Guided tours through national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are unimaginative, irrespective of whichever animal that may be on view. Except for maybe the tiger or a dinosaur.
Consider this. Wildlife national parks are created as sanctuaries for animals. Then a road is laid for visitors. The visitors come in droves and driven through the parks on off-roaders to view the animals. The animals get used to it. The visitors know that they will mostly sight the desired animal. Sometimes visitors can use pachyderm services instead of off roaders. The pachyderm takes you much closer to the animal but then again the animal is used to it.
The whole concept is staged, managed and on expected lines. Where is the adventure?
Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India is divided into four ranges.
Central Range which is accessed through Kohora gate; Biggest range and plenty of rhino sightings.
Western Range which opens through Bagori gate; Biggest density of rhinos here.
Burapahar Range which opens through Ghorakati gate; A lot of wild elephants present here.
Eastern Range through Agratoli gate; Tigers and migratory birds.
A day trip to Kaziranga can be done from Guwahati. The Guwahati to Kaziranga distance is generally a three hour drive which means that if you head out in the morning, you will be on time for the afternoon safari at around 1 PM. The elephant safaris start early at 5 am and jeep safaris are on offer from 7 am besides after noon. Do stop at Anuraag Dhabha just before Nagaon on the way to Kaziranga if you want it try out some excellent Assamese food especially puris with mutton. This would be on your left hand side on the National Highway.
On display in the park is the magnificent one horned rhinoceros. The slumbering creature can be spotted in quite some numbers and its favourite pastime seems to be eating grass, no matter what time it is. Another animal that stirs up the visitors imagination is the tiger though the sightings are quite less because of the tall grass throughout the park. There are an estimated 2000 rhinos in Kaziranga. If you want to spot a rhino in Assam without visiting Kaziranga then visit Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. It is near Guwahati and the rhinos are visible from the road itself.
Rhinos are docile creatures until prodded into action. You would not want to be in the path of a changing rhino though. They can touch speeds of 55 kmph and with its ample weight, the animal would create quite some momentum. But otherwise they are docile creatures which are mostly munching on grass.
Guided treks were allowed into the park till a few years back. But the forays were stopped after an over-enthusiastic Dutch? tourist tried to photograph an elephant from close quarters which in turn charged at the tourist and deformed him into the shape of a ball. Elephant safaris are better than “jeep” safaris because the elephants take you much closer to the animals. Jeep safaris are basically a drive through a circuitous route and the rhinos are much further away.
The behaviour of some of the tourists in Kaziranga can be quite disappointing, especially the younger lot Indians. I spotted quite a few vehicles where people indulged in some loud and over enthusiastic chattering which would have scared any animal except maybe for the thick-skinned rhinos.
The wildlife lodges which are worth staying in are Diphlu River Lodge and Wild Mahseer Tea Planter Bungalow and these are in the premium category. While Mahseer is further away from Kaziranga but is well worth it. Kaziranga closes during the rains and opens up again in November.
The one lodge I have taken a fascination to, is somewhere besides the Brahmaputra river near the Agaratoli range. This lodge it seems, also runs a boat service and the person who informed me of the place went out for a boat ride with his group, when the boat got stuck on a mudflat. It was late in the evening and everyone had to get down by the riverside which borders the far side of the park.
Finally in the night, the park rangers arrived from within the park, for the rescue. The whole group was told that the vehicles were parked quite some distance away and that they had to run from the edge of the river to the vehicles as fast as they could, if they valued their lives. Apparently there were snakes and other animals lurking in the the grass and the narrator visualised the running scene in Jurassic Park when he ran for safety.
Now that I say, is adventure.