This is a small village in South Kodagu that is closer to Kerala borders than it is to Madikeri. This is where my maternal cousins originally hail from, and they went to school with me at some point while staying together at our maternal grandparents’ house. So, it was natural that I too would accompany them to their native village on several occasions when they went to their parent’s house at Theralu.
Apart from the expansive Tata tea estates and the Kerala borders some of the other popular landmarks that I enjoyed day tripping here were Irupu waterfalls, Mrithyunjaya temple and the Nagarhole National Park.
For all that I can remember from those visits were that there were people speaking and following different culture than I was familiar with. All the workers that worked in both my maternal and paternal hometowns were from the local tribal communities who spoke and ate quite same as what I did at home. But those working at my Uncle’s estate in Theralu spoke so many different languages. The larger group had almost created a mini-Assam in the site of their labourers quarters. They had built so many structures, equipment, tools out of bamboo (the most common site in all over Assam) and ate food that was made with ingredients that we in Kodagu didn’t know were edible until we saw them.
This is also where I was introduced to Tamil language and their movies. A large group of workers came to work in the farm at Theralu during the peak coffee harvest season and returned back to Tamil Nadu after the season ended. During evenings or on weekends, these workers often came to my cousins house to watch TV. Although I didn’t know their language and didn’t comprehend with most things they communicated, I picked up names of the stars whom they clapped hands in enjoyment or sounded a “Shhhhhh” to express disappointment while watching their favorite stars on the screen. In spite of not understanding a word of what the movie or tele-serial was about, it was an inevitable situation for me to sit and watch through whatever was being played 😀 Looking back at the days, those stars from the early 2000s are the only few whom I can associate with while talking about movies with a Tamilian!
With limited means of communication, the major exposure we had in this small hill-district was just limited to living in estates or serving the army. Here, I saw migrant workers coming from faraway places in search of ANY doable jobs, saved a portion of their limited income and sent it to their families back in their hometowns and still lived a life of modesty. I learnt that life was not all easy for people living in other parts of the earth. It always made me think and reflect how unequal and different life was for everyone. Theralu taught me lessons of gratitude for the life I am living!
The monsoon has caused the mighty Brahmaputra to take a toll on the North-eastern part of India causing innumerable and irreplaceable losses. I saw this one particular photo of a floating carcass of the striped beast, the National animal of India in the newspaper this morning and I was taken back in time when I visited Kaziranga last year, post monsoon.
This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the places in a self-drive car hired at Guwahati. Our visit to Kaziranga had just one agenda, a safari in the Kaziranga National park and get a glimpse of at least one rhinocerous! Kazhiranga National Park is counted in the list of UNESCO’s world Heritage sites.
Day 1: Evening drive from Guwahati to Kaziranga (Kohora forest range) Day 2: Early morning elephant safari & jeep safari in Kaziranga national park, Orchid research centre. Continue the journey onward to Jorhat.
After a wonderful drive through the National highway from Guwahati, we reached Kaziranga on a night lit with Diwali lamps all around. Kaziranga national park is divided into four main areas: The Central range at Kohora, Western range at Bagori, Eastern range at Agaratoli and the Burapahar range at Ghorakhati. Here, the tourists can enjoy the elephant and jeep rides into the forest that are organized by either government or private parties. The park is closed during monsoon and we were lucky that the central zone at Kohora had opened just around our visit time. We had a nice meal and settled down at one of the numerous resorts that exist on the boundary of the National park in the Kohora range. Meanwhile, our resort guys helped us to get tickets for a safari ride scheduled for early next morning.
We woke up the next morning and headed towards the forest gates where the elephant ride was supposed to commence. The drive from the resort until the forest gate was so refreshing in itself. With the addictive smell of wet ground, kaccha roads passing through green paddy fields dotted with bamboo huts here and there, thick mist slowly clearing up with dew drops reflecting the rising sun: It was just wonderful all the way.
Kaziranga is synonymous with the one-horned rhinoceros. With about 2/3rd of the world’s population of these beauties found in just this area, it was no surprise that we began to spot them one after the other. Even before we started our ride, we spotted rhino families all around the watch tower we were standing at. We even found a few of them grazing in the fields on the sides of the highway. With that we realized, that Kaziranga was beyond rhinos. There are some other wild animals that are exclusive to the park and are collectively called as the ‘Big Five’, a must on the list of every wildlife enthusiast visiting the state of Assam.
Our elephant had arrived in a bit. We sat atop and started our ride into the haze of the misty green grasslands of Kazhiranga to track the ‘Big Five’ of the this land. The elephants that we were seated on, were walking through dense thickets of elephant grass: the grass that was taller even for elephants to walk through. Slowly, the mahout started to point out and show us the animal at far distance.
First, it was a wild elephant with its calf. We were told that rhino and elephant conflicts were common and that mother elephant was wounded just that morning in a bid to protect its new born calf. So, that meant we were not safe sitting on one either! We slowly moved out of tall grass to another area where a couple of rhinos were finishing their morning chores. It was very surprising for us to know that large rhino groups identify space where each rhino marks its own spot (making a private toilet space for itself) and does not let any other rhino enter the area.
Wow! We slowly passed that place and spotted herds of swamp deer. World’s largest population of these herbivores too is concentrated in these forests. Swamp deer are handsome animals.
Just as we were photographing them, we saw a herd of Asiatic wild water buffaloes marching out of a slush pool. Until our guide told us, we had no idea that over 57% of the world’s water buffaloes too were accommodated in the woods here!
Another surprise information awaited us: Kazhiranga national park has the highest density of the Royal Bengal tigers in the world!!! Whoa!!!! That’s like……..something that was unknown to me, a person who hails from the land of Nagarhole, Bandipur & Bannerghatta. But as always, no luck with spotting the elusive beast. Seeing a tiger in the wild is a LONG dream, awaiting to be realised. (So much adventure to see a wild tiger, Click here to read more!)
So, we had checked off 4 out of the big 5 of the Kazhiranga before heading towards the exit gates- The One horned rhinos, Asiatic elephants, swamp deer and wild water buffaloes. Meanwhile, we realized that we still had time to make it for the morning batch of jeep ride. So, after enquiry and booking at the counter, we had a gypsy to take us into the forest again. Needless to mention, we were greeted by herds and herds of rhinos all along our path. Wild boars, barking deer etc. too were spotted in abundance. The highlight was however, the innumerable species of migratory birds that were spotted. Our driver cum guide mentioned several bird names, out of which only pelicans and spoon-billed storks were the ones that I have managed to remember.
On the other end of our drive into the forest, we were taken to a watch tower from where we could catch a very good view of hundreds of animals that had come to drink water from the flowing river. It was a very calm and a serene place to spend a while with nature. What caught our curiosity was some random years mentioned on the wall of the watch tower. So, here is a picture that may give an idea of the monsoon fury and severity of floods that affect this area year after year.
The tower itself is located at an elevation from the river. My friend in the below picture is a 6-footer. The water level of 2016 is marked above him… Can you imagine how impossible it is for the animals to escape out of the area??? It’s insane to think of and the image of the floating tiger’s carcass hovers around in my thoughts.
The drive back to the resort, on the highway was an extremely nice one which had gone unnoticed during the hurried drive through misty roads in the morning. Tea plantations flanked the roads on both sides. The famous Assam tea grows in flat lands and under shade, totally contrary to what I had seen and grown up seeing in the hills in down South. We stopped by to sip on some hot brew and bought some processed tea leaves for our caffeine addicts back home. A quick visit to the Orchid research centre was an interesting place to drop by too.
Overall, our day was eventful at Kazhiranga with warm memories from the woods before heading to our next destination- Jorhat. Although a little disappointed for not being able to spot a tiger by the end of our safari ride, we were feeling content for having our long pending wish of visiting this heritage site come true!
Concluding remarks:For those of you planning to visit Kaziranga, I strongly recommend to try both ways of exploring the woods, on elephant back and by a four-wheel drive. Both are different experiences and the type of terrain and sightings are different. While an elephant will be able to take you through the tall grass, a 4-wheel automobile will be able to enter deeper areas of the forest. If you wish to spend more time with nature, I recommend you all to explore all the 4 ranges of the national park. Don’t go by recommendations of people of which range to go in… Each area is distinct with different types of vegetation, landscape, flora and fauna concentrations.