On safari in the forests and grasslands of Kaziranga National Park
It had been another one of those days a wildlife traveller is so well accustomed to. The day had started with a sparkling sunrise, spreading warmth amongst us, the bundled-up lot! We had been driving around the jungles of Northeast India’s famed Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, scouring every single nook and cranny for the park denizens and we still hadn’t had our fill. Call it greed or just good old hope, we were determined to make it a memorable jaunt into the jungles.
But, now as the shadows grew longer and the light iffy and for those of us who were carrying long telephoto lenses, a little bit of despair and a lot of the winter chill was creeping in.
Coffee, strong, black and slightly tepid helped restore our spirit and we decided to give it one last shot. We had seen a lot of animals on both our safaris of the day. Kaziranga, famous for the Indian One Horned Rhino, hadn’t disappointed us. They were everywhere!
Prehistoric in appearance, the rhinos tend to spend most of their time grazing in order to fuel their massive size. One doesn’t realise how big a rhino really is until it gets close to the safari vehicle. Some of them are almost 6 feet in height and as long as the vehicle.
With that size, they’re certainly not to be trifled with. While grazing, they occasionally look up, use their ears which swivel almost to 360 degrees as radars to take stock of the situation and then get back to their favourite pastime.
In existence for over a hundred years now, Kaziranga is a safe haven for these unique animals and while there are occasional cases of poaching, the forest department does provide yeoman service on their behalf. Not an easy task in the vastness of these jungles! We had seen elephants in the morning. They were all milling around a water body, drinking their fill while the younger ones in the herd found it to be an opportune moment to indulge in a game of ‘chase’. As I pointed out the dynamics of the herd, usually led by a female elephant, the guests got busy clicking their memories.The whirr of the cameras didn’t seem to bother them one bit as the youngsters gambolled about while the adults caught up on pressing family matters.
They regarded us with a sense of nonchalance while keeping a watchful eye on our every move. The ‘flankers’, two young and yet, massive bulls stayed on either side of the herd and grazed and it was only after every single elephant had had its fill of water and had moved off into the tall grass, did they leave their positions and come down for a drink. Their intelligence is second to none in the animal kingdom and we felt they mirrored a lot of what we humans call ‘the protective instinct’.
Situated on the fertile alluvial grasslands banks of the Brahmaputra, Kaziranga National Park owes its existence to Baroness Mary Curzon. While on a tour of the region in 1904, she was very disappointed to have not seen a single Rhino.
Not one to take things lying down, she decided to take up matters with the highest office in the land in those days, her husband, Lord Curzon who incidentally happened to be the Viceroy of India.
It was at her behest, Lord Curzon very wisely set up Kaziranga Reserve Forest on the 1st of June 1905 with an area encompassing 232 square kilometers. Over the years the size of the protected area grew to its present size of 432 square kilometers and Kaziranga was accorded the status of a National Park in 1970 and a Tiger Reserve in 2006.
Kaziranga has become a haven for birds and animals of all kinds. On our drive in the first half of the day, we encountered several birds, several of which were ‘lifers’ or a never seen before species for the guests. The Bar Headed Geese were down in droves as were Whistling Teals flying in from the high plateaus and mountains of Tibet, Mongolia and Russia to spend their winter break in the milder climes of the Indian subcontinent.
The Bee-Eaters were around, gliding about on their muslin fine transparent wings as were the raucous Rosy Ringed Parakeets. Life was abundant and was all around us and we had been witness to some wonderful animal behaviour in the wilderness.
to be continued…..