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27 December 2006 @ 09:02 pm
For me, the image of Kaziranga has always been an endless expanse of tall elephant grass as far as the eye can see, under grey rain-laden skies, with rhinos and elephants. It was how I imagined it to be, more beautiful perhaps. The vast oasis, speckled with trees and puddles of muddy water - remnants of the annual monsoon flood - is a biodiversity hotspot. The eerie silence of the place is only broken by the territorial call of a Pallas's Fish Eagle, a shy hog deer crosses the road ahead as it moves from one pasture to another, a Brown Fish Owl is roosting peacefully by the roadside and suddenly we see it, the Great Indian Rhinoceros. It was close to us, so close that it made our guide a little uncomfortable. It was a wonderful specimen, a large male with his beautiful horn and armoured coat. He took a minute to investigate, as he tested the air for our scent. He soon got back to finishing off his green-grass supper - we were no threat to him, not us, not a bunch of puny men with cameras around their necks and junk food in their blood.

Mornings are when the birds come out of their lazy slumber, re-establish territories and look for things to revitalize their famished stomachs. Unfortunately, mornings are also the time when it painfully cold and misty. At the break of dawn, we found ourselves in a tea garden on the edge of a forest. It was not the grasslands this time, but foothills of a beautiful semi-evergreen forest. We put on "leech-guards" as we set about exploring the place on foot. The birds were all out to impress us. The colourful Scarlet Minivets, the Racket-tailed Drongos, the many species of babblers, the warblers and rest of the motley crowd were singing, calling and flying from tree to tree. The symphony of calls was suddenly broken by the dreaded noise of a large branch breaking somewhere inside the forest. Elephant. The guide and I stood silent for a minute, ears and eyes fixed in the direction of the noise. Nothing else happened and we decided to go on thinking it could have been monkeys. Soon, we came upon a troop of Capped Langurs. They were shy and as soon as they noticed us, climbed on to the highest branches of the tallest trees and watched us nervously from within the leaf cover. We had now moved on from the tea garden into the depth of the forest and the narrow path, cut through dense undergrowth, was strewn with dry leaves and twigs of the rainforest trees. With each step making the noise equivalent of a thousand elephants, the chances of seeing wildlife were slim, but on we went, optimistic as ever. At one place, when all was quiet, we were watching an Orange-bellied Himalayan squirrel, when suddenly we heard, what seemed to be, very loud gusts of wind whooshing across the forest floor. I'd never heard this before, not on television or reality and my mind raced to imaginary horrors. Was it an elephant charging, or was it rhino, a buffalo perhaps? Whatever it was, it sounded dreadful and as I stood there, startled and nervous, I asked our guide what it was, in my broken Hindi. Great Hornbill, taking off the ground, it was. Relieved, I got back to watching that Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel, which by now had done the disappearing act. After the good morning walk of birdwatching, we got back to the starting point and it was then that we noticed fresh elephant dung next to one of our parked vehicles. It really was an elephant that we had heard breaking those branches.

After a quick in-the-field breakfast of vegetable sandwiches, we were on our way into the Eastern range of the park. The Eastern range has tree cover to the left and streams and lakes to the right hand side. This is probably the best place to bird in Kaziranga and as we drove through the range, we had some really good raptor sightings - Pallas's Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard and even the omnipresent (for me) Black Eagle. It was along this range that I witnessed one of the most interesting sightings of this trip: A Spot-billed Pelican was gently swimming in the water surrounded by an army of Little Cormorants, a hundred or more strong. They first swam towards us and then turned and swam away from us and then turned towards us yet again. Community fishing? Maybe. Whatever it was, I'm glad I was able to capture it, at least a part of it.

That evening, the final jungle drive for me on the trip, there was only one thing missing from my list of Kaziranga's big five - the tiger. Going to the jungles as often as I've been going, there's one thing I've learnt: Cat sightings are sheer luck. You can't seek them, they grant audience when they want to and they decide for long we see them. Just as we entered the central range and crossed a wooden bridge, we saw a not-so-common Common Snipe and then an Adjutant stork and then a Grey-headed Fish Eagle eating Fish. The bridge was an interesting place with so much activity, that we decided to wait there a bit. We were rewarded with sightings of Swamp Francolins, a vulture trio and a soaring Pallas's Fish Eagle. We moved on and crossed a patch of burnt grass where the view line stretched for a few hundred yards and as our eyes were scanning the horizon, the left corner of my eye caught a flash of orange-yellow in the tall grass. "Tiger! Tiger!" - The guide and I spotted the elusive cat as it vanished behind the tall screen of grass within a fraction of a second. On another day, perhaps, it would have stayed there, growling arrogantly and looking at us with absolute disdain. That's the tiger for you - mysterious and secretive and powerful. Having had the tiger experience - a rush of indescribable excitement - we moved on. The sun had now set and we heard a large animal making it's way through the tall grass. It was heading towards us. The driver switched off the vehicle and we all waited silently in eager anticipation. Elephant? Buffalo? Rhino? Or a tiger? No. Not a tiger, it would not make so much noise in it's life time. It had to be a large herbivore. The noise grew louder and louder and minutes later a head popped out of the grass wall. A Rhinoceros. This time, one of the biggest in park. It did not know of our presence and gently walked towards us. It got on the road and turned towards our vehicle, still unaware of our presence. I was less than twenty feet away from this massive giant and could smell him clearly, even with my under-developed primate olfactory device. Surely, he must have caught our scent by now. But no, the wind was blowing from his side towards us and he was still confused because he had a faint idea of our presence. He took a couple of slow, watchful steps towards us. The driver put one hand on the ignition and his left leg pressed the clutch, expecting the animal to come at us any time now. I must tell you that it is a very pleasant sight staring into the eyes of a five thousand pound mountain of muscle just a few feet away. It could have been the last thing that I saw, but suddenly the rhino realized our presence and with a snort of disapproval, took a giant leap into the grass on the other side.

As the sun set behind the hills of the Karbi-Anglong and the crimson hues changed to the shades of night, we headed back to our resort, to spend time in front of fire and talk about the wonderful times we had in the jungle. Kaziranga was full of experiences to remember and I can't wait to go back there again.

After the morning walk in the dense forests, my woolen cap had been caught by many seeds.

Watching Birds in Panbari.

The tea gardens next to the Panbari Reserve forest

A family of Capped Langurs watches us from the safety of the tallest trees.

We spot a colourful Crimson sunbird

He's showing us the purple malar stripe

Finally, he comes out in the sun for a second to proclaim his territory for the day.

Road through Kaziranga. A domestic elephant walks along the road. The military vehicles in the picture show that all is not well in the region.

A Greater-spotted Eagle soars in the sky above

Just after the sun had set, I spot my first North-East Indian elephants. You know why the grass is called elephant grass, right? ;)

The matriarch is not too happy with our presence and shows that by kicking mud.

An Indian Roller settles down for the night

A Pallas's Fish Eagle sits on the best perch to scan it's territory

Grey-headed Fish Eagle

Hoary-bellied Himalayan Squirrel

Asiatic Wild Buffalo. A very large bull.

A female Wild Buffalo and calf, cooling off on a hot day

The Great Indian Rhinoceros!

The Rhino walks up close to us.

A Red-breasted Parakeet

A shy Kalij Pheasant crosses our path

Fishing Community: Spot-billed Pelican and Little Cormorants

Asiatic Wild Buffalo and calves walk into the sunset

Jungle Safari in open-top vehicles

The great Great Indian Rhinoceros makes it's apperance on the road, less than twenty feet away. My friends are in the white vehicle behind.

The Rhino looks towards us. Staring into the eyes of the Rhino was one of the best experiences on the trip. Photo was taken by a friend of mine (Pankaj) who was in the other vehicle

One giant leap and the rhino is in the grass.

Jayseakaredpirk on December 27th, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)
wow, that is one fantastic set of photographs!!
Praveen Garlapatipraveenkumarg on December 27th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
WOW! Many experiences these trips give to you as well as us.
Hope I was as passionate as you are. I enjoy your posts as much though.

This has been a very well written post that made me feel the place as you describe. Hope I can visit it sometime.
Shivakumarshivakumar_l on December 27th, 2006 04:01 pm (UTC)
beautiful photographs and a very neat writeup ...
the images of the raptors and the wild buffalo are really awesome
PS: in a smaller note - i guess ur laptop settings are still suffering - the saturation of blue - green and yellow seems to be too much - this is evident from the sunbird images.
Yathinyathin on December 28th, 2006 01:12 am (UTC)
> PS: in a smaller note - i guess ur laptop settings are still suffering

I think the Colour Management in the laptop is significantly different from other displays. I'll need to check which colour scheme/gamut it's using since it looks perfect on it, but slightly more saturated and warmer on other displays.
goofy_duck2004: Dogmatixgoofy_duck2004 on December 27th, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)
Lovely write-up and images. I noticed the Rhino has a split ear. Do you think that is some kind of marking or was it a result of a fight?
Yathinyathin on December 27th, 2006 11:50 pm (UTC)
It's because of a fight most likely.
Aragorn, Son of Arathorncode_martial on December 27th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC)
Umm... have to comment in notes-style on this :-)

- The second photo is mesmerising, as is the third one.

- The shots of the Crimson sunbird are awesome! Did you do some kind of post-processing for these?

- The black eagle looks really majestic.

- The elephant grass looks unbelievably tall. In fact, to me the elephants appear as miniatures!

- Nice rhino you've got there!
arucard2 on December 28th, 2006 12:09 am (UTC)
the rhino on the road (the first pic) is excellent. I believe a closer crop on that would be nice. The light falling off it's face is superb...

Love all the others.
(Deleted comment)
Yathinyathin on December 28th, 2006 01:10 am (UTC)
> those elephants in front of that grass aren't calves are they?

If they were, then the grass would be called "elephant calf grass" ;)

~time~fiery_fiona on December 28th, 2006 02:00 am (UTC)
rrrrhhhhhiiiiiinnnnnooooo! thats long and huge! Thanks for posting it.
Deepakdeepix on December 28th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
Beautiful pictures! Thanks for posting! :)
bchandan on December 28th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
The sunbird pic drinking nectar is fantastic. Great timing
Premnath Kudvapremkudva on December 28th, 2006 03:22 am (UTC)
Thanks all saved in you directory:-)
depontideponti on December 28th, 2006 04:22 am (UTC)
the write-up was as good as the pictures...enjoyed that very much, sitting wide awake in a hotel room, far, far away!

Thanks for the great post.
maxaudmaxaud on December 28th, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
absolutely in awe.
kejnkejn on December 28th, 2006 07:30 am (UTC)
exquisite, as always. and i was holding my breath reading your rhino story! good thing for you he got scared instead of pissed off. he would have completely shredded you guys and the car to microscopic pieces, yes? but what an absolute beauty! i don't remember african rhinos (as if i've ever seen one live, or even in a picture as good as this) being that beautiful and impressive! so i am curious; 1) what did he smell like? :-) and 2) how endangered are they?

the birdwatching picture is fun. i like it when you make humans the targets in your pictures. it's "manwatching". :-)

i love the picture of the sunbird sitting on the branch with the purple blossoms behind him. it's like he is camouflaging himself among the flowers.

we cultivate elephant grass as a garden variety here in sweden. i'm not sure if it's the same species though. this looks way bigger. i'd love to have some of that in my back yard. but then i guess i would have to get an elephant to be able to cut it. :-)

i also love your picture of the pelican surrounded by cormorants. it's like someone painted the picture full of abstract black squiggly lines. it's fun.
Yathinyathin on December 28th, 2006 08:21 am (UTC)
> completely shredded you guys and the car to microscopic pieces, yes?

They apparently hit their target and run away, but good that it did not happen.

> 1) what did he smell like?

Grassy! (He's a grass machine, isn't he?) :)

> 2) how endangered are they?

Very endangered. Probably fewer than 2000 in the world. This park had just 16 not many years ago and now has has the best population of these animals. And these are the largest rhinos in the world!
tracieprettyname on December 28th, 2006 08:04 am (UTC)
Just amazing..x I've been offline and your posts are a site for sore eyes :) You've made me want to paint again, is it okay if I do some more, soon?

Just incase I go offline again, have a wonderful New Year!

much love,
tracieprettyname on December 28th, 2006 08:07 am (UTC)
was gonna write and say 'sight even', but sight/site, in your case they both fit ;)..xx
Yathinyathin on December 28th, 2006 08:23 am (UTC)
> is it okay if I do some more, soon?

you're welcome.

And wishing you a wonderful new year too. :)
Just A Little Somethinganitab on December 28th, 2006 08:56 am (UTC)
absolutely amazing pictures, yathin!! i can't believe i missed all this beauty in my own state :) am going soon and hope to capture some of it too!
Yathinyathin on December 28th, 2006 09:15 am (UTC)
Re: wow!
Assam is absolutely gorgeous. There's still Manas, Nameri and Orang. You folks in North East are blessed with some of the best of nature. :)
ajat: Andre Nelajat on January 1st, 2007 08:59 am (UTC)
Kazi-rangaa Yay ! Those rhinos are mostly quiet sorts ... *Ogles piccies*
premj on January 17th, 2007 01:33 am (UTC)
Awesome pics & write up. Good job!