Tucked in the heart of Assam, lies a milestone in the annals of Indian natural history – Kaziranga National Park. This UNESCO designated World Heritage site is not only home to the greatest population of the Indian Rhinoceros, but a dazzling array of flora and fauna that few other places in the world can match. Our plan was quite simple – spend more than a week exploring the vast ranges of national park and document its denizens.

We arrived at Jorhat Airport and were greeted by the effervescent Gautam Saikia, a veteran naturalist who runs the beautiful Dhansiri Eco-Camp. A short drive later, we were at the camp, having tea with the Bramhaputra on side and Kaziranga on the other. The next morning, Gautam Da drove us in to the Eastern Range of the park; the first of a dozen drives where we discovered why Kaziranga is truly, one of the jewels of India

The route in the Eastern Range of Kaziranga circles around the Sohola Beel (lake) which is home to an astounding variety of birds. One species stands out more than others – the Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius). This endangered species is among the largest in the stork family; and is found only in Eastern India.
Kaziranga is known for the Big 5 – the One Horned Rhino, the Asiatic Elephant, the Asiatic Water Buffalo, the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Eastern Swamp Deer. And we were extremely lucky to get 3 out of the 5 in one frame.
Tall grasses dominate the landscape. Colloquially they are called Elephant Grass – one doesn’t have to look hard to understand why.
And it is not just mammals that attract nature lovers to Kaziranga. The park boasts a dazzling variety of resident and migrant birds. Birdlife International recognizes Kaziranga as an ‘Important Bird Area’ and more than 120 bird species are found in an around the park, like this iridescent Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus).
Great Hornbills (Buceros bicornis) are also found in the region. These magnificent birds feed mainly on fruit and extract most of their water needs from the nectar. But they are also known to feed on small mammals, rodents and insect on occasion.
The chief attraction however is the Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis). We chanced upon this massive male, grazing just by the side of main track in the Central Range.
Startled by the sound of our vehicle, the rhino stepped on to the track for a closer inspection. Knowing that their eyesight is poor, and their temper short – we maintained our distance. However, when he lowered his head and snorted angrily, it caused a heart or two to flutter, Mercifully, it was just a mock display and he sauntered off in peace.
Indian rhinos appear to be armour plated, but that’s just their thick skin. Many rhinos however fall prey to bullets fired by poachers. The rhino’s ‘horn’ which is made up of nothing but hair – is highly prized in traditional Eastern medicine. This is fuelling a never ending demand in the black market; where just one pound of rhino horn can fetch more than USD 30,000 (INR 20 million)!
And because of this horn, Kaziranga’s rhinos are under constant threat from poachers and even militant groups looking for a quick buck to fund themselves. As a result, the park’s guards are equipped with rifles. For poachers are armed to the teeth as well, and firefights and deaths are not uncommon.
But there is one creature that makes a 2 tonne rhino look small. Kaziranga boasts a healthy population of Asiatic Elephants (Elephas maximus) and they can be frequently found in herds 10-20 strong. The herds are lead by a seasoned matriarch. This one here blocked our path and inspected us carefully; before deciding we were too puny to cause any threat to her brood.
When it comes to protecting their babies, the herd turns into a wall of muscle and bone. The tiniest babies are kept right in the centre and there is little, if anything that dares messing with them.
And then there are the giant Asiatic Water Buffaloes! These massive bovines can weigh over a tonne, and feature the largest horns of any creature in the world. Stretching 2m and more, tip to tip, they present a formidable sight on the grasslands.
But Kaziranga is not just about the big beasts! The park is home to thousands of Hog Deer (Hyelaphus porcinus). These form the chief diet of the park’s major predator – the Bengal Tiger. Despite having the densest tiger population in India, Kaziranga’s tigers are very hard to spot. They are notoriously shy, and despite spending more than week – we couldn’t see a single one.
Slightly more common than the Greater Adjutant is relative, the Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus). They are smaller and darker comparatively, with a more yellow neck. They also have a greater range, and are found in central and peninsular India as well.
The extensive wetlands in the park support a healthy population of aquatic life. This attracts specialists such as this Pallas’s Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus). These large birds of prey feed mainly on freshwater fish, but are known to attack water birds such as geese as well. The rapid decline of wetlands across India has hit the population of these magnificent birds. They are now classified as ‘Endangered’ under the IUCN Red List.
The Grey-headed Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus) is another raptor that specializes in freshwater fish. It can be seen perched on branches near water bodies from where it swoops down and catches its prey.
The third specialist fish eating raptor in these parts is the Western osprey (Pandion haliaetus). This striking bird is found on all continents except Antarctica. Despite such a wide-range, it occurs as a single living species worldwide. Even the few subspecies are not unequivocally separable. And due to its specialised physical characteristics, it has been given its own taxonomic genus ‘Pandion’ of which it is the sole member.
In addition to the wetlands and grasslands, Kaziranga’s landscape is dominated by the Semal Tree (Butea monosperma). In flowering season, they burst into a dazzling display of red and orange flowers, which gives them their common name – Flame of the Forest. The fruit and nectar from its flowers sustains a wide variety of birds and animals – making it a crucial part of the ecosystem.
Our constant friend in the Eastern range was this family of Smooth-coated Otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) that had a large den in mud-bank. While the adults spent most of the afternoons resting, the energetic young were ever on the lookout for a spot of mischief.
One of the most endearing sights of the trip was this baby rhino, barely a few months old – foraging with its mother. Young rhinos stay with their mothers for nearly four years – one of the longest for any mammal. Sometimes, older calves continue to accompany their mothers even after a newborn arrives.
Leaving you with a short video of the astounding wildlife of Kaziranga

Even after a week, and more than 200 GB of images and videos – we felt that we had barely scratched the surface of what Kaziranga had to offer. Needless to say, it will be park that will be visited often. And in case you plan to go any time soon, sharing a few tips that might be useful

Location – Golaghat and Nagaon Districts, Assam – India 26°40′N 93°21′E

Access – Nearest major airports are Guwahati (240km away) for the Central and Western zones and Jorhat (75km) for the Eastern zone. Jorhat however, has lesser flight connectivity than Guwahati. Nagaon and Furkating Jn are convenient railheads for the Central and Easter zones respectively.

Stay – Eastern Zone : Dhansiri Eco-camp (contact: +91-98590 50752). Assam Tourism also operates lodges in Central and Eastern zones.

Eat / Drink – Except for the Central zone, where there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the main highway at Kohora – there is little to eat at the main gates in Eastern and Western ranges. Ask your hotel to provide packed lunches.

Other Tips – November toFebruary is the best time to visit Kaziranga. The forest department burns parts of grasslands to manage them, in early March. This potentially disturbs sightings. The park stays open till May – and then closes for the monsoons. Park re-opening is dependent on the extent of monsoons and flooding. Typically parts of the park reopen in mid to late October.

Wildlife is often spotted at a distance. Hence it is advisable to carry telephoto lenses of at least 400mm. Do carry wide angle lenses for spectacular landscape shots as well.


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