Far from all the main tourist routes of India, you find a hidden gem far in India’s Northeast: the Kaziranga Nationalpark in Assam. This nature-preserve area, also a UNESCO world-heritage is located at the delta of the Brahmaputra River. Its main attraction are elephants, the one-horned rhino und if you are lucky even a tiger.
Animal Conversation Projects and Diversity of Species in Kaziranga
Kaziranga Nationalpark has had some great success in the last years and decades in terms of protecting the one-horned rhino. About two thirds of its worldwide population can be found here. After being threatened by extinction for years, its population has now recovered.
Apart from the rhino, the park also has wild Asian elephants and wild water buffaloes. There are also several deer species and three spectacular wildcats in the park: the Bengal tiger, the Indian leopard and the clouded leopard. Last but not least several smaller species of monkeys. This list is incomplete, the park has many more mammals and reptiles.
The park is also known for its vast number of bird species: water birds, swamp birds, birds of prey and many more. Even India’s national animal, the kingfisher lives here.
More information about Kaziranga’s animals can be found here:
http://www.kaziranga.co.in/mammals.php (list of mammals)
http://www.kaziranga.co.in/reptiles.php (list of reptiles)
http://www.kaziranga.co.in/birds.php (list of birds)
Which of These Animals Will I Really See?
During our safaris, we saw many wild elephants. The rhino was everywhere and we could see the water buffalo on several occasions and spots.
The safari takes place on a private jeep. You drive on an unpaved road and can see several animals simply by looking look left and right. Several jeeps take a tour, everyone on a slightly different route; you don’t meet the other jeeps a lot. But the tours are fixed the jeeps take a pre-determined tour. All the animals know the vehicles and do not feel disturbed. For example a rhino was sleeping right next t o the street. A group of elephants was walking with all their baby elephants close to the road. The jeeps stop as soon as there is something to see and wait.
I would not expect to see a tiger. Tigers a shy and prefer to be alone. They don’t live in herds. Tigers usually walk away as soon as humans appear. At one of these tours, all the jeeps stopped because allegedly there was a tiger somewhere. But that either was not the case of the tiger long gone. You need to be very lucky to see a tiger.
Entrances to Kaziranga Nationalpark
There are three entrances to the national park:
- the main entrance in Mihimukh, Kohora
- at the West in Baori
- at the East in Agartoli
Kohora is the touristic center of the national park. Here, you find some hotels, shops and souvenir stores. It’s the park’s main entrance.
There is a second, smaller entrance in Agartoli. This is where we had our first safari because our hotel was only 5 minutes from the gate. This area is not busy at all; we had our best safari here.
Agartoli in the east is particularly important to see many species of birds. For everything else, you can also take one of the other two gates.
We decided to do the west and main gate. Agartoli was too far from the hotel. You can reach all the gates on road 715 at the same time southern boundary of the park.
Taking a Safari Tour
There are many full packages available online. I think you don’t really need it. A hotel is enough; you can book a safari here. That is how we did it and it worked quite well.
In India, a car usually has a driver and an owner. Drivers a usually not well-off, rather poor, making little money and do not speak English (or very, very little). The safaris were not sold out at all. We had a jeep for 6 with only the two of us. Accordingly, the tour was a bit expensive, because we had to pay for the entire jeep. But it was a good thing to be alone on the jeep, not get disturbed and we could see very well in all directions, no one blocking our view.
The driver picked us up at the hotel, was in time and took us to the western entrance. One of us had to go to the park administration there we had to pay a second time and a ranger got in the car. A very unusual thing, from a German point of view was the fact that he was carrying a loaded rifle. In India, this kind of means we take care of our guests’ safety. From my point of view, there animals were not dangerous at all. The ranger tells the driver which road to take and they stop on several occasions.
At the end of the tour, the ranger left at the national park gate and the driver took us back to the hotel. There were demanding tip, demanding is too weak. They insisted on getting tip! As far as I know, India is not a “tip-country” (like e.g. the US). Claiming tip that strongly is unusual.
How To Reach Kaziranga
Kaziranga is a bit difficult to reach. You can go by plane to Guwahati, Assam’s capital. From here, it is another 4-hour-drive to Kaziranga, even though it’s only 200 km. Shortly after Guwahati, you need to drive up a mountain; these things are always rather slow in India. You need to plan an entire day to reach.
The best time to go to Kaziranga is in winter (November till February) in summer (April and Mai) the landscapes dries more and more, all animals move to the water holes. During the monsoon (June till September) the park is closed, because the Brahamputra River can flood and most animals migrate to higher altitudes in the Himalaya foothills.
The national park has safaris in the morning and in the evening. The jeep safaris start at 7 am and you can enter the park at 7.30. Afternoon safaris start a 13.30 (1.30 pm) or 15.30 (3.30 pm). These timings are flexible and part of money negotiations. When you pay more, they will take you around longer or even the entire day. I think the only real rule is that you are not allowed to be in the park at darkness.
Very early in the morning at 6 am and in the evenings a 17.30 (5.30 pm) there are elephant safaris. You can ride on an elephant in the park. I would not do it and can only advise against it.
How Much Should I Book in Advance?
A basic rule is: you can do many things spontaneously and short-term in India. If it makes you feel better, book a hotel. But even that is not really necessary. You can easily organize the safaris when you are there. That’s what I would do. Traffic in India is unpredictable; you never know when exactly you reach.
Kaziranga – India’s Most Beautiful Nationalpark
Kaziranga was, to me, the most beautiful national I have seen in India. It was rather quiet, not too crowded and most importantly, we did indeed see animals. I never really expected to see a tiger. Our hotel room neighbors saw one, but that one was very far away and only became visible on the photo because of the big camera lens. For that, they were on the road for 12 hours straight with nothing but a short lunch break. I would not have made it twelve hours on that bumpy road and jeep.
One thing is very obvious: you are off the main routes, an area that is of no interest for all the big travel agencies. There were no travel groups from Europe of the US, there were rarely any other white people, but many well-off Indians on a holiday trip in their own country. This made everything more relaxed, friendlier, everyone was nice and open to foreigners.
While sitting on the jeep and driving to the park, it gets cold and windy, in particular as long as you are on the main road. Definitely bring some warm clothes for this, and also a scarf. In the middle of the day, the sun can be very strong, bring sun screen and sun glasses too.