One morning we drove out of Shillong for Kazi Ranga. Kazi Ranga is in Assam and has extensive grasslands which host the famous Indian one-horn Rhino. It also hosts wild elephants, tigers, wild buffalos and assorted wildlife including a variety of antelopes.
We had to go through Guwahati and so we headed for the Assamese capital. It seemed to have quietened down from its recent turbulence. But tell-tale signs of its unobtrusive simmering were still around. The fabulous Manas National Park was closed as the ethnic militants were in occupation and businessmen in the State had to part with substantial amounts towards the security of their person as also their property.
From Guwahati we took the scenic highway on the north bank of Brahmaputra. An important town located on the north bank is Tezpur - a town that was under serious threat during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Now it has a biggish Indian Air Force base. It has a beautifully located circuit house, the new wing of which is right on the river bank. The windows offer magnificent views of the Brahmaputra. It was a delight to spend some time there.
There are numerous legends for the name that the Kazi Ranga Park was given, the most popular being the one about two lovers from two different tribes who, when not allowed to marry, fled into these forests never to be seen again. The girl's name was Rawanga and the boy's Kazi and the forests came to be known as Kazi Ranga. The Park has a long history as will be evident from the fact that it celebrated its Centenary in 2006. It was Lady Curzon, wife of the Governor General Lord Curzon who being unable to sight a single rhino during her trip across the jungles recommended to her husband steps for conservation of the animal. As a consequence Kazi Ranga Game Park was established in 1906. As the name Game Park suggested that hunting was still permissible it was changed to Kazi Ranga Wildlife Park in 1926. It was, after all, hunting that had eliminated all the rhinos that deprived Lady Curzon the view of even a single rhino. Late in the Twentieth Century its name was changed again to Kazi Ranga National Park and Tiger Reserve. The UNESCO awarded it the status of World Heritage Site in 1985.
Kazi Ranga has a variety of wildlife. Apart from its rhinos which constitute two thirds of the population in the world of the animal, it also has the other pachyderm, the Asiatic Elephant, in substantial numbers. The latter’s current number is more than a thousand. The rhino population, however, has shown a remarkable upswing. From around hundred odd in the initial years of the last century the count has now come to more than two thousand. The Park is also the largest tiger reserve in the country hosting more than a hundred tigers apart from being a refuge of the Indian Wild Water Buffalo. Along with assorted antelopes and other smaller animals it has a large variety of birds some of which like hornbills are rare in other parts. The Birdlife International has designated the park as an Important Bird Area for its varied species of resident and migratory water birds.
We mounted an elephant at the Elephant Station and took off for the forests.. Soon I realised that we were moving through the grass that were as high as the elephant or even more. As the elephant moved the grass that was rather stiff brushed against our legs.. This was, I realised, elephant grass country which I had never been to before. The elephant was walking through it sure-footedly. I wondered how it managed to negotiate the invisible highs and lows of the ground with such facile ease.
Soon enough the elephant came to a halt. The mahout whispered there was a tiger around. The pachyderm advanced with great care, as stealthily as possible. But nothing perhaps can escape the sharp olfactory sense of a tiger. It deserted its kill that was right in front of us in a small clearing. It was a half-eaten water buffalo of such massive proportions that amazed us. It was a huge hefty beast with its muscles shining through its beautiful black coat. It had lovely swept back and curved horns that seemed to have had a polish recently. Its hind quarters were eaten up with dark red blood flowing freely from the large-sized wound. We did not tarry further and moved away from the spot to allow the tiger to resume its meal. I ruminated over the kill and reckoned only a ravenously hungry tiger could bring down such a massive creature. But how big was the tiger? The answer eluded us as we could not sight it.
We were unable to see any tiger. In such tall grass it is impossible to see one unless it comes out into a clearing. We were also deprived of the sight of a live water buffalo. Perhaps it would have been well worth the effort to try and see one. Our target was rhino so we moved in pursuit of them. We didn't have to go far looking for them. They were there in good numbers. After having seen the African two horned rhino I found our own ones rather likable. With its single horn it looks less belligerent though with the armour-like folds on its body it gives an entirely different impression. It is generally shot for its horn that is valued in thousands of dollars. It loses heavily in numbers for this reason. Massive efforts for its conservation have shown a rise in their numbers.
Looking back, I feel the most impressive sight in Kazi Ranga was of the dead buffalo, its build, its muscles and its massive horns. One wonders how it failed to gore the tiger with them. Then, of course the flight of a hornbill was something that was worth watching.. The elephant grass, too, were very impressive. I don't know whether the grass in Mudumalai is similar to these.
On our way back we stopped at a wayside kiosk where green coconuts were being sold. The coconuts were so peppy that when the seller punctured the shell its water gushed out in a jet and went up as high as around couple of metres. I had never seen such peppy tender coconut, not in the South, nor in Sri Lanka or even in South East Asia.