I wrote about our trips to Varanasi and Thimpu (Bhutan) in the last few blogs. Well, this post recaps some of the very unlikely experience we had at Kaziranga National park, Assam. We visited Assam a few years during the winter months. Our pre-planned list of location itinerary featured Shillong, Cherapunji and a few other places in Meghalaya, the neighboring state with which Assam shares its border. Kaziranga wasn’t a part of the list. Apparently, visiting Assam and not visiting Kaziranga would have been a sheer blunder. We managed to avert the blunder right at the nick of time. Thanks to my Brother-In-Law and his family. Residents of Guwahati, they were surprisingly enthusiastic about Kaziranga in particular.
We Averted a Perfect Blunder
Kaziranga National Park is approximately 235 KM from Guwahati (State capital of Assam) along the NH-37. This ultra-dense forest belt hosts two-thirds of world’s “Great one-horned Rhinoceroses” and is a World Heritage Site. The sanctuary has been home to the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in the year 2006. Well, the span and extent of the Kaziranga forest are absolutely mind-boggling. For security reasons, only a small fraction of the vast expanse is accessible to tourists. The dense ensemble of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra and a huge population of wild animals, makes it a perfect choice for adventure buffs.
Well, on arrival we opted for the obligatory Jeep tours and Elephant Safari. The Jeep tour is over-hyped and the Elephant Safari serves the fancies of regular tourists. I would talk about them in a later post.
An Unlikely & Eerie Journey to Dhansiri Eco Camp
What I recollect as a very unlikely experience was our late evening road-trip to a secluded, isolated and eerie Dhansiri Eco Camp tucked deep inside the pitch dark Agoratoli range of the wild Kaziranga forests. Through the muddy and narrow bumpy roads known to a very few people. With the ‘Dhansari’ river by our right, where a bulk of wild animals usually come for water. A 9 KM drive off the National Highway deep into the Agoratoli range. With switched off headlamps and absolutely no honking. A very strained effort not to disrupt the strange calmness that prevailed. Luckily, it was a clear moonlit winter night, which further heightened the overall experience. None of us uttered a word during the hour-long drive. Tourists visiting the camp at night are usually escorted by armed forest rangers. since a visit to Kaziranga wasn’t on the bucket list, our trip was more spontaneous. Undoubtedly, this was way beyond the scope of conventional tourism.
Pristine Beauty In the Midst of Untamed Wilderness
Well, the Dhansiri Eco Camp offers you a raw thrill and a chance to experience the untamed wilderness in its purest natural form, right where the action is. The camp is headed by Goutam Saikia, an acclaimed wildlife photographer. This is where the Dhansiri river meets the majestic Brahmaputra. The periphery of the camp is guarded by frail looking barbed wires, which I am sure would serve no practical purpose in case the wild beasts trespass into the camp. We reached the camp at 9 PM and headed straight to Goutam Saikia private hut, made from bamboo and hay. Every of the guest cottages is large elevated bamboo structures (“Mishing” styled), comprising of basic amenities such as beds, sofas, washrooms, etc. They even had geysers, which is a tad surprising considering the absence of adequate electricity supplies.
No Electricity. No Mobiles. No Internet. Far Away from Modernity
The camp predominantly uses Bio-Gas for cooking. A cycle styled manual pump for water supply is an interesting piece of innovation. There is no internet, no mobile network and not a single human soul in the close vicinity. All you have are a few dimly lit CFLs powered by the very naive solar power system. All you get is simple home-cooked meals, ample starlit night sky, and absolute magical silence, far away from the modern world chaos.
Interestingly, Goutam Saikia’s hut contained an ensemble of gadgets. From Apple Desktops to iPads and gigantic cameras, he was well connected to the world. Goutam’s work in video and still wildlife photography has been featured in numerous National Geography shows and documentaries. He apparently knew my brother-in-law and invited us for lunch the next afternoon.
Stumbling through the Slippery Banks
Our lunch next afternoon was a simple Assamese meal. Most of us had scant idea of what was planned next. A while later, we were onboard Saikia’s safari jeep, as it raced through a dense canvas of tall elephant grass. After 15 minutes of the spine-fracturing bumpy ride, we found ourselves standing on the banks of the majestic Dhansiri river. A moderate-sized motor boat was waiting for us. We stumbled through the slippery banks towards the boat. This was going to be another amazing experience.
No Idea How far We Were from Civilization
Kaziranga gets an average of 9+ Lac domestic and 70K foreign tourists every year. How many of them are lucky enough to experience a personalized boat ride such as this? A very nominal small fraction. The boat meandered through the never-ending Dhansiri river, cutting through the heart of the otherwise inaccessible Kaziranga forest. At a certain point, we had no idea how far we were from civilization. From our hotel. From Guwahati. The monotonous humming noise of the motor was all that we heard for several hours. The beautiful ensemble of flora and fauna that decorates nature is hard to express in writing. Our trip to Dhansiri Eco Camp was a lifetime experience.