Tag Archives: Forest reserves in Assam

Tracking the Big Five at Kaziranga

The monsoon has caused the mighty Brahmaputra to take a toll on the North-eastern part of India causing innumerable and irreplaceable losses. I saw this one particular photo of a floating carcass of the striped beast- the National animal of India in the newspaper this morning and I was taken back in time when I visited Kazhiranga last year, post monsoon. After a wonderful drive through the National highway from Guwahati, we reached Kazhiranga on a night lit with Diwali lamps all around. Kazhiranga national park is divided into four main areas: The Central range at Kohora, Western range at Bagori, Eastern range at Agaratoli and the Burapahar range at Ghorakhati. Here, the tourists can enjoy the elephant and jeep rides into the forest that are organized by either government or private parties. It is closed during monsoon and we were lucky that the Central zone at Kohora had just opened. We had a nice meal and settled down at one of the numerous resorts that exist on the boundary of the National park in the Kohora range. Meanwhile, our resort guys helped us to get tickets for a safari ride scheduled for early next morning.

P1140268
Enroute to the forest gates

We woke up the next morning and headed towards the gates where the elephant ride was supposed to commence. The drive itself was so refreshing… With the addictive smell of wet ground, Mud roads with green paddy fields dotted with bamboo huts here and there; Thick mist slowly clearing up with dew drops reflecting the rising sun- It was a wonderful drive all the way till the tourist tower inside the forest gates. Kazhiranga is synonymous with the one-horned rhinoceros. Even before we started our ride, we spotted rhino families all around the tower we were standing at. With about 2/3rd of the world’s population of these beauties found in just this area, it was no surprise that we began to spot them one after the other. We even found a few of them grazing by the roadside fields on our way back. With that we realized, that Kaziranga was something beyond rhinos. Our elephant had arrived, we sat atop and started our ride into the haze of the misty green grasslands of the Kazhiranga.

P1140264
The elephants marching into the forest

The elephants that we were sitting on were walking through dense thickets of elephant grass- The grass that was taller even for elephants to walk through. Slowly, the mahout started to point out and show us the animal sightings. First, it was a wild elephant with its calf. We were told that Rhino and elephant conflicts were common and that particular mother elephant was wounded just that morning in a bid to protect its new born calf. So, that meant we were not safe sitting on one either! We slowly moved out of tall grass to another area where a couple of rhinos were finishing their morning chores. It was very surprising for us to know that large rhino groups identify space where each rhino marks its own spot (making a private toilet space for itself) and does not let any other rhino enter the area. Wow! We slowly passed that place and spotted herds of swamp deer. World’s largest population of these herbivores too is concentrated in these forests. They are handsome animals. Just as we were photographing them, we saw a herd of Asiatic wild water buffaloes marching out of a slush pool. We had no idea that over 57% of the world’s water buffaloes too were accommodated in the woods here! Another surprise awaited us- Kazhiranga national park has the highest density of the Royal Bengal tigers in the world!!! Whoa!!!! That’s like……..!!! So we had checked off 4 out of the big 5 of the Kazhiranga before heading towards the exit gates- The One horned rhinos, Asiatic elephants, swamp deer and wild water buffaloes… We need real luck to find the last one- the elusive beast: The Royal Bengal tiger…

Kazhiranga
Clockwise: The Single horned Rhino, Swamp deer, Wild water buffaloes and the Asiatic elephants

We realized that we still had time to make it for the morning batch of jeep ride. I strongly recommend to try both ways of exploring the woods- on elephant back and by a four wheel drive. Both are different experiences and the type of terrain and sightings are different. While an elephant will be able to take you through the tall grass, a 4-wheel will be able to enter deeper areas of the forest. So, we had a gypsy to take us in… Needless to mention- Herds and herds of rhinos greeted us all along our way. Wild boars, barking deer etc. were spotted in abundance. The highlight was however- the innumerable varieties of migratory birds that we spotted. Our driver mentioned several names, out of which only pelicans and spoon-billed storks were the prominent ones that I have managed to remember. At the end of the drive one way, the guards took us to a watch tower from where we could catch a very good view of hundreds of animals that come to drink water from the flowing river. It was a very calm and a serene place to spend a while with nature… What caught our curiosity was some random years mentioned on the wall of the watch tower. So, here is a picture that may give an idea of the monsoon fury and severity of floods that affect this area year after year. The tower itself is located at an elevation from the river. My friend in the below picture is a 6-footer. The water level of 2016 is marked above him… Can you imagine how impossible it is for the animals to escape out of the area??? It’s insane to think of…

P1140350
Record of the flood water level of the Bramhaputra

Although a little disappointed for not being able to spot a tiger, we were feeling content for having our long pending wish of visiting this heritage site come true! We then headed back to the resort for breakfast. The drive back on the highway was an extremely nice one which had gone unnoticed during the hurried drive through misty roads in the morning… Tea plantations flanked the roads on both sides. The famous Assam tea grows in flat lands and under shade, totally contrary to what I had seen and grown up with, in down South. We stopped by to sip on some hot brew and bought some procedded tea leaves for our caffeine addicts back home. A quick visit to the Orchid research centre was an interesting place to drop by too…

P1140352
The Assam tea estate

So, that was an eventful day at Kazhiranga with warm memories from the woods before heading to our next destination- Jorhat. If you wish to spend more time with nature, I recommend you all to explore all the 4 ranges of the national park. Don’t go by recommendations of people of which range to go in… Each area is distinct with different types of vegetation, landscape, flora and fauna concentrations.

Hiking up Assam’s highest point- Hapeo peak

This trek happened by chance. It was an instant plan when the activity aimed at was not happening due to unfavourable conditions. That said, here’s what happened to the backup plan: The hike to Hapeo peak, the highest point in the state of Assam. We wanted to reach the peak for sunrise. However, due to the clouds that had hovered that morning, we decided to snooze for a little longer before going ahead with the plan.

There are totally 13 native tribes in Dima Hasao and each tribe has its own village. A local NGO called spectrum is working for the upliftment of local tribes and improvement of tourism in the district. They helped us in getting this event organized. They drove us in their 4WD vehicle from Haflong to the village called- N.Liekung. This a village of the Kuki tribes. We got the required permission from the village head and thus, a local guide was arranged to take us through this off-beat wilderness. After a small stop in front of the holy Cross at the prayer area of the Kukis, we began our ascent towards the highest peak in the state of Assam.

Hardly 4-5 trekkers climb this hill in a year apart from the tribes who like to party atop the hill. The climb wasn’t a very difficult one as compared to what we had done back in the Southern India. But what made it seem difficult was the high grass that had grown to cover the entire stretch through which we had to find the trekking trail. The first half of the trek has a well traceable path with steps laid. However, at some places, the stairs have been lost amid the thickets. We had to cut the grass and bushes in order to find our way… The first 3rd of the path was full of high grass with occasionally placed animal traps which our guide ahead would carefully move aside to make way for us… Then we reached at the only flat area and grassland vegetation for not more than 500mts. This was the only place apart from the highway from where we could actually see the peak that we were apparently scaling up!

p1140545
The only grassland in Hapeo trek

The next part was through thick jungle with a canopy of trees that allowed very less sunlight to penetrate. Varieties of innocent looking wild mushrooms had bloomed at several patches, but we were careful by not picking them as they could actually be lethal with allergens or venom. We were accompanied by strange sounds all being the cries of migratory birds around. Our Kuki guide enlightened us with their tribal customs, culture with a few videos on his phone of their traditional dances performed on their festivals… It was barely two hours and we had already scaled up the hill top. He jokingly told us how his fellow folks are named in the tribe. The names may not mean anything, anything random that sounds nice goes as a name and thus he was called after a ‘Song that was Sung’ (I’m sorry, I don’t want to give out his name). But the tradition is that the maternal grandfather selects a name for the granddaughter and the paternal grandmother picks a name for the grandson and vice-versa. It is a patrilineal system of inheritance.

p1140551
A view of Dima Hasao district from Hapeo peak

Suddenly, the darkness of the jungle had turned into snow white of the clouds. We were told that one could see the entire district of Dima Hasao from up there but we were greeted with thick fog and clouds… We spent some time soaking in nature’s beauty and waiting for the clouds to clear so that we could catch a glimpse of the beautiful view. There is just one small shelter with a bench atop the hill and nothing apart from yourself there! Our guide mentioned about a 2×2 patch right behind the bench where there is a natural and strong magnetic force due to which none of the mobile phones work. Yes, we did observe the phenomenon too. Although all our phones had FULL network, we were unable to place any calls. But none of us had any scientific reasoning for what he told. In the next fifteen minutes, the clouds had slowly started to clear. We spotted the railway bridge at Lumding onto the right side of the horizon. This is the longest and highest in the Silchar route. Our guide pointed towards another hill onto our left through which the longest railway tunnel in the North-east passes… It is around 3.5kms he said! The Silchar-Lumding railway route has been featured in several tourism websites and has been one of the scenic stretches in the country. As the weather slowly worsened and began to drizzle, we decided to start our descent.

Momentous 100%
The thick forest path in the Hapeo trek

When we had just started to climb down when we received a call from the NGO… We were told to reach back the base of the hill ASAP as cyclone alert had been given in the Bay of Bengal and heavy rains were expected in this region. Within no time, it started to pour cats and dogs… The fastest pace we could catch is roll down the hill… With all the rain, thick grass covering the path and steep down, the descent was extremely slippery and we had to struggle to walk steadily… There was nothing enroute to take shelter and waiting at any place made no sense because the rains would continue for the entire day or two. We were already drenched till our bones and hence decided to simply continue… We were back at the base by 11.00.a.m. and thus ended our trek to the highest point in the state of Assam.

We were invited over to our guide’s house to dry ourselves up and have a cup of hot tea. We thanked him much and bid adieu with a warm heart to this lesser known corner of the world!