Kaziranga National Park stretches for about 50km
along the south bank of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, North East India It covers some 472 sq km of the flood plain of this mighty river and is renowned as the main stronghold of the Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros. It is also famous as a bird hotspot, with almost 500 species recorded. I travelled there from Delhi, which was fairly straightforward; a direct flight from Delhi to Guwaharti followed by a five-hour drive up the Brahmaputra valley. I stayed at Wild Grass Lodge, an ideal location for the park, just 10 minutes drive from the main entrance, and a place that is geared up to those wanting to visit the park.
The park operates 2 elephant back safaris a day – the first leaves the park
entrance at 0515, just as dawn is breaking. The second starts at 0630 and does a similar route in reverse - starting inside the park and finishing at the park entrance. I had opted for the second safari as it promised better light to take photographs. After a short wait at the elephant-loading platform, the elephants appeared silently from the forest, about 10 in all; mostly females, but also two large male tuskers. Each was carrying up to 4 passengers plus mahout. Cavorting alongside were 2 baby elephants, play fighting with each other,
tripping up the larger elephants and generally causing chaos. We set off in single file through the 10 ft high elephant grass, but soon came to an abrupt stop. The elephant I was on had sensed a wild male elephant nearby, just visible by its raised trunk and flashes of white from his tusks. At this point my whole body shook as the elephant I was sitting on emitted a very loud low frequency rumble from deep within; either that or it had severe indigestion. Regardless of the cause of the noise the wild male opted for discretion over valour and quickly disappeared into the elephant grass. As the elephants travelled further into the tall grass, numerous mud wallows appeared and it was here that the rhino hang out. Looking like something put together by boilermakers of old, the Indian Rhinoceros has a massive armour plated body, which has an appearance of overlapping metal plates held together with rivets; all held up by rather spindly looking legs. Not to be misjudged though, the rhino when riled is surprisingly fast and agile.
The way to see the rest of the park is by jeep. These are only allowed in
between 0730 and 1630, which does mean you miss the first 2 hours of daylight – normally the best for spotting wildlife. Jeep rides are however the best way to see the park and its different habitats and I was lucky enough to have some very good wildlife sightings, including a couple of very close encounters with elephant and rhino. One of the best ways to get close to elephants is to find a position upwind and ahead of their line of travel. Then just wait. I used this technique to get very close to one family group of four elephants who were just specks on the far side of a lake. 20 minutes later they were upon us and a ranger on a bicycle, who happened to be passing at the wrong moment, had to seek refuge in our jeep. He ended up frantically waving at the elephants to get them to go around and not through our vehicle –it worked, just, and they
passed within about 20 feet of us. A similar technique brought me within very close proximity to a massive bull elephant. Rhino are less
predictable and can stay in the same area grazing for hours or will appear with no notice out of the elephant grass – startling for all concerned. There are also lots of tigers in Kaziranga (or so I am told), but the chances of seeing one are slim as the habitat is mainly tall elephant grass, which can hide a herd of elephants let alone a tiger.
Photo credits: Jeremy Richards.