Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga National Park is one of the oldest and arguably the best wildlife sanctuary in India and is home to almost two thirds of the world’s one horned rhinoceros population. The park is also reputed to be the most efficient in conservation and management of wildlife. It is located in the State of Assam in Eastern India and was recently declared a Tiger Reserve as well. This unique place is also a safe haven for birds and is a happy hunting ground for ornithologists and bird watchers around the world. The scenic backdrop with many swampy areas makes it an ecological paradise for wildlife in a country where deforestation due to overpopulation has annihilated many jungles.
Travel By Air The nearest airport is located in Jorhat which is ninety-four Kilometers or fifty miles from the sanctuary. This is the best method of travel if you are visiting India for the first time. Jorhat itself is connected to major cities such as Delhi, Guwahati, and Kolkatta by regular flights.
By Road The Kaziranga National Park is accessible by road from Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Tinsukhia and Nawagaon. These are close-by cities but the best option among these is to embark on the journey from Guwahati which is more convenient and offers additional options for travel. You can also ride to the place by using guided motorcycle tours that have recently become popular in Assam.
By Rail A traveler can reach the nearest railway station called Furkating which is eighty kilometers or forty-five miles away. Trains from Indian Metro cities such as Delhi and Mumbai are frequent and the best option; however, you need to reserve a seat well in advance (at least a month before the date). It is also advisable to choose the air-conditioned coach since it is more comfortable and less crowded compared to the second class coaches of trains in India.
Kaziranga National park is spread over an area of more than four hundred square kilometers and the main gate is located on the National Highway number 37. Private as well as Indian Government buses from Guwahati, Tezpur and other parts of Assam stop here. However it is strongly recommended that you avoid the local government transport since it is uncomfortable and overcrowded. As you enter this unique sanctuary it is apparent that tall elephant grass amidst swampy areas is one of the quintessential sights in this matchless and beautiful forest reserve. Moreover, it is very easy to spot various wildlife species since the sanctuary is not covered with dense forests in many areas, making it a best place for photography.
The one horned rhino is the major attraction in the Reserve and can be easily spotted grazing amidst the swamps. Numerous bird species are also found in this forest and some of the exotic ones include the Oriental Honey Buzzard, The Black Kite, Pallas’s Fishing Eagle, White Tailed Eagle, Black Shouldered Kite, Grey-Headed Fishing Eagle, Brahminy Kite, and the Himalayan Griffon. Migratory birds in Kaziranga that attract many bird lovers and ornithologists include The Reylag Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Bar-Headed Geese-Gadwall, Falcated Duck, Northern Shoveller and the Red-Crested Pochard. It is now one of the world’s heritage sites and is a popular destination for nature enthusiasts and tourists alike. The sanctuary was also declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006 and now boasts a higher population of Tigers in the park than before. However, it is hard to spot a tiger if you only plan a sojourn instead of staying in the park for a longer period of time.
A Success Story
This National park that now provides refuge to local flora and fauna was once literally a happy hunting ground for poachers in India and around the world. The one horned Rhinoceros was extensively poached in early 1900’s and the population decreased to a mere twelve rhinos. The task of increasing the population and conserving the species seemed improbable if not impossible. However, genuine efforts by the Indian forest officers and wildlife organizations yielded astonishing results. Now the rhino population has increased to more than a thousand and continues to grow. The Tiger population has also improved and the officials say that the park has the highest density of tigers per square kilometers compared to anywhere else in the world making it one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in India
The park is comparatively inexpensive than many other National Parks in the country and an elephant ride through the jungle is the best option. It approximately costs INR 1000 or $20 for a ride in the tall grass on the back of an elephant. The other way to get around the park is by a jeep that is provided by the local forest authorities. Tourists can also take their own vehicles inside the park with a forest official. Walking or trekking inside the sanctuary is prohibited and obviously dangerous. This is the right place if you want to watch tigers at a close range; a rustle in the undergrowth usually means a rhino or a tiger. Other species such as the Indian deer, elephants, Buffaloes, and myriad other animals have made this place their home and can be easily spotted on elephant rides. Cameras are charged a nominal fee of around INR 150 or $3. However, the prices increase annually so expect an increase in the near future. Observation towers are another good place to spot wildlife and you may need binoculars to enjoy the various flora and fauna.
Numerous options are available for tourists near the park for staying in good hotels; The wild Grass, Bonhabi Resort, and the Landmark woods being the nearest and the most comfortable. The tariff is usually anywhere from INR 1500 to INR 2000 per night or $30 to $ 40 American. The hotels are admirable since they are adorned with exquisite Assamese architecture with thatched rooftops and big windows that allow the cool humid air to rustle in. Equipped with swimming pools as well as ‘Machans’ (high houses) on trees the hotels are worth the cost.
The Kaziranga Resorts
The Kaziranga resorts are a joint venture between GI Resorts and the local Tourism Board. These resorts are beautiful cottages and are meant for people with either disposable income or when you are planning a trip with many people. However, the resort also has smaller accommodations and is affordable for locals and foreigners alike. It also offers tours to the sanctuary and other attractions such as a children’s park as well as boating. The resort tariff was around INR 1500 to INR 2000 or $30-$40 (American) for a double room in 2008; however the tariffs may have increased in the least few months.
Other Nearby Attractions
Other attractions are the rubber and coffee plantations and the Karbi villages which are a mix of Chinese and Tibetan culture. A walk through the rubber plantations and interaction with the villagers is possible as they are very friendly and welcoming. The best time to visit Kaziranga is between November and April since the area is closed and usually flooded in the Monsoon.
Assam has seen some skirmishes between the Army and various insurgent or militant groups but this is not the case if you are visiting Kaziranga. However, be cautious after sunset since there is a remote albeit possible chance of an animal attack in the dark. Recently a Mahout was attacked by a tiger while on an elephant ride and the tiger managed to injure the Mahout by lunging through the tall grass. Do not fall off the elephants back!! This may sound a little extreme but the tall grass is almost as high as an elephants shoulder and provides good cover for dangerous animals.