A visit to the Dibru-Saikhowa national park
Here are two reasons why you shouldn't approach a wild buffalo on a muddy island in the Dibru-Saikhowa National park on foot, for the perfect Kodak moment. One, the chances of the buffalo not taking kindly to your photo –op are quite high. Secondly, you can't run on mud but the buffalo can. Point taken, I hope.
But of course if you are ignorant and handicapped with one of those stylish looking random mega pixel cameras, be my guest. In case, you are still alive after that here are some pointers towards spending your time there.
Dibru-Saikhowa national park is one of the five national parks of Assam and one of the 34 hotspots in the world. It is one of the few river island national parks in the country. It is also one of the 14 biosphere reserves in India. It provides the eye soothing sights of migratory and rare endangered birds, the wild feral horse, the hoolock gibbon and the river dolphin among other delights.
First on the itinerary of the tourist is the Maguri-Motapung Beel. Dibru-Saikhowa is a bird watchers paradise and thus for any avid bird lover, a trip to the Maguri- Motapung Beel(lake) is a definite must.
The lake which has six villages strewn on either side of it is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is host to 374 different species of birds out of which 50 are migratory.
Boat rides are made available to tourists as part of their package tour when they stay at the nearby cottages and they can be availed individually also.
Bird and man co-exist harmoniously on the lake. Fishermen busy at work set jengs(traps made of Bamboo poles amidst water hyacinth) to capture fish and hundreds of birds glide smoothly on the still waters of the lake; each in their own domain and each completely unmindful of each other's business. Time seems to be an alien concept here. The only occasional disturbance is the advent of boatloads of tourists who attempt to get close to the seemingly still birds.
My furtive attempts to get close to the birds were unfortunately not considered furtive enough by them who made it a point to fly away as soon as the boat neared them. Of course, my non-digital SLR camera didn't help matters.
For the romantics among you, the ruddy shelduck, locally known as sakoi sokuwa or ram kong will strike a chord with you. The male and the female always stay together in pairs. It is said that the two ducks are inseparable and are always together but if one of them gets killed the other starves itself to death. I spent many hours trying to capture it on my camera and finally did manage to. The rows of open billed storks locally known as hamuk bhonga also made a pretty sight but again lack of a telephoto lense weighed against me. Moral of the story – Carry a pair of binoculars and a good camera with telephoto lenses if you want to capture the memories of your encounters with the birds.
In Dibru-Saikhowa, the Hoolock Gibbons are yet another example of the harmonious relationship between man and animal. Hoolock Gibbons are the second largest among Gibbons. In India, their habitat is confined to the North east and they are an endangered species.
Unlike any protected sanctuary, Hoolock Gibbons are regarded as almost divine by the locals here and found in the villages itself. They stay in the coconut or betel nut trees in the fields adjacent to the houses.
My quest for finding Hoolock gibbons ended quite surprisingly and prematurely as we just rode into three people who had taken upon themselves to provide bananas for breakfast to the gibbons and a group of six testosterone charged monkeys were making full use of this early morning feast.
ext on the itinerary were the Kekjori trees. Kekjori trees are unique trees, the biggest of which can take up more than 0.4 hectares of land. At first glance they bear a resemblance to the mangroves of the Sundarbans on account of their hanging branches whose roots join together to give it the appearance of tightly knit coconut husk.
A visit to look at these trees requires a fifteen minute boat ride to an island in the middle of the Brahmaputra and about a half an hour walk before you can see the trees. The ugly signs of environmental disaster were there to be seen as trees dangled precariously on the edge of soil which had been devoured by the floods of the river.
The path to the Kekjori trees is basically a cow trail which leads farther and farther into the forest. So I would not advice young parents to drag their young ones along with them. On the way you will encounter a lot of salix trees, the wood of which is used to make cricket bats. Dried river beds and semi dry river beds are a common sight in winter though in the monsoons walking is not necessary as boats go right near the trees.
Dusk was falling as we were returning from the trip and the sight of the small thickets and the friendly tinkering bells of the cows made me forget that I was in the midst of a forest, although, a small one. I was about to be reminded.
Sontu and I were talking about the benefits of walking and as is my habit I was walking with my head down when suddenly Sontu grabbed my arm and cautioned me to stop. I looked up, absolutely still with anticipation, but there was nothing in sight. Suddenly, out of the bushes emerged a huge black buffalo and behind it ambled along a tiny calf. From a distance, to my untrained eye they seemed just like a domestic buffalo but there was something forbidding about its size. We stopped in our tracks and watched the buffalo and its calf melt into the thickets. “Better not to cross paths with them, especially when it is with a calf” mumbled Sontu.
After seeing the buffalo, I queried Sontu about tigers to which he casually replied “Yes tigers are there and they do roam around but they are alright. They don't trouble you.” So there it was, just a simple matter of a tiger roaming around in the open like we have stray dogs in the neighbourhood, the friendly neighbourhood tiger. My respect for Sontu grows.
On the final afternoon of my stay in Dibru-Saikhowa, we set out in quest of the river dolphin.
Unlike other aquatic creatures, dolphins are friendly towards humans and do not disappear when they sense that humans are nearby.
My guides quickly pointed out that there were usually some fixed spots in the river where it was virtually guaranteed that you would sight the dolphin but that guarantee was slowly getting challenged due to environmental hazards.
Time seems to be of no essence once you are on the river. We passed a group of open billed storks huddled together on the edge of a sandbank. In the gloomy afternoon light and the cold wind, they seemed to be motionless and meditating in the evening sunset, unmindful of our boat in the distance. A solitary snake bird seemed to be staring into the sunset. The sense of timelessness seemed to have enveloped the birds too.
More than half an hour passed and the signs were looking depressing when suddenly we saw a motor boat coming towards us. It was one of the fishing boats that was trudging through the waters with its load of bundles of water hyacinth. Two men were perched atop the corrugated roof of the boat and one of them signaled with a wavy motion of his hand. Sontu nodded his head and the man again held up his two fingers to flash the victory sign. That was it. Two dolphins had been spotted somewhere ahead. We were filled with fresh enthusiasm and all thoughts of returning were banished for the moment. But the joy was short-lived. After fifteen more minutes of gliding on the waters we decided to call off the trip and returned.
For a man in hurry, Dibru Saikhowa is not the ideal place. Everything about the place and the Brahmaputra seems to be calming. Some places remained unexplored. The trip to see wild feral horses requires a day's journey on boat from Guijan, and so does, Laika, the village inhabited by people of the Mishing tribe where tourists can stay over for the night. Go with some time in your hands and let the Brahmaputra guide you. You will come back a slower and calmer person.
HOW TO REACH THE PARK:
- The nearest airport to the park is at Dibrugarh, which is located at a distance of 40 km from Tinsukia.
- The nearest railway station is also at Dibrugarh which is linked with Guwahati by a broad gauge.
- Tinsukia is the nearest town which is about 10 km and 50 km away from Gujjan and Dhola entry points, respectively.
- Private as well as state transport buses are available from Guwahati to Tinsukia. From Tinsukia town to Guijan, share autos, vans and private taxis are available.
- Guijan Ghat and Saikhowa Ghat are the two entry points for tourists.
Advance booking can get you an accommodation at the Gujjan Forest Inspection Bungalow. Else, you can stay in the private hotels in Tinsukia near the railway station. There are also private ecotourism cottages in Guijan in Tinsukia managed by locals.
1. Wave ecotourism cottage
2. Banashree Eco – Tourism
Mobile: 9435335462, 9954594940
3. Dibru-Saikhowa Jungle Camp
Ideal period of stay – 3 days and 2 nights.
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
Dibru-Saikhowa enjoys hot summers and cool winters but November to April remains the best time to visit the sanctuary.
Best season for seeing wild feral horses, orchids and visiting the village of Laika – Monsoon.
Best season for watching migratory birds and Hoolock gibbons – winter.
Photos by the author and Wave Eco Tourism