Finding DRL is a bit of a test of a traveller’s mettle. We were warned in advance that it was not signposted and we duly overshot it by several kilometres, realising our error only when we reached the Hatikhuli tea estate. When we finally reached its discreet bamboo-gated entrance, we realised why we had missed it: unlike all other Kaziranga resorts, it was situated on the left-hand side of the road; in other words, on the animal side.
How was this so? The Phookan family, which owns the lodge along with the Brocks of England, happened to own land very close to the resort, and chose to develop it for tourism back in the 1970s. Situated about 100m from the main road, it is completely sheltered from the hum and bustle of the highway. From the one-storeyed front office, one walks across a campfire site, and then a few steps down into the residential area of the lodge. A dozen cottages on stilts — eight standalone and four semi-detached — are arranged along three sides of the resort’s perimeter.
We were billeted in Cottage 8, one of the four directly overlooking the Diphlu river which borders the lodge on the north. Sitting on the river-facing verandah, I immediately fell into a lotus-eating trance which lasted through my entire stay at DRL. There were no TV sets in the rooms (bliss!) and, at night, we were asked to keep lights down to a minimum and curtains drawn. As the sun paled over the west, a strange hush fell like a benediction over us. On our first evening we saw three pale, spectral shapes on the other side of the river, at a distance of about 30m from the dining-room verandah. They were rhinoceros, who had come out to drink from the waters and graze on the bank. For 15 breathless minutes we watched this unearthly sight, and felt privileged.
During the rest of the day, the activities of the resort follow the usual pattern: elephant safari by dawn, return to a hearty breakfast in the spacious dining room, then maybe a snooze followed by a walk along the river. Afternoons are reserved for jeep safaris into the western and central ranges (for the eastern range, one has to set out much earlier). But the pleasures of DRL are not necessarily of an outdoors nature. Those not wishing to be rushed can while the day away lounging on the sunbeds and easychairs on the verandahs. The rooms are well-appointed and comfortable, and the glass-covered shower stalls in the large and airy washrooms make one want to linger over one’s showers. Dinner is early but there is a cosy bar just outside the dining room from where one can look out at the Diphlu. During our stay, there was a fireside dinner as well and a performance by a local troupe of dancers. It was with great reluctance that we were finally able to tear ourselves from the Diphlu River Lodge.
Where: Diphlu River Lodge – Kaziranga National Park, Kuthuri, Near Bagori Police Outpost, Dist. Nagaon, Assam
Accommodation: 12 air-conditioned cottages in bamboo and thatch on stilts. Best rooms: Cottages 5-8, with views of the Diphlu river. Service: Excellent and courteous. Food: Continental and Indian, served with elegance
Tariff: Rs 8,000 (for Indians) and Rs 15,000 (for foreign nationals) per person per day on twin-sharing basis, including all meals, safaris, national park fees
Contact: 0361-2667871/72/73 www.diphluriverlodge.com