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Monday, April 10, 2017

Kaziranga: Where the Rare is in Abundance

Wild Water Buffalo staring at me at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Kaziranga, the home of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros is possibly one of my favorite national parks in India as I absolutely love its rich wildlife and birdlife diversity and stunning sightings. A UNESCO world heritage site, this large national park made up of tall elephant grass (after the rains), marshland and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, is home to more than two-thirds of the world’s population of one-horned rhinoceros and has the highest density of India’s pride, the Royal Bengal tiger.

Crested Serpent Eagle seen at Kaziranga, Assam

And that is simply not its call to fame. Massive elephant gatherings, the menacing looking water buffalo, the dazzling barasingha (swamp deer), barking deer, hog deer, leopards, Indian civet, Indian Pangolin and many other exotic wild animal species can be found here in plenty. And thanks to its diverse vegetation and habitat, Kaziranga is home to amazing birdlife that ranges from eagles to parakeets and from hornbills to water fowl.

A wildlife safari at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

I have been to Kaziranga National Park quite a few times in the past as I absolutely love the vibrancy of nature here. I have written a few blog posts about these experiences in the past, but the seeds of this post in particular took form in my head when I saw ‘Incredible India’s’ campaign for Kaziranga – where the rare is in abundance at one of the domestic airports in India. A lot of beautiful memories of the Kaziranga wild came floating by and I ached to visit this tiger reserve again.

One horned rhinoceros crossing a jeep track at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

One of the highlights of a jungle safari in Kaziranga national park is the fact that you can see a one-horned rhinoceros from as close as a foot away. You are sitting on the top of an elephant (during an elephant safari) and because the rhino is not threatened by the elephant, it comes real close to the elephant and as a wildlife lover, you cannot ask for anything more.

Elephant safari to get closer to the rhino at Kaziranga, Assam

And you don’t see just one rhino, but hundreds of them, roaming like cattle, if I may. And strutting their thick bullet proof bodies. Kaziranga is one of those places where this endangered species is present in good numbers. While poaching almost always causes a problem, the rhinos of Kaziranga seem to be overcoming this menace. The rhino experience is so solid here that one can see them grazing, one can see them locking their horns to show supremacy, one can see the rare rhino charging a jeep that is on a safari, one can see young suckling rhinos, one can see the maternal instinct of mama rhino and also how they live in common amidst all other herbivores, in spite of being way stronger and heavier than most of them.

The endangered rhinoceros of Assam

Kaziranga is like a one horned rhinoceros bonanza. While the rhino definitely is the top attraction in this national park, you will realize the diverse reality of this place when you spend time exploring this jungle through its various zones. From crocodiles to Indian rock pythons, from golden langurs to hoolock gibbons, from tigers to leopards and from large herds of wild elephants to massive herds of wild water buffalo, you will see wildlife like never before.

3 generations of pachyderms strut their stuff at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Each zone, owing to different topography and vegetation offers you a different jungle experience. While some parts offer fabulous sightings of the herbivores, the others offer lovely sightings of the arboreal ones. From sunrise to sunset, irrespective of zone, Kaziranga is simply bound to delight. Throw in a rare tiger or leopard sighting, especially on a jeep track and you have a special wildlife holiday.

Common Stonechat seen at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

And if you are a bird lover, Kaziranga will treat you to something that will leaving you smiling big from ear to ear. From the iconic common stonechat that prefers the top of the tall elephant grass blades to the kills of the Pallas’s fishing eagle and crested serpent eagle, birding action is omnipresent in Assam’s Kaziranga. As most of the national park is on the floodplains of the mighty Brahamputra river, it’s many water bodies and marshland attracts a lot of water fowl and fish eating birds, like the Brahminy Shelduck, Greenshank, black headed Ibis, Darter, Indian Pond Heron, Cormorant, brown fish owl, lesser adjutant stork, Black Necked Crane, Bar headed Geese, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Stout Bill Kingfisher, Great White Pelicans, Grey Headed Fishing Eagle, Spot billed duck, intermediate egret, open billed stork and many more.

Ruddy Shelduck from Kaziranga marshlands, Assam

Gorgeous terrestrial birds such as the Indian Roller, Spotted Owlet, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Oriental Turtle Dove, Alexandrine Parakeet, Long Tailed Shrike among others can also be spotted almost everywhere from the thick woodlands to the tall elephant grass land.

Oriental Pied Hornbill at Assam's Kaziranga National Park

Whether you opt for a morning or an evening safari (personally, I prefer mornings as sightings are better), an elephant safari or a jeep safari, Kaziranga is bound to thrill one and all. From kids on their summer holidays to families with elderly people, from wildlife enthusiasts to lover lovers and from bird watchers to hard core wildlife photographers, Kaziranga’s rare is visible in total gay abandon here and hence becomes one of the best wildlife destinations in the country. So, have I piqued your interest in exploring Kaziranga this summer?

Indian Roller at Kaziranga, Assam

How to get there

Black necked Crane in flight at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

The easiest and fastest way to get to Kaziranga is to fly into Guwahati and then cover the remaining 200 kms by train, taxi or bus.  If you prefer trains, there is a station called Furkating that is 80 kms away. A lot of long distance trains, especially from New Delhi makes its way here. There is a second airport option in Jorhat, which is closer than Guwahati, but flight frequency and connectivity to the rest of the country is poor.

Alexandrine Parakeets busy chomping on ber fruit at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Best Season to Visit

Large herd of elephants at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Summers are the best season for rich wildlife sightings. The next best season are the winter months when birdlife is resplendent, but due to tall elephant grass, sightings are not as common as summer. Do keep in mind that Kaziranga is closed during the extended monsoon season. As Kaziranga is on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra, all wildlife tracks become inaccessible and hence the park is closed.

Place where I prefer to stay
Elephants usurping the jeep track of Kaziranga Jungles, Assam

There are a lot of places of all kinds of budget to stay around Kaziranga National Park, but my personal choice is the  Wild Grass Resort, a wildlife focussed property that arranges knowledgeable wildlife guides and a thorough wildlife experience for all its visitors. This is the kind of place where everyone shares their wildlife stories, wildlife photos and wildlife conversations over a drink or coffee/tea. The property is not expensive and is very much recommended if you are going to Kaziranga just for wildlife and not for luxury or anything of that sort.

Other Attractions Nearby
Female Hoolock Gibbon at Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary, Assam

Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary, a place where you can see India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon, along with the golden langur, stump tailed macaque and pig tailed macaque is just a couple of hours away. A visit to this gibbon sanctuary adds a different dimension to your wildlife experience. If you feel like something apart from wildlife, go for a tea estate experience in either Jorhat or Dibrugarh, a historical trail exploration at Sibsagar or shopping and a Brahmaputra cruise at Guwahati.

What to take back from Kaziranga?
Crested Serpent Eagle in flight at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

While you don’t take anything apart from photos, videos and memories from inside the national park, be sure to buy some of the famous Assamese red tea, some local bamboo products and a hand carved wooden rhinoceros as souvenirs from this part of the country. Assam as a state offers a lot of value shopping. Do look up this article titled ‘What to shop for in Assam?’ for ideas.



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