Wildlife can thrive beyond forest ecosystems. Different plants and animals are adapted to different habitat such as fresh as well as marine water, marshy lands, grasslands, alpines etc. Each habitat has its own beauty. We Indians are really very lucky to have almost all types of ecosystems and it is surely one of the many reasons why we should be proud of her. She has plenty of rivers – some huge some small but, they all support great number of biodiversity. Brahmaputra is one of the massive rivers that our country is blessed with.
We decided to experience this different habitat in the month of March, 2016 and visited Kaziranga National Park on the banks of Brahmaputra in Assam. Although many people prefer taking a flight to Guwahati and continue from there by road but, to save cost one can take a train to Guwahati and continue the further journey by road. The train journey was 58.5 hrs long (two nights) from Mumbai. The train passes through the varied and interesting landscapes of country. We reached on third morning to Kamakhya. Kaziranga is about 210kms away from this station. One of the three and half ‘Shaktipithas’ (places of Goddess Shakti) – The Kamakhya temple is on the way.
We reached Kaziranga National Park in the afternoon. There are five zones of the park. We booked our stay near central gate and did five safaris from 3 gates – the central, eastern and western. We had one elephant ride, three jeep rides and one boat ride in the national park.
Kaziranga is located near Karbi Anlong Mountains/hills and also listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It won’t be totally wrong if one says that Kaziranga has got its landscape from the river Brahmaputra. It holds ecosystems such as grasslands, forests, lakes etc. The area gets its fertile soil from this river. There is a particular species of grass called as Elephant grass grows here and it is a favourite food of one of majestic animals – the Greater One Horned Rhinoceros. Elephants, Swamp deer and hog deer are some of the few commonly seen animals here. Earlier, India was home to all the three species of Asian Rhinoceros – Javan, Sumatran and Greater one horned. Now only one species is surviving here that too comes under ‘endangered’ category of ‘IUCN’s Red Data List’. Rhinoceros are majestic creatures. When I first saw them I just kept on looking and forgot that I was carrying a camera. But, I was satisfied as I could admire the animal very well. Its skin folds across its flanks and tubercles give it look of armour-plated body. The horn that they have is actually a thick hair. It grows throughout the life and can be regrown if broken. It is considered to have medicinal properties. That is a reason why they are poached and it is a reason behind them getting endangered. As a habit they follow regular paths and defecate at the same place creating piles of dung. This makes it easy for poachers to find out their location and hunt them down. We also saw a mother and baby (one month old) while we were having an elephant ride. The baby gave us demonstration of how perfectly his mother was teaching him to grow. One of the safari elephant went too close to mom-kid pair. Immediately the kid took an attacking position, warned the elephant to keep the distance and managed to shoo him away.
Elephant sighting was another remarkable moment. When we first saw, it was only one male elephant with tusks and it looked disturbed. We thought it might be because of us and we kept a very safe distance from him. But, we were wrong as immediately we saw a group of another four elephants that were trying to shoo him away from them. That group had two females, one immature female and one Makhna (male with no tusks). We still kept a safe distance as none of them looked in good mood. We observed them nicely for about 5-10 minutes. If you are wondering how come earlier we missed the group of four elephants? Then the answer is the grass here grows really tall. Elephants can easily get hidden in this grass. Only tops can be seen.
If you have plenty of time in hand then a visit to Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary or Hoolock Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary – an area created to conserve the only Ape species found in India – the Hoolok Gibbon. The very distinct difference between other primates and apes is the lack of tail in apes. Apes can walk on the hind limbs for a considerable distance. It takes 3 hrs to reach there from Kaziranga. It has dominance of Hollong trees (Dipterocarpus macrocarpus) hence the name Hollongapar. Hoolock Gibbons got their name from regular calls they make that sound like ‘Hoos’. If you here their ‘hoo’s ‘ then you will remember it for ever. The protected area of the sanctuary is currently surrounded with tea plantations but it was once the patch of huge forest that continued till Nagaland. So, one can imagine the kind and intensity of the pressure on the forest and the life within it. We got to see many primates as well like – stumped tailed macaques, northern pig tailed macaques, eastern Assamese macaques, rhesus macaques and capped langurs. We saw one family and one more adult pair. The males have black fir whereas females are brown. The white eyebrows of males are very distinct. Observing hoolocks is a great experience. They hold and hang to a smallest twig with such ease as we walk in gardens. This place is also good to cite butterflies found in North-East part of India. The variety of arboreal ferns such as bird nest fern is remarkable too. We were supposed to stay here for 2 hrs. However we spent about 5 hrs in roaming here and observing the diversity. It is advisable to keep the entire day free for this sanctuary. After this we returned to Kaziranga in the evening.
One should not miss the chance to experience the vastness of River Brahmaputra. She appeared almost like a sea to me. There is also a chance of freshwater dolphin sighting. Apart from these the water birds like herons, egrets, adjutant storks, openbill storks are seen in plenty. We also saw Great Hornbill as well as common kingfisher. It nests there. We had initially planned for only three rides but after looking at this place decided to have two more jeep rides and we are really glad that we did it.
Next day, we left for Nameri which is about 5 hrs drive from Kaziranga. It has a really good forest that holds good amount of biodiversity. People come here for observing birds and butterflies. We reached here little late and it was a cloudy day so we decided to visit Nameri village. It was worth having a stroll in the village. The houses are built in unique. There is a different kind of satisfaction and calmness I have always observed in any village that I have been. I am not saying that villagers don’t have problems but there is still one can get peace here. After enjoying evening stroll, we came back. Our stay was in tourism department approved hotels at Kaziranga (Namdang house) as well as here in Nameri. The food that we got at both these places was really good.
Next day we went to Pakke Tiger reserve which is in ‘Land of the rising sun’ – the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It was decided to visit here as it is very close to Assam and all other sanctuaries in Arunachal Pradesh are far away from this. Pakke has few villages nearby and really good and thick forest. We did birding for some time and decided to return as we had booked for river ride in Nameri. We had our lunch at a local lunch home. It was Rs. 40/- for a full-fledged thali. River ride on raft was another fun. We saw many raptors and water birds on the riverbanks.
Next day early morning we left for Guwahati airport. We wanted to save on time so we opted for flight. On the way we halted to see birds at Pobitara Sanctuary. One must keep about two hours extra to enjoy birding here. We too enjoyed a lot and did some bamboo baskets shopping at the roadside shops on the way. Overall it was a memorable trip. Looking forward to make another visit to Assam as six days are not enough!
Gauri Gurav is a botanist and naturalist based out of Mumbai. Having worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India), Gauri has expertise in bio-diversity (birds and plants species) and has extensive field experience in organizing nature camps. Currently, she runs her own venture Oikoessence – http://oikoessence.blogspot.in/