On National Highway No 37, at 5pm. My driver stopped the car and said "Sir, Rhino", I was in slumber after a long drive from Guhawati, but his 2 words were enough to shake me out and I was up in a flash, my hand automatically reached to my camera bag (which, I always keep next to me). And I asked, “Where”. By now he had got the car off the highway and pointed at 10. o clock position from his seat. I looked, and could not believe my luck, my first Rhino in the Wild was about 30 meters off the National Highway. We parked, got off the car and saw 3 more vehicles standing in front of us, looking at the Rhino.
I lifted the Camera and clicked. The lush green grasslands had enough of food for this massive Rhino. After about 2 clicks I noticed something strange in my frame. Apart from the beautiful background of the National Park, and the grazing Rhino, I think I spotted a human being very close by, about 10 mts from the Rhino. I saw with my naked eyes, and could not believe what I was seeing. There was this youngster with his camera, who had decided to take some close ups of the Rhino. He was hiding in grass behind the Rhino and inching his way slowly close to the Rhino. My driver said, "Sir, today he is dead". There was no way we could have called the boy back as it would have alerted the Rhino as well. So we had no option but to wait and watch.
Now, this young one was carrying his luck just a bit far, he stood up and took a few shots of the back of the Rhino. But as all Human Beings are, never satisfied with what we have, he decided to take the front pose of this powerful denizen of the Jungle. He almost crawled from behind the Rhino and came on to his side. Continued for a few seconds, I could not spot him until he again decided to stand up, now he was only about 5 mts distance from his object. He stood, clicked a few shots, but the wind gave way. The Rhino smelled something in the air and turned his head to his right. To the utter disbelief of the Rhino there was this young guy standing too close and clicking away. Rhino raised his head and turned a fraction to his right. This was the final signal from him before the charge. By now, the youngster had realized that he had enough; he turned and dashed at a speed, which he himself could not have imagined. He obviously had under estimated the speed of the Rhino, who is known to run much over 50kms/hour in the tall grass.
I could not help but take some shots as a mute spectator. Rhino perhaps thought that he did not want to chase such foolish homo sapiens, waste his time, and energy on such silly issues. Though Rhinos are known to chase quite regularly in the park, but this one just wanted to conserve his energy for some more crucial encounter. The boy who had run quite a distance now decided to look back, to his liking the Rhino had decided not to charge. His family, which was in the car, now realized what a stupid thing their son had done. He got back to the car, a sign of relief, and achievement on his face.
This was on 29th April at 2pm when I was driving from Nameri National Park to Kaziranga. Well, we had to carry on, so we did. Reached Kaziranga still thinking of this episode, simply unbelievable.
Had a quick Lunch, a Gypsy for a Safari was pre organized with an expert naturalist called Punnen. We entered the beautiful Kaziranga, a unique National Park. Home to over 1500 one horned Rhinos, some Wild Elephants, Water buffaloes and not to miss the Royal Bengal Tiger. Despite the fact that there are about 100 Tigers in Kaziranga, the sightings of this elusive cat is not very common here.
We decided to go in the western range today, pre monsoon showers had already arrived. I was hoping that during our safaris atleast the showers spare us. And they did. Weather was overcast, light at times good, at times not so good, but the forest good and green as ever. Punnen, my naturalist realized I was not any ordinary tourist but was here to see the park as a whole, wanted to know about complete flora and fauna.
Our national parks today suffer from Tiger Tourists, everyone enters the park and expects to see a Tiger in first 5 minutes, and if they do not see the same then it is real tough for the driver and the naturalist. They do not accept the fact that Tigers exist in the parks. It is tough to educate such Tiger Tourists. They create so much of pressure on parks, drivers and guides that they do not wish to have Indian tourists inside the parks.
Punnen started to talk about flora, medicinal value of some wild flowers, shrubs and plants. It was a great learning to see what others normally do not wish to see.
We saw the dumps of Rhino droppings, they say a Rhino normally like to drop only at neat, clean and dry places. He visits the same place daily for few days. Then, our first Rhino during the safari, a mother and a calf, about 20 meters away from us, busy grazing. Took some shots and moved on, within next 50 meters another Rhino. After about 100 meters some Water Buffaloes, this was simply mesmerizing. People go to Africa to see Game; well I don't know how many of those have visited Kaziranga, a paradise tucked away in North east of India. So much to see, so quick, and Punnen was also very particular to ensure we did not miss out on birds, he showed a solitary spot billed pelican in the waters at some distance, red breasted parakeets, green bee eater, Black necked storks, white fronted Kingifisher and some more. It is always tough to click birds, need to have a fast and a high-powered optical zoom. I was carrying a 75-300mm lens on a Canon EOS 300D, a Digital SLR. Apart from the lens one needs to ensure that you have enough memory cards with you. At least 1GB and another 512MB is minimum recommended.
In about 1 hour I had seen plenty. Only thing we missed out was the Wild Elephant. But Punnen was positive, and said we have time still. We were returning, light was not very good, it was about 4.45pm, when Punnen spooted a herd of Wildl Elephants getting close to the water. Must been about 15 in the party, about 4-5 young ones in between the legs of their mothers and aunts, carefully shielded from any Predator, at times Tigers are known to take on baby elephants an baby Rhinos. They got close to the water, we were this side of the water. They perhaps smelled us. Only 2 Elephants came to water, perhaps to check out if it was safe to get close. Babies did not come. In the back drop were few Rhinos, and some water buffaloes, well what else can you ask for, this was as if a trailer of a movie, in a very short time we saw a lot. Not wholly, but substantially, enough to leave an indelible mark on our memories.
I came back after sun set, a sense of completeness, a sense of achievement, I say achievement because I do not know if few generations down the line would there be so much of Wildlife left on this planet. Rhinos, which have been saved from extinction in the park from a dwindling population about 20 years to over 1500 today. How many will be left by Poachers to survive in the Wild? How many would die due to loss of habitat? When would we humans wake up to the fact, to not to plunder our own resources? Our planet, our home, a realization that needs to dawn without more ado on us.