When travelers think of India and all that country has to offer most often the stops that come to mind include New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and even the state of Kerala where the ayurvedic lifestyle is at the forefront for wellness. However, India is also an excellent choice for the outdoors, and a good chance to spot a few species that are on the endangered list.
Travel to the state of Assam, which is in the northeast of the country, and you will find yourself in the country’s second largest state well-known for Assam tea and Assam silk. Surrounded by hills, major rivers like the Brahmaputra, thick forest, and an array of tea gardens, this part of India is a rare jewel to discover.
The state is also the home to the one-horned Indian rhinoceros and tigers (also on the endangered list) can be found in this region too.
Assam is home to wonderful areas of nature with seven national parks, and 16 wildlife sanctuaries. Manas National Park, a World Heritage Site, is one of the natural highlights that is a must visit. The park is in western Assam and borders the county of Bhutan near the Bhutanese Himalayas.
Expect dense forest alongside alluvial grasslands, low alluvial savannah woodland and the Assam valley semi-evergreen forest. This rich wilderness offers a great home for a variety of wildlife, including many endangered species. Of the many varieties to take note there are three unique and rare residents that stand out; the rare Pygmy Hog, the Hispid Hare, and the Golden Langur, all on the endangered list.
Of course, you can also see herds of elephants, which was one of the first sightings for me when I arrived in the park. Keep your eyes open for the Indian bison, barking deer and wild hogs. For bird watchers the Bengal florican and the great hornbill or rare, but fascinating sightings. Other avian species include Jungle Fowls, Khaleej’s Pheasant, Fishing Eagle, Falcon, Bee-eater, Lapwing, Plover, Sandpiper, River Tern, Woodpeckers, and Warblers.
Overall, there have been recorded 89 different tree species, 49 shrubs, 37 under shrubs, 172 herbs, 36 species of climbers, 15 species of orchids, 18 species of fern and 43 species of grass as well as 60 species of mammals, 476 birds, 42 reptiles, seven amphibians, 54 fish and more than 100 species of insects.
Several ecological lodges are located at the entry gate to Manas National Park. I stayed at Musa Jungle Retreat, just outside the southern gate of Manas National Park in an area known as the Bansbari range. “Musa Jungle Retreat” is synonymous with ‘Tiger’ in the local Bodo language and is located on eight acres with a variety of cottages and perfect for watching the sunrise.
You don’t want to miss the sunset either up on the verandah and the perfect end to the day while sipping the local Assam tea.
Visit on foot a nearby Bodo tribal village walking alongside a tea garden. This tribe, indigenous to Assam, have a rich culture of textile, handloom, and music.
As we were leaving the national park area after a few days of visiting and driving past the local tea plantations, our drive took a sharp turn, and our car was catapulted into a very large ditch. I had to climb out of the car on the opposite side of where I was sitting and after I was out of the car it was only then I saw the danger with the car careening on the side on two tires. The good news is the entire nearby village seemed to come out to either help or watch. It was no time before the car was back on all fours and ready to go. It was this experience however, that really allowed me to see the friendliness and spirit of camaraderie that exist among the people living in this rural area near the national park and how as they say, “it takes a village.”
Other mentionable national parks in Assam include Kaziranga National Park, which is home to largest collection of the one-horned rhinoceros. As of early last year, there were 2,613 one-horned rhinoceros left in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve. There are jeep or elephant rides to spot the wild animals as well as the collection of migratory birds if you visit from November to April.
Another location for an excellent sighting of migratory birds is Dibru Saikhowa National Park. In fact, this park has been coined one of the 19 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Take note however, there are no roads so for trekking you have come to the right place. There are also boat services, and sightings include the Royal Bengal Tiger, Hoolock Gibbon, and Leopards.
The Dehing Patkai National Park is in the easternmost part of Assam in the Dibrugarh -Tinsukia region and is part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve. The park is home to the Assamese Macaque, Himalayan Black bear, Marbled cat, Clouded Leopards, Wild Pig, Malayan giant squirrels, Python, King Cobra, and the Monitor Lizard. The list of birds is long including the Winged Wood duck, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-backed Vulture, White-cheeked Hill Partridge, Khaleej Pheasant, Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Wreathed Hornbill, and the Great Pied Hornbill.
Since many people do visit this part of India specifically for the tigers, the Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve is also a must on the list. The area is known as the Mini Kaziranga National Park and is located near the North Bank of the Brahmaputra River. For the best sighting of the rhinos, tigers, porcupines, Gangetic dolphins, lizards, cobras, Pintail duck, and Indian Rock Python visit from November to April.
If you have the time, I recommend a one-night visit to Majuli Island. In fact, this island is said to be named by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest river island.
The island is also eroding and in about 20 years it will completely have disappeared.
Now you reach the island by ferry, a one-hour ride across the mighty Brahmaputra River.
While there, I recommend the Maheswar Land Homestay where the owner is a young local. He will set you up in an authentic stilt house popular in the region, simple and clean and a short walk to nearby Mishing village. As you walk around the parameter of Maheswar Land Homestay you will spot water birds, and fishing nets in the water depicting local life. The island is about 136-squares-miles so there is plenty to see.
While on the island delve into the culture of the temples, which are worth the visit. One main temple on the island venerates the well-loved Indian god Vishnu, overall Majuli Island has been a sacred spot since the 16th century. The main monastery is Dakhinpat Satra where you can get an idea of the culture of the area by perusing an amazing collection of artwork, and interacting with the locals and priests who live there.
Indeed, for nature and cultural lovers the Assam region of India will not disappoint. Certainly worth the trip and a chance to glimpse a part of India that is slowly vanishing.
Where is Assam India
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