Just a thought about jungle fills more oxygen into my lungs and today I was feeling I could climb Mt Everest without an oxygen cylinder. I love travelling into jungle; I want to experience each and every National Park. At the same time I accept, I have great affinity about north-eastern forest ranges of India and because of that every winter I can be found dwelling in to these jungles.
After visiting Kaziranga year-on-year, this year I was going to visit one such place in Assam that has always been in my wish list. It was ‘Manas National Park’ one of the pristine wildlife destinations in Indian subcontinent.
As I started planning for Manas first thing I did was applied for long leaves from work and next thing I kept my logistical plan simple. I booked my air tickets, arranged accommodation at Bansbari lodge and left other things to be dealt as and when they arrive.
I flew in to Guwahati from Mumbai and landed at Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport. After a quick visit to Kamakhya Temple at Guwahati, I directly headed for Manas. Barpeta road, which is the town at the entrance to Manas, is about a 3-hour drive from Guwahati but we were able to cover it in 2 hours and 45 mins as roads are good and after leaving Guwahati city there was not much traffic. In north-east regions of India sun sets quite early and it was almost dark when I reached Bansbari lodge.
I quickly completed check-in formalities and met Mr. Shyamal Dutta who manages this beautiful lodge and witnessing transformation of Manas since more than a decade.
Taking a long sip of hot coffee, Mr. Dutta said, “So Mr. Bhanu you know, Manah (he used to call it Manah) is named after river Manas which flows across the length of the park and is life-line for 543 different species of plants, 55 species of mammals, 380 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles, and 3 species of amphibians?” I had some idea about rich biodiversity of Manas but these figures made me re think if there is any other national park in India with comparable check-list.
I exclaimed, “Wow! Considering numbers, this should be big brother of Kaziranga”.
Mr. Dutta adjusted his eyeglasses and said “In 80s it was not only big brother of Kaziranga but also many other national parks in India, it was like a jewel in India’s Wildlife crown. But it has seen a lot of turmoil during 90s and was almost abandoned for some time. In 1986 UNESCO declared it as a World heritage site. [Enekua anubhav hoi jen puroni Manox ubhoti ahibo] (But now it seems Manas will be revived.)”. Hetook a pause and coming out of his thoughts introduced me with Umesh Das, a young naturalist and guide who was my companion during the entire duration of stay.
Umesh saw 5-10 Bengal Floricans previous day, sighted a clouded leopard few days ago and two black panthers three days back. After hearing all this, I felt like to start my safari right at that moment, but unfortunately night safaris were not permitted.
Next day morning we reached entrance gate before time, and had to wait for some time to get permit and meet our forest guard who was young and appeared to be a dynamic person. Here at Manas we have option to book safari for entire day and it was an obvious choice for me. I was happy, excited and thrilled. I was going to spend whole day where I want to spend rest of my life.
Before jumping in to jungle safari, let me take a moment to brief about the geography of this national park. Manas National Park is divided into four ranges – Bansbari, Panbari, Mothanguri and Kaklabari. I was staying near Bansbari so my journey started from there.
As soon as we entered the park we saw a curious hog deer peeping through the bushes on the left side of the road and many peafowls on other side. Friday morning, pleasant weather, misty air and peafowls dancing to impress their female, what else one can expect from a wonderful welcome; but there was something more interesting waiting for me.
Suddenly heard a loud alarm call of a barking deer from the right side of the road behind a large Semal tree. Based on my jungle lore, I was almost sure it was not a false call. Soon after two peacocks flew from the ground and landed on a nearby tree, and joined deer in alarming. I was sure of a carnivore in the vicinity. We decided to stay there for some time, hoping that big cat may appear at any moment. Suddenly Umesh screamed, “Leopard on the tree”, it was on a distant Semal tree, a female leopard, ready to leap down in to the tall elephant grass. I only got a glimpse, just before it jumped on to the ground and vanished forever. I could not manage a shot but sighting a leopard with-in few mins after entering the jungle was quite a breath taking experience.
After quite a wonderful welcome we decided to go to Bhuyanpara in search of Bengal Floricans. Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) is found in an extremely patchy distribution in the terai grasslands from Uttar Pradesh to Assam and in some patches of Arunachal Pradesh in India. As per latest estimation only 400 Bengal Floricans are left in Indian jungles. Umesh has seen few of them previous day, so he was quite confident.
I’m a big admirer of Jim Corbett’s book ‘Jungle Lore’ and I learned from this book to live each and every moment in jungle, absorbing as much jungle lore as I can. So even when I was going in search of Bengal Floricans, I had my eyes and ears wide open to observe the jungle around me. As I was passing through the grass lands of Bhuyanpara, I saw many passerine birds jumping here and there.
Saw ‘Fire fronted Serin’ couple of times, posing till the moment I press half-shutter and every time I felt I was half a second late to capture them in my camera. But some other birds like ‘common stone chat, large wood shrike, red collared dove, rosy Minivet, green imperial pigeon’ were quite tolerant to our presence and I saw many of them sitting by the side of the road.
On a right side tree I spotted a ‘Green-billed Malkoha’, a lifer for me, but before I could finish patting my back, it noticed me and flew from one tree to another and gone inside the deep jungle. I have seen two other species of Malkoha found in India, ‘Sirkeer Malkoha and Blue-faced Malkoha’ and one thing is common among all of them, is their skulking behavior. It is very hard to find them sitting on an open perch.
We reached Bhuyanpara at around 9:00 AM, climbed on a forest department watch tower and started search for critically endangered Bengal Floricans. It didn’t take much time, again confident and experienced eyes behind binoculars did magic. Umesh found one male florican, it was far away from the watch tower and I could manage only a record shot. But considering it ‘Bengal Florican’ I was happy, I became happier later because that was the only bird I saw during my entire stay.
Our next destination was Mothanguri, where we were supposed to take one hour break for lunch at forest camp. Now we were exiting from the grassland biome and entering into the forest biome of Manas. Biogeographic provenience of Manas is a combination of Sub-Himalayan Bhabar Terai leading up to Sub-Himalayan mountain forest, which is unique and makes it one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world.
As we were passing through the thick and throbbing foliage of Manas we encountered a female Rhino with a calf. Based on my forest experience no man in his full mind will try to intimidate a female Rhino when she is with calf, so we stopped at once and were ready with reverse gear on. Mother was watching us and after observing for few minutes she made her mind to cross the road in front of us. Mother came first and calf accompanied her like an obedient son. But after seeing some unfamiliar objects he couldn’t resist his curiosity and ran towards us. We were excited and at the same time alert as it could be dangerous if mother also starts running after him. But after coming for few meters he stopped, watched carefully and returned back to her mom. It took some time for us to overcome the excitement we had few seconds back. Encountering a female Rhino with calf at a close distance on a narrow road, had definitely given shiver down our spine.
Mothanguri is a hilly terrain and offers a beautiful landscape view of entire forest. Forest bungalow is constructed at a strategic location by one side never ending forest and other side river Manas. One can wish to spend most of his life in such tranquility.
I had my lunch in forest mess and climbed the dock to sit and relax for some time absorbing the beautiful sight as much as I can. I was relaxing in a cozy arm chair when I saw some movement on the roof top of the dock. I saw an ‘Ornate flying snake’ jumped and caught a lizard. It was hanging with lizard in its mouth, lizard was calm not fighting back; may be due to the effect of venom. Ornate flying snakes are mildly venomous snakes but I think its mild venom was sufficient to keep the prey calm. Finally it declared its prey, started swallowing and finished. Snake was there in the same position as if nothing happened. After all this is the law of nature so I decided to leave the snake with its privacy and began my afternoon safari.
Afternoon we drove from Mothanguri to Bhutan border. As we know Manas National Park joins Royal Manas Park in Bhutan, and there is no defined boundary. There is a check post which declares the end of Indian Territory and start of Bhutan. Tourists are allowed to go till this check post.
The road which goes up to Bhutan is a hilly offering mesmerizing views and vivid variety of avian species. We spotted Great Pied Hornbills, Scarlet Minivet, Kaleej Pheasant, Red Jungle Fowl, Sultan tit, Asian Fairy Blue bird, Changeable Hawk Eagle, and heard call of Long-tailed Broadbill.
Time was running short we had only few hours left. I realized even full day safari was also not sufficient for such a magical jungle. We descended from the high altitude and entered in to the grass lands. As we took left turn and went around 500 meters I screamed, “What is that? Seems something black sitting by the side of the road.” By the time we could realize what it was, our driver completely unaware of it, crossed and only stopped when we shouted ‘Black Panther’. By now we came around 100 meters ahead of the spot where it was sitting. Without losing any extra time he drove the vehicle in reverse gear, and once again we spotted that magnificent cat. Our actions and noise alerted it ahead of time and as we saw each other for the second time it took no time to vanish inside the tall grass behind. We lost leopard in the morning and Black Panther in the evening in to the same elephant grass. This is the beauty of these jungles, as name says ‘Elephant Grass’ even elephants can vanish in to these grass and no one can spot where they are. I said better luck next time to myself and made a move. But my eye contact with those elegant topaz befitted eyes is a moment that I’ll cherish throughout my life.
We met a herd of elephants enjoying their evening meal on the way returning back to lodge. They were busy in their business and we were lost after losing the Black Panther.
Sun was all set for dimming its light, birds were returning back to their evening roosts, night jars and owls became active and we could feel the transformation of jungle. Soon after a new world will come into life and new rulers will rule the jungle till next sun rise.
After reaching Bansbari lodge took hot shower and ordered chilled beer and I said to myself, ‘You have earned your beer today’.
|Best season to visit –
The best time to visit Manas is from Nov to April. During summer (Mar-May), the temperature is between 28 and 38˚C, with occasional rains. This is the time when probability to spot animals is more. One should avoid visiting Manas during monsoon as it receives heavy rainfall during monsoon season.
How to reach –