crossed the western gate of Bagori by the side of the steep hills of Karbi Anglong. There’re huge grassland and lakes of Borbeel and Dighalibeel spreading the sanctuary. The wheels finally took a right towards the Tourist Lodge. It’s surrounded by Hatikhuli TE. The nice accommodation and its concern towards tourist at Aranya reminded us why Kaziranga is renowned for its hospitality. It was early darkness due to proximity of the hills and we confined to the luxury cottage with a few energy drinks in tranquillity. The resort offered fine dining at supper.

It was the festival of light. The giant elephants and rhinos were terrified by the Diwali boom. I rubbed my tired eyes after a tedious journey and fell asleep. I woke up to the chirping from flocks of birds and sighted some lovely house sparrows through the window. The sun began to peep out. They’re tweeting as if to communicate with each other about our arrival. These birds evolved with humans and are known to stay close to human habitations. They’re a common sighting in our childhood memories.

He was sitting in his jeep, wearing cowboy hat and boots. He’d promptly arranged a pass from the forest department and drove us to the jungle. I was impressed by his first caution for restriction of plastic and food stuff. The security check followed proper procedure and even disallowed water bottle at Mihimukh. We adventured into the one horn nation. It protected habitat of elephants and two thirds of the world’s remaining one-horned rhinoceros.

The lonely road goes inside the Kohora Range. Our safari guide got every details of wildlife. I was impressed by his knowledge and helpfulness. The deer got confused and attentive but the buffalo had another idea of attacking us after he sounded like them. The rhinos and elephants took little notice of the visitors. Interestingly they grazed alone in the large grassland on the open meadows. Besides wild flora and fauna, KNP is home to tiger, hollock gibbon and capped langur. As hundreds of migratory birds arrived, Kaziranga opened to tourists.

The Karbi Hills are the saviour of KNP when the mighty Brahmaputra floods. The artificial highlands aren’t good enough to protect the helpless animals and there are hunters poaching from the river. We saw a clean area under a Bel tree where ancestors lived but now lay deserted. The etymology of Kaziranga comes from two Karbi people namely Kazi and Rangai. Then we sighted shoals of fishes in Diphlu River. The tropical forest was covered by broadleaf Simul tree.

At Kathopora tower, a herd of elephants was bathing in the river. The mysterious dry deciduous thick forest, rivers and rugged trails near Daflung tower offer lingering thrill to any adventure seeker. The grasslands are burnt annually to regenerate low-lying vegetation to enhance the nutritional value for the herbivores. My daughter made no secret of her dislike of elephant safari as she thought it inhuman. Elephants are chained for forced ride for tourists. It’s a lifetime of torture and abuse.

The road was almost blocked by the rhino dung. The rhinos return to same location to poop for a month. The dung odour signals sex, age and their territorial state. The incidence of rising numbers of rhino is very minimal as it gives birth after a long pregnancy of seventeen months. Rhino horns are famous for their healing properties in traditional Chinese medicine thereby hunted nearly to extinction.  We could see a variety of birds from raptors to scavengers, migratory birds, waterfowls, and terrestrial wildlife. They seemed to be standing still.

We’re surprised to see the sprawling area of the Orchid Park covering sour fruits, leafy vegetables, bamboo, cane and fishes. The flowering stems of a cultivated orchid are truly awesome. The guide had enthusiastically shown us a Holong tree, the name coined by British who probably enquired “How long?” After seeing the fifty varieties of Bamboo Park, I bet you can’t do that. We eagerly waited for the biggest thali of twenty menus at lunch. The hospitality inside the biodiversity Park is beyond expression. Even tea garden offered us Jaluk masala as they are abundant in every tree. The cultural program made our afternoon delightful. We returned to Guwahati in the late evening. A call enquiring about our welfare had suddenly brought immense happiness. He was none other than the safari guide Durlav Saikia. KNP’s hospitality is worth mentioning. Their friendliness stays even after we leave them. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of one horn nation.

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