Declared as a ‘World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO, a ‘Tiger Reserve’ by the Indian Government and an ‘Important Bird Area’ by the Bird International, Kaziranga National Park forms the feather in the cap of humanity’s successful efforts in honouring and protecting the plant and animal family we share the earth’s beautiful ecosphere with. That the National park is home to two-thirds of the population of the famed one-horned rhinoceros is a fact even school kids in India are aware of, or rather taught about. The Kaziranga National Park offers one a peek into the enigma of wildlife diversity modern life is estranged from. The park’s lush green habitat and varied landscapes of beels (riverine flood-formed lakes) and chapories (elevated regions offering retreat to wildlife from the floods) are as beautiful as the refined charms of a poem.
Sandwiched between the districts of Golaghat and Nagaon in Assam, Kaziranga National Park is as much a home to many legends about its inception as it is to its closely knit ecosystem. One such legend states the much-told love story of Kazi and Ranga. They fell in love against the wishes of the elders of their families and eloped together into the forests of the region. They have never been traced thereafter. Another legend has religious connotations to it. A Vaishnava saint of the Sixteenth century, Srimanta Sankardeva, instructed a childless couple of Ragai and Kazi to dig a large pond in the terrain to carry the footprints of their name into eternity. Historical narratives allude to the region once being ruled by a woman named Kajir. In fact etymological exploration suggest that Kaziranga could have been formed of the Karbi word ‘kajiror gaon’, village of Kajir, while ‘Kajir’ means a ‘girl-child’ in the tongue.
The inception of the park is credited to the efforts of Lord Curzon’s wife Mary Leiter Curzon. After failing to come across a single rhinoceros in the region that supposedly formed their ideal habitat, she realized the dangers of them being lost to the region if urgent measures were not taken. She succeeded in persuading her husband to implement the necessitate measures to ensure wildlife is protected in the region. In fact the National Park has its origins in being declared as a Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest as early as in 1905. The proposed plan constituted the reserve area to span across an area of 232 square kilometers. Within a short span of three years, the need to encapsulate an additional 152 square kilometers within the Park was understood leading to its further expansion. The region received the official nod to be designated as a reserve forest by the year 1908. By 1916, the area had already developed into Kaziranga Game Sanctuary. It continued to bear the same name till 1938. Although the region permitted no licentious hunting on its grounds, forest conservationist P . D. Stracey, in 1950, objected to its then existent name due to connotations of ‘hunting’ the term ‘Game sanctuary’. The name was subsequently revoked and modified as ‘Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary’. By 1954, the state government began to prove its commitment towards freeing the region of the evils of poaching by passing the ‘Assam Rhinoceros Bill’. It imposed heavy penalties on poaching. After the successful passage of another bill on the ‘Assam National Park Act of 1968’ by the state government in 1968, the park was elevated to be a National Park. The Central government officially approved of this elevated stature within sex years. In 1985, UNESCO recognized the salience of the ecology conservation the Park is performing, and included it in the list of ‘World Heritage Sites’. In 2006, the park also received its recognition as a Tiger Reserve.
The park has withstood a couple of calamities induced by nature and human intervention. This has caused considerable damage to its topography and has caused harmful repercussions in the habitual movements of animal species within its supposedly safe environs. Still, one cannot underestimate the sincere efforts undertaken by the authorities to preserve the ecological balance within the park area. The task of administering and maintaining tasks intended to assist the wildlife species to live safely rests upon the Forest Department’s Wildlife Wing. The Department has divided the park’s area into four sections so as to ease the overseeing of the entirety of diversities the land is home to. The Park administration receives the funds requisite for its functioning and maintenance from the State government, Central Government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Project Elephant under The Central Government also allocates a portion of its funds for the park. The World Heritage Fund along with various national and international organizations form some other important donors.
The length of the park is about 40 kilometers, while its breadth ranges close to 13 kilometers. Of the earlier 430 square kilometers the park occupied, about 51 square kilometers of land has been lost to soil erosion. The park’s terrain consist of many elevated regions, the lowest peak standing at 49 metres while the highest at an altitude of 80 m from the ground. The park is blessed with the flow of Brahmaputra River on its northern and eastern boundaries. The Mora Diphlu River, a renowned tributary of the river Diphlu, flows through its south.
The alluvial deposits and slits by the Brahmaputra River have formed the flatlands of the park. An important feature of its landscape is its ‘beels’. These water-bodies constitute around 5 per cent of the land area engulfed in the park premises. During the frequent floods, the wildlife seeks respite in one of its many chapories. These refer to the elevated regions within the park. Many man-made chapories have sprung up recently, thanks to the efforts of Indian Army and Park authorities. Owing to the diverse range of wildlife species and plants found within the Park, the region is declared as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’.
What to See
The animals found within the Park include one-Horned Rhinoceros, Sambar, Eastern Swamp Deer, Indian Muntjacs, Wild Asiatic Water Buffalo, Indian Tigers, Jungle Cats, Bengal Fox, Golden Jackal, Hylopetes, Indian Gray Mongoose and many other wildlife species. The park is also home to a diverse array of fishes, reptiles, birds, vultures etc. The four different kinds of vegetation found within the park include tall grasses, shrubs, aquatic flora and evergreen forests.
One can employ a jeep or another four wheeled vehicle to explore the National Park. Another popular choice is to opt for a fascinating mahout guided tour. Ensure that the rides are booked well in advance to your arrival. Also, one can bring in private vehicles inside the Park area provided it has an official forest guide.
Eat, Drink, Collect
A handful of outlets do function in the area. Yet, one finds that it is the tourist lodges that cater to food and beverages needs of the travelers. Even alcoholic beverages can be purchased from the liquor shops functioning in the area. Provision for accommodation needs to be found outside the park boundaries. Recent years have seen a mushrooming of private resorts in the area to house the increasing flock of passengers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Do not forget to bargain, and to bargain well, when one intends to buy handicrafts from the roadside vendors outside the National Park. Tourists are found to indulge in shopping sprees in the many road side shops selling local products, handicrafts etc.
Best Time to Visit
The ideal time to relish in the wonders of Kaziranga Park falls between November and April. The park is closed for visitations from mid-April to mid-October owing to heavy rains. The park levies a charge of Rs 250 per person to enter the park premises. Usage of camera, still or video, incurs additional charges,
How to Reach
The nearest airport is at Jorhat. It is situated at about 100 km from the park. Furkating at about 80 km from the park houses the nearest railway station. One can avail the many buses and private vehicles that ply in between the cities. Tourists from Guwahati can choose to take the buses till Kaziranga too.