India // The Northeast //

Kaziranga National Park

A World Heritage Site covering 430 square kilometres on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra, KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, 217km east of Guwahati, occupies a vast valley floor against a backdrop of the Karbi Anglong hills. Its rivulets, shallow lakes and semi-evergreen forested highlands blend into marshes and flood plains covered with tall elephant grass. A visit here is exhilarating and you are likely to see elephants, deer and wild buffalos. The big draws, however, are the park’s famous one-horned rhinos (officially there are around two thousand), which are best observed from the back of an elephant, first thing on a winter’s morning, and its tigers, which are relatively elusive, despite a government report in 2010 that claimed Kaziranga has the highest density of tigers of any park in the world, with 32 big cats per 100 square kilometres. Jeeps take you deeper into the forest than elephants, but cannot get nearly as close to the rhinos and tigers. Driving through the park’s landscape of open savanna grassland interspersed with dense jungle, is a wonderful experience. The abundant birdlife includes egrets, herons, storks, fish eagles, kingfishers and a grey pelican colony.

Kaziranga is open from November to early April. Avoid visiting on Sundays, when it gets busy with noisy groups of Indian tourists. During the monsoons (June–Sept), the Brahmaputra bursts its banks, flooding the low-lying grasslands and causing animals to move to higher ground within the park. It is important to take care when on safari; accidents are very rare, but occasionally occur, most recently in April 2009, when a Dutch tourist was trampled to death by a wild elephant.

Land encroachment and particularly poaching remain serious problems: at least 14 rhinos were killed in 2009. The understaffed park authorities appear unable to protect the animals whose horns fetch astronomical prices. Nevertheless, Kaziranga was named a tiger reserve in 2006 – as part of Project Tiger – which has resulted in extra funds, and in January 2010 army commandos were brought in to try to combat the poachers: whether this proves enough to make a real difference remains to be seen.