After a simple, wholesome meal, adults and children alike enjoyed the sunset with a blood-red sun. The fading evening light and the sights and sounds of homing birds presented a contrast to what we were used to in our cities! It gave us an opportunity to look at the sky and seek a view of the stars.
The Kaziranga story – a memorable one indeed!
Travel broadens one’s mind, they say. Nothing comes close to travel when it comes to keeping children from being bored during holidays! If that travel takes them closer to nature, they get the bonus of a full 360-degree exposure to feed their ever-curious mind. Nowhere is such an exposure as rewarding as in the Kaziranga National Park – The Wildlife Treasury of India.
All of us normally associate Kaziranga in Assam with just the Rhino. However, a chance interaction with the great conservationist of our time, Mr. Bittu Sehgal, presented to us a different perspective. Apart from the Rhino, it is simply a treasure house of wildlife in all forms – large and small animals, almost 500 species of birds and a whole set of water-bound creatures like the otters, turtles and amphibious monitor lizards to name a few. The Brahmaputra, which forms the northern border of the sanctuary, is actually a home to a whole set of playful dolphins!
The Indian one-horned Rhino of Kaziranga was at one time found all over Northern India. Over the years, these unique, majestic, herbivorous megafauna (it could weigh up to 2 tonnes) along with many other exotic creatures, simply disappeared altogether – thanks to every kind of man-made hazard like the arrogant game of Shikhars indulged in by the ‘Royals’ of every ilk, British rulers and poachers! The Rhinos that survive today are left only in this 475 square kilometer area of Kaziranga! Given today’s accent on ‘development’, with consequent disdain for wildlife, we wondered how long we could expect this to survive. We felt that we, along with our grand children, should make this trip as soon as possible!
It was good to know that thanks to many initiatives, Kaziranga is a protected National Park and a Unesco Heritage site today. This small remnant of our glorious wildlife heritage needs all the support it can get.
Our family made the trip in two parts, we, the senior citizens reaching Gauhati from Mumbai and the daughter and son- in- law reaching from Bengaluru with their kids aged six and three. Both were direct flights-albeit a little long (about 3 hours). The timing of both arrivals at the Guwahati airport was just perfect.
There are many taxi hiring service counters in the Arrival Hall. In addition, there are Government Tourist Promotion offices of Assam and Meghalaya. We had spread our enquiries over a wide sample of all these sources of information. We learnt that an SUV would cost us Rs.5,500/- for a drop to Kaziranga. We were getting prepared for this expense when we saw this young girl from the Meghalaya counter running to us with the news that an incoming vehicle with a tourist was returning home to Kaziranga and that the driver would accept a lower amount. Surprise of surprises, he wanted just Rs.2,500/-! We jumped at this bonanza. The vehicle was not only new and in perfect condition, but the driver was an ex-safari driver at Kaziranga who could fill us in with a lot of local inputs. It was a bonus indeed!
About 3 hours after we set off, we stopped at a ‘Dhaba’ (all over the Assam area we covered, we were to realize that the only fairly acceptable eating places were Dhabas!).
A simple, but wholesome meal taken, we reached our hotel – The United-21 Grassland Resort – with the road journey accounting for about 6 hours. After unpacking and freshening up, the children enjoyed the sunset with a blood-red sun. The fading evening light and the sights and sounds of homing birds presented a contrast to what we were used to in our cities! It gave us an opportunity to look at the sky and seek a view of the stars. The dull haze blanketed out this luxury though!
It is strongly recommended that immediately upon reaching your resort, you make enquiries on the various Safaris you wish to take, fix the guide / driver to take you around and finalize the pick-up schedules.
The Kaziranga Reservation is quite large and it has been divided into three segments viz- The Central, The Western and The Eastern. These are three separate areas, each with a separate entrance and ticketing counter. The Central is quite sought after since there is higher possibility of sighting of tigers in this area. Western and the Eastern Safaris work out to be unique in their own ways. I found the Western area more flat and full of interesting vegetation. All the areas are rich in their wild life content and offer equally rich experiences since the flora and the fauna found in all areas are unique.
Two Jeep Safaris are possible in each of the areas – one starting at 7:30 am and the second from 2:00 pm. The afternoon Safaris must return to the gate at 5:30 pm.
We found the morning Safaris more productive. More animals and particularly, a variety of birds are out in this period. Most sightings of wildlife in the afternoon are around the water bodies. The birds, other than a few eagles and some owls seemed to totally disappear in the heat of the day!
Birds are most interesting in Kaziranga and it is important to have a guide who is equally enthusiastic about them- by pointing them out early and identifying them with their typical features. To do full justice, one must carry a good enough pair of binoculars and definitely a good DSLR camera with necessary lens attachments.
There is a special early morning Elephant Safari in addition to the above. We get to see Rhinos from up close and it is indeed interesting to follow them on elephant back as they move along their morning chomp. Incidentally, they probably need this early start as they end up consuming their daily diet of over 200 kg of green grass!
The Elephant Safaris start early. The first one being at 5-30 am, lasts for an hour. Immediately thereafter, the second round starts at 6-30 am. There are about 16 elephants, each carrying four adults each doing these rounds. Sometimes, they do a third round if the number of applicants is large- which typically happens on Sundays and on holidays. Booking for an elephant ride should be done very early to get the ride that suits one best.
A great bonus when we take these early morning tours is the glorious sunrise we get to witness. The drama never fails to excite both the grown ups and kids alike!
Jeep Safari: Rs.1500/- for driver + guide if booked at the gate of each section. Since we needed to be picked up from the resort and returned to base, we paid Rs.2200/- per Safari. This includes Rs.800/- for the guide.
Elephant Safari: Rs.500/- per person.
Our schedule gave us two full clear days, apart from the day of arrival and that of departure, which permitted four safaris in all packed into those two days. However, to do full justice, three clear days are essential. If an additional day is possible, one can plan a boat cruise on the Brahmaputra as well.
We did the tour during the third week of March and we found the daytime to be too bright and sunny, with the vegetation being too dry and the ambience dusty and hazy. It must be more enjoyable to do the trip towards November, when this whole stretch would have just seen a monsoon giving the added beauty of extra greenery. We are very sure that there would be more birds- being the migratory season as well. Who knows, even the publicity-shy tiger may decide to give a darshan!!
Tips for parents to make it enjoyable
- Explain basics of wildlife with some background material. We found the cub section of the Sanctuary magazine most helpful.
- Make sure you explain the necessity to maintain total silence when told of a sighting.
- The seats and added furniture in Jeeps, in general, tend to be poorly finished and have many sharp edges. With the bumpy rides on the rough tracks, expect minor cuts. Band Aid would be helpful.
- Get them to wake up early so that they can enjoy the beauty of the sunrise.
- Caps, suntan lotion and bottles of water are essential as always.
- Small pair of binoculars and a camera would keep the kids fascinated. Our six year old produced some amazing shots from his pocket camera!
- Evenings tended to get cold. Light warm clothing must get included in the suitcase.
- Being on the Eastern end of India, evenings come very early. Some board games and reading material would help remove any onset of boredom!
- Getting to bed early is easy for the same reason and hence it is easier to get them to wake up early in the mornings to catch the Sunrise and enjoy the morning safaris.
- Duration of stay: 3 clear days minimum. 4 days is ideal.
- It takes 3-hour flying time from Mumbai/ Bengaluru to Guwahati. Guwahati airport to Kaziranga would take 6 hours by road. Good all round, look at the SUV and driver would help safe and happy journey. Most drivers in Assam we came across were really polite and helpful. (One of them, Rajib Das was so honest that he arranged for refund of extra we had paid by mistake!)
- Ideal time for visit – November to February
- We selected United 21 Grassland Resort Hotel, which was very comfortable with some very good food. Look for a facility that has a good kitchen since the food outside is very basic indeed!