A close friend’s wedding in Guwahati in November 2013 was the perfect opportunity for a few other friends to visit North East India. After much discussions, arguments and debates, we decided to cover two of the most famous travel destinations of Assam – Kaziranga National Park (famous for One Horned Rhino) and Majuli River Island– which is the world’s biggest river island. Since I am from Guwahati, I was to play host and guide to a couple of them.
Meetup in Guwahati
We went from New Delhi and one of our friend came from Bangalore. We met up in Guwahati where my house was to become the base camp for the next few days :). Since Guwahati is a gateway to the North East India , it has enough tourist spots inside the city to keep a person busy for a week.
We arrived on a Saturday and in the evening I took them out for a drive along the River Brahmaputra. There are cosy little parks along the river banks and one can buy freshly caught fish from the fishermen who lay out their catch along the riverside. Towards sunset the place becomes a photographer’s delight as the skies turn orange and the water starts shimmering.
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK ROADTRIP!
The wedding was on Tuesday so Sunday afternoon we took a cab to go to Kaziranga National Park. The park is famous for the great one horned rhinoceros and has been declared a World Heritage Site. It also has tigers, wild buffaloes, wild boars and swamp deer. The Brahmaputra, along with a few other rivers flows through the park and there are many marshlands inside Kaziranga. The drive from Guwahati was approximately 6 hours long via NH37 .
Our cab driver Madhu was a pleasant guy who gave us good company and kept us entertained. The highway to Kaziranga is very well maintained and there are rolling fields and tea gardens on the way. We passed a few tribal villages where the residents wore beautiful traditional dresses that gave us a glimpse of their cultural heritage. My friends were amazed to meet a dhaba owner on the way who was a Sikh gentleman and spoke fluent Assamese!
Night at the Resort
Soon it was dusk and as it was the night before full moon , the clouds and the bright moon set up a beautiful night sky. We stopped at the first hotel we came across on the highway after entering Kaziranga. It was a new place that was yet to become fully functional. The hotel staff was very gracious and hospitable and within no time they set up a makeshift bonfire for us.
They continued to entertain us with stories about the forest as we hungrily ate the simple yet delicious dinner they prepared for us. Once the story telling session got over, we retreated into our bedrooms as we had to get up early for the elephant safari.
We were up by 4:30 and by 5:00 we were waiting for the elephants at the safari starting point. There were many other tourists and we all got on the elephants to start our safari ride into the jungle. The elephants walked through the tall elephant grass and we were able to spot the famous one horned rhinoceros. The magnificently thick skinned rhino is a temperamental animal that can charge at the slightest provocation and do serious damage to any vehicle. The elephants maintained their distance and we were able to get a good view of several rhinos. We also spotted some exotic birds and deer herds.
As the sun rose the mist started lifting from the water bodies and through the haze we spotted more rhinos and birds. All in all, it was rejuvenating to be in the forest so early in the morning and experience nature in its full glory!
Jeep Safari – through deep jungle
We showered and had breakfast in the hotel after returning from the safari. We were supposed to get ready for the jeep safari by 10 but, as it so often happens with people who don’t usually wake up at 4:30am, some of us decided to take a nap and missed our deadline! After a lot of pleading with the safari organisers, we were finally taken out on the jeep and into the forest!
There are three motorable trails for jeep safari in Kaziranga –Kohora, Bagori and Agaratoli. We had taken the Bagori trail and were quite excited even though we had lost the opportunity to spot wild animals at that late hour. The drive was through the deep forest so we were still able to spot a few rhinos, deer, wild elephants, Grey-headed fish eagles, pelicans, etc.
Distance from Kaziranga National Park to Majuli Island – 155 kms
Post the jeep safari we had a quick lunch and drove to Jorhat city-a major urban centre in Assam. From Jorhat we had to get on a ferry to Majuli island—the biggest river island in the world. As a result of significant erosion over the years, the area of Majuli has reduced considerably and stands at approximately 352 square kilometres now. The island is home to Assamese neo Vaishnavite culture and the Vaishnava Satras are a major tourist attraction.
This was also a special time as the famous ‘Raas’ – the famous annual Krishna Leela festival was being performed in Majuli. The star attraction this time was the famous Assamese actress Barkha Rani who was playing Krishna’s mother Devaki in the play.
Ferry Ride to Majuli
Our trip to Majuli did not turn out to be a run of the mill touristy trip that we had thought it would be, instead there was not a dull moment from the time we boarded the ferry! We parked the car on the ferry and forgot to take out the cameras thinking that there was plenty of time for that. Big stones were put against the rear tyres of the car to prevent it from rolling off the steamer and into the mighty Brahmaputra!
Within minutes the steamer was packed and the car was surrounded on 3 sides by bikes that blocked our access to it. We stood at the helm of the steamer to get the best view and also to avoid the rest of the crowd. The steamer engine revved up at 5pm and we were on our way.
The Incredible Moonrise over the Brahmaputra
Nothing had prepared us for the incredible sunset that we witnessed that evening! The skies changed their colour from blue to yellow to orange to red to purple and the reflection on the river water created magic! There were exotic looking birds that flew in flocks in perfect V formation across the beautifully hued skies! It was a spell binding sight and our only regret was that we did not have our cameras. So with these memories imprinted on our minds, we continued enjoying the sunset without any cameras.
And this was just the beginning. We were soon to be treated to another beautiful spectacle, as it turned dark, a deep reddish yellow light coming from one corner of the river caught our fancy. We continued to wonder what it was as we saw gradually saw it turning into a giant deep red yellow ball! And finally realization hit us– this was the Moon—the full moon at the horizon! We were witnessing a moonrise over the Brahmaputra! The moon rose gradually and it was huge and cast reflection over the river waters. Again we cursed ourselves for not carrying our cameras as we followed the moonrise.
As it rose up, it lost the deep yellow colour till it looked white and the size also reduced.By the time we reached the shore and took out the cameras it was like a regular full moon over the river and this is the best that we could capture..
Landing at Majuli with no prebooking
The ferry landing point had no electricity. It was an isolated place and the 1 odd tea shop over there was closing. People had already disappeared by the time we got the car out on the dirt road. We had just managed to find out that we had to go to the Kamalabari market to find hotels to stay in and we had taken a ferry that delivered us to the opposite and isolated side of island.
After several kilometres of lonely dark dirt roads along fields, we spotted a man on a cycle who gave us the much needed directions to Kamalabari! We reached the market a little after 8pm but to our consternation there was no accommodation available in any hotel! This was because ‘Raas’ is a busy time and many foreigners come so the hotels get full. The ferry service had also stopped and going back was not an option! Finally after great pleading and explaining, we were allowed to stay at the circuit house. What relief!
It wasn’t bad
We checked in and after relaxing for a while we went out to have dinner. The tiny restaurants had closed but Lady Luck smiled on us again and one restaurant owner who was about to close asked us to come up and eat whatever was available at that closing hour. Just as we were parking, a fight broke out between some boys who were standing below that place! The owner came out and threatened them got them to disperse. Peace prevailed again and we fed ourselves to our heart’s contentJ With well-fed bellies we proceeded to enjoy the ‘Raas’ performance.
We had no difficulty in finding the venue as we just had to follow the local crowd that was all dressed up and on its way to the extravaganza. We reached the venue grounds and finally saw the much awaited ‘Raas’ and Barkha Rani’s commendable performance.
By the time we got back we were dead tired and slept like logs. The next morning we got ready and went to the Kamalabari ferry take-off point which was closer to the city. The ‘Raas’ set and equipment was also being transported back and the bigger steamers were carrying trucks filled with the equipment! The ride back took double the time as it was upstream now and we were really behind our schedule. As luck would have it, all the dhabas and tea shops where we stopped took their own sweet time in serving us and we prayed that we reach Guwahati in time for our friend’s wedding that night.
Finally the wedding!
Finally we reached home at around 10pm, hurriedly got ready and rushed to the wedding. It was 11pm when we reached and we had missed the Bihu performance by dancers. The caterers were about to clear the food as we were the last ones to enter so without further ado we polished off our dinner plates! Thankfully, our friend, the gorgeous bride, was not very upset with us and we happily posed with her as she looked absolutely divine! The actual marriage ceremony took place much later in the night and we caught up with other friends who had come from Mumbai as they updated us on where they travelled before the wedding and where they planned to go the next day.
As for us, after this impromptu Kaziranga-Majuli trip, we knew where we were headed the next day—to the District Magistrate’s office to get our permits to visit Arunachal Pradesh! But that is a long story again and I will save that for another day 🙂
In my next blog, i would share few details about “How to plan a budget trip to Majuli and Kaziranga National Park”.