By Aditi Thakker:Â
Exploring wildlife sanctuaries in India has been an adventure that I have always wanted to embark on. I got the opportunity to experience this at Kaziranga National Park in Assam. I had eagerly waited for two things; interacting with the tribal community and watching Kaziranga’s Big Five; Swamp deer, Indian one horned rhinoceros, elephant, tiger and wild buffalo.
So here I was, at this World Heritage Site, which is home to the largest one horned rhino population and protected tiger population in the world. The elephant safaris are a 5 am adventure into the forest reserve where mahout told us, “Everybody wants to see a tiger, but I can assure you that you will freeze when you actually see one.” A fellow traveller, who was being a bit insensitive, or lets say childish kept on asking the mahout when she was going to see a tiger. After responding politely a few times, the mahout was compelled to give a response like, “Madam yea jungle hai, zoo nahin.”
The morning at Kaziranga was extremely cold and Lion King like, with the tune playing in my mind! The first animal most people see is either the rhino, or the Swamp deer. We spotted various rhinos, sometimes with their little ones. The mahouts would tell us what they thought the age of the baby rhino was. This was my first time seeing a rhino in the wild, and are they cute or what! A very peculiar kind of pink flower grows in the national park, in abundance. It’s very pretty and when I asked what it was called, the mahout said, “Rhino-potty flower”. It is a wild flower that grows only on rhino faeces. Such a beautiful thing coming out of absolute shit.
We must have been extremely lucky because we saw not one but three tigers. And what more, one of them was going for the kill. A rare sight for the mahouts and guides too. And did I freeze for a second? Much longer I reckon. As much as I would have loved to have a photograph of the big cat, had I tried to get one I’d probably miss watching it altogether. Seeing the tiger made everyone happy! Mission accomplished for many. With about 109 tigers in the sanctuary this year, the forest rangers and mahouts say they have already seen many cubs that are yet to be counted. They believe the number of cubs is increasing, after tiger killing has been monitored and punished.
There are many tribal villages around the Kaziranga National Park. Local Assamese ladies engage in sewing shawls and Assamese saris employing traditional method. What they create is amazing, without the slightest use of electricity. Over the years, I have travelled to many places around the world and the one thing I have learnt about buying souvenirs is that if you can buy the product from the local producer itself, give the shops a miss. Its okay to pay a bit more, if you’re sure that the money is going to the one most deserving and in need. Every penny spent at the village, buying shawls, was totally worth it. Not only were the villagers very hospitable, but also eager to interact with us urban dwellers.
We spent one afternoon on River Bhramaputra, watching the endangered Gangetic Dolphin. This species of dolphin are much smaller than the ones found in the oceans. The government has undertaken special measures to revive the dolphin population in the Bhramaputra, and continue to educate fishermen along the riverbed on sustainable fishing practices, as told to us by fishermen around Silghat. A marine biologist living at Diphlu River Lodge with us believes research suggests a slight increase in the Gangetic Dolphin population. This is quite a relief, since this species was on the verge of becoming extinct. Kudos to the local population and conservationists working on dolphin protection!
The best part of this trip was that we go to see many animals with their little ones. That was in a way, a reassurance that as small as they may be, conservation and rehabilitation programs for animals are working and the next generation of these wonderful creatures is growing in India. Unfortunately, during the time we were at Kaziranga, a rhino fell prey to a poacher. The poacher was caught, but India lost yet another rhino to the extremely shameful and barbaric rhino-horn trade.
I generally don’t visit places more than once; I’d rather explore a new place. But I am definitely going back to Kaziranga, to the comforts of being close to nature and to a culture that remains largely unexplored.