Kaziranga National Park is a heaven for wildlife photographers when it comes to habitat, color ranges, and behavior of animals. Being home to the most number of One Horned Indian Rhinos and Asiatic Elephants, Kaziranga has earned a name for exquisite sightings of Royal Bengal Tigers and numerous species of birds as well. My journey to this National Park was in March 2022 when I could get the red velvet coating on the entire forest - What do I mean by that? It is the enormous number of Palash and Shimul flowers on the trees that enrich the habitat. Just a 5-hour drive from Guwahati, Assam the trip will offer you a view of Rhinos and Barasinghas on the road while you are yet to reach your guest house! The forest is an extensive land covering 1090 sq Km of area. The place has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the number of One Horned Rhinoceros it has been a shelter to. I did a total of 6 safaris covering 4 extensive zones of Kaziranga and I will be sharing my sheer thrilling experience on the same.
Unlike other national parks, Kaziranga opens its gates late in the morning at 7:30 AM and closes at 6:30 PM with 1-2 hours of lunch break in between. This is to match the rhythms of the majestic elephants and rhinos that live here. You can witness their beauty and grace during the peak hours of their activity.
The first day I started with the Kohora or the central zone which is near to any of the guest houses/lodges one could find in the Kaziranga forest area. The well-lit-up forest welcomed my gypsy with the presence of big elephants and within just 10 to 20 feet of distance I would witness a mid-grown One horned Rhinoceros grazing on the meadows. The adorable hog deer kept running between the forest roads while our gypsy started cruising towards the watch tower. The presence of Asiatic elephants and Rhinos after every 1 minute pumped our adrenaline in such a way that we were overwhelmed. My driver cum guide Tapan was well versed in the presence of animals and birds and he was aware every time we came across a White Bellied Sea Eagle sitting on a branch so that I could watch the raptor devouring on breakfast. I was introduced to the presence of a majestic Pallas’s Sea Eagle a few hours after we left the muddy road trail and entered a near to silenced area and believe me when I say it’s actually difficult to capture a good image of a Pallas eagle in the forest of Kaziranga.
The forest was rich in its aquatic and aerial biodiversity beyond anticipation. The moment we came across wonderful Assam Soft Shell turtles, Terrapins, Bee-eaters, and Kingfishers, we could feel the gift of jungles. There is a watch tower, where you can get down to ground, reach your eye level and photograph hundreds of Bar-Headed Geese, Ruddy shelducks, Adjutant Storks and what not! This tower zone is basically one of the very few places inside the forests where watchmen live and guard the entire radius. Moreover, the stream passing by acts as the provider for various birds. The most beautiful gift of Kohora on my first day is the rare sight of Slender Billed Vultures whose population has become much lesser due to usages of fertilizers like Diclophenac and thus they are now vulnerable in the world as per IUCN list. Exploring the central zone with awe, the afternoon Safari at the Baghori zone was quite enthralling.
This zone offered a wonderful view of the Great Hornbill of Assam. The male would just bring small nuts from different places and sit outside his nest while the female Hornbill would be inside and taking the food from her loved one. Such a beautiful display of care and love among the birds was worth watching for an entire 10 minutes. After spending some time here, I could witness another moment that touched my heart with awe and tenderness as a newborn elephant calf stumbled into a puddle of water, guided by his mother’s gentle trunk. He kept falling into the mud, but she never gave up on him. She lifted him up with love and patience, teaching him how to stand on his own. It was a precious moment to witness such a bond from so close!
The Baghori zone is indeed a mixture of scopes for Habitat shots, bird portraits and animal behavior but save your tiger stories for Central zones! As the evening started to darken, we went out from the zone towards a day filled with memories, gearing up the next day for the most beautiful zone – Burapahar.
Let me tell you - tracking tigers in Kaziranga is not possible because of the extensive grasses. So we should not expect tiger tracking and sighting chances like we do in the National Parks of Tadoba/Pench/Kabini etc.
Burapahar is the most aesthetic and scenic zone of Kaziranga. Located around 12 kilometers from the rest of the zones, this is a hilly area where I could experience the flower-bloomed grasslands at the foothills of a mountain where the elephants graze in harmony while the rhinos would mate with their partners in the greenest meadows. What Burapahar has to offer you is the biggest gift as you would get to see the critically endangered Western Hoolock Gibbon here, sharing these beautiful mountains with the Golden Capped Langurs. Two of the most endangered primates in one zone is probably the best thing I experienced as a photographer. On our way to the gates of Burapahar, I could suddenly spot a Hoolock gibbon family, and seeing no other cars around, I told my gypsy to stop as I documented the behavior of a baby gibbon who swung from one branch to another while the entire forest area in his back was chorusing with hoots and hoop sounds. It didn’t take me any more time to understand that I have stopped at that part of the forest where the Hoolock Gibbon population is the most dense. I had pretty good images of their behavior and childishness. Although I typically wanted to document and collect the activities of the Hoolock Gibbon, the other birds that ruled the zone were never left behind.
The act of hunting a fish by the White-bellied Fish Eagle was truly a triumphant moment to watch while on the other hand, the Slender Billed Vulture and Himalayan Griffon ruled the sky. My most shocking moment on the entire trip happened here – guess what? The unthinkable chase by a full-grown Rhinoceros!! I literally got my nerves cold when I was filming a Rhino keeping in mind all sorts of comfort radius of the animal and suddenly, it turned to a situation where it looked at our gypsy and started running towards us! Our driver told us to hold tight where he literally made the gypsy fly through the road. I held on to my sit real tight while trying to get some images from behind and our gypsy seemed to be in a losing race with the Rhino when after 8 to 10 seconds of mad chase, it left the trails and went inside the jungle.
With a huge sigh of relief, we finally got to our lunch break heading for Baghori in the evening. Baghori zone has a completely different image in the afternoon safaris with a lot more elephant activity accompanied by the bright sunset warmth. The Barasinghas and Asian Wild Buffaloes all come to the waters to cool themselves down – a lazy time for the buffaloes mainly where I could experience their huge horns coming out from the water levels. The Barasinghas or the Eastern Swamp Deers as we know, would cross the streams into the deeper forests while the raptors would give you a portrait shot instead of action shots. The afternoon Baghori zone is exciting for one amazing trump card – Tiger Sighting. One can expect a good chance of watching the majestic orange-black striped royalty in the grasslands of Baghori. When all the jungles tend to become a bit misty, when the elephants are slowly taking their herds back to the home, comes the chances of Royal Bengal Tigers who roam and hunt in the hazy forests. That’s the magic of Baghori in short. While we returned to our Guest house, planning for Agratoli zone on the next morning, the expectations of birding were on peak!
Agratoli is a dense forest zone where from the moment of entry, one can get filled with the chirping of birds, morning mists covering the extensive grasslands where Black Necked Storks, Adjutant Storks, few Wooly Necked Storks, and a lot of Open Billed Storks made their way. The most amazing find was a Pallas Sea Eagle getting its rest on a nest of White Bellied Fish Eagle!
Agratoli is a paradise for bird lovers and photographers. The best time to capture the beauty of the birds in action is early morning when the raptors hunt for their prey and the other birds, such as Plum Headed Parakeets, Hoopoes, Pied Hornbills, Greater Hornbills, fill the sky with their colors and sounds. I was lucky to witness some amazing moments of the birds in their natural habitat, and also to see a group of Spot-billed Pelicans in the wetlands. The wetlands are also home to the Asian Elephants, Swamp Deer and Asian Wild Buffaloes, which add to the diversity and richness of this zone. Agratoli has a stunning landscape that can inspire any poet or artist. There is a watch tower near a tree where they keep the skulls of elephants and deers that died in the park. You can get down from your vehicle and enjoy the view of Dhansiri river, which was immortalized in the poems of Jibanananda Das, a famous poet from West Bengal. The locals say that they rotate the place where the skulls are kept each year. But the view of Dhansiri River remains the same – an absolute beauty filled with frames of the big four and few hog deers.
The Agratoli is a gift to not only birders but also photographers who love to capture the habitats of mammals. After collecting the essence of around 100+ images from this zone, the afternoon safari was quite calm filled with pretty normal frames in the central zone of Kaziranga. The evening was made colorful with the performances of local people in the state gallery, where we could witness dance forms from all the different tribes of Assam.
If I want to brief it up, Kaziranga in February to March is the best place to explore and get beautiful images of animals and birds, blooming red Palash flowers as background and the jungle being situated in the heart of mountains, songs of nature get hummed in every corner of the forests. The trees stand witnessing the evergreen mystery of the land, its people working day and night for their living and the harmony of co-existence between humans and animals. The people here treat animals as their beloved family and they are connected to the forest very deeply, making this eternal bond a sacred and robust one.