- Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India: Why I Say No to Wildlife Reserves in Future

For starters, I am not much of a wildlife tourism fan. I mean I love animals and respect them as much, but I feel they should be left alone in their environs. I wonder how much do they really enjoy green safari jeeps ferrying people through their abode, day after day. They are accustomed, I am told, in Kaziranga National Park. 

It was my first visit into a Wildlife National Park. I was somehow manoeuvred into visiting this land of rare one-horned rhinos (prime attraction), tigers, swamp deer, elephants, wild water buffaloes & various birds. I did what every common visitor to the park does- an early morning elephant ride, followed by an afternoon jeep safari. 

18/03/2014 (Morning)

Elephant Ride

We were still half asleep when we were picked up by our jungle jeep and dropped off at the elephant ride point. We along with another couple were the first ones to reach and were just enamoured by the peace and quiet of an early morning jungle. Within seconds we were out of our slumber. Some elephants were still asleep or perhaps lazy, because I could see Mahouts kicking and pulling them to make them stand. Then suddenly after about 15 minutes,  our quiet and peace was broken by loud cheer and jeer of, what can be best described as, a big Indian family. They were also going to join us on our exotic elephant ride. The children, surprisingly were much well behaved, or perhaps too scared to see huge elephants around. Then suddenly a baby elephant emerged from somewhere, which caught fancy of all the family adults and kids alike. 

Photo: Talat Khalid

He was patted, touched, photographed, laughed at, everything possible. The adults went a step ahead and started shouting and calling at another of their bunch who were just walking in the premise. They were all so excited to see each other, as if they hadn't met in years ! Then of course the cameras were pulled out. Oh no no ! First the phone cameras of mums, then papas, then sons, then uncles, then aunts, then cousins followed by real cameras of papa, mums, aunts and uncles. How can I miss there were one or two video cameras too. In the whole batch there were only 3 pairs (including me) standing aside, trying hard to ignore the ruckus and excitement. After all we were in the middle of a national park and it was only 5:00 am ! 

I wanted to enjoy the ride, views and sunrise so I didn't carry my camera. In fact riding an elephant and simultaneously trying to take pictures can be a bit tricky. Hence these borrowed pictures.

Elephant ride starts from point A and takes about an hour to drop the first batch at point B which is also the pick up point for second and last batch for the day. What happens in between in a slow-paced bumpy ride through the long wild grasses, stopping near few disinterested rhinos and herd of deer. The highlight of the trip is the opportunity to see one-horned rhinos right next to you while you acquire an advantage position perched on top of an elephant. But what I enjoyed more was the early morning sunlight in the jungle and riding through the tall wild grasses. 

Photo: villaexperts

Once off the elephant, I knew it had to be my last elephant ride. Previously also I have had issues related to wild animal taming, but after one ride, I felt guilty of having given in to this temptation. I knew I had to do my bit to stop this. These elephants are born to live free in the wild but at a very tender age, they are trained hard  and tamed enough to understand instructions, sounds of mahout for the pleasure of people like us. For sure the elephants do  not enjoy these rides themselves. Try looking into their eyes once, they are just so simple and innocent. They are really incredible and I would rather respect them and let them live however they are meant to by nature. 

18/03/2014 (Afternoon)

Jeep Safari

What followed post lunch, was a jeep safari on a designated trail marked for tourists in the Park. Again, rhino spotting was predictable and didn't excite me, though that's supposed to be the highlight. What I truly enjoyed were the forest grasslands, they reminded me of lessons in school where we studied about various African grasslands and wildlife. Jeep safari lasts 2 hours and also takes one through thick forested parts of the park which is very gorgeous. For once I heard, pure forest sounds of insects, birds & various other creatures. These sounds were so overpowering and beautiful that automatically we started talking in hushed tones to each other, as if our voices will break the sanctity of the place. Nevertheless, it was broken by the vehicle noise. The customary tiger paw marks on sand along with the comment "Tiger has just passed from here" and tiger paw scrapings at couple of tree trunks were shown. 

Having said all above, I have to confess, my personal highlight of the trip was the Wild Grass lodge were I stayed. Beautifully done up, colonial style building with no nonsense of TVs, ACs, Room service. The room rents were also far competitive than the rest in vicinity . My review for the lodge can be found here. We left Kaziranga on 19/04/2014 afternoon.

25/03/2014 (Morning)

Shilong, Meghalaya

It was around 8 in the morning, while still in bed, I open that day's English newspaper to read on front page that 3 rhinos were poached in Kaziranga between 17/03/2014 to 20/03/2014. I was aghast. Not so much by the fact that rhinos were killed, but by the fact that we were right there in that period, yet no one talked about it or even briefly mentioned it. Or is it that in a bigger picture, the tourism industry has become so immune to these problems that they do not even talk about it anymore. I felt guilty of being part of this make-believe world where everything seems fine, elephant rides are exotic and jeep safaris are adventurous. 

May be I am being too cynical, but I had to bring forth this point. I am now bound to question the bigger purpose of development of tourism around the protected/ forested areas. No doubt with development of tourism, the local economy has got a boost, people from villages have been employed in the forest department or hotels and lodges around. But, what happens if the entire brigade of tourist service providers and tourists themselves turn a blind eye or are unaware of the problems on ground ?

1 comment:

  1. Hah, I had a similar experience in Dandeli. You were still lucky to go so much inside of the forest and you saw animals on your way.