Kaziranga National Park

Welcome to the land of Rhinoceros Unicornis. The great Indian one-horned rhino, more than two tons of frightening muscle and tank-like belligerence, with its armour-plating hide and its 24” long horn- which really isn’t a horn, but compressed hair- the Indian rhino once ruled the roost in the wetlands of north-east India. Hunted mercilessly, it was on the brink of extinction when conservationists awoke to its plight. The result, and a successful one at that, is Kaziranga National Park, in Assam.

Stretching over an area of 430sq km on the south bank of the Brahmaputra river, Kaziranga is one of the last refuges of the Indian rhino. A vast stretch of coarse, tall elephant grass, marshland and dense tropical forests, it has managed to survive the onslaught of poachers, urbanization and burgeoning human populations. Plans are already afoot to extend the park’s boundaries to include the Brahmaputra river to the north and a part of the Mikir hill ranges to the south.

Fairly early on- in 1908, in fact- Kaziranga was declared a reserve forest and was officially closed for shooting; at the time it could boast of only a few dozen rhinos. By 1950 the area was a wildlife sanctuary, and in 1974 it was designated a national park. Bounded by the misty blue hills of Barail and Karbi Anglong to the south, the national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Today it’s one of the few places in India where it’s possible to see the rhino out in the open- an awesome sight indeed. And, what’s better still, the rhino population of Kaziranga now numbers more than a thousand of the creatures. Endangered, no doubt, but protected too.

Kaziranga is home also to elephants, sloth bears, tigers, leopard cats, jungle cats, hog badgers, capped langurs, hoolock gibbons, pigs, jackals, porcupines, pythons, wild buffaloes, Indian bison, swamp deer, sambhars and hog deer. Besides these, the park has a respectable avian population, which increases considerably in the winter, when migrating birds visit the park.

The rhino is best seen from the back of an elephant, first thing on a winter's morning. They seem oblivious to camera-clicking tourists, although like the unpredictable wild buffalo, they're equipped with lethal horns and are potentially ferocious. Jeeps will take you deeper into the forest than elephants but they cannot get nearly as close to the rhinos.

Entry Requirements

Visitors to the Kaziranga National Park are required to register at the Tourist Centre in the Bonani Tourist Lodge while entering the park. The entry fee for foreigners is about Rs 200; for Indians it’s Rs 10. Charges for cameras and vehicles are additional (even if you bring your own vehicle, you’ll pay a fee for it). Rented vehicles and elephant rides cost between Rs 750 to 800 for a ride of about an hour and a half. The fees for Indian visitors are appreciably less- generally between Rs 50 for an elephant ride and Rs 150 for a hired jeep.

Access

The two most convenient bases for getting to Kaziranga are Jorhat and Guwahati. Jorhat, 96 km from the sanctuary, is the nearest airport, but Guwahati’s Borjhar Airport, 239 km from Kaziranga, is connected by more flights. Cars are available on rent at both airports.

There are also direct train services to Guwahati from Calcutta, New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Cochin and Trivandrum. In addition, both Jorhat and Guwahati are accessible by road from all the neighbouring states- West Bengal, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

From Jorhat and Guwahati, taxis and buses are available to get to Kaziranga.

Once within the park, wildlife-watching trips can be taken at dawn on elephants that wade through the tall elephant-grass and give you a vantage view of animals waking up to the day. Elephant trips cover Baguri, Hole Path, Mihimukh, Kohora-Central Path and Arimarah. On an elephant ride, do wear trousers that fully cover your legs to avoid abrasions from the coarse elephant-grass.

Best time to visit

The best season to visit Kaziranga is the winter- approximately November to April. The weather’s hot and humid through much of the rest of the year. During the monsoons (June to September), when there’s heavy rainfall and the park is closed.

Accommodation

There is a wide range of accommodation available at the park ranging from luxury resorts to rest houses, tourist lodges and dormitories. Most are maintained by the ITDC or the Forest Department, and there are some privately owned properties too.

Accommodation at state-run forest lodges must be booked in advance at the park headquarters, and tariffs range between Rs 450- 750 for a room; dorm beds come for about Rs 150 a night. For reservations contact the Joint Director of Tourism, Kaziranga, P.O. Kaziranga National Park, Dist. Jorhat, Assam, India: 037626 52444

Private accommodation is also available, in the form of a luxury resort where rooms can be booked for Rs 1100 a night.

Additional information on Kaziranga can be obtained from the Director, Kaziranga National Park, PO Bokakhat, Distt. Golaghat, Assam (Tel: 3776-68095) or from the offices of Assam Tourism in other Indian cities