“There’s one! There’s one!”… Shouted our guide…
I turned my head and merely saw a splash on the muddy water.
“There’s another one!”… He pointed to somewhere else and the same story was repeated.
Dibru-Saikhowa: A jungle sired by rivers
After a not so successful outing at Namdapha, we decided to visit Dibru Saikhowa as it was more of a grass land instead of a thick rainforest and thus offers better animal sighting opportunities. Brent, who was blocked by bureaucracy from reaching Namdapha, joined us after visiting Kaziranga. I’ll save the technical details about reaching Dibru-Saikhowa National Park for another post. As of now let us get back to the Dolphins.
Dibru Saikhowa is unique because the floodplains here are as attractive as the rivers that flood them in terms of animals and bird sighting. It is literally encircled by the rivers and while you can expect large mammals and primates on the plains, the rivers boast of numerous water birds and of course river dolphins.
River Dolphin Sightings:
The South Asian River Dolphin (Platanista Gangetica) is one of the two major species of freshwater dolphins along with the Amazon ones. They are endangered and not easily spotted nowadays. Brahmaputra and its tributaries do contain a population but even during my school days, all I heard was the stories of people illegally butchering them and selling them in the market for consumption. I have seen Dolphin sighting points on the banks of Brahmaputra in Guwahati but I never really spotted anything there. As far as I can understand, they are already rare in lower Assam due to poaching and of course it is difficult to protect them all throughout the river. Water pollution may be another reason for their decline.
Anyways, at Dibru-Saikhowa we were informed that we can go to a certain point to spot Gangetic River Dolphins. Only a few hundred of them are remaining in Assam and the small spot mentioned hosts around 25-30 of them. So we took a motorboat along with the guide and a boat operator at Guijan, A small river port not very far from Tinsukia. The boat took around 30 minutes to reach the said point on the river Lohit (Which eventually meets the Brahmaputra after a few KMs).
One of the problems with sighting river dolphins is that the water is pretty opaque. You cannot see them coming until they really show up and jump above the surface. Also, these are pale grey in colour unlike the the glorious black and white ones from the sea. I’m sure most kids out there would be more familiar with those ones seen on the TV and oblivious of the ones living in their neighborhood.
Many people tried in vain for weeks to get a good shot of dolphins, we were told by the guide. In fact, forget clicking photographs, I could not even see anything in particular for the first few minutes. But after that, I saw one, and then I saw another. They were not exactly leaping out of the water and floating in the air as one would like to fantasize. They mostly make a small leap, catch some fresh air, and disappear. After I’d settled down and made a serious attempt at getting some snaps, I realized that it is not much different from capturing lightning, something I have always failed at. You never know where they would appear. You need to anticipate, you have to be quick and more importantly, you need a huge amount of luck. Mostly I was left with ripples on the surface of water rather than anything visible. After several attempts, I got the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
I was slowly beginning to give up, I had seen a few by that time and was happy about that. Anyways, I raised my camera once more, peeked through the viewfinder at the river without thinking anything, and exactly at that moment one leaped out of the water. A fraction of second earlier would have been perfect, but still, I finally got something where the dolphin is clearly visible.
We’d already spent more than an hour at that point and so we started to move on to visit other parts of the forest. A large ship full of tourists also appeared and drove away the dolphins too.
Rest of the tour was mostly about watching birds and whining about insufficient zoom. I will come to that and other details about visiting the park in the next parts. Till then, here’s a small teaser.