It was Bihu time and once again, we were off to Assam to celebrate the harvest festival. One of my wife's brothers was also coming down so it was a good opportunity for the family to be together. Last Bihu, we had made a small trip to Nameri which went off really well. So this time we decided to Kaziranga, home of the unique one horned rhino. From my past experience of talking to people about Assam was that they would start asking - Where else did you go? I have been to Sikkim, Meghalaya, Tawang blah blah blah so it is better to make a trip of your own to counter this :)
My father-in-law got the news that part of the road to Kaziranga (from Guwahati) was not in good shape, so he wisely booked an Innova to ferry us. Later, I realised that having a driver along kinda kills the mood as you are always a little conscious of an outside presence and therefore a little restrained. Anyway, no complaints against Ramesh - he was punctual, drove fairly well, no smart aleck stuff at all. The only problem was that his CD player was not working and he actually had a cassette player with tapes from the late 80s.
With good intentions we planned to leave before 10.00 am but managed to leave only by 3.30 pm. We decided to go by the State Highway for part of the way before joining the National Highway to avoid traffic. The road was smooth and the route was quite picturesque. Unlike Kerala highways where there is so much traffic and you can easily get stuck behind a lumbering truck, we didn't face that problem here. Just after joining the highway, we stopped at Hotel Aakriti in Jagiroad and had a cup of tea and shingaras (samosas). Really yummy, do stop here if you get a chance. It was slow going on the National Highway as most of it was in stages of completion and then it also started raining. For a brief while, we were stuck in a jam and I was like - we are going to reach only after midnight. It cleared quickly though and we made it to the hotel by 9.30 pm.
IORA was the hotel we stayed in (booked by one of our relatives) and rightly, it has been rated No 1 by Trip Advisor. However, it is a proper proper hotel and so if you are looking for something more rustic or jungle-ey types, please do your research. You could try Bonhabi - couple of my friends stayed there and they recommend it. Anyway, IORA has very comfortable rooms and a nice bathroom. We freshened up and headed to the dining room. Just outside the dining room, they had put up a big screen and were showing the IPL matches. We went in and ordered some Chinese food (pretty good) while my wife ordered Continental (very good). We finally crashed out at 12.00 am, dreading the fact that we had to get up early for the safari.
Some information on Kaziranga (courtesy Wikipedia) - Kaziranga National Park is a national park in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of the state of Assam, India. The park hosts two-thirds of the world's Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. Kaziranga boasts the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006. The park is home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer. Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park includes numerous small bodies of water.
There are two types of safaris - Elephant Safari which lasts about 45 minutes, costs Rs 350 per head and the advantage is that you can get really close to the Rhinos. The other is the Jeep Safari that lasts about 2 hours, stays on the beaten path but covers more area. Ideally, you can do one in the evening and the other in the morning. Anyway, we reached the reserve at 5.45 am and climbed on to a horu (small) elephant as there were only four of us. The entry to the reserve is quite pretty, with a bridge over a river. Almost immediately, we spotted two rhinos and headed over to that side. Quite a sight. They look short but very heavy and imposing. Coloured like white cement, their skin looks very very tough. The horn is not very scary but I sure as hell don't want to be in front of it, ever. We saw a couple more, clustered in small groups. There was a mother-child duo, very cute to see the little one follow his mother. We got quite close too, about four feet before they moved off.
We saw some bison bathing in the water and some wild boar feeding. Both were too far away to make an impression. We then came back through a slightly different route, a heavily wooded area. As safaris go, it was very average, too crowded and there was not a chance of seeing anything interesting. The rhinos were worth it though but I will never repeat it. We decided not to take the jeep safari as we were a little tired and didn't want to spend two hours, well knowing that we had a long journey back home. We headed back to the hotel and ate some breakfast, buffet style. Being Bihu, they had served the traditional food as well as the normal fare. Decent spread, decent taste. We then stretched our legs around the resort. It is well maintained and at the back overlooks a tea garden. They also rent bikes to go around. We checked out and then stopped at a restaurant in town - Hotel Aashiana for lunch - rice, dal, chicken curry and some yummy fish fry. They also served their own brand of mineral water so we had a good laugh joshing that they must be filling the bottle from a tap at the back. We came back the way we went and again stopped at Hotel Aakriti but this time the samosas were not so good. All in all, a decent getaway but a little rushed. I would like to go again, spend two nights in a resort with cottages and go for safaris which are highly recommended. Maybe a little driving around with a working CD player. Next time, next time....
Some pics of the reserve and the hotel - https://picasaweb.google.com/pravinmathew123/Kaziranga#