Kaziranga was originally established as a reserved forest in 1908. It became a game sanctuary in 1916 and a favourite haunt for poachers and hunters alike, all after rhino horn. In response to outcries that the rhino was headed for extinction the shooting was stopped and it was declared a forest reserve (230 sq. km.) and then a wildlife sanctuary in 1926.
Kaziranga was opened to visitors in 1938 thanks to the initiative of A. J. W. Milroy, Chief Conservator who had managed to put an end to much of the poaching. In the 1950s large tracts of tropical forest were cleared for the tea industry and with it came more people. Much of the wild habitat of Assam was consequently lost to human settlement and their attendant ills (poaching is still a major problem). In 1954 the rhino was given legal protection through the Assam (Rhinoceros) Bill. Kaziranga was declared a National Park in 1974 and the original core area of 428 sq. km. was declared a World Heritage Site in December 1985.
Kaziranga is an international Biosphere Reserve with the largest, unspoilt grassland of its kind still surviving in the Northeast of India. The tall grasses and reeds also called 'elephant grass' grow upto a height of five metres during the rains. In the Western Range theses grasslands predominate with shorter grasses growing around the bheels. Locally called Ekra, Khagori, Nal and Ulu Kher, tall grasses cover 41 per cent and short grasses 11 per cent of Kaziranga, with open jungle extending across another 29 per cent, swamps four per cent, rivers and water bodies 8 per cent and plain sand 6 per cent.
Deciduous woodland with Karori, Ajhar, Simul, Oxy, Chida and Bogori trees are scattered through the grasslands.A fine patch of semi evergreen forest with Cham kothal, Hollock, Bhelu, Banji-ou, Ficus and other miscellaneous species occurs near Baguri, Bimali and Haldibari in the Western Range. The tropical wet evergreen forests that are found in the Eastern Range are often thick and impenetrable. In the summer months a variety of orchids can be seen on display. Around now the silk cotton tree, simul, disperses its seeds in white balls of fluff that float through the air and add considerably to the charm of Kaziranga. The water hyacinth, an exotic that was introduced into the park, is now found everywhere, strangling other aquatic flora in the bheels.
If you set off early in winter, a thin ground mist cloaks the grasslands. Through this mist, wild buffalo, rhinos, elephants and deer tend to appear and disappear like apparitions in a strange and exotic setting. On rare occasions, however, you could conceivably see up to 30 rhinos in the open grasslands from the Dunga watchtower in the Central Range.
Elephants never used to stay all year round in Kaziranga, choosing to depart during the floods. But, in recent years, population pressures from the surrounding tribals' settlements have disrupted elephant migration routes or 'corridors'. They can consequently be seen in the park for 12 months now.Swamp deer, though threatened, are found here in their largest concentrations in Eastern India. If you are very lucky and persistent you may see common and the smooth Indian otter. The flying fox, and the Malabar flying squirrel are also residents of Kaziranga. Reptiles include the water monitor, Indian python, common cobra, king cobra, cat snake, rat snake and checkered keelbacks. An astounding 11 species of turtle are found in the park.
Gaur too have had to adapt to human disturbance outside and are now a more common sight in the park. Other mammals include the capped langur, Rhesus macaque, a small population of Hoolock gibbon, tiger, leopard (common in Kanchanjhuri in the Western Range), sloth bear (in grassland and woodland), Gangetic dolphin (in the stagnant Mihibheel), wild pig and sambar deer (in small numbers). Hog deer are abundant.More than 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Kaziranga area, a birdwatcher's paradise par excellence. This list includes over 100 migratory species from as far afield as Siberia. Red Junglefowl, Grey Francolin, Swamp Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Pied Hornbills, Green Imperial Pigeon, Silverbreasted Broadbill, and Jerdon's Bushchat are among the species that twitchers could see in different areas.
The splendid avifauna of Kaziranga also comprises some of the most brilliantly coloured hill birds like the Scarlet Minivet, sunbirds and bee-eaters. Visible around the bheels are Greyheaded and Pallas' Fishing Eagles, Great Cormorants, Darters, Pond Herons, Egrets, Indian Shags, Night Herons, Gadwall, Barheaded Geese (one the most important Indian wintering grounds), Cotton and Common Teal, Brahminy Duck, Common and Demoiselle Crane and Spotbilled Pelicans. Grey Pelicans breed here in a rookery near the Kaziranga Village. Other birds include the Black-necked Stork (which also breeds here), Lesser Adjutant Stork. Whistling Teal and Bar-headed Geese are the most commonly seen waterfowl.
The Central (Kohora) Range
Mihi, Kathpora, Dafflong, Borbeel, Bhaisamari are some of the particularly rich bheels here. Rich in birdlife, these wetlands are among the most productive habitats around which to birdwatch.
Eastern (Agartoli) Range
Driving along a small stream with a variety of semi evergreen trees forming a closed canopies along its banks, you could see elephants swimming across in herds, or a young one enjoying a dust bath. Rotting logs are favourite spots for turtle to sunbathe. Perhaps the most magnificent part of Kaziranga, roads from this particularly rich area lead to tall grass habitats and the sandy banks of the Brahmaputra. This is Bengal Florican country. Mihimukh is a particularly good wildlife area.
Western (Bagori) Range
This range has a patch of semi evergreen forest near Baguri, Bimali and Haldibari and Dunga, Bimoli, Borbeel, Dafflong and Ramori. Outside the park, a walk along the NH7 from Kanchanjhuri, Burapahar and Amguri could give you a chance of spotting the Hoolock gibbon, capped langur or Giant Hornbill. Sometimes they rest up for the night at the edge of the forest near tea estates and a walk in the area before first light could be rewarding.
An overnight trip to Nameri National Park (and the orchidarium on the Arunachal Pradesh border), is highly recommended for a camping experience. For mild whitewater rafting, take a trip to Balukpung and raft down the river Jia Bharoli. The birdwatching along this riverine tract is probably among the best available anywhere in the world.
Contact the Forest Department or your lodge manager for details on how to do this.
Book your jeep and elephant rides in advance to avoid disappointment.
Tall grasses that look flattened can tell you a story… a herd of elephant that had camped perhaps.
Searching for such clues and asking lots of questions can multiply your pleasure manifold.
Take the time to go on a dolphin watch on the Brahmaputra. It is an incomparable experience.
Provisions may be obtained at Guwahati, or perhaps from Jorhat. Bokakhat, the closest town where chemist shops, clothing and shoe stores are found is 23 km. away.
Leeches are a reality in the summer months so don’t walk barefoot and always check your socks before removing them.
In the winter months, most lodges should be able to organise an exciting cruise (on country boats with very loud diesel engines!) down the Brahmaputra to watch river dolphins. The trip can be particularly unforgettable if you organise lunch in advance, which can be cooked by local fishermen and had on the banks of the river as you watch dolphins.>
Since tea estates border the park, a visit to one can also be organised on request at your lodge. It might be worthwhile to take home a few packets of delicious Assam tea. Most private lodges can help arrange trips to village fairs and markets to imbibe a bit of local flavour.
Manju Barua, Barua Bhavan, 107, M.C. Road, Uzanbazar, Guwahati – 781001. Tel.: 0361-546827 Fax: 0361-541186.
Director, Kaziranga National Park, P.O. Bokakhat, District Jorhat, Assam – 785612. Tel./Fax: 03776-68095.
Deputy Director of Tourism, Kohora Range, P.O. Kaziranga National Park, Dist. Golaghat, Assam – 785109.
Directorate of Tourism, Bonani Lodge. Tel.: 037765/423. All visitors have to sign in here before making for the park headquarters.
November to April is the best time to visit. These winter months are generally mild and dry with mean maximum and minimum temperatures at 25°C and 5°C respectively. The park is closed from June to September.The best distance visibility is between February and April when the tall elephant grass is burned.
Dry and windy summers extend from mid-February to May with mean maximum temperatures at 37°C and minimum temperatures of 7°C.
Lodges, guesthouses and hotels owned by the Assam Tourism Department ensure a comfortable stay at Kohora. The tariff in these hotels suits every budget.
Aranya is the most comfortable with large rooms-A/C and non A/C and room service. Bonani is smaller with five A/C rooms and a restaurant. Bonoshree has eight double rooms with attached baths. Kunjaban has a dormitory arrangement.
Reservations must be made at the Tourist Office or Park Headquarters.For information on the tourist lodges, call the Joint Director Tourism Kaziranga, Dist. Golaghat, Assam 785109. Tel.:03776-4523/4529.
At Kohora, Bagori and Bokaghat, government accommodation is available.The Kaziranga Forest Lodge is run by the ITDC and has a bar and A/C rooms. Permissions and bookings can be requested from the Director, Kaziranga National Park, Dist. Jorhat, Assam.
Wild Grass ranks among the more special of the country's accommodation providers for natural area visitors. Located in the middle of Bochagoan village of Kaziranga, this attractive hotel is set in a rural setting with its grounds having more than 40 species of full-grown trees and over 200 species of climbers, creepers and shrubs.. There is an in-house naturalist as well as three excellent birdwatchers capable of identifying over 300 species of birds and local species of trees and plants. For reservations, contact the Wild Grass Lodge at Kaziranga. Tel.: 03776-624374 or the Head Office in Guwahati at Barua Bhavan, 107, M.C. Road, Uzanbazar, Guwahati - 781001. Tel.:0361 - 546827; Fax: 541186.
By Air: Jorhat is about 90 km away from Kaziranga and the closest airport. Transport should be arranged beforehand to receive one at the airport through the lodge. The drive from Guwahati airport is 220 km, but the road is picturesque and extremely motorable. Arrange a pickup and if not vehicles can be rented on the spot.
By Rail: Jorhat (90 km.) Furketing (75 km.) and Guwahati (200 km.) are the nearest stations from where you must take a bus or hire a private vehicle.
By Road: Bokakhat (23 km) is the closest town. State transport buses, A/C and non-A/C ply daily between Guwahati and Kaziranga.
The Department of Tourism, Government of Assam, conducts package tours to Kaziranga from Guwahati everyday except Tuesdays and Fridays. The buses leave Guwahati at 10.30 am and return at 4.00 pm the following day. Reservations can be made at the Tourism office in Guwahati.
Within the reserve: Four-wheeled vehicles that can handle rough, though motorable, roads make the most sense. These can be rented on a per kilometre basis plus a toll fee.
Permission to enter the park must be obtained from the Range Forest Office and an armed forest guard must be present in every vehicle (personal vehicles are also allowed on payment of fees).
Mihimukh near Kohora is the most popular starting point for most visitors. Early morning rides (5.30 and 7.00 a.m.) on Forest Department elephants can be booked here.
Walking inside the park is strictly prohibited, but birdwatching on foot (take a guide) outside the park boundary or even along the national highway can be very rewarding.