The year 2017 has been a year of travel and new beginning. This was the year when I met my wife Anjali. One thing that is common between us is TRAVEL & FOOD :-). Great isn't it! We started with Kaziranga National Park in Assam.
I have changed from a solo traveller to couple wanderer.
Our first proper travel together was in December last year to Assam (Kaziranga National Park) and Meghalaya. It was very different for me - from single backpacking, unplanned hotel check ins, typical bachelor holidaying, to well curated hotel stays, company and carrying more than two suitcases and two bags ????
I booked our travel through makemytrip, as we were short on time, but it turned out to be an unpleasant experience for us. The travel package was heavily overpriced. Except for our hotel stay and transport, we had to figure out the rest of the things like venue tickets etc. ourselves. Booking through a travel agent was a first time for me and l learnt many lessons.
My biggest takeaway from this trip was plan and book your holiday on your own however short of time instead of going through agents. It's cheaper and more satisfying too.
While I have lived my entire childhood and teenage in one of the North Eastern state called Arunachal Pradesh, I never had an opportunity to visit Kaziranga National Park and many other places in Assam. All I knew and saw was Guwahati, the capital of Assam.
It was a nostalgic feeling for me to be back in Guwahati which brought back some beautiful memories from my childhood like going shopping with my parents to places like pan bazaar and paltan bazaar, travelling in cycle rickshaws, speaking with the local people in their local language called Assamese, having the local dishes like momos etc. The city has really grown from the place i knew 24 years back - from few small hotels and named shops to a place filled with malls, five star hotels, branded stores, better roads and infrastructure. The entire city seems to have gone through a makeover in the last two decades ????
I have been eyeing to visit Kaziranga National Park for a long time because i have read about it so much during my school days. Kaziranga is known for its national park and tiger reserve spread over 430 square kilometers. It's also popular for the world's largest population of Indian one-horned rhinoceroses.
The main attraction in Kaziranga is its national park and I strongly recommend the Jeep Safari in the afternoon along with the elephant ride in the early morning to the Jungles. If you are lucky, then you could spot a tiger too. We saw one crossing our road, inside the jungle, in a flash. To be honest, I was scared to death ????
The national park is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, intersected by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra. You can see Rhinos, elephants and different species of birds around. It is also a visual treat for photographers.
We could not do the elephant ride, unfortunately, since our accommodation was booked almost 1.5 hours away from the national park. Adding to that, we only had a day in kaziranga as per the itinerary. However, we did book for the Jeep Safari in the afternoon that costed us around 2000 rupees on a non-sharing basis. You can also book the jeep on a sharing basis that will help reduce the cost per head.
The entire jeep safari took around 2 hours for us. It was an amazing experience with vast landscapes of jungles wherever you look. Anjali and I were busy taking pictures of Rhinos, big elephants and even baby elephants. We also saw many species of birds that flew from different parts of the country and world at this time of year to Kaziranga.
Surrounded with lush greenery and many tea plantations, Kaziranga, is a treat for the eyes. The people are humble and down to earth. Kaziranga gives a serene feeling of how humans can live in harmony surrounded by wildlife.
After the safari, we drove back to our hotel in Jorhat, which was frustrating because of the distance but our stop at a roadside teashop hotel for a cup of tea was a relief. We also tried the local betel leaf and areca nut, which almost got us high ;-). It's a common thing here to see local people chewing betel leaf with areca nut because it keeps the body warm.
Local food is something to try be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian. The foods are mostly prepared using mustard oil and might not suit some. I'm used to it since i have been brought up in Arunachal but Anjali didn't like it in the first instance and took couple of days to adjust.
Do not forget to shop some of the local pickles (made in mustard oil), spices and Assam tea at the end of your trip because it's tasty. The local lemon is something to look out for as its different from what we normally use and is found in these hilly places. It's more longer and more juicier.
Book your stay near the national park. Make sure you double check the distance from hotel to the national park. Do not book hotels, which are more than 10-15 kilometers away. Do not rely on travel agents alone because they may book hotels in places such as Nagaon and Jorhat, which are about 1.5 to 2 hours away from the park. The best would be to stay closer to the park to make the most use of your visit and time. Do go for the early morning elephant ride. The booking is either done the previous day at the ticket counter inside the park or online or through local agents. Winter season between November and February is the good time to visit Kaziranga because the weather is pleasant, besides various bird species migrating over. On the contrary, during summer, there are more chances of seeing tigers as they come out to drink water. Having said that you can still see Rhinos, elephants and various bird species. Monsoon season, which is between June and October, is not a good time to visit Kaziranga. The region experiences rainfall of 2,220 mm especially between June and September, which at times lead to floods. Carry warm clothes with you, as it can be slightly cold, at least for some of us Indians, coming from warmer climate regions. If you want to buy one then you could go to paltan bazaar in Guwahati where you have more varieties for cheaper price. The market is open from 11am to 9pm. On Sundays the market is slow and opens little late though christmas time is an exception.
It's good to have sunglasses and a hat during the safari. Phone charge can run out quickly because of cold weather so always carry a battery bank. Please be aware that, during winter, it gets dark by 4:30 pm and, by 6pm, its pitch dark. Do not miss the cultural dance performances of various tribes of Assam conducted by the tourism. The information is available at the ticket counters or you could always ask around the locals there and anybody will tell you.
From here, we travel to Shillong, also called Scotland of east.