An advertisement in a daily newspaper caught my attention: a package tour to Kaziranga National Park, an initiative of Tourism Department of Assam. Who would have thought that five years later that would be our honeymoon destination? Not that it ever escaped my memory! Enquiries led me to Red River Tours and Travels, a unit of Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. I was shown a picture of a tourist lodge in an unimpressive condition as ‘information’. Considering the lack of information to be a challenge and telling myself that a challenge is the main thrill of any adventure, I made the bookings and necessary advance payment for December 25 and 26. The itinerary included pick up from Guwahati on the 25th morning, lunch en route Kaziranga at Nagaon, dinner and stay at Kaziranga, elephant safari the next morning followed by breakfast and lunch at Nagaon on the way back to Guwahati.
My wife was very pleased to hear about the tour but at the same time thought that the rates were exorbitant. Come December 24, we were ready for the trip and made the final payment at the office counter. We were told that we would be taken to National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site. On the morning of the trip, while waiting for the bus, we changed our mind and decided to go by ourselves on my motor cycle! The 220 Km ride gave me something to think about as now I had my wife with me. But much to my surprise she agreed to do the distance. Calls were made to the driver asking him the bus number and informing him of our changed plan.
The highway was nestled between lush tea gardens. We came across many signboards reminding us to drive slow as the highway was also an animal corridor. Our tourist lodge Banosri in Kaziranga was 30 Km from where we were. I would not call it a series of unfortunate events unfolding but at this point my phone battery gave up and with that came the demise of our GPS and map facilities. Not to forget that we were tired, hungry and cold. December evening did not plan on going easy on us. The destination just refused to appear and the locals were more than amused to extort money from us, thanks to some domesticated elephants. Not that we are complaining, all were done in good spirit.
Out of nowhere, emerged a bazaar with two gates showing us the way to our destination. Upon reaching, we were shown our room which by the way had a name! Ours was named ‘Madhoi Maloti’. As we were retiring to our room, we got our next day’s plan. My wife could not hide her disappointment when we were told that morning bed tea would be at 4:30 a.m. and bus at 5 a.m. As it turned out, it was a herculean effort my wife had to undergo to part with her sleep. Along with 12 other tourists, we left for the elephant riding point. It was still dark and I could see that many of us were wondering what could be seen in the dark atop an elephant. My camera came to life as I prepared to take shots.
The elephant ride was an adventure in itself. The Mahout controlled the animal with his feet behind its ears. All elephants had beautiful mythological names. Ours was named Airavat, the mythological white elephant of Indra. We spotted our first Rhinoceros and noticed that the gentle giant was oblivious of our presence. My wife was beside herself with excitement. Other than Rhinos and elephants, we saw deer, boars and many types of migratory birds. It became clear to us the reason behind starting our tour while it was still dark. It was so that we could see the sunrise and the early morning activity in the jungle. Though I took many pictures, I realized that some of the sights are best captured in our senses and the presence of my wife, all excited and sitting next to me, made the experience worth mentioning. And as all things must come to an end, our ride also came to an end at 7 a.m.
Some of the environmentalists see these elephant rides as inhumane. I personally feel that from these experiences one can develop more awe and respect for the majestic animals and the forest life. It was time to head back to the lodge and then on our way back to Guwahati. On our return, we were advised to see the Kaliabor Bridge on the way to Tezpur. As if it would have been unfair for us to have a different and more comfortable journey on our way back, my bike broke down in the middle of nowhere. All efforts from my side proved futile and after much ‘research’, I came across a small settlement about a kilometer from my bike and my wife. I can’t say it was any fun going from person to person in search of a mechanic who could bring my bike to life. On our tired condition, there was a moment of contemplation as to whether we should still see the bridge or not. My wife was not in favor of the idea by the way, but then I won and we checked out the bridge anyways.
Our trip was a salad bowl of emotions. But, in the end, we found love and companionship and not to forget, my wife became an excellent navigator with expertise in GPS and Google map! An experience among the prehistoric one horned giants and gentle pachyderms was worth treasuring.