Manas National Park, Assam – Safari

Manas National Park lies in the state of Assam in North East India. It is located at the foothills of the eastern Himalayan mountain range and is contiguous with the Royal Manas National park in Bhutan. The park is known for its rare and endangered endemic wildlife.

It was declared as a National Park in 1990 and it is also a Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO declared Natural World Heritage site, a Project Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve in Assam.

The park gets its name from the River Manas which passes through the park and is a major tributary of the mighty River Brahmaputra. The Manas river also acts an international border dividing India and Bhutan.

(some of the information in this post has been extracted from the official website of Baksa district)

The 950 sq km park is divided into 3 ranges – the western range which  is based at Panbari, the central at Bansbari near Barpeta Road and the eastern at Bhuiyanpara near Pathsala.

The Bansbari range is the only one accessible to visitors, the other ranges having poor connectivity and insufficient infrastructure. Hence most tourists visit Bansbari and then spend some time inside the forest at Mathanguri on the Manas river at the Bhutan border.

 

Safaris –

The major activity for tourists at the park is of course the Safari.

Elephant and jeep safaris are the only way to explore the park. The safaris are accompanied by guides and armed guards.

The 4-wheel drive petrol jeeps are certainly more comfortable but riding on an elephant makes more of the terrain accessible, especially in the grasslands. These rides are shorter than the jeep safari and are of a couple of hours duration as compared to 4-5 hours by jeep.

One can also experience a 25 km raft ride on the River Manas river that begins at Mathanguri inside the park and ending downstream at Bansbari.

It is to be noted that in winters, it can get very very cold in the mornings, so make sure to dress as warmly as possible, including caps, masks, gloves, socks, thermal inners and thick jackets. Yes that is what I wore and yet froze 😀 but those who are tougher, may not find the cold such a big challenge.

 

Facilities – 

There are washrooms at intervals of 4-5 km within the park but be prepared for extremely basic facilities. However it is a relief to have the option especially on a 5 hour safari during winters 😀

Park flora and fauna –

The national park is densely forested and is a mix of deciduous forests and alluvial grasslands which cover almost 50% of the Park.

It is well known for its rare and endangered wildlife which is not found anywhere else in the world like the Assam Roofed Turtle, Hispid Hare, Golden Langur and Pygmy Hog.

Water buffalo, One horned rhinos, Malayan giant squirrels, Barking deer, Elephants etc are also some of the species that can be spotted.

Manas is also a bird watchers paradise with  more than 400 species of birds. Peacocks are a familiar sight, with a large population permanently patrolling near the main gate 😀

The endangered Bengal Florican, Giant Hornbills, Jungle Fowls, Bulbuls, Brahminy Ducks, Kalij Pheasants, Egrets, Pelicans, Fishing Eagles, Serpent Eagles, Falcons, Scarlet Minivets, Bee-Eaters, Magpie Robins, Pied Hornbills, Grey Hornbills, Yellow footed pigeons, Cormorants, Indian Roller, Ruddy Shelducks, Khaleej pheasants etc are some of the species found here.

Stay options –

Within the park premises, the forest department has a guest bungalow at Mathanguri near the river side and an NGO called Manas Ever Welfare Society (MEWS) also has a small facility for stay. MEWS aims to work for the preservation of the rich bio-diversity of the park and also to develop eco-tourism activities in the park. These stays are said to be extremely basic though.

Outside the park entrance there are a few more lodges and cottages.

Tourists can also opt to stay at the nearby town of Barpeta Road which is 20 km away but currently the road to the town is under construction and the ride is rather bumpy. The town has a few budget hotels as well as better quality stay options too.

There are also a few resorts in the vicinity of the park entrance, ranging from basic to luxury, which are good choices, considering the proximity to the safari gate and the beauty of the surrounding landscape which mostly consists of vast tracts of private tea estates.

Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp where I stayed, is also a charming community based eco camp dedicated to rehabilitating unemployed elephants and the proceeds from the camp are utilized entirely for the care of the 2 elephants that they have adopted. They also arranged my elephant and jeep safari with their in house guide who was very knowledgeable. They are located barely 2 km from the park gate.

My Safari experience –

As mentioned earlier, my safari was arranged by the Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp where I stayed.

Elephant Safari –

The day I arrived, I went on the elephant safari at 3 pm. The camp jeep took me to the Park gate around 2 km away and there I clambered onto the elephant via the raised pavilion that has been built for that purpose.

The 2 hour safari took me through the grasslands of the park, with the elephant wading through streams in parts.

Riding on an elephant is quite a rough experience and not for those with back problems or other similar issues. One can hold on tight with the help of the handle that is provided but it is easy to keep slipping off while trying to juggle camera, phone and life in general 😀 However I really enjoyed the experience but will not make the mistake of doing this on a full stomach again. You can literally feel your food getting ground and digesting 😀 This is best done early morning or after an early lunch.

My mahout and guide were from the Smiling Tusker camp and they took a great care to help me spot as many birds and animals as possible.

There are around 34 of the famed One horned rhinos in this park and I really wanted to spot them. However, 33 of them decided to hide that day and we spotted only one of them and that also for a very brief period where he mostly showed us his butt … But of course, with my poor safari luck *eyeroll* !!!

The sightings are said to be much higher usually. Anyway, I was happy that I could at least get to see this chap, mainly due to the perseverance of my mahout and guide 😀

 

 

We also went past an elephant camp that was within the park, where the forest department takes care of the elephants that work for them.

Taking pictures while perched on an elephant, is not the easiest thing to do but I managed a shot of a beautiful water body with the Bhutan border in the backdrop.

The jeep safari –

Jeep safaris are far better for photography and the next morning I set off really early for the 6 am safari. The camp safari jeep was my vehicle and we took off from Smiling Tusker and in a few minutes we reached the park gate and began the quest.

On this safari our rhino luck failed us yet again but we did manage water buffaloes, a glimpse of a Malayan giant squirrel, some wild elephants and black faced langurs who put on an acrobatic show for us by jumping from tree to tree. Slim pickings of course but remember what I told you about my safari luck !!!

Other safari visitors we were told, managed to sight several rhinos. Oh well, all the more reason for me to go back again 😀

Breakfast was packed for us by the camp staff and we picnicked by the gorgeous banks of the River Manas, and had our puris, channa, boiled eggs, apples and juice with the stunning landscape of Bhutan in view across the river. An experience to relish and cherish indeed !!!

The return drive brought us more langurs and a lone barking deer that I managed to shoot through the bushes from where it was looking at us suspiciously.

The birds were kinder to us and Yellow footed pigeons (that initially looked like hundreds of yellow leaves), Serpent  eagles, Cormorants, Red Selducks, Indian rollers, Peacocks, Bee eaters and a Khaleej pheasant couple with the male and female zipping out of the thickets in a blur, gave my camera the images it was hungering for.

 

However, the Hornbill that I was longing to see, totally eluded me but I was happy to settle for a Red vented Bulbul which pleasantly surprised me with a little green berry in its mouth. Something to make an amateur photographer feel good about 😀

The safari of a leisurely 5 hours, ended at 11 am and we were driven back to the camp after dropping off the armed guard at the park gate.

Season and Timings –

November to April is the peak season and the park receives several tourists both Indian and International.

The park is completely closed due to heavy rainfall from June to September. Depending on the weather, it opens up partially in October.

May is peak summer and the park is partially open. It is best to check with the park officials before planning a trip.

The year round temperatures vary from 10 degree C to 37 degree C.

It can get really very cold during early morning winter Safaris in the open jeep and it is best to be securely clothed in appropriate warm wear, nose mask and all 😀

 

Contact details –

More information about the park is available at this website of Manas National Park.

 

For more pictures see My Facebook – Manas National Park, Assam – Safari (coming soon). Also catch me on My Twitter and My Instagram

Please Note – This is a collaboration, based on the invitation of Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp and I thank them for hosting me with their warm hospitality.

The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.

Dec 9th-11th, 2018

 

 

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