The rhino calf lay sound asleep next to its mother, who was busy grazing not more than 20 feet from the road. Indian rhinos are ancient-looking creatures: They look like they should be sharing the earth with dinosaurs (or, at least, woolly mammoths and mastodons) not camera-toting tourists in four-wheel drive vehicles. Both mother and baby looked like they were wearing built-in coats-of-armor, like medieval knights suited for battle.
But armor didn’t protect India’s one-horned rhinos from all dangers: until recently, they have been in danger of extinction. Today, the populations are protected and starting to recover, although they are still listed as vulnerable to extinction. This pair were just two of the many we saw during our time in Kaziranga National Park. On another drive we rounded a corner to find a huge male standing in the middle of the road, luckily a bit further ahead. He turned and left but stayed in the streambed paralleling the road, giving us several more good views as we rounded the next corner.
National Park Created to Protect Indian Rhinoceros
The survival of rhinos here in Kaziranga National Park is largely due to Lady Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India, who traveled to Assam in 1904 to see rhinos and was appalled to find none. As a result of her efforts, the area was protected as a forest reserve, becoming a national park some years later. Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site hosts the largest one-horned rhino population in the world.
In Your Bucket Because:
- One of the oldest protected areas in India, Kaziranga is home to the largest population of endangered Indian one-horned rhinos with plenty of elephants, buffalo, deer and, if you’re lucky, tigers.
- You’ve always wanted to experience more of India than cities and the Taj Mahal.
- Good for bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts and adventurous families.
A tour through the central, or Kohora, range proved best for close sightings of the Indian Big 5 – rhino, elephant, tiger, buffalo and swamp deer. We managed four out of five easily but saw no tigers. Although Kaziranga has large number of tigers they tend to be hard to spot in the tall elephant grass and thick forests that make up much of this park’s landscape. We were lucky, on the other hand, to have lots of elephant sightings, including one herd of twenty or more mothers and calves.
Birding in Kaziranga National Park
We were anxious to head into the eastern, or Agartoli, range for some of the best birdwatching in the park. In no time we were deep into avian nirvana. Along the banks of the Brahmaputra a superb variety of eagles- grey-headed fish, crested serpent and Pallas’ fish, changeable hawk and lesser spotted- soared overhead or rested in the trees, allowing good looks. In the wooded areas hornbills, flamebacks, green pigeons and flowerpeckers, were among the many species we spotted on this drive.
In her quiet, meandering, dry season form I found it nearly impossible to imagine the waters of the Brahmaputra at the height of the monsoon, when she becomes one of the world’s most powerful rivers, raging through the park and wrecking havoc. On this day a nice variety of terns and ducks floated gently in her waters or rested on the banks of the far shore. Moving on we stopped at several points along wetland areas. Five species of stork plus herons, egrets, waders and shorebirds now filled the telescope.
The Bagori Range Lookout Tower Offers One Stop Wildlife Panorama
The Bagori, or western, range has a loop road similar to that in the eastern range, with some differences in abundance of animals and birds, but our time in this area was limited. We went to the first stop and climbed the one story stone lookout tower, where we had a view out over one of the larger wetland areas. Group after group of tourists came and left as we took in the ever changing wildlife spread out in front of us. Elephants appeared, then melted into the tall grass, birds flew in and out, now there were rhino and now there weren’t. This was a special, not to be missed, way of watching the animals of Kaziranga, one that gave a real feel for their movements.
Many Indians stopped to talk, asking about the scope, where we were from and if we were enjoying their country. We shared the telescope, laughing at the excited cries of the kids when they saw how big the animals were looking through it. We had our pictures taken with several families as they told us where they were from and recommended other places to visit. As we packed up our gear and made our way back to the jeep, I realized my bucket list had grown yet again.
There are a variety of hotel options near the park, from 4-star to basic. During high season (October to March) it is best to book early to get the type of accommodation you prefer. For serious escapists, there are still hotels in the area with no internet or cell phone access.
Jeep safaris can be booked through tour companies, which usually involves a several day package, or at your hotel concierge desk. You will need to book three tours to get to all three ranges. The park is open a limited number of hours per day which only allow time to tour one range in the morning and one in the afternoon. Elephant back safaris are also available, however, the welfare of park elephants (not just in India), while constantly improving, requires careful consideration when deciding whether to take this option.
Getting to Kaziranga includes a flight from Delhi or Kolkata to Guwahati or Jorhat, followed by a drive to Kaziranga (about 4 hours from Guwahati or 3 from Jorhat). Most tour operators (and some hotels) provide this transport but roads are crowded and rough, which can add time to this part of the journey.