NRI Achievers this time round takes you on the wildlife trail, a jungle safari to beautiful and forest rich Assam. Once you enter the sanctuaries, it is indeed a whole world apart, as you would experience from the narrative and the accompanying visuals. If you haven’t yet been there, it is time you gave a serious thought to it!

Last November, when the Times of India approached me to cover their ‘Times Passion Wildlife Photography Trail’ in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Kaziranga National Park and Hollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, I agreed with alacrity, since I had never visited Assam before. We set out early for Guwahati. Upon reaching the Rhino Land, we drove off to Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. A quick lunch later, we left for the wildlife sanctuary in a convoy of safari jeeps as we were looking forward to see the majestic Rhino. Within the first 10 minutes of a dusty drive, we had our first brush with this elegant creature. The convoy stopped and cameras with bazooka-like lenses were out instantly. This was the beginning of the firing of motor drives that would now only stop after 5 days!

During this 100-minute drive, we saw many Rhinos. This drive helped us from our initial impression about this awkward-looking yet lovable pachyderm. We figured that while this herbivore is tolerant towards the cows grazing in the same field, it seems to get into fights with members of its own clan at the slightest provocation. Not surprising at all, since the brain-to-body mass ratio of this creature is very small. Most of the Rhinos we saw here were battle-scarred. In fact, one of them had even lost an eye during some gruesome duel.

The following day, after breakfast, we left for Kaziranga – which is at a distance of about 150 kms from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. This ~400 sq. km. National Park straddles two districts of Assam – Golaghat and Nagaon. The park has 4 zones Central Zone (also called Kaziranga Range), Western Zone (Bagori Range), Eastern Zone (Agaratoli Range) and the Burapahar Range. On the northern side, the majestic river Brahmaputra marks the boundary of the park.

Our after-lunch safari started rather uneventfully with sporadic sightings of swamp deer, some wild buffaloes and some rhinos at a distance. But towards the end of the drive, all the group members had different stories to tell – some had seen an attacking Rhino chasing another, some came across peaceful pairs contentedly grazing near a beel (lake or pond formed due to flooding), while many saw rhinos, elephants and swamp deer together. Another common observation by the group was the early sunset we faced here. Since the park is almost at the same longitude as Thailand, but the operating time zone here is Indian Standard Time, we collectively realised that the sunset came as early as 4.30 – 4.40 pm. Everyday, the group had kaleidoscopic experiences to share – chasing rhinos, attacking rhinos, camouflaged monitor lizards, basking turtles, grey headed fishing eagles carrying fish in their claws, herds of wild buffaloes running scared, sleeping elephants, an elephant calf separated from the herd, scores of bar headed geese simultaneously taking off, pond herons and egrets canoodling like couples, swamp deer and hog deer grazing along wild boars, et al. But what took the cake was the tiger sighting by some group members, not just in one, but two safaris. Though Kaziranga is famous for rhinos, the lesser-known fact is that it has the highest Tiger population amongst all the national parks in India as well. After 3 days in Kaziranga, we left for Hollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, which is in the Jorhat district. This sanctuary has 26 families of gibbons (total numbers as per 2008 census – 106 gibbons).

Gibbons are the only species of apes in India and are only found here. The park’s flora comprises semi-evergreen trees between 40 and 100 feet in height and the arboreal gibbons merrily live on these trees. As a result, during our walk here, all the group members were seen holding their cameras with unwieldy lenses at an angle of 30 degrees or more in this unique sanctuary. Luckily, we had gibbon sightings of both males (black in colour with light grey eye brows) and females (brown in colour with darker rings around their eyes). After this walk, a long drive back to Guwahati followed. No one wanted this unique event to get over, but what begins must also end. So the next morning, group members departed for the airport to head back to their respective homes with promises to stay connected. While the trail may have ended, the commitment of the group members to do their best towards the conservation of wildlife in general and rhinos in particular has firmly been etched in their minds.

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