Saturday, November 08, 2014

North East diaries - Assam, Kaziranga Day1

Nov 3rd 2014

I am in Kaziranga, Assam.

It is said that when Marco Polo amazed the western world with tales of Unicorns which he had encountered in the Far East, he was really describing the Rhinoceros.
The Kaziranga National Park is home to the Indian Rhinoceros and it is the rhino that I have primarily come to meet. But as always, one comes to see a particular animal and ends up experiencing the forest. Hoping this time is no different.

I booked tickets to Assam on an impulse, only having a vague notion of what I would do once I reached here. Day 1 of my month long break from work and I still haven’t fully decided what I would do in the next 4-5 days.  I am thinking Shillong next.  I will have to cut the trip short and head back to Bangalore by the weekend, so as to make it to a friends wedding.

My early morning flight to Guwahati consisted of (but was not limited to) – A small child who was dressed up to look like a bonsai version of Santa Claus minus the facial hair, Sudha Murthy (Infosys), and the chap in the seat next to me, who voluntarily started to watch the latest season of “CID” followed by “Humshakals” on his phone.

Based on what I had heard from a few friends, I had pictured Guwahati airport to be a landing strip and a tiny building with an exit gate. Hence I had booked a taxi to take me out to Kaziranga in advance.
Turns out that there are enough travel and taxi booking places at the airport. So if you ever happen to come here with no plan. Not to worry.

Although taking a taxi may seem a bit of a luxury, I like it. Firstly, it saves time. Secondly, chatting with the taxi driver tends to give a local insight into how to plan the rest of the travel.
If nothing else, the taxi drivers are almost always great to talk to, full of anecdotes and stories. The key is to sit next to them rather than in the back seat.

I remember taking a taxi back to Delhi from Chail, Himachal Pradesh. We had a Sikh driver and he was fantastic to talk to!
In the 8 hours we took to get back, he gave me a lesson in Sikh history. He seemed to be very well read, and rattled off dates and names, making no error (I checked on Wikipedia once I got home). I am a history buff and I loved it!

The 5 hour drive from Guwahati to Kaziranga was good for similar reasons, we spoke about places to see, the political situation in Arunachal Pradesh, the various tribes in the Northeast, the 1962 Indo-China war, what local delicacies to try out etc
Turns out he used to drive the pilot and engineer of the local helicopter service (Pawan Hans) to the hotel from the airport (and back). So, I learned, that while taking a helicopter ride from Guwahati to Shillong (Meghalaya) is not recommended, getting back to Guwahati by helicopter is economical and convenient especially if one is flying out of Guwahati the same day.  I may do just that.

Meanwhile, at Kaziranga I am staying in the WildGrass resort. I booked via the super helpful folks at Nivalink. They did try to talk me out of staying here, stating that it was very basic and had no TV. To me it sounded perfect, plus it came highly recommended by folks who had already been here.

In fact it is fantastic!

My "Basic" accommodation at WildGrass
When requested they are even happy to prepare local delicacies. I asked if I could try "Bamboo shoot pork" and lo behold, I was gorging on it at dinner.
The only thing one needs to be aware of is that there is a rise of resorts and hotels in the vicinity, so I think most of the good staff has gone away to work at these places for better salaries.  
Also, this resort is some distance away from the park gate. Other than that. Perfect!

Meanwhile, at Kaziranga for the entire day tomorrow, I plan to head out on an elephant safari, for a close encounter with the Rhino, followed by more safaris.

For now I have to try the local beer that promises  to be “Ultra super strong”, “He-man 9000”

More later!


madhavi said...

Look forward to hearing about the after effects of Heman9000 and the rest of your travel write up!

Apoorv Gawde said...

He-man 9000 went down smoothly! Rest coming in easy instalments soon! :)