Located in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam is Kaziranga National Park. To get there we had to fly 1,500 miles from Delhi to Guwahati and then drive another 150 miles to Kaziranga. The roads in India are not like we’re used to; it was a hair raising 5 1/2 hour drive. The total travel time (with a stop for lunch) was just under 12 hours but totally worth it.
Kaziranga National Park is 430 square kilometres in total, but only a very small percentage of that is open to the public. It’s the only park in the country where you can see both the endangered Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros and the Asian Elephant. It’s divided into 4 zones – east, west, central & Burapahar.
A typical day in Kaziranga started with breakfast around 6:30. At 7:15 we’d load into the vehicles and head to the park gate. By noon we’d be out of the park, lunch was at 12:30 and we’d back into the park at 1:30 until around 5-5:30. Time for an adult beverage, a shower, dinner at 7:30 and then bed. Then get up in the morning and do it all again. There wasn’t a lot of down time here, but that was okay!
We visited the Central Zone twice – the first morning and the afternoon of the second day.
The swamp deer (or Indian Barasingha) is a medium sized deer and the fully grown adult male’s antlers can have more than twelve points.
And, of course, the Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros (rhinoceros unicornis). These pre-historic animals were almost extinct at the begining of this century. Populations are rebounding thanks to the creation of protected areas such as Kaziranga.
They are grazers, eating grass, leaves, water plants etc. Once fully grown they can weigh 4-6,000 pounds!
We sat and waited for this one to emerge from the grass and make it’s way into the river, eating as it went.
This was taken at the gate to the park – every time we entered the paperwork had to be done so there was plenty of time to look around. These bamboo posts are a common sight throughout India – they’re holding up the building while the construction is being done.
This character, a Crested Serpent Eagle, was standing his ground on the road and holding up traffic. We thought maybe it was injured and unable to fly; it was just standing there, staring us down. Turns out it was fine and eventually it just up and flew away.
Late in the afternoon a herd of elephants were grazing in the long grass beside the road, looking as if they were going to cross behind us. We were all so intent on watching the elephants that we almost missed the rhino as it strolled up the road a little further back.
Asian elephants are smaller than their African cousins, but most noticeably their ears are much smaller. I’ve heard it said that African elephants have ears the size of Africa, while Asian elephants have ears the size of India.
As we were leaving the park that day, our friend the Crested Serpent Eagle was spotted up in a tree, not far from the entrance and the scene of it’s earlier “performance”.
We also visited this zone twice – the afternoon of the first and second days.
There are goats and cows everywhere in India, most just roam free and know enough to go home at the end of the day. This goat was part of our welcoming committee at the gate for the West Zone.
In this zone there is a small river that you cross. On the one side of the river a herd of elephants were grazing and cooling off.
The Jungle Myna’s and egrets co-exist beautifully with these large grazers. They eat the parasites off of the rhino and buffalo as well as capture any flying insects around them.
On our way back across the river, the elephants had finally decided to cross. There are no predatory animals in these waters, so the crossing is much more leisurely than you would see in Africa,
An elephant’s trunk contains over 40,000 muscles! That’s over 60 times as many muscles as we have in our entire bodies.
I’d like to say what kind of bird this is, but since I can’t find it in any of my books, I won’t…
Not to be outdone by Africa, Kaziranga has their own big 5 – the Asian Elephant, Indian Rhino, Swamp Deer, Tiger and Wild Buffalo. We did manage to see 4 out of 5 here (no tigers).
Domestic cattle and rhino, both competing for food and grazing together.
I’m often asked how close we actually get to these animals. The answer is that sometimes they come pretty close to us!
The East Zone was more about the birds than the other two. We visited this one on the 2nd and 3rd mornings and we were hoping to see something specific – the Great Hornbill.
Every morning around 9:30-10:00 this magnificent bird would return to the nest with food for the Mrs. So, we drove to the tree and we waited…
And then we heard the call and he appeared. Rather than try and track him in flight, I focused on the nest and waited for him to arrive…
The female hornbill goes inside the tree hollow and the male seals her in with a mixture of dung, mud and saliva leaving only a hole big enough to deliver food through. For the next 6-8 weeks she stays in the tree and he brings her food. The first day he brought her an egg, the second day was some berries.
Once the female has molted and grown new feathers and the chicks (1 or 2) have feathers, the female and chicks emerge from the nest.
The hornbill is pretty big – 40 to 48″ with a wingspan of 5′. The sound of their wings when they fly is amazing. As he lifted off the tree and flew away, I was able to capture a lovely picture of his feet!
This zone was mostly about the Hornbill, but there were other birds to be found. Another of my favourites is the Indian Roller.
There are tigers in Kaziranga. We didn’t see any, but we did see signs of them. These are tiger claw marks in the tree bark.
This rhino has no horn, not sure if it was removed to protect it from poachers or if he lost it by natural means. Either way, he seemed to be enjoying his wallow among the water hyacinths.
Another rhino with no horn, and this one also has a wound on his neck and a wild buffalo wallow buddy.
After 3 great days in Kaziranga it was time for the drive back to the airport in Guwahati and our flight back to Delhi.
- Asian Elephant
- Crested Serpent Eagle
- Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros
- Kazirnaga National Park