5th March 2016, Saturday…Day (15) Kaziranga-Byrnihat, 225 km
I tried sleeping inside the car parked outside a restaurant, the previous night. But when it closed down, it became pitch dark and lonely all around and I did not feel very safe. While coming from Jorhat side I had noticed a big Filling Station on the highway, which looked better place for sleeping inside the car.
So drove back a little to the Filling Station, few vehicles were already parked in its compound, parked the car on a side and had a nice sleep.
The place was in fact Kohora, a small town situated on NH-715. It is the main entrance to the world famous Kaziranga National Park.
After alighting from the car and freshening up in the morning, drove through the beautiful tea gardens to the permit and jeep booking counter, hardly 100-200 meters inside from the main highway. Since every jeep had a capacity of 5-6 passenger and I being single, the man at the counter advised me to share a seat with another group. That way both would be saving.
Soon a family from West bengal arrived. They hired two jeeps and had vacancy in one of these. On being asked, they happily agreed to share a seat with me. The charges for full jeep were around Rs.2500-3000 and by sharing the seat we both ended up saving, my share came out to be just Rs.500-
The park area is divided into five ranges central, western, eastern, northern and Burha Pahar. I was told that the central range (Kohora) was the most popular with the tourists, which we would be exploring.
The jeep was driven by Tatia, a very nice man. At around 8am, all the jeeps started moving in a sort of caravan towards the main entry gate. At the barrier, papers and permits of all the vehicle were checked.
On entering the park, we saw a beautiful unpaved path lined with huge and beautiful woods from both the sides. The beauty of the road and forest was stark as it has evaded human traffic and was able to retain its natural charm.
The first to be seen in the park were barasingha or the swamp deer. With alert ears and eyes, the sleek orange brown beauties looked ever ready to gallop into safety even at the slightest of signs of danger.
The path was unpaved but drivable even by any vehicle. There was nothing tough about it. I came to know later that a limited number of private four wheelers were also allowed inside the park accompanied by a forest guard. Walkers or two wheelers are not allowed.
The sight of bar headed geese feeding together was a pretty sight and so was herons with their wings spread. The park is home to a variety of migratory birds, water birds, predators, scavengers, and game birds.
Many varieties of turtle, tortoise and fish are found in the park. Turtles sitting and walking lazily in file on the bare tree inside a river was a wonderful sight. Every jeep was stopping at the sight.
The watchtower cum security home where forest guards and security people stay overnight was built on a big wooden platform. Even the hand pump was taken to such a height so as to minimise encounter with the wild animals and flooding.
After about an hours drive through the park, we reached a large clearing on the banks of a lake. The watch tower here was a concrete cemented structure and seems to be equipped with modern gadgets for communication, watching wildlife and to keep an eye on the poachers.
Situated in Assam (India), Kaziranga National Park, is a world heritage site and hosts two-thirds of the world’s endangered one-horned rhinoceros. It has a very high density of tigers and is home to large breeding population of elephants, wild water buffaloes and swamp deer. Forty kilometers in length and thirteen kilometers in breadth, the total area of the park is approximately 378 sq km.
The park has mighty Brahmaputra river on one side and large tea estates and small hills on the other side. Every year during flooding when the mighty Brahmaputra swells, large number of wild animals run to highlands and hills on the upper side.
All the jeeps halt near this watch tower on the banks of the lake. Everyone is allowed to get down from the jeeps and allowed sometime to relax and appreciate the surroundings.
A lone rhino was grazing majestically on the other side of the lake. A pair of white birds always kept his company. The rhino seemed indifferent to the human presence. In a way he was sort of dismissal of the fact that he was being watched and photographed by a large number of humans. At times, it seemed, it did notice the crowd and looked straight into the people in a very threatening posture.
We had a nice time at the place. Everyone was enjoying themselves in the wilderness. Majority of people were clicking pictures of the rhino, their families and friends. It was time for me to have a selfie with this wonderful beast as well.
This man, Tatia, the driver of our jeep was a very nice man. Not only was he patient with us but also helped us in finding and viewing a number of wild animals hidden in the grass and forest.
This red junglefowl hoping nearby looked very colorful and beautiful but not very different from the domesticated one.
Perhaps the best part of the safari came when we saw a group of elephants crossing our path. In their natural surroundings they looked majestic and so beautiful.
We stayed still in our jeep for several moments not only to allow these beautiful elephants to cross undeterred but also to have a closer look at them. I have seen elephants on many occasions since my childhood but never have seen them in their natural habitat and so beautiful.
Suddenly, Tatia slowed the jeep down and told us to look at the grass near the road on our right side closely. At first we could not see anything but on a closer look we saw a python moving ever so slowly. Initially we thought that it was dead but soon it started moving slowly.
Later we came to know that the park houses two of the largest snakes in the world, the reticulated python and rock python, as well as the longest venomous snake in the world, the king cobra too.
Soon we reached at yet another watch tower. Tatia advised us to climb the tower to have a bird’s eye view of the park. All the occupants of the jeep were perhaps tired and decided not to alight from the jeep. But I thought it was a good opportunity and climbed the tower alone.
It was good to see the vastness of the park, rusty yellow green elephant grass, plants, trees, forests, birds, wild animals and rivers inside the park. Large number of birds were perched on the shrubs and many were flying in hoards and groups. Rhinos, wild boars, deers were seen grazing the grass near the river.
See the large number of swamp deer grazing in the vast grasslands of the park.
Suddenly a wild boar appeared from the nearby jungle and started moving slowly across the road. It was good to see it cross the road from close to our jeep and disappear on the other side of the jungle.
The family from West Bengal was very nice. Being there together in the safary for over three hours we had kind of became friends. The safari was almost over, Tatia climbed the watchtower and asked all of us to waive and clicked this goodbye picture.
Being in the jungle for three hours was fun. We were able to see one horned rhino, majestic elephants, wild boar, python, swamp deer, red junglefowl, brown turtles and a large variety of birds in their natural habitat. The only one we missed was the tiger.
Thanked Tatia, bid farewell to the bengal family and drove to a nearby restaurant. The owner of the restaurant was a very interesting man, on listening to my story he told me that he would also be traveling solo one day. To make me feel good about Assam, he offered me a traditional assamese thali with special fried fish.
The food was real yummy, especially the fish. I was hungry too, as besides the tea I had not eaten anything since morning. Very kindly he charged me just Rs.120- for the sumptuous meal.
After nice lunch and time at Hornbill restaurant, I began driving towards Guwahati on NH-715 for my next leg of journey. So far the journey has been so good.
It was around midday when I began driving on this beautiful road connecting Jorhat with Tejpur in Assam. For about first forty kilometers the road passes through Kaziranga National Park, thus sighting of rhino and other wildlife was very common throughout.
While the right side of the road was full of natural forest and wildlife with very little construction, the left of the road was dotted with beautiful large tea estates and combined with butter smooth tarmac, driving on the road was a sheer delight.
Fishing nets set up on the lakes, streams and water body’s made it even more interesting. Large number of grazing swamp deer was a normal sight for the first 30-40 kilometers of the drive.
Colorfully dressed assamese women fishing on the lakes and ponds with green natural surroundings were a wonderful sight too.
This was not inside the park where one has to go in a jeep. The sight of rhino grazing on the grass with large number of swamp deer was from the national highway itself.
Beautiful forest along the NH-715
Suddenly, a domesticated elephant crossing the road, gave me an opportunity to click its picture with Lalpari.
It was almost 5pm evening when I reached Nagaon. The I sun sets bit early in this part of India, so lights were already on. Guwahati was still 127 kilometers away. So from hereon, I hurried up, focussed on the drive and did not click any pictures.
Reached Guwahati at around 8pm. Instead of staying at Guwahati, I decided to drive to Byrnihat (Meghalaya) as my next destination was Shillong. I noticed diesel and drinks were cheaper here in Byrnihat than in Guwahati.
Found a nice dhaba run by a man from Punjab. Had nice time and chat with the man. After a while drove to a nearby filling station, asked for permission to park the car inside the premises and sleep inside.
The environment at the filling station was quite good. Number of trucks were already parked inside the premises. The filling station had separate bathing area and a number of clean toilets.
A Punjab National Bank ATM inside the premises came handy too. I was running short of cash, my pension was credited and I needed money for my next leg of travel.
So that’s it for the day, yet another dream come true, sleeping inside the car parked at a filling station in Byrnihat, first time in life in Meghalaya, around 2500 kilometer away from my home………….!!!