KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK
THE PHOENIX FOREST
Location Kaziranga in Central Assam is the state's premier wildlife habitat and stretches east to west along the south bank of the Brahmaputra, which marks its northern boundary. The Karbi Anglong Hills run along its southern boundary. It spreads across two districts, Nagaon and Golaghat
Distances 250 km E of Guwahati, 97 km W of Jorhat
Route from Guwahati NH37 to Kaziranga NP via Dispur, Nagaon, Jakhalabandha and
When to go Nov to late Mar, early Apr Best sightings End of Mar to early Apr
Go there for Rhinos, elephants, hoolock gibbons
Wildlife/ Forest Dept office
• DFO Forest Office, Bokakhat
STD code Kohora 03776
ABOUT KAZIRANGA NP
Kaziranga, in .the language of the Karbi tribe, means 'where the mountain goat has water'. It was a swampy, almost inaccessible wetland, used as hunting grounds by local tribes and shikaris up to 1905, when the British Government, under Lord Curzon, proposed to declare it a reserve forest. This declaration was finalised and the area officially closed for shooting in 1908. In 1950, it was declared a wildlife sanctuary and, in 1974, Kaziranga was given its current status as a National Park.
Flat grasslands with streams and, large, landlocked water bodies (beels) constitute Kaziranga's terrain. Tall elephant grass covers most of the land, sometimes opening into foraging grounds with shorter grasses, few tall trees and cane thickets. The low-lying terrain naturally rises southwards into the Karbi Hills; the transitional high woodlands was earlier a crucial part of this forest, offering safe ground to animals during the annual flood. This strategic forest area has almost completely been taken over by tea estates in the past century.
Almost every year in the monsoon, Kaziranga is submerged by the backflow of the Brahmaputra in spate - this flood helps rejuvenate the forest, recharges the wetlands with fish stock, clears hyacinth and other debris, and brings in silt to give the grassland new life. However, in some years (as it happened in 1998 and also in 2004), when the flood level rises drastically, there is widespread loss of wildlife as animals cannot get to high ground fast enough. The flood, however, is a natural cycle from which Kaziranga rises resilient, phoenix-like, every year.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, Kaziranga is internationally acknowledged for its importance as one of the last undisturbed habitats of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros. Thanks to conservation efforts, today there are over 1,500 rhinos in Kaziranga. It is also home to over 70 per cent of the world's swamp or wild buffalo population. The rare swamp deer is also found in plenty here. According to a recent census, Kaziranga sustains over a 1,000 wild elephants and 450 species of wetland, grassland and woodland birds, of which 18 are globally threatened. The huge number of rhinos in Kaziranga is actually worrying conservationists, who feel that an epidemic could wipe out the entire population. They suggest that some of the rhinos be moved to other parts of Assam.
An Ear for Music
Found across the North-Eastern states and in neighbouring Bangladesh and Malay archipelago, the hoolock gibbon is the only ape seen in the Indian sub-continent. Like other species of gibbons, the hoolock sticks to the upper canopy of the forest where it rests on trees. Gibbons have no tails, which means they rely entirely on their long arms and relatively long legs to swing from one tree to another - a mesmerising sight, if you are lucky enough to witness it. The hoolock feeds on fruits, insects and leaves, but it detests water, so much so that if one were to accidentally fall into a deep pond or lake, it's likely to drown. They prefer to stay in monogamous pairs and are particular about their territorial rights. Most interestingly, hoolocks are considered to be the most musical of all mammals. Except man, perhaps?
Kaziranga spreads over 480 sq km; it stretches east to west with the Brahmaputra as its northern boundary, and is fringed by the Karbi Hills in the south. A move to declare a larger area as part of the park is underway. The south of the park is very easily accessible as NH37 runs right through it. This area has many villages, fields and vast tracts of tea estates; in fact, all the tourist entries into the park are past villages and fields. While there has been remarkably little conflict between humans and animals here over the years, the steady increase in human settlements around this island of wilderness could severely jeopardise it in the next few years.
Kaziranga NP is demarcated into three main tourist ranges - Kohora, Baghori and Agaratoli. All these routes wind through the southern sector of the park, which is teeming with wildlife. Kohora (Tel: 03776-262428) is the central range, and most tourist facilities and park entry, formalities are based here. Every tourist season, early morning elephant rides begin from Kohora (these have recently been introduced at Baghori as well), offering people a close- up feel of the grassland at dawn - rhino sightings are almost assured on these rides. The Assam Tourism Department runs a few reasonably equipped tourist lodges out of Kohora.
Forest Department jeeps are hard to come by for a jungle safari so hire a vehicle from the chowk at Kohora. This might prove to be cheaper than hiring one from your hotel. The latter's charges will be around Rs 1,500 for the whole day or Rs 600 for Kohora, Rs 650 for Baghori, Rs 750 for Agaratoli and Rs 350- 400 for Panbari.
Park entry fee Indians Rs 20, foreigners Rs 250 Vehicle entry fee Rs 200 Still camera fee Indians Rs SO, foreigners Rs 500 Video camera fee Indians Rs 500, foreigners Rs 1,000 Park timings 7.30 am-4 pm
Guides The forest guard who travels with you in your vehicle in the park doubles as a guide. You can tip him any- thing from Rs 50-200 a trip. They can be hired at Baghori and Agaratoli, but for Panbari, guides can be hired at the Kohora Range Office only
You are not allowed to travel on foot in Kaziranga. Guides can be hired from established hotels too and they may carry binoculars; otherwise, carry your own. It's important to have your own survival kit, such as a torch, medicines and toiletries. An outdoor jacket is necessary in winter. While it can be quite warm in the day, evenings can get cold
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
There are three .tourist routes that you can opt for inside Kaziranga, and you can go in either for a jeep or an elephant safari. The safari almost assures you of an unforgettable glimpse of Kaziranga's spectacular wildlife.
The jeep and elephant safaris are 'must- dos' in Kaziranga. In the right season, you can spot many animals in just two days. As Forest Department vehicles are generally not available for tourists, jeeps can be hired at the Kohora Chowk or arranged through your hotel (see Orientation above). Safari timings are monitored strictly by the Forest Department.
Jeep safari timings 7.30-9.30 am, 2- 3.30 pm Elephant safari timings 5- 6 am, 6-7 pm Fee Indians Rs 120, foreigners Rs 750
Air Nearest airport: Jorhat (97 krnl 2 hrs). Guwahati (250 krnl 4 hrs) is another option. Car hire from Guwahati to Kaziranga is Rs 1,200 plus fuel per day. Contact Kuchi Rehman of Allied Services on 09435013595 in Guwahati
Rail Nearest railhead: Jorhat. Buses heading for Upper Assam from Guwahati and Jorhat stop en route at Kaziranga
Network Travel (contact Pinku Datta on 09435043466, 17 Paltan Bazaar, GS Road, Guwahati), which runs a bus service between Guwahati and Kaziranga (fare Rs 220) from its premises opposite Nandan Hotel, near the Guwahati Railway Station, has a small guest house with a restaurant at the park. Take the 7 or 7.30 am bus to get to Kaziranga by noon. Most buses to and from Guwahati halt here for lunch and dinner at their restaurant. So if you stay overnight, you can easily catch a return bus (fare Rs 400 plus) to Guwahati from here
Road Kaziranga is connected by a well- maintained stretch of NH37 to both Guwahati and Jorhat. Buses leaving from Guwahati for Upper Assam stop at Kaziranga
The longest of the tourist routes, a 3- to 4-hr safari in this range offers almost a complete sense of Kaziranga and its wildlife. You may see rhinos, elephants and wild buffalos. A couple of huge ficus trees (when with fruit) here often have majestic pied hornbills feeding on them; owls, and serpent and fishing eagles peer through wooded stretches, monitor lizards blend into tree trunks, and some- times elephants and rhinos lurk in the tall grass. The northern end of this route runs along a rivulet through a wooded stretch -- here turtles in various sizes sun themselves on branches lodged in the water, otters frolic in a pond fringed with sunlit cane fronds, and if you peer into the trees, you can catch colourful minivets darting between branches. The unusual khaleej pheasant or the vibrant jungle fowl could suddenly dart through the undergrowth. The large beels here offer different sights in different seasons. In winter, there are greylag geese feeding furiously and calling in unison as they take off in majestic flight, only to reset tie a little distance away. Later in the year, as the heat increases, the same spot could have buffaloes or rhinos wallowing in the tepid water and the odd black neck stork snooping around in the muddy shallows.
Catching elephants at play in these beels is about the most rewarding experience there can be in Kaziranga. Tiger sightings are uncommon, but there are stories of one-off visitors who have taken a quick spin and come away jubilant with the rare trophy that eludes the most dogged wildlife enthusiasts -- a photograph or at least the memory of a tiger in Kaziranga!
Almost every afternoon, at about 3 pm, the domestic elephants at the Mihimukh Camp (which is located at the beginning of the Kohora circuit) are given a bath in the nearby stream. Children tend to enjoy the sight tremendously and they can also get an opportunity to go up close to the elephants and their calves.
This is in the western end of the park. This circuit is known for guaranteeing sightings and its strategic watchtower. An evening trip on this route is almost always a gift for the wildlife tourist -- shrikes prance about on burnished grass stalks and herds of elephants graze with- in clear viewing distance. Head to the watchtower before sunset to take in the view of the large clearing beyond the water, bathed in a golden light. You might be lucky enough to spot swamp deer, hog deer, buffaloes, rhinos, and even some elephants.
Panbari Reserve Forest
A few kilometres east of Kohora is the Panbari Reserve Forest'. This approximately 10-sq km long patch is one of Kaziranga's few remaining highland forest stretches along the Karbi Anglong foothills that has not been eaten into by tea estates or indeed by other human settlements. The canopy is thick and the trees still stand tall, surviving sentinels of a lost forest. The road along this semi- hilly tract is quite a rough ride but is well worth it if you have a sturdy back. The terrain itself is pretty, with winding streams and lots of green. One can spot hoolock gibbons high up in the top canopy and, if you're lucky, you could probably see a 'cat langur'. Birds are aplenty here, especially woodland varieties. You can come across elephants here, and if they're not feeling too tolerant, they may threaten to charge. In the open grassland, they are a lot less jumpy about human intruders.
To enter Panbari, you have to hire a guard from the Kohora Base. The whole trip can take up to 2 ½ hrs, if you take it easy through the forest circuit. Jeep hire charges are between Rs 350 and 400. The forest lies en route to Agaratoli (see below) and, nearby, there is a Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre run by the Wildlife Trust of India and the State Forest Department (off-limits for tourists).
This is the easternmost of the three routes and is 21 km from the Kohora Base. This range is more wooded than the other two and animal sightings are slightly less frequent. Birds are abundant along this route. Forest guards report tiger sightings here quite often and there's a pelican colony towards the end of the circuit.
A lesser-known fact about Kaziranga National Park is that it is also a bird- watcher's paradise. It is second only to Corbett National Park in the diversity of bird population that is to be found here.
There are over 450 species of birds here, with the usual wetland resident and migratory birds. The endangered Bengal florican, the pied horn bill, raptor and owl species can all be sighted in Kaziranga National Park.
The World Heritage List includes 812 properties worldwide which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. Of these 26 have been identified in India of which five - Kaziranga. Keoladeo, Manas. Nanda Devi and Sunderbans - are natural reserves
Plantation and village visits
Non-wildlife options could include a visit to a nearby tea plantation and factory and a trip to a local Karbi or Mising Village where you can spend a day with the locals and see some of their craft and weaving. These are not organised options, but the Wild Grass Resort arranges day trips or half-day trips for guests on request. The vehicle hire costs to travel to these places are Rs 200 for 2 hrs or Rs 450 for a half-day trip.
A kilometre off the Kohora Range is the Soil Inspection Bungalow in Hathipathar, where the Kohora rivulet tumbles through rocky woods. This is a good place for a picnic lunch.
The rudimentary Nature Interpretation Centre at the Kohora Range Office has some maps and postcards. Children may find this particularly useful, as it gives them an idea of what species of animals or birds to look out for. At some of the hotels such as Wild Grass and GL Resort, you can pick up souvenirs such as T-shirts, mugs and gift pouches of tea. A new petrol pump on the highway also stocks some souvenirs.
Where to stay
Kohora has a range of accommodation options, and you can choose from basic tourist lodges to private-run hotels.
The Assam Tourism Development Corporation runs three tourist lodges here. Aranya Tourist Lodge (Tel: 03776- 262429; Tariff: Rs 635-750), with 20 rooms and four cottages, is located about 3 km from the park. Its facilities are basic, though it includes a restaurant, laundry and hot water. Bonani Lodge (Tel: 262423; Tariff: Rs 320-380) and Bonoshree Lodge (Tel: 262423; Tariff: Rs 250) are charming old-world options with basic infrastructure. The food served at the latter comes from Bonani Lodge.
A few kilometres beyond Kohora is the Wild Grass Resort (Tel: 262085/ 2011; Tariff: Rs 1,450), Kaziranga's most popular and established hotel. Set in a sprawling wooded estate, this is a simple, elegant hotel surrounded by silence, greenery and a relaxing ambience. Once you get there and ask for assistance, your itinerary is taken care of; the in-house guide Pal ash is a real asset on a safari. They arrange elephant rides, jeep safaris and also other local tea and village tours. Most of its personnel and staff are from the surrounding villages, allowing the benefits of tourism to filter down to local villagers. Even its table linen and food items are from the villages. There is no television or air conditioners here, by choice. Wild Grass has a pool, usually full in the summer. Bonfires are lit every evening in winter.
The Hotel Bonhabi (Tel: 262710; Tariff: Rs 700-1,400) is in the vicinity of Kohora, about a kilometre from the park, and is an aesthetic and well-run option. It offers elephant and jeep safaris, and has a multi-cuisine restaurant.
The Soil Inspection Bungalow (Tel: 262409, Tariff: Rs 450-500) is prettily located on the Kohora River and is about 1 km from the Tourist Centre. This colonial, bungalow-style accommodation has AC rooms, provides bedding and linen and arranges meals at extra cost.
Further away on the picturesque out- skirts of Kaziranga is the sprawling but gaudy GL Resort (Tel: 03672-279002, Mobile: 09864025267; Tariff: Rs 750- 1,440). On offer are 18 cottages constructed in four different styles, air-conditioned pucca cottages, mud huts and Karbi-style chang (stilts) construction and honeymoon cottages in cane. The in-house restaurant has an Indian, Continental and Chinese menu but the resort also has a dhaba that serves cheaper thali meals. jeep safaris and elephant rides are arranged at extra cost.
WHERE TO EAT
All the hotels have functional restaurants but if you want anything apart from the fixed menus, it helps to order in advance. Wild Grass has a range of Assamese dishes such as mustard fish in banana leaves and does basic Chinese and Continental food. If you're staying at one of the established places, food rations will not be required, but you may want to carry your own water, energy snacks and tetra packed juice to take along on a safari. Some hotels pack a takeaway sandwich meal in case you intend to stay out long. The Kohora Highway Crossing has plenty of little dhabas with the usual fare of tea, samosas, mithai and rice-dal-roti meals. Packaged chips and cold drinks are avail- able but some of the 'mineral' water bottles sold here can be a bit dubious.
AROUND KAZIRANGA NP
jorhat and beyond
About 97 km east of Kaziranga is jorhat, also the closest airport, and there are some interesting excursions beyond this town. One could stay for a night at the high-end colonial heritage tea bunga- low-turned-into-a-hotel, the Thengal Manor (contact Rupa Barbara on 0376- 2304672 or Mobile: 0-9954451548; Tariff: Rs 1,950-2,350) at Thengal. They have four large double rooms and one smaller one. Meals cost extra.