Our guide, Inram, picked us up and loaded us into the car for our two and a half hour drive to the Delphu River Lodge where we would be staying for the next three days. Consisting of thirteen cabins built on stilts, the lodge was very comfortable and the food served at a buffet was clean and satisfying.
The lodge was built inside the Kaziranga National Park, which stretches for 30 miles along the Brahmaputra River, but we had to drive on the highway to enter the park at any of the four gates, which we would do over the course of the next several days. First, though, before dinner our first night, Inram took us to a tea plantation, or garden as they refer to it, which was nestled against a mountain. There he proved his expertise in birding. Scope in hand, Inram walked a little away from us and started making low, hollow sounds with his jaw. He was searching for hornbills, and they were definitely returning his calls. Though it was only 4 pm, it was starting to get dark, and in half an hour it was definitely dusk. We were about to leave for the lodge when Inram looked up and sure enough we saw the silhouettes of six or eight hornbills heading over the mountain.
The next morning we got up early (sunrise at 5:00 am) and headed out for the westernmost gate of the Kaziranga. At a certain spot, we stopped and listened intently. What we heard, though we never saw them, were the hoots and calls of gibbons. Driving farther, we saw giant furry squirrels, orange-capped languors, and macaques. Inram pointed out myriads of song birds and shore birds, who follow the Brahmaputra River. There were also plentiful hog deer and swamp deer (the tiger’s favorite), but the sambar deer, which were common in the Rajasthani park at Sariska, were difficult to spot. About an hour later we came to the Brahmaputra and got out of the jeep. Splashing in a river pool were several dolphins, which we could tell by their dorsal fins as they surfaced for air. The river was wide and smooth, lined at this section with wide banks of fine, white sand. Even where there is a raised embankment, erosion is constant along the river as our driver pointed out several places during our safaris where the jeep trail had washed out only two years ago.
Over the course of the next two days, we would go on four safaris. We saw enormous water buffalo with horns six to eight feet across from point to point. They gathered in groups of ten or so. The rhinos were more than plentiful, as Kaziranga has been extremely successful in conserving them. In the mid 90’s, the rhino population here was down to about 200. Today there are over 2500 in the park, and you see them everywhere almost - wading in the swamps, crossing the trails, grazing. Unlike African rhinos who are strictly solitary except for mother and child, these Assam rhinos don’t mind congregating in the same waters. Not that they group in a herd, but we often saw three or more unrelated rhinos together.
Wild elephants were much more difficult to spot. At sundown one evening. we saw one elephant across the swamp who came down for a drink of water. She was the most pregnant animal we had ever seen. We could almost make out the shape of a baby elephant in the width of her girth, and her skin sank almost to the ground. She lumbered off into the jungle, and that was that.
Elephant rides were offered at Kaziranga, but we really didn’t feel in the mood. We saw the domesticated elephants with their mahoots dragging their chains that would be used to tie them up at night. And we also saw them walking along the road on our way back to the lodge.
The road alongside the Kairanga Park is actually a two lane highway used as the main thoroughfare for truck traffic. Riding back and forth from our lodge to the various park entrances in our small open jeep was a harrowing affair. In an effort to avoid the frequent speed bumps used to slow the truck traffic, our very good driver often was on the wrong side of the road. We never felt threatened, however, though the jostling on the road and in the park was bone jarring and made me a little carsick. At night, the roadside shacks and stalls really came alive as it became apparent that our lodge was very near a very popular truck stop.
On the last night of our visit, the lodge had a cooking class for all the guests. We met on a patio and watched as the chef moved along a series of open fire, wood burning, clay stoves. He used woks to cook his delicious lentils, squash, corn, peppers. and other vegetables, with coriander and cumin and lots of spices - but none too hot.