Travel Diaries – Kaziranga : A land lost in time

Just imagine if a place like Jurassic Park existed, where species that had become extinct the world over roamed freely and in abundance. With the ancient looking Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros and Wild Water Buffalo, whose last major surviving world population can only be seen here, Kaziranga comes quite close!

Kaziranga had always held a fascination for me while growing up, it was kindled in Arup Dutta’s children’s novel the ‘Kaziranga Trail’ and further stoked by the brief coverage in Valmik Thapar’s landmark BBC Documentary ‘Land of the Tiger’. Later on, while reading wildlife articles and journals I found out that once upon a time the entire Himalayan foothills were full of tall grasslands and swamps and its unique wildlife, but while small pockets of such forests have remained in Nepal, UP, Bihar, Bengal and Assam, the amazing wildlife disappeared from most of its historic range. Kaziranga remains the only place where such creatures thrive and in great numbers….truly a lost world hidden from the ugly all-consuming tentacles of civilization.

A trip here was on the cards for ages, but owing to distance and poor connectivity from my hometown Lucknow as well as security concerns, it got postponed in favour of alternatives closer to home like Ranthambore and Dudhwa. However, in the summer of 2017 I finally stiffened my resolve. We planned our trip well in advance; we were aiming for the Good Friday long weekend in Mid-April. We had factored in that the fact that the park closes in May and rains start to arrive towards the end of April, what we did not account for is that around 15th April is also ‘Bihu’ or the Assamese New Year. While doing our research on trip advisor we had come across three resorts that we liked, the highest rated was the IORA Residency situated near the Kohora zone gate, people had praised it for its restaurant, spa and other high end services, the second one being the Diphlu River lodge situated near the Bagori gate, which was described as very scenic and boasted of Prince Charles among its celebrity visitors, and the third one being Resort Borgos , situated right on the gate of Kohora zone, having been converted from a tea estate, people had praised it for its old world charm. However owing to the ‘Bihu’ rush, IORA and Diphlu were sold out and we barely managed to get 3 rooms with single beds in Borgos after paying an astronomically high rent of 10K /room.

We had booked our flight connection via Delhi since there is no direct connection from Lucknow, I was travelling with my wife and parents, while my brother (who is working in Gurgaon) , his wife and my nephew joined us on our stopover in Delhi. A two hour flight later we landed in Guwahati, for the first time in our lives. Right from the Airport, Kaziranga beckoned to us. A huge life size rhino sculpture glared moodily at us at near the luggage belt, and right in front of the exit terminal there was a mini Kaziranga park with models of rhinos, wild buffaloes and elephants camouflaged in tall grasses….just the right start!!. We had a sumptuous lunch at Radisson Guwahati and proceeded to pay our respects at the famous Kamakhya Devi Temple, it was one of the items on my Mom’s bucket list. After seeking the blessings of the goddess, we proceeded on our way to Kaziranga. The drive from Guwahati to Kaziranga is 4-5 hours, but the highway is smooth and well maintained, with even a Punjabi dhaba midway!! The pleasant drive came to a bumpy climax as we turned onto a mud path that led to Resort Borgos, it was like a 5 minute roller coaster ride over a wet, muddy undulating path. Thankfully the welcome sight of Borgos washed away our discomfort as well as all the doubts….it turned out to be a fabulous place.

Borgos is like a huge wooden mansion like in the stories of yore. It’s entrance has a shady walkway that leads to a well-lit, high ceilinged welcome lounge with massive wooden sculptures. Next to the lounge is the multi cuisine restaurant, bar and pool, and beyond that is a beautiful garden across which is the two storied structure that houses all the rooms. The rooms turned out to be large and spacious, with a cute little balcony. We tried Chinese at the restaurant for dinner, and weren’t disappointed.

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After that we booked our Safaris for the next two days at the hotel reception. We had four zones to choose from – Kohora, Bagori, Agoratoli and Burapahar. Our online research had revealed that Kohora is the center of Kaziranga and this has traditionally been the zone for best wildlife sightings. However, while talking to some wildlife experts on their Facebook page, Bagori or the western zone was high on their recommendation list, especially for tiger sighting. Agoratoli or the eastern zone was touted as a bird watcher’s paradise while not much literature was available on Burapahar zone. We decided to do our elephant safari and 2 jeep safaris in Kohora zone, and one jeep safari each in Bagori and Agoratoli. With all bookings completed, there was nothing else to do but wait in eager anticipation for the first light of the morning.

Day 1: Early morning elephant safari – KOHORA ZONE

We were up with the first light of the morning and rushed to the boarding point for elephant safari, fortunately situated right at the gate of Kohora zone and very close to our hotel. Riding an elephant is always an adventure. While most parks don’t offer this facility anymore, Kaziranga is one of the few remaining parks where you can still enjoy the pleasure of getting close to wild animals on elephant back without alarming them. The cost of the elephant safari is modest (Rs500/person), but it is important to note that only one elephant safari is allowed per family, irrespective of the duration of your stay. While climbing the machan to board the elephant, we came across high water level marks, a silent reminder of the deadly floods that ravage Kaziranga every year, yet it is these same floods that support the life sustaining beels or flood ponds where the rhinos, elephants and buffaloes spend the majority of their time wallowing.

Just as our elephant started on its jaunty walk through the marshes, the nascent rays of the sun broke through the morning mist illuminating the beels scattered across the wetland in a golden glow. And there it was…standing tall and proud next to a much wallowed beel was our first rhinoceros, giving us an annoyed look at having walked in on him during his breakfast. Our mahout moved the elephant closer to enable us to get a better look. We were so close now we could see the veins on his face and admire its formidable horn. Its back was slick with mud from its last wallow, and cattle egrets were having a ball hunting for treasure in the mud clots formed on its corrugated grey hide. The eye contact with us lasted a while in which my Nikon D7100 DSLR kept buzzing nonstop, till the rhino lost interest and resumed its meal….what a magnificent creature! There are about 3500 Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros left in the wild today, of which Kaziranga harbors a staggering 2500, a figure that we totally believed after being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Rhinos that we saw over the next few days.

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As our elephant moved further into the marshy grassland, we came across a rhino mother with a newly born calf, barely days old. The baby rhino looked so soft and cuddly like a teddy, its horn a mere stub. It bravely decided to venture out from between its mothers legs giving us an excellent photo-op, but got scared by the cattle egrets and ran back to its sanctuary.

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In our line of sight we could see the marsh stretching across in all directions, and in the distance there were mountains making for a scenic view. These mountains are where the animals take refuge when the park gets inundated during floods, but unfortunately they are not a part of the reserve and this is where the animals become most vulnerable to poachers. My thoughts were interrupted by a streak of gold rushing through the grass; it was a swamp deer doe. Sensing the herd must be nearby, our experienced mahout egged on the elephant to go further, and we came upon a herd of 20-30 swamp deer resting on their bed of short grass. Our arrival served as a rough wake up call, as still drowsy they started to get up and move into the tall grass for safety.

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From among the nervous females, emerged a huge Barasingha stag. While Barasingha in India has almost become a generic term for any male deer, it is only the swamp deer stag that sports twelve tines and is the real Barasingha. Looking resplendent in its summer coat of bright gold, the stag walked with swagger and flaunted its showpiece antlers before disappearing in the tall grass with the rest of the herd. It was hard to believe that just a few minutes ago there was an entire herd of swamp deer here, but now nothing was visible. Such are the ways of the forest; you need to have luck as well as an experienced guide to be in the right place at the right time.

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While the adult elephants showed the tourists around, their baby elephants accompanied us on the ride and proved to be very entertaining companions. They would run around and frolic in the grass, play with twigs and if they really liked you, they would throw in a charming salute with their raised trunks. The sun had risen in the horizon by now as we navigated our way on elephant back to the machan where we would get down, but not without a surprise! Just where the marsh descended into a small pond we caught the glint of sunlight reflecting from a gigantic scimitar shaped horn. We were excited, could this be our first ever sighting of the wild Asiatic water buffalo, of whom less than 2000 survive in the wild and nearly all of them are found in Kaziranga. Sure enough it was, descending down the slope to the pond we could get the complete view, there were four adult buffaloes, sitting amidst the water in a tight circle with their backs together.

new metal4The most striking fact about the wild water buffalo is the sheer girth of its curved horn; it generates admiration and fear in equal proportions. Seeing the four of them together, their massive bodies caked with mud, and huge pair of horns jutting out in all four directions was quite a sight. I was so busy clicking with my DSLR that I didn’t notice the buffalo nearest to us had started to get up; suddenly my entire frame was covered with a dark brooding face, the zoom totally not helping as I got a close up of its nose hair! It gave a threatening shrug of its massive shoulders, its mud facial peeling off and flying in all directions, making us realize to our horror that we had totally ruined its spa session. Before things could get out of hand and the buffalo could charge our mahout sensed the danger and wheeled the elephant towards the safety of the machan. Whoa…that was a close shave! The wild buffalo is one of the shortest tempered animals, and after that day I looked at even the common domestic buffalo with a new found respect. One useful tip to the traveler, elephant rides make you ravenously hungry, so plan on having breakfast before you head off on the jeep safari.

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Day 1: Morning Jeep Safari – KOHORA ZONE

After stuffing ourselves with breakfast, we started for our jeep safari…only to find that owing to Bihu no jeeps were available at that point of time. Yes, that after we had booked our safaris one day in advance from the hotel desk. The excitement of the morning made us restless to go back into the forest, but we had to wait a while in the hotel lobby with some equally gloomy foreigners. Finally we found a driver free for jeep safari. The charges for jeep safari are around 2K, plus 1K extra for video camera. It was already past 8 in the morning, and those who regularly visit wildlife parks will know that doing a safari after the sun rises high on the horizon is nothing but a waste as all animals go into hiding…but Kaziranga turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Soon we realized that the place is so rich in wildlife that it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is or which month of the year it is…the wildlife is everywhere and on full display. While the Elephant safari had just covered a small patch of marsh, the jeep took us deep inside the forest. Kohora is such a beautiful zone to drive through, full of endless grasslands, lakes, streams and ponds. The rhinos were everywhere, gazing at us curiously, munching on greens or wallowing in the ponds with only their horn visible above the water.

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We came across a grumpy looking lone bull wild buffalo and hastened to give it a wide berth. We took the high road which enabled us to get a better high view of the grasslands, and spread across the grasslands in a heartwarming sight were many groups of hog deer. Hog deer is also an endangered species, but you would hardly believe that looking at the hundreds of medium sized chestnut brown deer grazing peacefully in the Kaziranga grasslands. Being very shy and sensitive, hog deer takes flight at the merest of sound or movement, it’s very difficult to get one to stay sufficiently still to pose for a photo, though luckily we got one!

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The drive got really interesting once we left the grasslands behind and entered the pristine forest, thick with towering trees, their canopy blocking out the sun. It felt like being in a different world and indeed in the shade and solitude of the forest we met many beautiful creatures. The first of these announced itself in grand fashion before coming into view, the Jungle fowl. There are few sights more beautiful than seeing an adult male jungle fowl, its plumage a mosaic of scarlet red, emerald green and pale gold, walking haughtily with its neck held erect above its body.

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We were just admiring the colorful photos we had clicked of the jungle fowl, when we turned a bend and found a huge male sambar deer stag wading in a forest rivulet. This was an animal we weren’t expecting to see, while it is fairly common across India, being a browser it doesn’t flourish in Kaziranga’s grassland dominated landscape. Yet here it was, being the largest deer in India does give you some screen presence and our cameras were kept busy for a while. On every branch or rock that jutted out from the rivulet, were perched Assam soft backed turtles enjoying the sun on their backs.

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We were having a great time and anticipating some big game sightings like tiger or elephant but suddenly the weather changed…bright sunshine gave way to grey nimbus and the trees shook in a noisy thunderstorm. Hundreds of balls of wild cotton swarmed across our vision as the rain poured in torrents. The best we could do was pull down the hood of the gypsy and wait it out. Just like it had arrived, the storm passed on in a rush. Already late, we headed back to the hotel to get some lunch. We had packed our cameras and were laughing and joking, but as they say you should never write off the forest till you are out of it, it can surprise you at any moment!

Our driver braked hard and the car came to a dead stop, we craned our necks to see what animal was blocking the way, but instead the driver was pointing up and telling us to be silent. Then we saw it, it was the rare Great Indian Hornbill up in the branches, and what’s more, it had a nest in the tree hollow from which naked open mouthed chicks clamored for food. The bird was really tall; its black plumage bordered with white gave it a gentlemanly appearance and just like a dashing bright tie adds zing to a formal suit, it’s oversized bright yellow beak stood out in sharp contrast. We were mesmerized by the scene that unfolded in front of our eyes as the hornbill gurgled out food for its children and fed them with such tenderness and love. After a while the hornbill spread its enormous wings and flew away on its next sortie right over our gypsy, a sight to remember for life…as a testimonial to that sighting I bought a roughhewn wood carving of a hornbill outside the park gate and it sits lovingly in my room today

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Day 1: Evening Jeep Safari – BAGORI ZONE

Lunch was a short affair as the sun sets early in the north east and the evening ride begins at 2 30 pm. Our evening safari was going to be in the much touted Bagori zone which was a little distance away from our hotel. On the way to Bagori, one could sense the hallowed position enjoyed by the rhinoceros among the locals. From appearing as a brand on the nameplates of most hotels and cafes to giving a source of livelihood to the local artisans selling wooden rhino models on the roadside, the rhino is so much more than an animal to them. The best example of this bonhomie could be seen on a busy road intersection, which was adorned by the large statues of a rhino mother and calf at its center. Somebody had lovingly tied the traditional red and white patterned Assamese gamocha on the neck of the mother, just as one would do to welcome a family member to a Bihu feast.

At the entry point of Bagori zone, we were greeted by an enormous wild buffalo skull. It was so big it looked prehistoric, made one wonder what an animal it would have been in its prime…we shuddered at the thought of coming face to face in the forest with that beast of a buffalo. Within a hundred meters of entering the zone, it became clear why Bagori was so highly rated. We came upon a grassy glade that had a crash of eight rhinos grazing all around us. One of the rhinos had strayed very close to the dirt track, our guide told us to be cautious as our vehicle maneuvered around it, and just when we needed her the most, lady luck decided to take a break from her watching-over duties. Our vehicle got stuck in a patch of slush by the roadside. The driver revved up the engine to generate enough force for the gypsy, only managing to splatter the rhino with dirt as it had looked up. Our driver tried again and succeeded in making our rhino friend angrier. Its lower lip curled into a mean snarl, it repeatedly snorted and stomped its foreleg. It was gearing up for the charge, while they may not look it, rhinos can run very fast, and with the rhino being almost as big as the gypsy, it would have been anybody’s guess as to who would be the last man standing. Lady luck arrived just in time giving a much needed shove to the gypsy, and while the others worried about getting away safely, the photographer in me decided to make the best of the tricky situation and got some awesome shots.

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A little ahead we came across a small pond full of beautiful pelicans and the black Ibis. The pelican has a very peculiar beak, which to me resembles a long soup bowl, its lower beak is deep and the top sits on it like a lid. As we watched, it opened its beak wide in a huge yawn resembling a hippopotamus of the Mara, but its purpose in doing so was more practical, it thrust its open beak into the water and shut the lid like a trap with water and wriggling fishes inside, perfect ingredients for a broth. By now I was starting to wonder where the wild elephants were….Kaziranga has over a thousand wild Asian elephants but so far we had not come across any!!

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The drive then continued in a beautiful patch of forest next to a river and grass was definitely greener on the other side as it was full of luscious green grasslands. There was a sudden movement on our left and a wild boar darted across the road. It was a stout fellow with curved tusks and a shaggy mane, just adding to the impression that everything was bigger and wilder in Kaziranga. We came across many rhinos and hog deer feeding peacefully in the grass across the river, with the occasional wild boar trotting away, always in a hurry.

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The sun was beginning to set, and twilight is one of the best times for tiger sighting. We were looking at all likely places a tiger might be hiding or any warning calls signaling tiger movement but without luck, though we did catch a rare vulture up a tree. The dying sun painted the sky pink and river below mirrored the exquisite canvas, just then a wild buffalo waded in the water. It cut across the current with strong strides and stood in the middle with its head held high and proud. The imposing figure of the buffalo backlit against the backdrop of the sunset was a god given frame, and I wasted no time in capturing it forever in my camera.

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Day 1: Evening at the Borgos Resort

After back to back safaris we returned to our resort, tired but hugely satisfied. As we trudged back to our rooms, we couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the resort looked at night, lit with artistic little lamps resembling lanterns.

We were summoned by the hotel staff to the beautiful lawns, tonight was a special treat for all residents, an authentic Bihu performance by an Assamese troupe. The chairs were laid out in a semicircle and a well-stocked bar was within easy reach. The performers arrived in their traditional outfits of red and white with the special patterned gamochas around their necks. What followed was a fluid dance with the performers dancing in easy rhythm to the beat of the indigenous instruments. The special thing about the dance was that each of the performers had a big smile on their faces as they danced effortlessly; infecting us with the unadulterated spirit of happiness and celebration that Bihu is about. I and my wife decided to slip away for a quiet stroll. It was a romantic night, with the wind gently swaying the trees to the muted rhythm coming from the lawns, the silver orb of the moon was glowing faintly in the distance, the lantern lamps cast flickering shadows on the cobbled stones and the air smelt of fresh flowers and wet earth.

Day 2: Morning Jeep Safari

Our morning safari was in Agoratoli or the eastern zone. The sky looked overcast and gloomy, not the best start for a full day of safari. We also miscalculated the distance to Agoratoli as it turned out to be quite far. Once again we ended up starting rather late at 8 am for the safari. After the phenomenal sightings of Day 1, we were hopeful of sighting the elephants and the tiger on day 2. As soon as we entered Agoratoli, the huge meandering lake came into view. We could just imagine how this lake would be teeming with multicolored migratory waterfowl in the winters. However, being summers, the azure blue waters stretched unbroken in all directions with small green islands jutting out. In a corner, few bulldozers were humming noisily, dumping lumps of earth to build a mound that would serve as a safe haven for animals when the flood waters rise. This further eliminated any chance of animals in the vicinity as the noise would have scared them away. We took the high road that gave us an elevated view of the lake and far beyond. A few swamp deer were scattered around the lake shore. In the distance, we could spot a big herd of wild buffaloes, it comprised of both adults and semi adult calves numbering more than fifty!

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The sky was turning ominously darker by the minute and the temperature dropped sharply, making us shiver. Suddenly something brownish red moved across the bank, it was walking purposefully towards the buffalo herd. Our moods changed in a second, could this really be it, a tiger!! And that too on a buffalo hunt!! I and my brother stood up on our seats to get a closer look with our zoom lenses. Close examination revealed it to be a buffalo calf separated from the herd which it proceeded to join and snuggle up with its mother. This happens every so often in a jungle, one suddenly gets excited in anticipation for a tiger sighting and the adrenaline cranks up, only to be left high and dry, but just imagine the feeling when it does turn out to be the king of the jungle, in that moment one forgives all previous false alarms.

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We kept scanning the lake and were delighted to see two smooth coated otters perched on a small island. Both were standing very still, tense and expectant, suddenly one of them dived in the water and resurfaced clutching a large fish between its paws. Its mate on the bank jumped too, trying to get a share of the catch, but the hunter was clever, it kept diving below the surface and resurfacing a little ahead, shrugging its waterproof golden brown coat and chewing furiously at its fish. Ultimately it got tired of the game and allowed the second otter to move in; together they stripped the fish to the bone in seconds!

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The heavens also deemed it the best time to open up, and send forth rain thundering down on the plains. It kept hammering away at the hood of the jeep for an hour totally eating into the safari time, while we slipped into an involuntary slumber. The weather in Kaziranga is so unpredictable that the traveler is well advised to plan for atleast 4-6 safaris in the forest, just a day stopover /single safari can easily be washed out leaving one frustrated. Our safari being affected by rain, we were a despondent lot as we headed back, but Agoratoli bestowed us with a parting gift. Just as we turned the last stretch of the lake before the entry gates, our sore eyes lit up at the sight of an enormous grey shape in the water. It was too big for a rhino surely, and then it turned its stately head and gazed at us, massive ears flapping and trunk raised. The first of Kaziranga’s thousand elephants had decided to see us off. It was a lone male, with a beautiful pair of ivory tusks. It looked in a good mood, coiling its trunk around the water plants and raising it to its mouth to munch on their moist stalks and flowers , its short pig like tail swinging away merrily.

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Day 2: Evening Jeep Safari

Again lunch was a very short affair…. And our evening repeat safari in Kohora Zone was going to be our last in Kaziranga. Our resort chefs had dished out a traditional Assamese lunch in honour of Bihu. It was a very interesting meal, with one particular dish of succulent meat and roasted potatoes that took the cake. After taking a last evening stroll at our resort, we set off on the final safari.

The focus of this safari was fully on tiger sighting and our guide was confident. There was movement of a pair of tigers on the Kohora zone tourist route, and a few fellow tourists had sighted them here the previous evening. Luckily for us the afternoon sun shone brightly eliminating any chance of rain as we entered the forest. A few hundred meters inside, the driver stopped near a group of hog deer. We were really not in the mood for hog deer as our entire energy was devoted to finding the tiger, then we noticed that they were all looking in the same direction, towards the bushes on the left. They were standing very still, cocking their head from side to side and their white tails erect. There was a palpable tension in the air, there was something there in those bushes that they were scared of! We switched off the engine and decided to wait for the mysterious animal to show itself. The hog deer cautiously moved a little in the direction of the bushes and again froze like statues. We waited for a quarter of an hour, the hog deer were still standing in the same posture, but nothing came out of the bushes. The guide said if the deer had seen the tiger they would have given a loud alarm call, so we better move on and try our luck further up the forest. As we left, the hog deer were still tense, I couldn’t suppress the nagging feeling that though they may not have seen it, they had certainly smelt a predator in the bushes.

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Adrenaline was running high; we were standing in our open jeep braving the bumps and jerks just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. The guide took us to a lagoon hidden by elephant grass on all sides; the tigers had been spotted here a couple of times before. We again switched off the engine and waited for some time listening attentively for any unusual sounds. The wait yielded nothing and after a while a big rhino came out and started splashing in the water. The guide suggested we move into the thick forest canopy as the tiger might be resting there after a meal. Very slowly the gypsy rolled through the forest, we craned our necks in every direction trying to look through the dense undergrowth for a spark of red or yellow. Suddenly a high pitched nasal ‘conk’ punctured the silence. Within seconds there were two more answering ‘conk’s, it was the alarm call of the hog deer, and the forest came alive. Birds started chirping in the trees, monkeys started chattering agitatedly in the branches, a jungle fowl let out a deep throated cock-a-doodle-doo and the hog deer kept calling intermittently, confirmed signs that a tiger was moving.

The driver revved the engine and accelerated back to the grasslands, the gypsy bouncing on the undulating forest trail, we held on to the handlebars ducking frequently to avoid the branches that jutted into our path. Cameras ready, we burst into the grasslands frantically searching for the source of the sound, unfortunately the forest had gone silent again. The driver guessed that the calling would have stopped when the tiger would have descended into the tall grasses, and he bravely pushed the gypsy down a steep road right into the heart of the grassland. We were hemmed in by six feet tall elephant grass on both sides, visibility was minimal here, our hope was that the tiger might cross our path; we also couldn’t help feeling vulnerable as we were sitting ducks if any animal decided to pounce from behind the curtain of grass. A herd of buffaloes crossed the road; they were very alert, looking behind repeatedly. The sun was starting to wane, time was running out, but the tiger being so near still eluded us.

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We decided to try our luck on the patch of grassland to the other side of the high road, and just as we climbed the high road we had a surprise waiting for us. Not ten feet from the road were elephants, lots of them, a full herd. From such close quarters they were looking gigantic, their grey wrinkled hide splattered with mud that the elephants had themselves coated to ward off flies. First came the young semi adults, tossing their heads in youthful exuberance and picking off bundles of grass, they were followed by the full grown females with little calves scampering between their feet, then came the old females lumbering heavily and finally came the big bull elephant, a tusker with sunlight glinting of its magnificent ivory tusks.

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The tusker was looking directly at us and was wary of our presence; it repeatedly gave warning signals, flapping its ears vigorously, rearing its head, swinging its trunk from side to side like a pendulum, digging the earth with is foreleg to raise a cloud of dust. In this situation, descending into the grassland would have been inviting for trouble, so we slowly moved a little ahead on the road. But the tusker was not amused, he stayed back as the rest of the herd retreated and started walking parallel to our gypsy, we realized that having a herd of young ones to protect, the tusker intended on escorting us to a safe distance from its family. It walked alongside the jeep for the next hundred meters, munching on green shoots but keeping a close watch on us always, giving excellent photo opportunities in the process. Finally Kaziranga had given us a dazzling display of their great elephant population.

KALIT1We circled around some more for the tiger, questioned any jeeps that crossed our paths but all of them denied any sightings on this trip. Finally our guide said it was getting late and we should be starting back. We were not disappointed, we may have narrowly missed the tiger but we had some great sightings of rhino, buffalo, swamp deer, hornbill and elephants. Suddenly a couple of jeeps in front of us stopped abruptly, people stood up on their seats, we caught excited whispers of “tiger, tiger!!” , our guide put out his hand and said “there it is , the tiger is standing between the two trees”.

It was too dark; I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t SEE IT! I and my brother jostled and fought each other to stand on the seat, and he won, “Yes, yes, I see it moving in my video camera”, my brother almost shouted in excitement. I still couldn’t see it, there was a waterhole, a herd of hog deer, our elephant herd from a while ago grazing nearby, but where was the tiger? I tried looking between trees but couldn’t find anything, I looked pleadingly at my brother and he invited me to look into his video camera. With the camera stretched to full zoom, I saw it like a hazy vision of orange fire moving slowly towards the herd of the hog deer, it got very close and hid behind a bush. The hog deer had no idea that a tiger was hidden only a few feet away, it was probably gearing up to make a kill, but it would wait for the cover of darkness to emerge. The safari time was over and we had to head back.

I took one last longing look at the scene, endless grasslands stretching away into the pink horizon, a pair of rhinos wallowing in the slush, elephants lounging in the water, their young ones chasing after a trespassing wild boar, hog deer groups grazing with their heads down, a herd of wild buffaloes congregating at the water’s edge to wait for their turn after the Elephants, and a tiger in the midst of all this hidden in plain sight! It is a difficult emotion to explain, but for the first time after visiting so many national parks, it felt that this was truly their country; it belonged to the wild animals!

Visit Kaziranga at least once in your lifetime, not just for the tiger, you can get better surety of tiger sighting in the central Indian jungles, but for its immense diversity of wildlife and concentration of endangered species, it totally deserves the title, ‘Serengeti’ of the east!

copyrights for all images belong to shikhar ranjan, year : 2017

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