Why would one go on a wildlife safari? Simple question.
Simple answer. To see tigers.
Almost everybody I know tells me this is true. Nobody seems interested in any other animal. Not even the lion, though it is, in reality, the king of the jungle. Lion safaris are a bit dangerous, they feel.
And other animals are simply not worth it. Oh, I don’t have such extreme views but I do feel there is a tinge of truth to it. The tiger somehow seems just the right mix and something that would make a safari worth it.
One does want to go on a wildlife sojourn with the thought of seeing a magnificent tiger roaming around, walking past our jeep and without attempting us any harm, staring intensely at us. Sigh…just the stuff dreams are made up of.
Now, I have been on only two safaris so far. The first one in Jim Corbett National Park excited me like a little child in a candy store. I guess the first experience of just about anything is simply unmatched…like probably one’s first kiss or the first job or whatever.
But alas, there was no tiger to be seen as I wrote about, in another previous blog here so I returned home much saddened.
My second safari was just last week in the much ignored, much misunderstood, much maligned, beautiful, serene, untouched northeastern part of India, that I call home — Assam (just one of the few states in the NE region).
But the saving grace is that most fellow Indians do know about the Kaziranga wildlife park. Still, if you want to take a geography test just for funs sake, rest assured most people outside the northeast are shamelessly ignorant about the area, the region—almost like it is not even a part of India!
Spanning across 429.69 square kilometres, the Kaziranga National Park is home to the largest population of One Horned Rhinoceros in the world. And also one of the few wild breeding places for a variety of cats such as the Bengal tigers and leopards.
But the guide promptly and clearly tells us that while tigers can be seen by a lucky few…what is in abundance are one-horned rhinos, four varieties of deer and many varieties of birds, storks, turtles, etc. and while this was okay with the kids, I still clung to frail hopes of seeing my tiger.
The hotel where we stayed, Landmark Woods did have its fair share of animals too; I swear I did see a wild fox, wild dogs and a lot of ducks whose coop was right outside my room making sleeping an impossibility since they are semi-nocturnal creatures.
Some of them even chased us across the breakfast hall. And every night just as the clock struck twelve, they would cackle loudly and then again at 5 am!
Still, the hotel property is a good one with clean, simple, basic, comfortable rooms and freshly cooked food. Good service too.
At the hotel, we were advised to visit the Kaziranga Orchid biodiversity park first, which was on our way to the wildlife sanctuary. Six acres of land houses more than 500 varieties of wild orchids along with a humongous number of local produce: grains, fruits, vegetables. They also have a stage set for local Assamese Bihu dances and songs in the middle of the open air restaurant that serves a colourful 27 menu item vegetarian thali. Non-veg food is also available. You get to sit and enjoy the view from tree houses here too!
After this, we set off for the Central Range of the wildlife park, (there are three ranges here; the eastern, western or the central) that was conveniently located at just 2 km from the Orchid park. Our jeep driver Ajit was a youngish looking, fluent in English, guy, who was an absolute expert on animals, the vegetation, the entire regions diversity etc., that was an added bonus as it was interesting chatting with him.
Bumpy, dusty roads notwithstanding, we were full of enthusiasm and I, with my hopes of seeing a tiger merrily endured all the dust and grime that flew all over our faces in the open air Jeep. Ajit regaled us with tales of a recent horrific episode when a tiger supposedly mauled off a tourists hand. The kids listened awestruck hoping such a fate wouldn’t befall us.
We did manage to spot the rhinos, elephants, deer, storks, and beautiful chirpy birds…but alas no tiger here too. Ajit reassured me saying, “Baidew (sister in Assamese) perhaps it’s not your time yet.” I had to be satisfied with that for the time being!
As we sat in our hotel lobby, a gaggle of Gujarati tourists had just landed and we overheard them discussing with glee the prospect of spotting a tiger in rhino land, just like I had done. Oh well, I thought, at least I’m a bit wiser now and perhaps I do need fabulous luck to spot my favourite beast.
I live in hope.
HOW TO GO: Fly to Guwahati from anywhere in India or the world. Take a car to drive or be driven through the NH 37. The roads are good, except for a tiny stretch that leads to Kaziranga that is a bit bumpy. Directions are given on all banners and eateries are aplenty.
BEST TIME to go: February to March is the best time.
EAT: Though I will advise you to not have too high expectations of gourmet food here, simple, basic, rustic fare that is freshly cooked is what you get. Read rice/roti thalis and poori bhaaji and Chinese fare like chowmein, spring rolls, etc., can be had at most outlets. We ate at the Anupam restaurant on the way there. Average food.
What’s interesting in this part of India is that most servers and staff in hotels and restaurants are women and they add that quintessential feminine touch.
On the way back, however, we spotted a gem—the Ni4 restaurant that had delicious multi-cuisine food, clean toilets and was very spacious. Highly recommended.
STAY: Hotel Landmark Woods, Borgos resort, IORA resort…among the many.