You are here: Rediff Home » India » Get Ahead » Leisure » Summer Special
Search: The Web
  Discuss this Article   |      Email this Article   |      Print this Article

Assam diary: Poachers, rhinos and tigers!
Archana Pande

Photo by STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images
Get news updates:What's this?
June 28, 2007

An earlier visit to Kaziranga National Park in Assam, did not stop us from planning a visit to the Orang Sanctuary, yet another abode of the famous Indian one-horned rhino, also in Assam.

We were very excited since the guest cottage we planned to stay at was situated right inside the jungle.

Orang was only 31 km from Tezpur. We left in the late afternoon and our faithful Premier Padmini did not protest one bit as we bumped along NH-52 and the link road towards the reserve.

Where tigers rest in your lap

The road wound through swaying green fields with no humans apparent for miles around. We seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into uninhabited land with no signs of the reserve. There seemed to be no one around whom we could ask for directions either.

Night sets in early in Assam and we were really getting worried. Turning back was not an option we could consider yet. Luckily, we soon reached a tiny wicket fencing indicating the sanctuary's boundaries.

One of the duty guards gave us directions to the rest house but on seeing our confusion agreed to accompany us. His condition -- we drop him back at his post. That seemed reasonable and we were soon at our lodging. It was almost dark and the road ran amidst tall trees that cast menacing shadows.

My husband offloaded our luggage and drove off with the guard. The cottage seemed comfortable enough with mosquito meshing, clean sheets, and clean bathrooms. The rest house attendant, who was also the cook, told us to be careful because poachers frequented the park at night. This sounded ominous especially since the electricity went off as if on cue!

Jaldapara Sanctuary: Up close with the rhino

To be doubly secure, I decided to bolt the doors. Horror of horrors, the door lacked bolts of any type. I was not expecting Godrej [Get Quote] locks but a simple sliding latch? Something had to be done. I stacked up all our suitcases against the door knowing fully well they would not deter any determined intruders!

In the candlelight I put my daughter to bed and we waited for my husband to return. After half an hour I began to be really worried because the guard post was close by. I called out to the attendant but there was no reply. Suddenly I heard faraway shots. I panicked.

Fed on a staple diet of Bollywood movies, I expected to see the poacher come scrambling into our room to take shelter from the guards. I pushed the sofa and dining chair to strengthen the door and kept a sharp ear for any more sounds. The shots seemed to be coming at regular intervals. Were they coming closer or were my ears playing tricks?

There was a sudden knocking on the door and I broke out into a sweat. Were we about to be dragged out as hostages? A hundred possibilities flashed through my mind, each worse than the other. With great determination I moved the fortifications and opened the door to see my husband.

He grimly recounted his experience of actually having chased the poachers! The guard and his boss both requested a ride to the rest of their troops and enroute ended up chasing the villains themselves. Seeing them going deeper into the jungle the guards agreed to let go of the services of their 'transporter' and directed my husband to the rest house with a stern reminder to stay indoors.

Go out in the jungle? In the night? With gun toting poachers around? I admit to having a sense of adventure but this was stretching it a bit. The caretaker was still missing and I would not let anyone go out to investigate his abode. Suddenly, electric supply was restored and life did not seem as threatening.

My daughter woke up with the racket we were making. She had also heard some sounds outside the bathroom door. Not wishing to scare her, we ignored them and waited for the comforting daylight. Feeling reassured that all of us were together we ate some of the packed dinner and retired for the night. It was already past 11 pm.

Next morning, we awoke to the sounds of a stirring forest. Birds and insects set up an orchestra that rose to a crescendo followed by a sudden silence and then an encore. There was a gentle breeze and the golden sunlight created enticing patterns through the trees.

A wonderful aroma of breakfast cooking indicated the attendant was back at his job. Were the earlier events just a dream?

Seeing we were up, the attendant dragged us off to excitedly show something. That 'something' turned out to be the footprints of a tiger, right outside our room! Apparently he had walked around the building at night, and those must have been the sounds my daughter heard at night!

I was in two minds; was I happy about it or scared? I could not tell. Thank god we did not go out to investigate at night.

Finally we went off to see what we had come to see -- the rhino.

We were lucky to see several rhinos and also some deer. They did not seem to mind being gaped at by humans or photographed, willingly turning in all directions to give us the correct camera angles. One of the calves came close enough for us to touch its armour-like skin � you bet we didn't. We had had enough adventure and did not wish to be chased by a group of angry rhinos!

The pond had an assorted group of birds all twittering away among themselves.

Post lunch we made our way home, having got much more than we had bargained for. The next day we read of the poacher incident in the newspaper. Seeing the majestic rhino in its natural surroundings is something all visitors to eastern India must undertake. The lucky few may have this kind of 'free' excitement thrown in.

Responsible citizens must contribute in whatever way possible to combat the poaching menace. A good beginning can be to avoid purchasing products made from parts of 'protected' or endangered animals or plants. Man is turning out the main destroyer of the Nature that has created us. This must stop!

 Email this Article      Print this Article

© 2007 India Limited. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer | Feedback