The national parks of Assam promise wildlife enthusiasts that they will not return disappointed.
Kaziranga National Park
Along the south bank of the Brahmaputra River is the Kaziranga National Park. The setting is beautiful with the national highway approaching it flanked by tea plantations and the misty Mikir Hills serving as a backdrop.
The famed one-horned rhino, for which this World Heritage Site is famous, provides an abundance of sightings. In fact, during the early morning safari on an elephant, you will see many of them munching on grass serenely and giving you no more importance than a glance. However, when there is a baby around, the magnificent animal can turn aggressive. For all its weight, the ‘armoured’ animal can run very fast.
The national park, spread over 430 sq km, is arguably one of the best preservation efforts in the country with more than 2,000 rhinos, despite the toll that poaching has taken. The park had a mere 366 rhinos in 1966. Even way back in 1908, Kaziranga was declared a reserve forest with a ban on poaching due to the efforts of Lady Curzon, wife of the then British Viceroy. In 1974, it was officially declared a national park.
Kaziranga pride is the abundance of the one-horned rhino. But it is also a biodiversity hotspot. Dense grasslands, beels (wetlands) and tropical evergreen forest enrich an ecosystem ideal for diverse fauna like elephants, Indian bison, swamp deer, hog deer, sloth bears, tigers, leopard cats, jungle cats, Hoolock gibbons, wild boars, pythons and monitor lizards. It is also a birdwatcher’s haven with a great variety of birds and is regarded as an ‘important area’ by Birdlife International.
The park is easily accessible by air (Jorhat), rail and by road from Guwahati or Jorhat. Today, apart from the forest lodge there are also excellent private resorts and guest houses around the area. Jeeps are available for fire too but nothing is more exciting than the elephant rides guided by experienced Forest Department mahouts. The park is closed between mid-April and mid-October.
The Manas National Park
The Manas National Park is also in Assam. Located at the foothills of Bhutan and spread over 2840 sq km, it is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, a Project Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve and also a Biosphere Reserve.
The main tourist spot of Mathanguri on the northern flank is situated along the Manas River flowing in from Bhutan. The park’s lyrical beauty is legendary with sparkling water of the Manas mirroring the blue sky, orange-laden shrubs on the banks and a silence that soothes the city-laden soul in the evening. If you are lucky, on a moonlit night you can even witness herds of deer coming for a drink. Wisely, the park authorities do not allow harsh electric lights or lud music in order to preserve the tranquility of the forest.
Manas is famous for the rare golden langur, the endangered hispid hare and the elusive red panda. Rhinos were abundant too once but political unrest took a toll in between. Recently, two male rhinos were successfully trans-located from Kaziranga. For bird lovers, it is a veritable paradise. Giant hornbills fly in flocks at dawn and sundown. Then there are pheasants, jungle fowls, partridge, and a variety of water birds inhabiting the area. A boat ride on the Manas is an exhilarating experience. The best time to visit here is from November to April.
Even the road leading to Manas at a distance of 176 km from Guwahati will allow you to appreciate the rural beauty of Assam with its thatched huts and bamboo bridges, women in colourful hand-woven clothes catching fish with Jakoi, and the hills at the Himalayan foothills beckoning you. This is after all the land of the Red River, Blue Hills as late poet-writer Hem Barua had described the beauteous valley of Assam.
One of the best ways to discover Assam is by taking a cruise, operating on various sections of the Brahmaputra River. Here, one can enjoy the wildlife and scenic landscape of the state.
Nameri National Park at the foothills of the eastern Himalayas is home to the tiger, black bear, elephant and leopard to name a few. Among birds, the endangered white-winged wood duck needs mention.
The Jia Bhoroli River flowing by is famous for the golden Mahseer fish. An annual angling competition is organized here every November. The Eco Camp situated nearby is a popular camping site.