Words: ANJUMAN DEODHAR
Photographs: T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
Kaziranga is believed to be home to one of the highest densities of tigers in the world – there are more than a hundred spread across the 460sqkm. Even then, tiger sightings are hard to come by – the tall, rampantly-growing elephant grass makes spotting a striped cat rather difficult. But, that is perhaps exactly why you must go to Kaziranga. Only when tigers are taken out of the equation can you really take in the myriad wonders that the park has to offer. Fed by the mighty Brahmaputra, the rich alluvial soil spawns an incredibly diverse ecosystem. Apart from the world’s largest populations of the one-horned rhinoceros and the wild water buffalo, there are over 30 mammalian species found in significant numbers. And, that’s not all. Home to around 400 different avian species, the park also makes for a fantastic birding destination. In fact, you’ll be at a loss of words when, post your trip, you’re asked to describe your Kaziranga experience – there’s far too much to see and savour.
Although the park is divided into four zones for the purpose of wildlife safari planning, it is one contiguous, magical forest where a surprise lurks around every bend. The central and western zones, called Kohora and Bagori respectively, are the most popular. Jeep safaris operate in all four zones, including the Agaratoli and Burapahar ranges, and that makes choosing one over the other particularly difficult, considering how each one is as delightful as the other. Although the guides are quite well informed and as watchful as hawks, there’s only so much they can spot – if they’re fixated on finding eagles on treetops, they might miss a snake slithering into the undergrowth; the glorious sight of freshwater turtles sunning themselves might distract them from noticing deer scurrying off into the forest. Carry binoculars and stay at your vigilant best – you might even catch sight of animals that the guides miss. Most first-timers come here for the rhinos, and the good news is that spotting them here is a guarantee, as are sightings of Asiatic elephants, water buffaloes, and swamp deer.
If you’re on a tight schedule, jeep safaris are the best way to explore Kaziranga. They operate in two shifts, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, and last for approximately three hours each. Each zone has its own booking office and there is also an online booking service. Another great option to explore the park is by taking to the river – hop on a boat and go cruising down the Brahmaputra; the sights on offer are breathtaking. Home to the Gangetic dolphin and many other riverine species, the Brahmaputra is the lifeline of Kaziranga, and getting to experience the park by navigating its waters makes for a very special experience.
However you choose to explore the magical depths of the park, one thing is certain: Kaziranga is an unforgettable experience that is bound to stay etched in your memory for a long time to come.