The next morning started at dawn, before the scheduled jeep safari. Kushal took me for a walk in the small hills behind the hotel, to look for Laughingthrushes. And we climbed towards the top of one hill, he stopped to check in the bushes along the road. I was a couple of steps ahead of him and he suddenly asked me to stop. Almost at the same instant I heard a growling sound from the bush not more than 15 feet away. I turned to Kushal and he motioned me to walk back down the hill. And then he whispered 'Leopard'. He'd seen a smaller leopard jump down the hill and the silhouette of another climb up, almost up to the road. A few more steps and I might have been breakfast. What a thrilling way to start off this trip!
|Little Pied Flycatcher|
Safari 3 - Kohora (Central) Zone
The morning dawned bright and clear as we drove into Kohora. And almost at once we saw a Rhino right next to the road. This guy was battle scarred and had some recent souvenirs etched on his rump. He saw us, thrust his head into the air and pulled back his upper lips, almost like sizing up our odours. We thought he might charge and pulled slightly further away so as not to agitate him. And a little further were 2 other rhinos, possibly a mating pair. While we watched them, Kushal pointed out a bird sitting far away on a post. it was a Striated Grassbird. I managed to see it clearly through the binoculars though it was too far for a photo. And we drove further along the meadow and suddenly a large flock of small weaver-like birds perched on the tall grass stems. I'd assumed they were Baya Weavers, but Kushal and our superb driver Papu, both confirmed that they were Finn's Weavers. What a bonus! The birds then arrived on a tree almost right above us, so while they were too far up for quality pictures, I was satisfied with record shots.
|Chestnut Capped Babbler|
Safari 4 - Agaratoli Zone
Day 3 - Birding in the tea estates
|White Browed Piculet|
|Yellow Vented Flowerpecker|
Kaziranga is truly spectacular and the Rhino alone makes it a 'must visit' destination. But there's so much more to see and experience in this most wonderful of National Parks. And with experts like Kushal and Papu for company, you will always come out with more than you'd expected.
|Rufous Necked Laughingthrush|
Kaziranga Trip Guide
Kaziranga National Park is about 200 kms east of Guwahati, Assam's main city and nerve centre. The closest big town (and airport) is Jorhat, about 110 kms away. It's a park that's surprisingly easy to access and has a number of well appointed places to stay, across a range of prices.
How to get there
Jorhat's Rowriah Airport (110 kms - 2 hours) is the closest airport. The highway is being expanded to a 4 lane (except in the Park area) so the drive will be even more pleasant when it's completed.
Jorhat is connected to most big Indian cities via Kolkata and Guwahati and most airlines have a daily flight here.
You can also drive here via Guwahati (4-5 hours) if that provides a better flight connection.
Where to stay
Kaziranga has a number of places to stay, across budget ranges. Since we were traveling as families, with kids and an elder with us, we chose the comfortable Iora Kaziranga. It's a lovely setting with wonderful, large rooms and an excellent Assamese restaurant. The rest of the F&B act can do with some tightening though. Iora also has Kushal, so it was the perfect choice for us in more ways than one.
Wild Grass is the oldest hotel in Kaziranga, though not as luxurious as Iora. Hardocre wildlifers not chasing luxury usually head here. Their naturalist Palash Barua is also a local legend. I've stayed there on a previous visit.
Zones: Kaziranga has 3 tourist zones - Kohora (Central), Baghori (Western) and Agaratoli (Eastern) One should aim to cover off all these zones at least once, so please plan a trip with at least 4-5 safaris.
Timings: The timings in Kaziranga are a bit strange. The park opens at 7:30 in winter, which is probably the latest of any park in the country. Given its location in the far east of India, it is bright at 6:00 am even in peak winter, so the 7:30 time is a bit difficult to fathom.
The afternoon safari is more in line with other parks, entering around 2 pm, till around sunset.
All hotels have their own naturalists, so do ask for them in advance. The park has forest guards (with guns) who accompany some of the vehicles and these guys are very well informed as well. Unlike other parks, mandatory, rostered Forest Guides do not exist in the Kaziranga system,
And if you're staying in Iora, please do ask for the superb Kushal Boruah. If possible, he will team up with the super-sharp Papu Choudhury and together they will make your trip a memorable one.
Assamese food is absolutely delicious, with a combination of delicate flavours and some serious chilli. The local food that we had in Iora's assamese restaurant was superb!
Kaziranga can get cold in winter, so do pack some woolies or jackets.
Check for rain forecasts, and pack some basic rain wear and protection for your cameras.
|Grey Headed Lapwing|
|Lesser Adjutant Stork|