When you think of Kaziranga, the picture that comes to mind is of rhinos grazing peacefully in open grasslands. This is true. But many other things are also true. There is a lot of water, which hides rare otters and turtles. There are trees and forests. In fact, the silk cotton tree is a pest which is threatening to take over the grassland. There are elephants, swamp deer, tigers, wild pigs, and hog deer.

The gallery which you see here is a little kaleidoscope of images from Kaziranga, each featuring grass. Click on one and scroll through for a larger format, if you wish.

Entering the whirlpool

My introduction to nature came first through the stories by Jim Corbett. These would often feature him sitting in a hide with a goat tied nearby as a lure for tigers. Seeing a goat at an entrance to Kaziranga, I was reminded of this.

The gate was an elaborate affair. We counted off what we’d seen already: rhinos, elephants and wild water buffalo were three of the “big five” here. The gate also showed the elusive swamp deer, barasingha. We had only a little glimpse of one on this trip. Pelicans, shown in flight around the gate posts and holding the sign, are not usually counted among the main attractions. But where was the real big one: the tiger?

It made a brief and almost unnoticed entrance at the bottom of a signboard full of the rules which bind you and protect the forest. If you don’t stand there and read the whole thing you may miss the fact that Kaziranga is also a tiger reserve. In fact it has the highest density of tigers in the world, but they are seldom spotted because of the tall grass that they can hide in. The goat was only a decoy, after all.

The central zone had a less impressive gate: just a boom which could be raised or lowered. But I liked the owls which showed the opening and closing times for visitors. We never did get to see the tiger, but we saw so much here that I didn’t regret the trip at all.

Herds of Elephants

Indian elephants (Elephas maximus indicus)are the most common wild animals in captivity: instantly recognizable, loved for their generally benign behaviour. There are perhaps less than 30,000 animals in the wild in India, with the largest population being in the Eastern Himalayas and the Brahmaputra basin. They are slowly disappearing as their habitat is encroached upon, and there are direct conflicts between humans and elephants. Just as I was writing this post I read news about four elephants being killed by a speeding train. So it was lovely to see large herds of these animals in the wild in Kaziranga National Forest.

Our first close view was of the trio in the featured photo, at a stream. Elephants love water, and the young splash in mud and throw it around just like a human child. As soon as the mother saw us, she kept turning to face us. The young one kept playing for a while, but was pushed into hiding in the tall grass behind the mother. Then the two adult females also disappeared into the grass. We caught up with the rest of the herd soon. There must have been about forty elephants spread out through the tall grass, browsing and grazing in the forest. Elephants are voracious eaters, and can chmomp their way to ecological catastrophe when forests are diminishing irrespective of them. Fortunately, in managed forests like Kaziranga this is not very likely. It is wonderful to stand at a distance and watch these gentle giants, as long as one remembers that close approach is very dangerous.

The next day we had a much closer approach to a lone tusker which had just emerged from a stream. It walked determinedly up to the road we were on and crossed it near our jeep. Three or four jeeps had come to a halt to allow the male to cross undisturbed. The Family was very envious of the first jeep. “It had such a clear view,” she said. I thought we had a clear view too. The elephant loomed over the jeep as it crossed, and I must admit that it would have been marvelous to see it from close by. That’s the luck of the jungle; you can never predict what you will get to see.