Travel story contributor: Shoma Abhyankar

Come vacation time and I itch to be out there exploring rustic trails, luxurious stays and various cuisines.

North-eastern part of India is relatively lesser explored than the rest of India. And, so we were quite thrilled to be visiting Kaziranga National Reserve, a World Heritage Site and home of one-horned Indian Rhinoceros in Assam.

Driving with friends, from Chabua to Kaziranga took almost five hours. By the time we reached our lodge, it was almost evening. The rooms had names instead of numbers and guess what were our room names…! Bison and Buffalo! We couldn’t stop teasing each other with these names for the rest of the trip! Tired from our journey we slept well on time to ake up early for the morning elephant safari to ride across the land of Rhinos. I genuinely doubted whether our elephant would be able to outrun an enraged rhino and take us to safety. Our ride was one huge female tusker ‘Phoolandevi’ who took her son ‘Babu’ along on the safari. The little baby elephant was definitely a brat who had little intention of listening to its mother. He kept wandering away but returned at his mother’s single call. My eight-year-old did pay attention to the non-verbal exchange between the mother-son duo. I wondered if he did understand it! Well, at least he understood that our relationship was much the same because towards the end of it she did say, “Mumma, isn’t Babu just like me? He also keeps running away!”

All ready for safari

The guides had advised us to wear full-sleeved clothes for the safari. As the plain grassland merged with taller spear-grass and elephant-grass, the razor-like sharp edged grass blades rubbed against our denim-clad legs, we realized the importance of their wise advice. While we savored the view of the rolling greens, grazing deer curiously looked in our direction, but weren’t threatened by our presence. Some wild buffaloes and wild boars lazed at marshy waterhole at a distance.

Our mahout directed the elephant towards the rhino territory and soon we reached the spot where a rhino sat with all his feet folded neatly under the bulky tank-like body, enjoying the cleaning ritual by the pecking egrets. To our surprise, the rhino was in no hurry to move. Only when the elephant trumpeted loudly did it stand up. Contrary to what we heard about its temper, the rhino seemed quite peaceful and in awe of the elephants. To my relief, it did not challenge the elephant’s authority and retreated into the nearest patch of tall grass.

Rhinos are mostly loners, exception being the mother and child. We came across at least two pairs of baby rhinos and their mothers. I found the rhino to be a very shy that would not attack unless provoked.

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While we were busy clicking photographs, “Babu”, the baby elephant decided to go for a hike in the tall grass. Our elephant safari was almost drawing to an end and we were on our way back when ‘Phoolandevi’ realized her bundle of joy had gone missing! All hell broke lose….the mahout could not make the tusker move forward until she heard a faint trumpet in response to her frantic calls. Having finally spotted her baby, she ran to meet him with us atop her holding on to howdah for our dear lives!

By the time our little adventure ended, it was almost ten in the morning. Famished we took a break to dine at multi-cuisine restaurant of IORA-The Retreat Resort just off the National Highway 37. Since our jeep safari was scheduled for evening, we relaxed at the lawns of the lodge for the rest of the day.

In the evening the jeep safari took us deeper in the reserve. Tall evergreen and deciduous trees replaced the high grass in this part of the reserve and spotting of rhinos was little easier. At one point our jeep had to stop to let a rhino cross the trail. We were lucky to spot the endangered species of vultures and eagle perching on trees.

Even after much coaxing, neither of the safaris took us closer to River Brahmputra (for our safety!) where the forest is impenetrably dense with tigers ruling the land.

Our exhilarating short vacation, made me realize that we humans may consider ourselves the smartest creature alive, but in wild…size does matter!!! You would agree!