This is ASSAM!
-Russell Crisante' Fernandes
Our previous trip to Assam met with the bitter disappointment of Kaziranga closing early for the monsoon. And while the splendor of Manas did it's bit to raise our levels of contentment, something was amiss as Kaziranga in a way represents the true face of
Wild Assam. This time however, we planned our trip for the right season and stayed clear of the vagrancies of the rainfall in the North-East.
The long drive from Guwahati was broken with some beautiful views of tea gardens, meadows and occasional patches of towering trees. The widening of the national highway did take some sheen of the sights, but the sights on either side of the road were too good
to nurture a frown. We reached our resort, the comforting Wild Grass Lodge, well past nightfall and retired early for the night. The morning begins well before 5am in these parts for the true nature lover and as the saying goes, it pays to be an early bird.
On our first morning, we opted to start the day with the highly recommended Elephant Safari at the Baghori range. Kaziranga has three main tourism zones , Baghori (Western) , Kohora (Central) and Agaratouli (Eastern). Of these, Elephant Safaris are carried
out in the western and central ranges twice in the morning at 5 and 6 am respectively. The saddles on the Elephant are reminiscent of an old school bench, where you jostle with your mate for elbow room. A point to note is that in the Baghori range, the Elephant
safaris are carried out by a private operator and the Forest Department handles all the rides at Kohora. Some additional information to consider is that foreign nationals are permitted to undertake the Elephant rides only at the Baghori range.
There is nothing like entering the jungle on the highest seat available, that too a really sturdy one. It is also probably the 'Greenest' way to move, since your vehicle works on 100% plant fuel that it isn't shy to pick up along the way. Occasionally, the
exhaust products from the vehicle can leave a foul odor. But it provides food material for a variety of insects, birds and small animals, so 4WD lovers will have to really come up with a good reason to top this mode of transport. An added bonus of traveling
on Elephant back is the proximity that it affords for close animal and bird encounters. Hog Deer give you that one extra second before scampering off and Rhinos or Wild Buffalo will think twice before giving you a dose of their famous bad attitude.
While we were unable to fit an Elephant Ride in the Kohora range into our itinerary, it is also recommended as a resident herd of Barasingha or Swamp Deer are present right near the boarding point. For those that prefer the rattle and roll of a Gypsy, there
is no reason to be disappointed. Most of the trails in all the ranges are in excellent condition. Apart from a few low level streams at Kohora, the journey through all 3 zones could've fooled me into believing that we were on the highway to Green Heaven. Except
of course, for the presence of Rhino blockades instead of Angels with harps. It is important at all times to remember who has the right of way here. It is not just the massive Rhinos, Elephants and Wild Buffalo that deserve our respect, but even the smallest
denizens of the park. Thick foliage around the corners means that it is recommended that you save the burning of rubber for another track and plan your exit time accordingly, so that your driver does not have to race like a bat out of hades to make it back
to the gate without being penalized.
To summarize what to expect from each of the zones, purely in terms of landscape, here is a brief about the 3 major ones :
Kohora : Being the central and the largest of all the zones, it is definitely recommended that you cover this one during the day to have enough time to go around the entire expanse. The views of the river with Roofed Turtles and wading birds is an amazing right.
There are watchtowers overlooking the swamps and one can easily see all of Kazirangas famous herbivores with some luck in a single drive through Kohora.
Baghori : One of the smaller zones, it is located closer towards Guwahati and offers similar terrain to Kohora. The real treat here is the presence of strategically placed watchtowers and a stop here at dusk may reveal some beautiful moments. Another feature
of the drive along Baghori is the ability to view a plethora of wildlife on the opposite banks by parking your vehicle at different spots during the drive. Large numbers of Hog Deer graze peacefully with their amour plated bodyguards and also the muscular
bovines in strong numbers. These are sights more reminiscent of Africa and made me apply the TIA (This Is Africa) phrase in a different, but equally compelling sense : This Is Assam.
Agaratouli : The Eastern range has the least number of tourist facilities and on some days, you could find your vehicle with none other for company. This, provides a charm of a different kind and is a recommended drive at least once on your trip to Kaziranga.
This is also probably the best zone for birdwatching opportunities while mammal sightings, although few, are often dramatic. As with Baghori, making stops at different spots with your vehicle and observing the numerous bird species is an experience of a lifetime.
( The author, Russel Fernandes is a corporate trainer by profession and can be reached at