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Entries about assam

Kaziranga Days...

...Hoollongapar Nights!

rain 26 °C

The Silk Cotton trees make a wonderful backdrop at this time of year

The Silk Cotton trees make a wonderful backdrop at this time of year


Seems like I’m constantly playing catch up these days! Since my second visit to Kaziranga in late March 2013, I’ve since returned in late February 2014 for a third sojourn into the forest. This entry will combine the two visits!

Kaziranga's forests and grasslands

Kaziranga's forests and grasslands


When we last left off, we were wrapping up a short but beautiful stay at Nameri National Park in Assam. As we were leaving, we got word from the incredibly helpful Manju at Wild Grass Resort in Kaziranga National Park that the forest department had just decided it must do the annual rhino census! On the last weekend of the regular season of the park!!! Yeesh! Two choices here: be really upset about the meticulous and time-involved planning, not to mention the cost involved to make this trip to Kaziranga; or… make the best of it and have a fantabulous time! Guess which one I did? OK… I’m not a saint; I was pretty upset for a few hours. But, in the end it reinforced my desire to revisit in 2014 and provided unexpected and wonderful adventures I wouldn’t have experienced without this hiccup.

We left early in the morning for the rather short drive to Kaziranga, arriving in time to fit in 1 of the 3 drives we ultimately did (out of the planned for 9 drives).

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Wild Grass Resort

When I first made a rather simple query to Wild Grass, the very hands-on owner, Mr. Manju Barua, replied with such incredibly helpful detail, I was able to plan not only that trip to Kaziranga, but also the Manas, Nameri and Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary excursions, all aided by the information and contact numbers he provided. Thus far, with my many travels and help from loads of wonderful people, he wins the award for providing the most informative exchange I’ve ever experienced… by a large margin.

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Anyway… I digress… quite a lot! My first, brief taste of Kaziranga was in 2010 and Wild Grass – the oldest and highly-rated resort was full. Even still, they arranged my safaris and stay at the more ‘upscale’ Iora Resort. I far preferred Wild Grass to Iora (should note Iora is nice and I could not find fault with it), but Wild Grass is a relaxed, comfortable, old-world resort set in sprawling gardens with Colonial-styled buildings and cottages – much more my personal style. The property is well-run and hugely popular, but despite the steady stream of guests, you somehow never seem rushed or treated impersonally. Many of the buildings are older, which adds to the charm for me, but things do breakdown. No worries, just let someone from the helpful staff know and they’ll be there to solve your problem as quick as possible.

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On the first trip, we opted for the more removed, and very affordable. Only caveat, that though you have your own bathroom, it’s in a separate stand-alone adjacent building. I was in the larger cottage, and it was large! You could easily sleep 8 people (2 king size and 6 singles), with loads of outlets for camera batteries, phone batteries, laptop batteries… Quite fun, and very quiet, and although there was no air-conditioning, the fans were absolutely sufficient in late March 2013, even under mosquito netting (which was available in one of the cupboards). This large cottage was in need of some repair. The rains had started and the roof leaked in some areas, but the beds were set up to avoid the leaks. If you are eight people it might have been more difficult to avoid.

My friend and long-suffering wildlife guide, CV Singh, was booked into another single cottage-room, but it was not as nice. Quite dark and small, although super affordable if you don’t mind this.

A wonderful entrance into the park, with a hog deer to greet us!

A wonderful entrance into the park, with a hog deer to greet us!


For our return visit at the end of February 2014, I was bringing along a lovely Norwegian woman, on her first Indian Safari! This time we stayed in the regular rooms in one of the two accommodation buildings. Very comfortable rooms with twin beds and loads of windows. Higher in price but correspondingly more value and still super reasonable stay. Assam is very affordable compared with other wildlife destinations in India.

I awoke to a big ruckus outside my room window at about 5am.  Three Oriental Pied Hornbills having a serious discussion!

I awoke to a big ruckus outside my room window at about 5am. Three Oriental Pied Hornbills having a serious discussion!


To top it all off, the food was great – far better than reviews had led us to believe! Nothing gourmet, but still good, plentiful and very reasonable. We opted for an a la carte stay, which suited us fine since the portions are very large, you really only needed 1 or 2 dishes. The staff is very good about informing you of the procedure as you must order your meal well before your selected dining time, so make sure you do! There are no frills here and no wastage, so order your lunch after you return from morning safari and order your dinner after lunch. For a personal choice, I don’t think I’d go elsewhere in this part of the country.

Indian wild elephant teenager

Indian wild elephant teenager


Safari Info

There is currently no restriction on the number of vehicles allowed into Kaziranga, so getting safaris last minute are much easier than in Central India. Jeeps with drivers can be hired at the gate, a few minutes before the park opens. The park is large and traffic resultantly minimal so you do not come across others very often. I say that, but… 2013 saw a new situation in the park.

One of the park’s notoriously shy and hard to spot tigers was becoming not so shy or hard to spot. Sightings were becoming so regular that as we were driving in that zone, enjoying what we were there to see – birds, rhinos, swamp deer, hog deer, monkeys… a jeep drove up and a woman loudly stood up and shouted ‘tiger?’ Very strange, a bit off-putting, and I think, a bit worrying. This was reinforced in the 2014 visit, when we actually had a brief glimpse of a tiger, amidst rushing and crowding to spot a tiger. If the bad behaviour continues there is bound to be more restrictions put in place, spoiling in a small degree, the experiences you can currently have as a responsible wildlife-loving citizen in the park.

Oh dear.... tiger tiger tiger...

Oh dear.... tiger tiger tiger...


The park has three tourist zones for jeep safaris: the western (Bagori Range); the eastern (Agartoli Range); and the central (Kaziranga Range). There is a 4th range (Burapahar Range) but no-one seems to go there, which means I must check it out next time. Jeep costs are based on how far away the zone is, due to the extra mileage travelled, the eastern being the furthest. The central range seems to be the most popular, due in no small part to the aforementioned tiger activity, followed by the western range, which is particularly good for rhino and water buffalo sightings. The eastern range has large water bodies and is very good for birding.

Classic Kaziranga grasslands, with rhino, swamp deer and hog deer grazing

Classic Kaziranga grasslands, with rhino, swamp deer and hog deer grazing


Since you are theoretically not chasing the big cats in this park, safaris start much later in the morning, though it is possible to pre-book one of two elephant safaris before the drives start. They last one hour, the first starting at sunrise. You sit astride the elephant here, unlike other platform ‘saddles’ where you sit sideways (a style found in most other areas of India). I find I actually prefer it, but would not the best for people with hip or flexibility issues.

We arranged our drives with Wild Grass, to ensure that we got a very good and knowledgeable guide, well-versed in driving photography buffs. As of 2014 the resort has updated their jeeps away from the side-bench vehicles to front-facing, which is a big improvement in comfort and visibility.

Flaming trees and golden fields... Sublime!

Flaming trees and golden fields... Sublime!


The Park

Kaziranga National Park was designated a Unesco World Heritage park in 1985 and covers 430 square kilometres. As one of the last areas in east India (at least easily travelled east India) that offers wide tracts of non-human-inhabited land, the park supports the largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses and Indian elephants in the world, as well as (apparently) the highest density of tigers. The park lies in a flood plain covered with beautiful wide grasslands, and a quintessential jungle-like tropical forest. Intensely green with swathes of fern, vines, orchids and trees.

So many ranger stations in the park, with fairly well armed rangers who are allowed to shoot first if coming across poachers in the park after hours.

So many ranger stations in the park, with fairly well armed rangers who are allowed to shoot first if coming across poachers in the park after hours.


Not only a home to the endangered rhino, it also supports other threatened mammals, including my new favourite the capped langur, my new new favourite the hoolock gibbon, sloth bear, Ganges dolphin, otter and wild buffalo. Also an array of wonderful birds, both endemic and migratory populations.

I find them strangely beautiful...

I find them strangely beautiful...


The Wildlife Moments

Late March, you are quite close to the area's rainy season. In 2013 that was certainly the case for us as we had a lot of overcast days and quite a few showers. Late February 2014 was drier in Kaziranga, though we did come from the unseasonably wet Manas that year, so really, who knows these days! Late Feb does have a larger population of migratory birds still hanging around than we experienced in March.

So much rain on this trip in later March, even the macaques were in bliss with a few rays of sunshine!

So much rain on this trip in later March, even the macaques were in bliss with a few rays of sunshine!


Finally some sun breaks through

Finally some sun breaks through


Our first drive was wonderful, and quite exciting as a male rhino charged our jeep, coming up remarkably fast behind us, but that was to be nothing compared with our encounter on the last drive! Note: foreshadowing!!

Hello!

Hello!


Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary Sidetrip

In the dark forest, against the bright sky, the silhouette of the gibbons often looked like a strange man as they swung easily through the trees.

In the dark forest, against the bright sky, the silhouette of the gibbons often looked like a strange man as they swung easily through the trees.


After that first drive we had 3 days to kill! We joined a couple of Canadians and a US doctor on a day excursion to the Hoolock (Hollongapar) Gibbon Sanctuary, where we were lucky enough to watch a small family for some time and had fun tramping through the forests. You visit this small sanctuary near Jorhat on foot, hiking along mostly good trails.

One of the more easy trails in the Gibbon Sanctuary

One of the more easy trails in the Gibbon Sanctuary


Dad, checking us out!

Dad, checking us out!


Apes of another kind, watching their arboreal cousins in awe

Apes of another kind, watching their arboreal cousins in awe


Beware though; there are leeches in this forest, especially after rains. CV was even bitten through his sock! I was attacked while my intrepid guide led me off the trail into the forest to get a better angle of the gibbons. Leeches in this part of the world, while not my favourite creature, are not dangerous, don’t hurt and don’t carry any disease, so don’t let it put you off, these apes are fabulous and worth a shot at seeing any time you are here. So fabulous that we decided to go back and spend a night at the Sanctuary.

Wonderfully dew-laden plant in the forest

Wonderfully dew-laden plant in the forest


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Surrounded by tea estates, the Hoollongabar Sanctuary (also spelled Hollongabar) is a quite small, isolated reserve at just over 8 square miles (2098 ha). For such a small forest it supports a surprising number of primates – including the gibbon, stump-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, eastern Assamese macaque and the Bengal slow loris. We were also lucky enough to see the pig-tailed macacque.

Pig-tailed Macacque coming for a visit

Pig-tailed Macacque coming for a visit

Fearsome teeth!

Fearsome teeth!


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The Sanctuary had a Forest Rest House with two, very very basic rooms. Perfectly fine rooms though not for the non-nature-enthusiast as the rooms are far from air-tight or luxurious. Construction was underway in 2013 for a new rooms complex – looked to be maybe 4-6 rooms coming up. I was happy to have CV there, not only for company and language issues, but because as a single woman traveller you are pretty isolated. Never actually felt unsafe, but might not have been as comfortable on my own here, and it turned out to be such a highlight. That trip we were with several construction workers, a very accommodating forest ranger, and a cook. Only the forest ranger spoke any English and it was minimal.

As we sat out in the evening (bring your mosquito repellant!) we were treated to an incredible display of fireflies that filled the clearing, drifting out of the trees and amongst the buildings.

The large and wonderfully noisy Tokay Gecko living behind a sign on our resthouse.

The large and wonderfully noisy Tokay Gecko living behind a sign on our resthouse.


Next morning saw us up early to see if we could find our gibbon family. And luck was with us again! We came across our friends as they were munching, swinging and playing across one of the pathways. Really is a matter of timing because once they’re into the forest, you’re out of luck. We were treated to a wonderful serenade from the gibbons in the morning as well. Family groups calling to each other across the forest. Almost as loud as the howler monkeys in the Amazon!

Mum and babe.  The babes are born grey but quickly change to black. Then at 6-7 years, they change again if female to the warm brown coat, and staying the same black colour if male.

Mum and babe. The babes are born grey but quickly change to black. Then at 6-7 years, they change again if female to the warm brown coat, and staying the same black colour if male.

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The Hoolock Gibbon is the only ape in India and has two species, the western and eastern. The gibbons in the Gibbon Sanctuary are Western Hoolock Gibbons and are listed by the WWF as one of the most 25 endangered primates in the world; the eastern gibbon is listed as ‘vulnerable’. They are wonderfully expressive and remarkably agile in the trees. Their long arms can travel six metres in one swing! In fact, they are rarely on the ground, eating fruits, leaves, flowers and shoots, all found high in the canopy. The males are very dark, with fantastic white eyebrows, and the females a golden tan colour. They have one baby every two-to-three years, and the youngsters live with the family for seven-to-ten years. Our youngster was quite young, but not sure how old that was.

Safe with mum

Safe with mum


Boat Trip on the Brahmaputra… source of Kaziranga’s Life and Endangerment

The other side trips we took was a boat ride on the Brahmaputra, which was nice, but not much to see in late March, mid-day. Could have been interesting though with the right guide, as this is a major source of the Kaziranga flood plains trouble.

During the rains, water enters the park through tributaries and this is a normal and necessary eco-cycle flooding, but when the banks overflow, the situation for the park and its animals becomes devastating, as well as for nearby villages.

This is happening at a frighteningly high level recently. These issues are occurring due to the eroding banks of the Brahmaputra; increased use and erosion of land by an ever increasing population; as well as changing river patterns and river management, not the least of which are the hydro dams added to the Brahmaputra River recently. As a state with one of the lowest GDPs in India, and a history of unrest and insurgencies, the focus on much needed infrastructure improvement and increasing development has been marching forward. This needs to happen, but as everywhere in the world, it seems to march forward with little regard or study on avoiding the ecological impact. All of this adds up to a very uncertain future for this unique and precious place on our planet.

Dry season!

Dry season!


Tea Garden Visit

Huge organic tea gardens with black pepper vines growing up the shade trees.  The ditches that run through the tea bushes for water run-off during monsoon.

Huge organic tea gardens with black pepper vines growing up the shade trees. The ditches that run through the tea bushes for water run-off during monsoon.


Also possible is a walk through a large organic tea garden near the resort. Good birding opportunities and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon if it’s not too hot. Don’t miss the retail store, in particular their organic black pepper, which grows off vines on the trees planted to shade the tea – it’s a wonderful, aromatic pepper!

Only the top bud and one or two leaves are picked, by hand, from the tea bush.  Picking is typically done twice a year.

Only the top bud and one or two leaves are picked, by hand, from the tea bush. Picking is typically done twice a year.


Back to the Kaziranga Drives

Pretty used to people and usually calm.  They have terrible  eyesight, so trouble can come if you surprise them.

Pretty used to people and usually calm. They have terrible eyesight, so trouble can come if you surprise them.


Finally the census was over, but the rhinos were pretty stirred up. One had charged an elephant causing a census worker to fall and break his collar bone! So with that news, we were off to take our final two drives.

We were happily driving along our track, when we came across a mating pair in the distance. We stopped briefly, but since they were a fair distance away, we started to slowly drive off. Seems Mr. Rhino was having none of that! And he charged full-bore for us! Our driver was unable to get into a high-enough gear to move fast enough to elude this shockingly fast prehistoric animal! Before we knew it, it was running along side us, and eyeing the best place to toss us over. He was so close and so loud, I was staring straight into his eye! Our guard tried the usual methods of shouting and banging on the side of the jeep to scare him off but it wasn’t working this time, so he had to quickly fire a shot over the ear the enraged beast (guards carry blanks in their guns on safari). That at last caused him to veer away. It was a close call, since they can easily tip a vehicle if they ram it side-on.

Last shot I took, before the rhino swerved to run beside our jeep!  You can see the jeep railing on the bottom right of the photo.  I dropped my camera shortly after this to hang on for dear life!!!

Last shot I took, before the rhino swerved to run beside our jeep! You can see the jeep railing on the bottom right of the photo. I dropped my camera shortly after this to hang on for dear life!!!


Although I had rather fearfully (or intelligently?) given up the chance of getting a shot, CV had the presence of mind to video it! at least to the point it came up to us. In the following footage he shot, you can see how incredibly quickly it moves! After we made our escape, nervous laughter filled the jeep and CV had to wipe rhino snot from his camera lens… yuck! It seemed even for the more usually jaded guard and driver, this was an uncommon experience – thankfully!

Other Photo Moments from Kaziranga

Wonderful forest!

Wonderful forest!


The Birds...

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Indian Darter or Snakebird, sunning among the Silk Cotton Tree flowers

Indian Darter or Snakebird, sunning among the Silk Cotton Tree flowers


Fish Eagle Miss!  Doh!!

Fish Eagle Miss! Doh!!


Pelican Sky

Pelican Sky

Open-billed stork, about to catch his favourite meal of escargot!

Open-billed stork, about to catch his favourite meal of escargot!


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Pelican in a tree?  Can't be a comfortable perch!

Pelican in a tree? Can't be a comfortable perch!


Spot-billed Pelican

Spot-billed Pelican


Wonderfully decorative Kalij Pheasant in the dark forest

Wonderfully decorative Kalij Pheasant in the dark forest


Energetic Red-breasted Parakeet couple

Energetic Red-breasted Parakeet couple


Sunbathing Beauty

Sunbathing Beauty


Wonderful slender-billed vuture about to take off

Wonderful slender-billed vuture about to take off


Fantastic wings!

Fantastic wings!


Pied Kingfisher catches the evening's appetizer

Pied Kingfisher catches the evening's appetizer


Black-necked Stork resting as the day comes to a close

Black-necked Stork resting as the day comes to a close


Can Never Get Enough of the Ellies!

Soulful Eyes

Soulful Eyes


Breaking the forest cover, we were being thoroughly checked out before allowing the babe to move forward.  Thankfully we were at a respectful distance!

Breaking the forest cover, we were being thoroughly checked out before allowing the babe to move forward. Thankfully we were at a respectful distance!


Lovely family came to visit

Lovely family came to visit


Mum and babe, covered in mud and dirt - excellent sunscreen!

Mum and babe, covered in mud and dirt - excellent sunscreen!


Sending us an unnecessary warning!  We don't get too close to the ellies!

Sending us an unnecessary warning! We don't get too close to the ellies!


Other Wonderful Citizens of the Forest

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Fun times watching an Indian Smooth Coated Otter family across the river

Fun times watching an Indian Smooth Coated Otter family across the river


Wonder what the silk-cotton tree flowers taste like?  Looks good!

Wonder what the silk-cotton tree flowers taste like? Looks good!


Assam Roofed Turtles, all in a row!

Assam Roofed Turtles, all in a row!


Interesting and large red bug -- if anyone knows what its name is, let me know!

Interesting and large red bug -- if anyone knows what its name is, let me know!


Hog Deer Hello!

Hog Deer Hello!


Even the wild buffalo use the mud as sunscreen!

Even the wild buffalo use the mud as sunscreen!


Curious hog deer fawn

Curious hog deer fawn


Dragonfly Beauty

Dragonfly Beauty


And of Course, More Rhinos!

Egret and his meal-ticket!

Egret and his meal-ticket!


Rhino's poop in a communal loo!  This fellow came up to illustrate that to us - lucky us!!

Rhino's poop in a communal loo! This fellow came up to illustrate that to us - lucky us!!


Mum and babe!

Mum and babe!


Next Up… the seven-hour drive to the Khassi Hills in Cherrapunjee, where, I walked 6000 stairs!!!

Wild buffalo heading across the river as the sun sets

Wild buffalo heading across the river as the sun sets

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 08:36 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife india elephant tea gibbon rhino kaziranga vulture pelican assam asian_elephant hornbill otter hoolock_gibbon rhinocerous one_horned_rhino wild_elephant hoolock_gibbon_sanctuary red_breasted_parakeet hollongapar hoollongapar smooth_coated_otter wild_grass_resort wildgrass slender_billed_vulture Comments (4)

Magnificent Manas

+ Nameri ~ Adventures in Assam (and momentarily Bhutan)

semi-overcast 25 °C

A waterfall of orchids hanging from the trees in mid-March.

A waterfall of orchids hanging from the trees in mid-March.

I had been to Assam only once before. In April of 2010 I'd had a brief a 3-day visit to Kaziranga and although I enjoyed that trip, nothing prepared me for the wonder we experienced in this longer visit; which might just be the best overall wildlife trip I’ve taken, among so many remarkable ones. Manas in particular seemed somehow more ‘wild’, and so wonderfully tranquil.

This northeast state, known to the west primarily for its tea, is such a wonderful state, and relatively less-traveled when compared with many other wildlife spots in India. That alone makes it a nice respite from the frenetic tiger chasing of many parks in central India. For the wildlife traveller, it is also a much more affordable trip than other wildlife destinations – accommodation and food being often far more reasonable. The people you find here were without exception super-helpful in planning the trip, although the ability to use your credit card is even more rare here than India in general. This makes it a bit more challenging to plan without a local representative to help you, or expensive money transfers from overseas… unless you enjoy carrying a suitcase full of cash with you!

When I started planning this trip, a simple accommodation query to the venerable Wildgrass Resort in Kaziranga resulted in an email chock-full of information to help my planning – not just for Kaziranga, but for of the entire itinerary! Similarly, a query to the Field Director in Manas resulted in a response that was so welcoming and helpful for booking the remote lodge we stayed at.

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Onto the Adventures in Manas National Park!

But first, a brief description of this massive Park (over 2,600 sq. km), situated along the border of Bhutan. Designated a Unesco Site, the park’s wildlife and landscape are incredibly diverse. Rolling grasslands; dense, tangled forests with massive Silk Cotton trees; and, tumbling rivers winding their way from the Himalaya foothills. Most of the animals found in the more famous Kaziranga can be found here, plus many many more. The only caveat to that is that they are much harder to see. For me this is somehow more rewarding and special when you have an encounter.

Manas has seen a lot of turmoil and many people are still worried about travelling there. I had heard of devastating poaching and forest destruction stemming from the violence between the indigenous Bodo people and immigrating Bengali Muslims in the 80s and 90s. Problems do still arise, but it is mostly calm these days. Not knowing how empty the forest might be, we decided to visit for only a couple of days. We want more! There was much more wildlife activity here than either of us expected, and staying in the Mathanguri Lodge is the only place to stay! At least as far as I’m concerned.

River border between Bhutan and India.

River border between Bhutan and India.

We arrived by flight from Delhi to Guwahati on March 17 and stayed overnight at the affordable, clean and efficient Hotel Rialto, planning to head out before dawn to Manas the next day. The Rialto was a great bargain at 1200 a night and though the rooms were small, they were comfy, decently clean, and had AC that worked, albeit at arctic levels. The real surprise was the Hotel’s restaurant food. We had a hot and sour chicken soup that was to die for! Not like many I’ve had before – so much chicken! not very sour, and a good handful of cilantro – yummy!!! The Hakka chicken noodles were really good too, and the tandoor chicken (starting to cluck now) was good, if not great. I’d go there for that soup alone!
We met our driver Siraz the night we arrived as he popped in to arrange our departure time the next morning. What a lovely man he is! Professional, helpful and kind – it quickly became apparent that he was to be one of my favourite, of many, drivers in India. Barpeta Rd., which is the town at the entrance to Manas (and a rail station head), is about a 3-hour drive from Guwahati, through a rich and bountiful farmland. We passed incredible crops of vegetables and countless carts on their way to the marketplace.

Masses of veggies heading to market on our way to Manas.

Masses of veggies heading to market on our way to Manas.


... and more veggies

... and more veggies

Arriving at the forest office near the gate to Manas (we mistakenly carried on there instead of pre-clearing at the forest office in town), there was a bit of scrambling, but the Forest Officer was kind and wrote up an entrance ticket for us after phoning the Field Director. Then, walked across the road to the Immigration/Foreign Registers Office! I had to explain to the customs officer, set up at a wooden desk on a ramshackle porch that I wished to enter Manas for wildlife, and not for any nefarious Bhutanese activities! The border to Bhutan runs through the forest itself, and trucks of goods, and people cross over quite regularly.

Paperwork taken care of, and all documents appropriately stamped, we were off for the 1.5 hour drive to the Mathanguri Lodge. The drive to the Forest Lodge is a safari in itself. We stopped to watch dust-bathing elephants, trumpeting a warning (or “Hello”?) to us. Wild buffalo and Hog Deer popped out of the greenery to see what we were up to. What a spectacular place to spend my birthday this year!

Peek-a-boo with a Hog Deer

Peek-a-boo with a Hog Deer


A rather large Welcome to Manas from an Asian Elephant!

A rather large Welcome to Manas from an Asian Elephant!

Arriving at the lodge, our rooms were set up on a rock ledge, overlooking Bhutan with the Benki River running between us. Topped off by the beautiful soaring Himalayan foothills as a backdrop. The government-run lodge itself was much nicer than I expected. Spacious, but basic rooms, complete with mosquito-netted beds; a massive, relatively effective bathroom (though no hot water); and, a startling evening alarm call from what was described to us, as the Gecko Gecko – a large, shy reptile that lived in the buildings. We stayed in Rooms 4 & 5 but next time might try for the second floor rooms for the extra view. There is no fan, or AC, but it was still cool enough at night, though wouldn’t bet on it much further on in the season, at least for us foreigner’s averse to heat. We had a very strong wind storm our first night. Wonderful howling to fall asleep to.

The view from our forest home, looking into Bhutan.

The view from our forest home, looking into Bhutan.

Colourful beetle at Mathanguri Lodge

Colourful beetle at Mathanguri Lodge

Food no longer has to be pre-arranged and carried in to Mathanguri. They now have organized this themselves. It’s à la carte, and very tasty and fresh, but basic, fare. Plus, you get the extra added bonus of semi-feral kitty company at mealtimes! I miss my cat when I travel, so this is a good thing for me... cats being more popular here than many places in India. Power is only turned on for a couple of hours in the evening, which made the place even more fabulous to me, but be aware, can be tricky to charge all the gadgets we tend to carry these days. It is widely advertised to be on from dusk to 9:30pm, but was in reality turned off about 8. Kerosene lamps are provided in the evening, but I prefer to turn them off because of the smell. There’s no power in the morning before the dawn drive, so bring a good light with you.

If you are squeamish about critters (you are in the middle of the jungle) and/or want more luxury in your wildlife, there is the more expensive, full-service lodge (Bansbari Lodge) by the main gate.

The only downside we encountered here was the quality of the jeeps (loud and smelly) and drivers available to hire for your safari. We ended up using our own driver from Kaziranga for a few of the drives, taking the mini-van out instead. This isn’t ideal, but, was in reality a better experience overall. I’m sure there are people that are good, but will have to investigate further on a future trip, but with the park not hugely travelled, it might be difficult. Our forest ranger was young and inexperienced but completely accommodating and helpful. This wasn’t a big problem for me, since I had brought my own naturalist/guide along again on this trip, and CV spent as much time helping me get the shot, as training the ranger, who to his credit was eager to learn.

Fantastic trees, with loads of ficus (fig family) fruit for the creatures of the forest

Fantastic trees, with loads of ficus (fig family) fruit for the creatures of the forest

We only had two nights here and I want more! In fact, I hope to revisit Assam in the spring of 2014 so if you are interested in joining me, drop me a line!

The Capped Langur checking out what we were up to - a first sighting for me, in a trip of new primates.

The Capped Langur checking out what we were up to - a first sighting for me, in a trip of new primates.

On to the safaris and what they brought us!

One of the most wonderful creatures in this part of the world are the charismatic water buffalo. Listed as an endangered species, the buffalo in Manas are considered to possibly be the only pure strain of the species left today, all others diluted by cross-breeding with domestic buffalos. Their horns are quite distinct and impressive, creating a bit of a challenge walking through the brush, perhaps that's why they walk in such a posh and distinctive way, with their heads thrown back and nose in the air.
The wild water buffalo, walking in the peculiar way they do, nose in the air!

The wild water buffalo, walking in the peculiar way they do, nose in the air!


Time for a good nose-hair trimming!

Time for a good nose-hair trimming!

The bird-life here was quite fantastic as well and I was able to add many new birds to my 'list.' When we came across a pair of very large owls in the distance we had a bit of a laugh. Our 'naturalist' and our forest guide insisting they weren't owls! Now, I'm no vast expert on the avian varieties, but I think I can be relied upon to tell if a bird is an owl! We pulled out our bird book and identified the two, rare and impressive owls as spot-bellied eagle owls and showed our intrepid guides. Who then had a brief conversation and announced that they called them something different in that part of the world!

Jeuvenile (right) and adult spot-bellied eagle owls (or are they...). Very far off in the trees.

Jeuvenile (right) and adult spot-bellied eagle owls (or are they...). Very far off in the trees.


Great Indian Hornbill. These massive birds made an awesome sound when they flew, their wings displacing so much air.

Great Indian Hornbill. These massive birds made an awesome sound when they flew, their wings displacing so much air.


Outstretched, almost translucent, wings of the Great Indian Hornbill.

Outstretched, almost translucent, wings of the Great Indian Hornbill.


Scarlet Minivet... going, going, gone!

Scarlet Minivet... going, going, gone!


Asian Fairy Bird

Asian Fairy Bird


Always stunning, though rarely posing so nicely, Red Jungle Fowl!

Always stunning, though rarely posing so nicely, Red Jungle Fowl!

One of the creatures we really wanted to see was the beautiful and endangered Golden Langur, but when we arrived we were told that they resided on the Bhutan side of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. Sometimes, we were told, you could see them across the river. Quite sad we were, till someone came to our aid. After waiting on the road to Bhutan for a bit, and numerous, high-level, walkie-talkie conversations, it was announced I could visit to quickly photograph them! So, smuggled down to a boat, under cover of darkness.... no, not really :-) But they did row me briefly over to Bhutan in a rowboat, then a short hike up to the trees where we were able to photograph a troop for 10 minutes. Such fun!

The beautiful, and aptly named, Golden Langur.

The beautiful, and aptly named, Golden Langur.


What's so funny? Do I have banana on my face?

What's so funny? Do I have banana on my face?

Another benefit of staying at Mathanguri Lodge was the ability to stay out past sunset! This forest was pretty magical at night as it lit up with a veritable swarm of fireflies. Little fairies dancing in the darkening wood. We also had another spectacular Moment -- sighting a black leopard! The sun had already set and there was little light left, when CV spotted the cat run across the road in front of our jeep's lights. I saw the shape run into the scrub beside us, where it froze for a couple of minutes, feeling safely out of our line of sight. Elated I still tried to snap a photo. Dialing up the ISO and opening my shutter, I took a few shots with different focal lengths and managed one clear shot of its back. Now, I know to y'all this shot is probably nothing special, being about as record as a record shot can be... but, for us - Wow!!!

the back-end of the our leopard!

the back-end of the our leopard!

Another denizen of this forest was the capped langur. It was another first for me, and one of my favourite creatures. I loved the perpetually startled look they seem to have - eyes wide open and hair going all Enstein. Although it was the most commonly sighted primate for our Assam trip, this langur is listed as threatened, due mostly to habitat loss.

The Capped Langur

The Capped Langur


Malayan or Black Giant Squirrel is listed as Near-threatened, due mostly to hunting for food - slightly smaller, and not as red a coat as the Malabar Giant Squirrel.

Malayan or Black Giant Squirrel is listed as Near-threatened, due mostly to hunting for food - slightly smaller, and not as red a coat as the Malabar Giant Squirrel.


Massive old silk-cotton trees throughout this fabulous forest.  Look closely and you'll see my intrepid guides spanning the trunk.

Massive old silk-cotton trees throughout this fabulous forest. Look closely and you'll see my intrepid guides spanning the trunk.

Nameri National Park

Beautiful Nameri with its imposing elephants

Beautiful Nameri with its imposing elephants

After saying goodbye to Manas, we were off for brief stop at Nameri before heading down to Kaziranga. The drive was about 7 hours long, and made longer by an unexpected stop. On our way we came up to a road block. There apparently had been demonstration in a Bodo village and the authorities were taking no chances. So, we were idling away in a line of traffic, waiting for our army escort to return and take us through the village. When we finally got going again, in the army escorted convoy, it was an eerie feeling as we made our way through the village. Not a soul could be seen. If you’ve ever traveled to India before, you’ll know how strange this is, in a country teeming with life.

Still, it was an uneventful drive after all, and we arrived safe and sound to Nameri Eco Camp, a wonderful collection of permanent tents and cottages. A large British Birding group was encamped, so we were put up in a bungalow designed for visiting scientists, naturalists, etc. Was perfect – two rooms on either side of a central kitchenette area. Can’t speak to the regular accommodation, but this worked well for us. Our hosts here were extremely accommodating and helpful, as we’d come to expect from our travels in Assam. A troop of capped langurs was seen in the camp throughout the day, and the resident puppy became a constant companion once it was discovered I carried dog biscuits with me! No, I’m sure it was because of my personality! Uh huh!!

Curious George? Capped langurs in our camp.

Curious George? Capped langurs in our camp.


Fabulous male Great Indian Hornbill, part of a nesting pair in a large tree at the Eco Camp. The female seals herself into a nest that is hollowed out of a tree until her chicks are ready to leave. The male makes trips back to feed her through the small hole left open.

Fabulous male Great Indian Hornbill, part of a nesting pair in a large tree at the Eco Camp. The female seals herself into a nest that is hollowed out of a tree until her chicks are ready to leave. The male makes trips back to feed her through the small hole left open.


Pigmy Hog, an endangered small wild pig, in the conservation centre in Nameri

Pigmy Hog, an endangered small wild pig, in the conservation centre in Nameri

Located in the eastern foothills of Himalayas it is quite close to Kaziranga (couple of hours drive), the nearest city being Tezpur. The Assamese portion is quite small (200 km sq) and wonderfully, you investigate the park by boat, or on foot. The forest is an excellent habitat for wild elephants, as well as host to many endemic and migrating birds. Apparently hikers have also come across the odd tiger! That would be a bit scary I’d imagine, though you are escorted by an armed forest guard, primarily for the elephant danger. We had a wonderful hike through the lush green forest, led by a young local boy with pretty impressive bird skills, arranged for us by the camp.

Hey! It's a Sensitive Plant! growing naturally all over the forest. Who remembers having these as a kid? Mimosa ~ called locally the 'Do Not Touch plant.'

Hey! It's a Sensitive Plant! growing naturally all over the forest. Who remembers having these as a kid? Mimosa ~ called locally the 'Do Not Touch plant.'


Verditer Flycatcher on wing.

Verditer Flycatcher on wing.


Loads of Wreathed Hornbills flying over the park. Our only sightings of these fellows.

Loads of Wreathed Hornbills flying over the park. Our only sightings of these fellows.

Our boat ride was lovely, though we went in the afternoon and was a bit warm for a lot of life. Still saw a lot of birds and people fishing on the Jai Bharali River. Was nice to be heading down the river on a raft too. So much quieter than the usual diesel-chugging tourist boats. The river has quite a few rapids to bump over, though at this time there wasn’t that much white water.

Fishing for the wonderful Golden Mahseer used to be a popular pastime here but has been banned for some time. Sadly, as in many other instances, once the tourism-driven anglers dissappeared, so did the fish. With nobody watching, it’s amazing how quickly poaching can decimate a species. At the eco-camp, they’ve started a fish hatchery and hopefully repopulation will be successful, along with a return to controlled and regulated sport fishing.

Fishing on the river with pretty cool-looking nets.

Fishing on the river with pretty cool-looking nets.


Heron Silhouette

Heron Silhouette


Brahminy Ducks or Ruddy Shelducks, depending on which edition of the bird book you have.

Brahminy Ducks or Ruddy Shelducks, depending on which edition of the bird book you have.

All in all, well worth the stop, especially if you are a birder. To be able to walk through the forest and to raft was a treat!

Massive Agenor Mormon male butterfly posing nicely at our camp!

Massive Agenor Mormon male butterfly posing nicely at our camp!

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 13:42 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife india langur assam manas golden_langur capped_langur black_leopard black_panther hornbil nameri Comments (0)

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