The Manas National Park jeep safari can be summed up as one of the wildest confrontations of my life.
Where is Manas National Park?
Bodoland (BTAD) district is one of the most potential tourist hub in Northern Assam where places like Manas National Park and so many others, remain hidden from the eyes of travellers. This biosphere reserve, an elephant reserve, project tiger reserve and also a UNESCO world heritage site, is located in Berpeta, Assam.
From Bongaigaon, it took us a 2-hour drive to reach here. One doesn’t get to know how big is the park until one sets out to take a safari in jeeps. But just to give you a figure, it is 500 sq. km in size and has expanded up to 900 sq. Km. The park actually falls in two districts of Assam, Chirang and Baksa.
Stay Option in Manas National Park
Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp seemed like an amazing place to spend 2 days in the wild, with rooms absolutely one of a kind. Being a camp, it still felt like a resort because of the luxurious treatment and facilities that we got. The camp being fully solar power operated was the best part.
They also had these beautifully tamed and cared for female elephants, Ratnamala and Jayamala. For almost half a day, the only thing that I did was to run behind, just to touch them, understand them and shower all my love upon them.
Walk with the Elephants and Village Visit in Manas National Park
Walking with Ratnamala and Jayalamala gave me a bitter-sweet feeling. For the first time in my life, I was happy to have interacted with elephants, who are known to be super intelligent.But as my mind rose from the bed of being a self-centered human, I could ultimately sense the unlawfulness in domesticating a wild animal.
The walk with the elephants literally became a subconscious talk for me with these two, as if they were trying to narrate their wishes of wanting to return to the wild. Although the resort owners and the caretakers were treating them with the utmost love and affection but after all a wild animal belongs to the wild.
See me walking so closely because I was absolutely awed in love.
The tea gardens amidst a reserve was one of the best sights of this walk.
Agrang is the only village which lies in the center of Manas National Park apart from more than 50 villages that are located on the park fringes. Lots of them depend on the park for their livelihood. We again had the chance to see the ladies work on their hand-looms and kids play carelessly all around a Bodo House.
Dancing in the Wild; Manas National Park
The days of wild walks and adventurous jeep safaris came to a halt as soon as the sun used to set around 5:15 pm.Gradually a faint blanket of stars used to surround us where laying under the clear visage of its being became my other favorite part.
A bonfire was there to accompany us where its crackling was barely heard amidst moments of jokes and laughter.
The calm nights were in fact just the opposite of the nature of Manas in broad daylight. The bonfire time was also quite memorable where local sweets were brought in by Gayatri and pakoras by the resort.
Bihu dancers came rushing to entertain us for the night and all we could do is just get up from our lazy bums and dance away the night with them. BIHU IN JUNGLE! Another wildest confrontation of my life.
Jeep Safari and The Wild Confrontation; Manas National Park
The core of Manas National Park also has a tributary of the Brahmaputra river flowing which is called the Manas river itself. A division of the Manas river that flows down here is the beautiful BEKI RIVER.
The array of landscapes that you get to see together here is mind-boggling. After one hour of drive, we reached a vast land where blue of the water merged with blue of the sky.
The horizon became nil and so our existence.
We were standing on the footsteps of Beki river which glistened under the sun and talked to us through only a language which we wanted to hear being away from the city side. That was sound of the wild, of the pure, of the unadulterated.
Manas represents the two main biomes, the grassland biome and the forest biome. Our jeep was taking us through an alternative series of both these biomes.
I was immediately reminded of the striking similarity of this landscape with that of the Pangong Lake in Ladakh. Two completely different Indian regions, yet so similar in ways unknown.
Our 4-hour jeep safari turned into a ride of such amusement and amazement when we got to witness some wild species like deer, rhino, elephants, Himalayan giant squirrel, lots of exotic birds, water buffaloes, Himalayan Gaur etc. In total, Manas has 55 species of mammals, 380 species of birds, 50 of reptiles and 3 species of amphibians.
And then something unexpected happened!
We stopped near a water tank to witness a mother elephant eating plants with her cub. After this, everything took place within a span of just 15 seconds.
I point my camera towards the mother elephant and just 5 seconds later, where I thought I can take a better shot than this one, the elephant took a right turn, positioned herself and came rampaging towards me. YES!
THE MOTHER ELEPHANT ATTACKED US! And I literally became Usain Bolt that moment.
The raging elephant was fortunately stopped just before where we were standing by a kind and brave person who was guarding that area. He pointed his hand in the air to signal the elephant and the angry mother stopped there and then. She took a U-turn and never looked back.
But five of us had our hearts throbbing and still couldn’t figure out what exactly just happened until we saw the footage in my camera which was still on while I was running.Just a day back, we were walking gracefully behind 2 domesticated elephants. The transition to walking behind them to running from the wild ones literally felt like a wisp of air.
The wild mother apparently took the sight of the camera as a gun and thus attacked us to protect the cub. A lot of lessons were learnt that day.
Some being were:-
1. Do not openly point your camera towards wild animals, try to camouflage yourself and the device.
2. If the animals are with their cubs, then minimize your body movements.
3. Try to stay as calm and quiet as possible.
4. Avoid taking an animal safari because that is basic wildlife harassment. The animals are loaded with heavy seats above which tourists are placed. A wild animal is meant to be wild and not domesticated.
5. Do not step out of your jeep/safari.
6. Keep the flashlight and volume of your devices off.
7. Do not feed the animals.
8. Avoid carrying any pungent smelling food.
All of these rules generally apply for a wildlife sanctuary, biosphere reserve, national park, bird sanctuary etc., as well.
The last time when all the Ambassadors of Bodoland posed together.
Things to note:-
- only local BSNL post-paid sim work inside the park
- Best season to Visit-November to April
- The park is closed from June to September
- Safari Details
9 am Safari, 2 pm Safari
½ day Safari 2000 INR
Full day Safari 4000 INR
- Indian Nationals entry fee- 100 INR
- Foreigners entry fee- 500 INR
How to reach Manas National Park?
- By road
Manas is at a distance of 176 km from Guwahati. A taxi is the best option to reach the park from Guwahati.
- By train
The nearest train station to Manas National Park is Barpeta Road Railway Station. New Bongaigaon railway junction is the other nearest railway station.
- By plane
The Lokpriya Gopinath International Airport of Guwahati is the nearest airport (180 km / 5 hrs drive approx.)
Poachers turned conservationists; Manas National Park
So UNESCO declared Manas National Park as a ‘world heritage site in danger’ due to heavy hunting and poaching, a few years back. After the formation BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council), some peace prevailed in the area and preventive measures started coming up. One such measure was the formation of an Eco-tourism society.
The Chapaguri Koklabari Anchalik Committee was formed by some Bodo youths from the surrounding villages to start awareness campaigns and to rightfully protect the Manas National Park.
Under the committee, Manas Maozigendri Eco-Tourism Society came into being in 2003 and that too as the most surprising thing in the history of Bodoland, Assam.
The disclaimer about this place included a few words in capitals; POACHERS TURNED CONSERVATIONISTS!A sense of fear, doubt and amazement was lingering on our faces until we met a group of like-minded volunteers who accepted to have learnt from their past mistakes and now are working day and night to protect the wildlife of Manas and also got the tag of ‘world heritage site in danger’ lifted in 2011.
The work of these reformed men includes anything and everything from protecting the existence of their National Park. Going and educating villagers around, patrolling the park, keeping a check on poaching, capturing poachers and reforming them to future volunteers, building the roads for convenient accessibility; the commendable conservation by this society is something worth exemplifying.This society includes a few men who poached for 25 years but now will be spending the rest of their lives protecting what they used to hunt.
To protect this Earth from further destruction which is practiced by some greedy beings, a series of passionate commitments and fulfilment of promises is needed. And that’s what the young boys and reformed men of this ecotourism society are doing.
You can have a personal interaction with them on lunch since they are very welcoming.
Location:- Khamardwisa Lwikhibazar, Baksa, Bodoland, Assam
Some candid moments with the Ambassadors of Bodoland; Me, Abhinav, Namita and Amrita who were jeep partners including Indrani. In the other frame, we are with Pamela and Ananya.
We also crossed the international border, yet again, by entering into Bhutan via the eastern gate of Manas National Park which is at Nganglam side. By the way, this route is going to be soon functional where once can enter Bhutan after experiencing Bodoland and Manas National Park.
The Bodo tribe welcome with Dokhna remains as another bright memory with me.
The farewell sky appeared again to bid farewell to me.