The car missed the entrance on the left side and moved ahead. It looked like anything but a major wildlife sanctuary. On one side of the highway was the not so green pasture. On the other side one could see agricultural land with human settlements. Less than 200 meters from the place, several picnic parties had assembled on the bank of the river to utilize this bright December morning. Looks cannot be more deceptive than this. At that point I was beginning to doubt if we’d reached the right place. My eyes saw what my subconscious feared. A few grazing cows and then a thick forest in the horizon and nothing else! But thankfully I was wrong.
The Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros, is one of the few things that the state of Assam takes immense pride in. Interestingly, Kaziranga National Park is the place earmarked for this purpose by most travel planners. But the fact is that, it is found in several other sanctuaries all over Assam. The Pobitora or Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary is a unique entity in this regard. It has a very high density of rhinos. In fact once I read that it has the highest number of rhinos per square km, although I won’t be able to verify the same. Area-wise it is much smaller compared to other national parks but the concentration of rhinos make them incredibly easy to spot here.
Where else would you just stop your car and see rhinos in the wilderness from the highway?
That too with friendly egrets resting on their backs!
Guwahati to Pobitora:
The best part of Pobitora is that it is very close to Guwahati, the most important city in the region and my hometown. It is merely 40-50kms depending on which side of the city you start from. As you leave the city, you quickly enter the Morigaon district and specifically the Mayong region. Now, Mayong, since antiquity has been the Hogwartz of Assam. There are several rural legends regarding the area about the notorious practitioners of black magic. My intention is not to encourage any irrational experiment, nevertheless, the interested ones can find more information online such as this one.
We avoided these mumbo-jumbo but we did stop to take a few snaps of the mustard fields. These areas are most likely to be inundated during the rainy season and hence winter crops like mustard are the only viable alternative for cultivation. But who’s complaining when it looks like this?
But the best part were the scarecrows guarding the fields. In fact I mistook one holding the umbrella for a real farmer.
Sadly the sky was a bit dull. A combination of bright azure sky and the yellow mustard would have been orgasmic.
As mentioned earlier, we first missed the entrance, went ahead and saw some rhinos from the highway itself. Then a couple of local bystanders told us to head back and locate the entry point. There was also a nice looking forest department lodge and a few small stalls selling tea and snacks.
The entry fees seemed a bit exorbitant. INR 50 per head along with INR 50 for amateur cameras and then extra for the vehicle that shows the visitors around. I am not sure what exactly the charges were but we ended up paying around INR 1300 for four people and one camera. The vehicle came with a driver and an armed guard in case of an emergency. Also, the foreign tourists are supposed to pay almost 10 times the money!
As we moved inside, my confusion grew. It looked more and more like an agricultural grazing ground with cows and buffaloes roaming around all over. This is because this place does not have any major predators like tigers and leopards, informed the driver. And then we suddenly saw a buffalo with unusually large horns. It was a classic loner unmindful of the intruders grazing peacefully. This is not one of those cattle but an Asiatic Wild Water Buffalo. So how does one differentiate? Just look at the horns, the domestic ones will never have it this big.
As we moved on following the narrow jungle trail, a majestic elephant appeared in front of us causing a “traffic jam”. But the good part was that it was a domesticated one owned by the forest department. One can also opt for an elephant ride here but I think it is costlier than the car. The elephant was pretty large but well behaved. The mahout made the elephant stop and pose for a nice photograph, although it was a bit sad to see the thick chain dangling from its neck.
We saw a couple of rhinos from a distance but the view was better from the highway. A few birds were also visible including the Greater Adjutant Stork. But all of them were quite far away. I also noticed a pretty large wild hog but I could only capture its behind before it disappeared into the bushes. Finally the car stopped near a water body full of waterbirds, mostly various types of colorful wild geese. Sadly, my 200mm zoom was not enough to do full justice to that spectacle. I have clicked better bird photographs at the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary using the same lens but there was a boatman out there who took me as close as possible to my targets. But here no such options were available and what you see below are the results of some desperate cropping. In the first one, the large bird is the Greater Adjutant while the rest are various types of geese and I do not know the exact species.
(* A little correction here. I have been pointed out that these birds are mostly Ferruginous Ducks and the use of the word geese may not be appropriate)
After that point, it is not possible to move any further, or so we were informed. So, we began to move back to the entry point. But then suddenly the driver stopped and pointed towards the right side. There it was… a wild rhino barely 20 feet away from us. You cannot be closer than this to a rhino outside a zoo. It was grazing quietly and did not show any aggression immediately. But after sometime I think it got annoyed and made a little sprint towards our vehicle. I don’t think it had any violent intentions as it did not chase the fleeing car. It just wanted to drive away the irritants. Anyways, by that time we’d seen whatever we had to see.
How to Reach:
It is barely 40 kms to the east of Guwahati. The best way is to hire a private vehicle (in case you are a tourist in the state without any personal contacts). This is because you will be able to halt conveniently and make the most of this scenic route.
When to go:
Winter is generally the season. Do not try it during the rains, the whole area may be inundated.
What to expect:
The one horned rhino is the main attraction and unlike some other places, it is very easy to spot it here. Apart from that you will find various waterbirds, wild buffalo and wild hogs. And no there are NO tigers or any other big cat here.
And finally, I hate to repeat this, but I saw the nearby area littered indiscriminately by those picnic parties. Just have some civic sense, the world may be your oyster but it is definitely not your dustbin.