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Kolkata, Sundarban and Assam


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India again


Although I do sometimes revisit places and it is always lovely to meet old friends and encounter familiar wildlife, there is a huge appeal in discovering somewhere new.

Luckily, my two favourite destinations - Africa and India – are vast enough and diverse enough to let me choose somewhere new for almost every trip. I get the best of both worlds; somewhere new and exciting combined with just the right degree of familiarity.


Another consideration that plays a part in itinerary planning is that not everyone is interested in birds – 😲 I know, hard to believe – so there needs to be enough of interest for others to compensate for the hours I’ll spend gazing into foliage.


So I find myself back in India, just 4 months after my previous visit.

I’ve been to India many times but not yet to the Sundarban. The original plan had been to visit a place renowned for Fishing Cats, but it is on private land and the owner decided a year or two ago that he did not want visitors any more. So it’s Sundarban instead; where we MIGHT possibly see Fishing Cats. After my complete whitewash in Tadoba I’m not holding my breath.


The Sundarbans is reported to have the largest concentration of tigers found anywhere in the World, although they are not always easy to locate.


After Sundarban we would return to Kolkata and then fly up to Assam to visit Kaziranga and Manas National Parks; I’ve never been to Manas NP either so lots to look forward to. And all 3 places are listed among the top birding sites in India, so expectations were high.


As the day of departure drew closer and I started to make decisions about what to take with me we were told that IndiGo, the airline that was supposed to be flying us from Kolkata to Jorhat, had cancelled the flight. Apparently not enough people had booked on it and so they pulled it. This was a big surprise as my experience of domestic flights in India is that they are almost always full.
Shortly afterwards we also learned that our booking at Infinity resort in Kaziranga had been bumped. The fact that I had tickets for the flight and a voucher for the resort clearly was no guarantee that those services would be provided.


I’d already guessed that making travel arrangements in India this year would be a challenge as India is hosting the G20 summit in September and a whole slew of regional events have been organised under the G20 banner right the way through from the beginning of the year to the main event and many hotels had simply blocked all their rooms in anticipation. But the difficulty is more widespread than this. Making bookings in remote regions has always involved a bit of juggling but now bigger cities are also a challenge as hotels see no need to support travel companies as they can earn more from domestic travellers, weddings, corporate events, and conferences.


Luckily my friend in India, the unflappable Varun, had found us alternatives. Not ideal it has to be said but, all being well, we’d arrive in Hoolongapar Gibbon Sanctuary at approximately the same time as originally planned; although instead of a 1 hour flight and a short drive from Jorhat we’d have a 2 hour flight – Kolkata to Dibrugarh, from where it would be a 3.5 hour drive to Hoolongapar Gibbon Sanctuary. On the plus side, driving is much more enjoyable than flying and it would give us a chance to see a bit of the countryside.


Our schedule looked like this:


Kolkata – 3 nights

Sundarban NP – 3 nights

Kolkata – 1 night

Hoolongapar – 1 night

Kaziranga NP – 3 nights

Manas NP – 3 nights




Because my travelling companion was joining me from Australia, instead of heading straight out on safari as usual, we’d allowed some time in Kolkata for us both to get over our flights.


No direct flights to Kolkata from the UK, so I transited in Delhi, which gave me the chance to look at the essential items on sale in the domestic departures concourse.



There were 3 whole shelves laden with stuffed toys.


And if I wanted a wee snack Iwas spoiled for choice - who needs Walkers Crisps?



Our accommodation in Kolkata was at The Astor. (https://www.astorkolkata.com/) which describes itself thus:


Built-in 1905, The Astor, a Four-Star Heritage Boutique Hotel is synonymous with comfortable accommodation, warm hospitality, unforgettable cuisine and efficient service. Located at the heart of the central business and retail district, minutes away from all major attractions of Kolkata, the hotel is well connected to all business and leisure options of this historic city.


The people we spoke to told us that The Astor had once been a very good hotel, but during Covid, as with so many hospitality venues, they had let go a lot of their experienced staff and it shows.

Disconcertingly, our room did not have a window, so we were completely oblivious to the time of day or the weather outside.

When we did emerge, we found it was raining.



Undaunted, we took a walk around the streets near our hotel to get a feel for the city – or at least our part of it.

Every pavement was filled with street vendors selling all manner of fresh snacks. The ones we tried were excellent.









I’m not a big fan of cities, but we’d decided to use our time in Kolkata to do a bit of exploring on foot and had booked a guide through Calcutta Walks (https://calcuttawalks.com/)


We would be visiting 2 famous areas of Kolkata, Mallick Ghat flower market and Kumortuli potters village.

Our guide Ramanuj, was excellent. genial and informative.


Mallick Ghat flower market

As befits one of the biggest flower markets in the whole of India; Mallick Ghat has a wonderful array of colours, sights, smells and sounds. As soon as the sun rises, you’ll find thousands of wholesalers here with their many kilos of colourful freshly cut flowers from the farmlands.

Established in 1865, the flower market is beside the Hooghly river, and nestles underneath the Howrah Bridge, across the river from Kolkata’s Howrah station, the largest in India, with 23 tracks.



We arrived reasonably early and wandered through the labyrynth of colourful and scented flower sellers and garland makers.









ubiquitous Marigolds







Lotuses, flown in to the market from elsewhere in India









Each year, thousands of pujas (devotional Hindu rituals) take place across Kolkata and the larger state of West Bengal. Many of them are dedicated to the Hindu goddess Durga, with her idols taking pride of place at temples, homes and on pandals (temporary public structures set up for the duration of a public puja) throughout the city. Most of these statues are created in the same small pottery village in Kolkata, a practice that has been taking place since the town became the capital of British India in 1772. Kolkata once had many such villages, each dedicated to a particular trade. Today, however, the potters’ quarter of Kumortuli is the only one of note that remains; the others have long been demolished as the city swelled in size. This ramshackle neighbourhood, which is home to more than 200 potters, vibrates with artistic endeavour during the day

The word Kumortuli or Kumartuli originates from the traditional Bengali word ‘Kumore’ which loosely translates to ‘Potter’ in English.

Over time, it has developed into the name Kumortuli.

During the British Raj (1858 – 1947), Joseph Holwell a member of the East India Company separated the Indian districts in the North of Kolkata by their skill set. He created a series of bazaars in Chitpur, or ‘Black Town’. ‘Coomartolly’, as it was called back then, was the Potters quarter.

Although in the North of the city, many tradesmen have come and gone over time. The potters or Karigars of Kumortuli have always remained. Selling their clay pots and statues for centuries at Burrabazar.
Today, there are now over 500 workshops in a labyrinth of lanes that build clay statues of Hindu idols.

The idols, which range in height from two to three metres, can fetch between INR16,000 (USD$250) and INR30,000 (USD$465). These price tags are justified by the considerable work goes into the construction of an idol.

Each deity is usually crafted by a team of between three and five artisans.

As a younger craftsman, Kishore’s main role is to prepare the structure of each statue. Using a hammer and nails, he fashions a frame from bamboo before wrapping it with straw.



Next, he applies a malleable clay on the contours of the frame.




Depending on the complexity of the idol, he may or may not also create its feet, hands and head with clay; sometimes, that task is left to the more experienced artisans. When the whole frame has been layered, it is wiped with a cloth soaked with wet clay to prevent any cracks from occurring once the statue dries out.












Once dried, the painting can begin, a prestigious task that is typically reserved for senior artisans.







After an initial coat of white paint, the idol is decorated with an array of vibrant colours. The entire process reaches its artistic apex when it comes to the idol’s eyes. So revered is the act of painting the eyes of a deity that the artisan will often ritually cleanse himself with water – and sometimes meditate – before doing so.


The final step sees rope-like hair glued onto the idol, which is then clothed with various shimmering textiles.






A very enjoyable morning.


In the evening we met up with Madhu, a teacher who supplemented her income by giving Indian cookery tuition.

We started off by visiting the food market near her home and then went back and assisted her in preparing a meal.

The walk through the market was fun with a wonderful array fo fresh fruit & veg and some glorious spices. Madhu was good company but the food was a bit disappointing.










Our last night at The Astor had one last surprise for us. In the basement of the hotel is a night club, The Phoenix. Sure enough the Phoenix came to life at about 10:30pm and carried on until 3:30am. The thumping beat resonated throughout the hotel and had everything in our room shaking. 'Orrible.


In the morning we'd be leaving the city and driving down to the Sundarban.


Edited by Soukous
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Very interesting to see the process of creating the clay statues from bamboo frames through to finished article.

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Never knew how those statues were made and found that most interesting. Thanks for sharing your very colourful report.

No windows in a hotel room? Yikes!

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1 hour ago, Galana said:

No windows in a hotel room? Yikes!


Yikes indeed. I was so knackered when I got to the room I didn't notice and then when I did notice I could not be bothered to pack my stuff up and ask for another room.

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A fascinating day in Kolkata, lovely photos!

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One thing I forgot to mention in connection with Kumortuli is that the idols are all recycled.


After the festival is over the idols are thrown into the river where they melt away. The sticks and straw are collected and taken out of the river. 

Any idols which are unsold are kept and then refurbished to be sold for the next puja.


and on the subject of recycling, all the street food we found was served either on plates made from banana leaves or, in the case of thali, on metal plates - no plastic.

The tea vendors serve their tea in small clay cups which are broken down after use and recycled. Apparently they get through 5 million of the little clay cups each day. 

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Fascinating, an area of India I'd love to get to one day!  So different than other regions. Interesting that you had issues with the bookings in the north; I believe we were in Southern India at around the same time and had no issues at all and flights were full as usual. So I'm not sure it had anything to do with the G2 (they were actually meeting in Agra while we were traveling.)

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@Soukous- I've never been to that part of India ......  Kaziranga definitely on my list for one day! 

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16 hours ago, janzin said:

So I'm not sure it had anything to do with the G2 (they were actually meeting in Agra while we were traveling.)


The actual G20 takes place in September, but regional events have been organised all over the country in the preceding months

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The drive from Kolkata to Godkhali where we’d be boarding a boat to take us to our lodge, was just 101km, but it took us 3.5 hours. Averaging little more than 30kmph the journey was excruciating as we navigated our way through endless towns and traffic.


On a rare occasion when we were not surrounded by bustling towns we saw extensive fish farms on one side of the road and endless brickworks on the other.

As we approached Godkhali the heavens opened and the streets rapidly became inundated.


From Godkhali it is a 2 hour plus boat ride to Sundarban Tiger Camp where we’d be staying.

The boats used for tourists are rather different to those used to ferry the locals across.


Tourist boat



local ferry

Sundarban ferry


The boat ride gave us our first look at this unique habitat and we could immediately see how vulnerable the settlements were to cyclones and high waters. Apparently the sea wall is regularly breached and the houses, many of which are at water level, get flooded and destroyed.


The Sundarbans is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal. Covering areas of Bangladesh and India the Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the World.

India’s Sundarban National Park is one of 4 protected UNESCO World Heritage sites within the Sundarbans (the other 3 are in Bangladesh); in 1973, they were declared a tiger reserve under Project Tiger and upgraded to the status of a national park in 1978. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.



The National Park is located on one side of the waterway and local villages on the other. Tigers are apparently perfectly capable of swimming across, although a fence has been erected along the water’s edge on the park side to try to contain them.


The local enterprises are: fishing, prawn fishing, crab collecting and honey collecting; all of them carry an element of danger, with attacks possible by tigers and saltwater crocodiles.


Prawn fishing


Prawn fishing Sundarban


fishing boats

Sundarban Fishing boat


Sundarban Fishing boat


The signs were encouraging.






Upon arrival at our camp ghat we walked up into the camp.

Sundarban Tiger Camp


The camp guide suggested that after we had settled in we could go for a birding cruise. Well why not?


The ‘birding’ cruise was a good indicator of what was to follow. We cruised slowly along, following the shoreline. With the tide out, there was a wide expanse of mud flats between us and the mangrove forest. Yet, strangely, there were almost no birds at all on the mud flats. No waders, no shore birds. We did see both Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers, but they were perched on poles quite some distance away and the photos I took were swiftly discarded.


Black-capped Kingfisher


Little Egret


Little Cormorant


Our room at Sundarban Tiger Camp was spacious and comfortable,



although we were surprised to find that the shower produced only cold water. There was hot water, but to use it for washing meant filling a bucket.



Not quite as the blurb describes it:

Sunderban Tiger Camp has 21 uniquely crafted rooms that offer breathtaking views of the lagoon and the picturesque resort landscape. Our spacious rooms were designed with a focus on comfort, art and relevance to the local culture and history. The interiors have been painted by local artists and the furniture has been made by local craftsmen using local materials (where possible).

Our restaurant, The Fisherman’s Wharf, serves a selection of local and international cuisine (on request) and utilises locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. In the evenings, guest can enjoy a sundowner at the Gol Ghar bar.


Our was surrounded by lush gardens – as were all of them – so there were no views of the lagoon from any of the rooms. The Gol Ghar bar may once have been a place for sundowners but it now seem to have been taken over by the camp’s staff as their gathering place.


The food at STC was OK, but pretty uninspiring and the dining area completely lacked atmosphere, although the beers were impressively cheap. A few birds regularly visited the area beside the restaurant to feed on bits of fruit put out by the staff.

Chestnut-tailed Starling


Red-vented Bulbul

where is Alex?


Next morning we were due to set out early and spend the whole day on the boat, exploring the channels further south, towards the Bay of Bengal.

As we emerged from our cottage we could see that the camp, and river, were shrouded in thick fog; which fortunately cleared pretty quickly.


Our boat travelled pretty slowly, probably no more than 4kmph, about the same speed as a narrowboat on one of UKs canals. The main reason for this was to minimise erosion of the banks, which we could see were crumbling away in places.

It did feel a bit absurd to have this large boat to ourselves, but there were no other guests in camp so that was our luck. Although we were joined on board for a few hours by a pair of Jungle Mynas who scoured the boat for dropped tidbits of food.

Jungle Myna


Our 10 hours on the river meant that we would see both high and low tides, so we had high hopes of some good sightings and as we cruised we imagined tigers emerging from the mangrove forest and coming to the river to drink.

Apparently the most likely time to see tigers is at low tide, which is also the best time for birdlife.

Well, there was precious little birdlife on the muddy banks and the only mammals we saw were a couple of spotted deer, some rhesus macaque and a few capped langurs.

It quickly became clear that the odds were stacked heavily against us; the chances of our being in the right spot when a tiger emerged from the endless expanse of mangroves were very slim indeed.


We’d been told that there could be as many as 400 boats on the waterways so we’d expected to find ourselves in some kind of regatta, but actually we saw perhaps half a dozen other tourist boats and several local fishermen.


Sundarban Fishing boat


Our Forest Guide looked hard at the fishing boats and several times took photos with his phone. There is a lot of illegal fishing in the Sundarban and he would go back to see whether those we’d seen had permits to be there.


Visitor areas have been erected in several places through out the park, where people can go ashore and climb watchtowers to get a better look at the surrounding area.

As with all the steps we used in Sundarban, they required caution. When the tide was receding it left the steps – which were uneven to say the least - wet and slippery, and with no handrail of any sort a slip was quite likely.




Each of these areas also has a fresh water pool which are – allegedly – favoured places for tigers to come and drink, although they are quite happy to drink salt water as well.


We didn’t see much during our time ashore; Red Junglefowl, Hoopoe and a Red-whiskered Bulbul building its nest.


Red Junglefowl




Red-whiskered Bulbl


As we made our way slowly back to camp there were a few birds but nothing really exciting and we decided there was not much point in doing a full day cruise as planned tomorrow.


Palm Swift

Palm Swift


Curlew & Whimbrel

Curlew & Whimbrels


Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper


Green Bee-eater

Green Bee-eater


The next morning was brighter, no fog today, and we set off for a shorter cruise that would bring us back to camp in time for a late lunch.


Once again there was surprisingly little to see, and our shore visit produced even less than the one the previous day.

Slightly better views of the Kingfishers though.


Collared Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher


Black-capped Kingfisher

Black-capped Kingfisher


Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher


and one lifer, although the light was against me


Grey-headed lapwing

Grey-headed Lapwing


This afternoon I decided to explore the camp and the surrounding area in the hope of better luck. It was marginally more productive.


It was, a bit.



Purple Sunbird

Purple Sunbird


Oriental Magpie Robin

Oriental Magpie Robin


Common Iora

Common Iora


Asian Brown Flycatcher

Asian Brown Flycatcher


Common Tailorbird

Common Tailorbird


Indian White-eye

Indian White-eye


Greater Flameback

Greater Flameback


White-rumped Munia

White-rumped Munia


Blyth's Reed Warbler

Blyth's Reed Warbler



Black-headed Oriole

Black-headed oriole


On our last morning, we declined the offer of a cruise before we checked out as we would have a 2 hour boat ride back to Godkhali anyway.


Farewell Sundarban



Edited by Soukous
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Dibrugarh to Jorhat




After a night back in Kolkata, thankfully not at The Astor, we took an early morning flight to Dibrugarh.

As mentioned earlier, we would have ideally flown to Jorhat, but that flight had apparently been cancelled – although mysteriously there was a flight departing for Jorhat at exactly the same time as ours was supposed to have gone.


From Dibrugarh we drove to Jorhat. The plan was to visit the Hoolongapar Gibbon Sanctuary in the afternoon, but our escort told us we were unlikely to get there before the gates closed at 2pm, so we decided instead to drive directly to our accommodation at Banyan Grove.


The scenery for our drive was very different to West Bengal, better roads and much less traffic. We passed waterlogged fields where hundreds, yes hundreds, of Grey-headed Swamphens were poking around.


Of course, being Assam, we found ourselves driving along roads lined with tea plantations, indeed our next accommodation, Banyan Grove, was located in the heart of a plantation.


Banyan Grove is one of a small collection of properties owned/operated by Heritage Northeast and was formerly the residence of the Deputy Plantation Manager. It is a wonderful old building surrounded by lawns, although the original Banyan tree that gave it its name has long since died.


Common Myna


Banyan Grove, Jorhat


Banyan Grove, Jorhat


The inside of the house has been kept looking very splendid,


Banyan Grove, Jorhat


Banyan Grove, Jorhat


but the outside has not enjoyed the same level of attention with several parts looking a bit dilapidated.



We had a couple of hours left before sunset so we took a walk through the tea plantation. Unfortunately we arrived just in time to see the pluckers heading home at the end of their day’s work.


Tea pluckers Assam


Tea pluckers Assam


Tea pluckers Assam


Dinner was served in a fine looking dining room, but the food did not really match up to the surroundings.


Next morning, we set of early to look at the Gibbon Sanctuary. Typically it was a very overcast day; not ideal for walking through a dense forest.


The first shock of the day was the INR500 charge for camera fee at the sanctuary. Considering most National Parks charge just INR200 camera fee, this seemed excessive. Even more so when it turned out there was nothing to photograph. My one photo cost me INR500.




We saw no gibbons or any other kind of monkey. In fact the only wildlife we saw was a giant squirrel.

When it began to drizzle, we realised we were unlikely to see any gibbons and took the decision to end our walk and drive on to Kaziranga, stopping briefly to photograph more tea pluckers, looking splendid in their huge hats.


Tea pluckers Assam


Tea pluckers Assam


Tea pluckers Assam


Tea pluckers Assam



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5 hours ago, Soukous said:

The first shock of the day was the INR500 charge for camera fee at the sanctuary.

That doesn't seem so bad compared to the 1500INR we were charged at Kabini--per drive! x 8 drives it really adds up (But I totally get your pain...especially when you have some drives with nothing to photograph!) Bummer you saw no gibbons though :(

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Enjoying this immensely. Always intended to visit the Sundabans.

Are they now enforcing the Camera fee?  I have never paid that although it did appear on the gate notice. Maybe they knew I was rubbish at photographs and took pity?

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What a colorful and fascinating report.  Though no gibbons, you excelled with birds.  Thank you for sharing the story behind the statues along with Sundarban Tiger Camp, boat and all.

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Very interesting report Martin - I´ve always thought about the Sundarbans, Well, it seems the the reality of being there is not quite as alluring as I´ve always thought it could be. Shame you missed the Gibbons - we had good sightings of them there. Hope your luck will pick up in Kaziranga - probably my favourite Indian park so far. Beautiful photos!

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On 4/6/2023 at 8:04 PM, Galana said:

Are they now enforcing the Camera fee? 


In the Sundarbans, I don't think they are enforcing it. In other parks I simply told them I needed to pay camera fees before they asked. 

At Kaziranga I paid each day and at Manas the lodge paid the fees and charged me at the end.

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On 4/6/2023 at 7:49 PM, janzin said:

That doesn't seem so bad compared to the 1500INR we were charged at Kabini


Yes, I was told about the steep rise in fees at Kabini. The whole camera fee thing is absurd to me. Why not just make an adjustment to the entry price and be done with it? 

The argument that not everyone carries a camera is pretty redundant now that everyone has a smartphone with them. (Except Tadoba of course)

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Interesting report so far, I enjoyed reading about the potters. 

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Kaziranga NP


I haven’t been to Kaziranga since the 1990s so this was almost like a first visit.

The drive up from Jorhat was reasonable enough, with minimal traffic (by Indian standards) and pretty good roads (again, by Indian standards).

The best thing about it was that the sky was free of the heavy grey pollution haze that is so common around Delhi and much of central India.


For our time at Kaziranga we’d be staying at the Iora Retreat. The Retreat is well located for visiting Kaziranga, just a short drive from the main gate at Kohora. Quite a large hotel, The Retreat is popular for conferences and corporate get-togethers.

The restaurant served the best food of our whole trip, with a conscious effort being made to vary the menu each day. Although most meals were served buffet style, on one of the days when they had a large conference group to cater for, we were simply asked to choose items from the A la Carte menu.


We had 5 safaris into Kaziranga during our stay and our guide was to be Babloo. (Mr Babloo Ali, a freelance driver/ guide)



Our first entry into the park was through the central Kohora gate; its convenience to most of the accommodation made it the preferred entry point for the majority of visitors.

Recent rains throughout north & north-eastern India meant that my fears about more dust baths were unfounded; the tracks inside the park were still damp.

The air was clear and the light was pretty good.


Kaziranga is one of the parks ( Manas is another) where visitors can do an elephant back safari.



One gripe I have about Kaziranga, and so many India parks, is that everyone has to follow the same route, often getting to a certain point and then having to double back along the same route to exit the park. This makes it very difficult to get away from other vehicles.

Fortunately though, unlike parks where most visitors are obsessed with finding tigers, Kaziranga was relaxed and stress free and everyone behaved politely. Indeed the whole entry process was very laid back compared to recent experiences in Tadoba; there seemed to be no imperative for a Forest Guide to join us in the jeep.


We did get a bit of congestion on our first drive,




but after that we entered through either the western Baguri gate or the eastern Agaratoli gate. Both these gates took a bit longer to reach and the majority of visitors didn’t bother. Indeed on our second entry at Agaratoli, we were one of just 5 jeeps in that zone.


Our ability to traverse both the Baguri and Agaratoli zones was restricted because the rains had caused the park authorities to close some tracks, which meant that we could not drive in a loop as expected and had to drive in and then backtrack. This was a shame, but the small number of vehicles meant it was not a big problem.


Kazirange is a lovely park to visit with plenty of water bodies and lots of open plains making it easy to see the wildlife.

In fact, I saw more mammals on my first drive in Kaziranga than I’d seen in a week at Tadoba, and a large percentage of them were One-horned Rhinos. The park has almost 2,700 rhinos, almost twice as many rhinos as Swamp Deer (1,800) Elephants were plentiful too, as were the Water Buffalo.


Water Buffalo


The rhinos wre everywhere, grazing like cattle.


One-horned Rhino


One Horned Rhinos


One Horned Rhinos


One Horned Rhinos


Elephants were a bit less obvious as they were among the burned grass, chomping on the new green shoots.



Bird life was OK, but not phenomenal, though this could have been due to the wet weather. It was much better than Sundarbans though.

Lesser Adjutant


Black-headed Stork


The Rollers we saw looked different to those we'd seen in other parts of India, they were much more blue. Babloo referred to them as Indian Rollers, but a little bit of checking showed that they were in fact Indochinese Rollers, a sub-species, which we'd also see in Manas NP.

Indochinese Roller


Indochinese Roller


Bronze-winged Jacanas were plentiful, both adults and juveniles. I just love their absurdly large feet.


Bronze-winged Jacana


Bronze-winged Jacana juvenile


 and we added 2 more Kingfishers to our tally


White-throated Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher


Stork-billed Kingfisher

Stork-billed Kingfisher


Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher


Out of curiosity, I'd asked Babloo what ours chances were of seeing a tiger; he said not great. But, on one occasion we found a group of jeeps whose occupants were staring intently into the elephant grass. They said there was a tiger in there. Yeah, yeah. Of course there is.

It turns out they were right. A few minutes later the tiger, which had been hiding in the grass close to the track, moved off into the long grass. I managed to catch a glimpse of its rear legs and tail disappearibng into the grass. Which was just about as good as my tiger sightings in Tadoba. :( It was definitely there though.


The only other time we got held up was waiting for a bull elephant to cross the road. It had pretty good tusks too, although they were more than a little crooked.

Bull elephant


Bull elephant






Edited by Soukous
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oh that's interesting about the Rollers in Kaziranga. I wonder if the ones I saw were also that subspecies? Looking at my photos I'm not really sure if they are any bluer than Indian Rollers I saw in other places. Their ranges do seem to overlap, according to eBird. Hmmm if I can make it into Indochinese that would be a new lifebird (Clements considers them a full species.)

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As already mentioned, the game in Kaziranga was plentiful and very relaxed, no doubt helped by the fact that nobody was driving fast and the open plains that allowed us to see things from quite a distance.

There were not many other ‘photographers’ in the park. We saw maybe 4 other jeeps with long lenses poking out, the rest were Indian families enjoying the park.


One highlight we finding a Great Indian Hornbill. We were in the western zone, having entered through the Baguri gate. A track that had been closed the previous day had now been opened, so of course we wanted to have a look.

We heard a drumming sound very like a woodpecker, but a bit of searching revealed it to be a female Great Indian Hornbill inside the nest hole, waiting for her mate to return.


Great Indian Hornbill


Apparently during the nesting season, the female may spend her entire time inside the nest hole and when she emerges she could have lost a large part of her plumage.


Anyhow, we were fortunate; the male returned and proceeded to feed the female through the hole. It was a shame we did not get a clearer view.

Great Indian Hornbill


Great Indian Hornbill


Great Indian Hornbill


Great Indian Hornbill


The deer in Kaziranga are different to those found further south, with four main species; Swamp Deer, Hog Deer, Barking Deer and Sambar.


Swamp Deer

Swamp deer

Swamp Deer


Hog deer

Hog Deer


Buffalo wallow

Water Buffalo were plentiful and, once again, very relaxed. There were some impressive horns on display.


Fishing nets

Fishing nets on the channels by the Agaratoli Gate


We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Kaziranga. In large part this was due to Babloo. In some parks a 4 hour game drive can seem endless, as you bounce around on dusty roads, trying to stay in the thin seats of a Gypsy.


Game drives with Babloo passed so smoothly that we didn’t notice the time at all. He drove slowly and had a very good eye. More a very knowledgeable driver than an actual guide, Babloo suited us perfectly. True he didn’t overburden us with information, but when we asked questions he had the answers. He got a few birds wrong, but that was easy enough to put right.


Next stop Manas NP




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The drive from Kaziranga to Manas was long, over 6 hours, with the final few kilometres being some very rough potholed roads.

In complete contrast to Kaziranga, which could entered just off the main highway, Manas is tucked well away, some distance from the highway and withalmost no signage until you get very close. Our driver had clearly never been there before and was using a navigation app on his phone to get us there. Even then he was not entirely confident and was very relieved when he saw a sign for the park.


Our accommodation, at Musa Jungle Retreat, (I cannot give you a link to their website as my anti-virus program suggests it may be unsafe to visit)


was just 200 metres from the entrance gate. Unfortunately, because we had underestimated how long the drive would take us – my fault – we arrived too late for our afternoon drive into the park. Instead we took a walk down the road to see the tea pluckers in action.


They were not as colourfully dressed as the ones we saw around Jorhat, but we did see something new.


Tea pickers Manas


Although many of the ladies were plucking the tea by hand,


Tea pickers Manas


several others were using a set of shears with a tray attached to simply clip off the leaves.

Tea pickers Manas


Tea picker manas


They also had a plastic sheet wrapped around their waist to keep their clothes dry while working among the wet tea bushes.


Our accommodation at Musa was perfectly adequate. The cottages were a decent size and the dining room was set on the first floor so we had views into the park while we ate.

Of the 20 cottages, perhaps 5 were occupied when we arrived.


Dining at Musa was a bit different. Unlike the other places we stayed there was no set meal time and no buffet laid out, we were simply given a menu and asked to choose what we wanted.

The menu was extensive, with lots of Indian dishes and lots of Chinese dishes. Everything we ordered was freshly cooked and very good.

The retreat did not serve alcohol, in fact we only ever saw people drinking water or tea. Luckily we’d brought our own whisky.


We’d been told our guide would be there at 6am, and he was. So we set off into the park. Once again, the gate arrangements were very relaxed, although we did have a Forest Guide foisted uon us because - apparently - there had been incidents of rhinos attacking jeeps.



Just inside the gate was a bizarre sight; a small building containing a boat with Air India written on the side. Beside the building was a sign telling us about Edmund Hillary’s Ocean to Sky expedition.


In 1977 Hillary led Ocean to the Sky, an expedition to the source of India’s sacred Ganges River. Ed, his son, Peter, Graeme Dingle and others used New Zealand-made Hamilton jet boats to travel from the mouth of the Ganges high up into the Himalayas through deep gorges and thunderous rapids. The party subsequent climbed to an unnamed peak, which they called Akash Parbat (Sky Peak)


I did mean to take a picture of the boat and the sign but, for reasons which will become apparent, I did not manage to do so.


In complete contrast to Kazirange, Manas is largely made up of dense jungle and our first morning in Manas was very overcast. Hence it was not at all good for photography. In fact it was not at all good for much as trying to pick wildlife out amongst the dense dark foliage was a real challenge.


On that drive I only took 1 photo, of an Emerald Dove, which I subsequently deleted because it was so poor.

We'd been in the park for about 2.5 hours when it started to rain. Our jeep did have a canopy of sorts, but - though it was in better shape than some others we saw - it was certainly not waterproof. We told the guide to turn around and head back to the lodge; driving along a bumpy track, hunched over under a canopy that does not have anough headroom whilst getting steadily dripped on is not much fun. It was a good call, as the rain got steadily heavier.


From our accommodation, we could look across the park to the mountains of Bhutan.



Edited by Soukous
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Good to see Kaziranga again through your eyes @Soukous

We thought it was a lovely park, and you have photographed it very well 


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Good report so far and looking forward to more. No booze!! That happened to us 'because of elections'. The elections must take longer than polling day as we got no booze for a week. (At the bar that is. We sent our driver out and told him no booze no tip.)

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Manas NP was certainly different.

The UNESCO description of the park doesn’t really tell you what it will be like on the ground.


“Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the State of Assam in North-East India, a biodiversity hotspot. Covering an area of 39,100 hectares, it spans the Manas river and is bounded to the north by the forests of Bhutan. The Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the core zone of the 283,700 hectares Manas Tiger Reserve, and lies alongside the shifting river channels of the Manas River. The site’s scenic beauty includes a range of forested hills, alluvial grasslands and tropical evergreen forests. The site provides critical and viable habitats for rare and endangered species, including tiger, greater one-horned rhino, swamp deer, pygmy hog and Bengal florican. Manas has exceptional importance within the Indian sub-continent’s protected areas, as one of the most significant remaining natural areas in the region, where sizeable populations of a large number of threatened species continue to survive. “






Of our scheduled 5 dives into the park, we managed 4, one of which was aborted early due to rain.


After having our first morning cut short by rain, we did not know what to expect in the afternoon. Luckily the tracks through the park were mostly gravel, so even after the rain they were passable, just with a lot of pooled water.

As we drove the weather brightened up a bit, but we had still seen nothing to photograph. It was not until we got to the border with Bhutan - and stepped over it



that I took my first bird photo – what else could it be but a Bulbul.


Black-crested Bulbul

Black-crested Bulbul


There were a lot more vehicles in the park today, it was a Saturday, but apart from having to pull over to let them pass us, it was not a problem. They all drove slowly (not as slow as us, but still pretty slow) and there was no dust. Apart from 1 other vehicle, none of the occupants seemed interested in birdlife, they all wanted to see elephants & rhinos.


Clearly a dry game drive was much more enjoyable than a wet one, but we still had not seen much at all, certainly nothing to live up to Manas’ billing as one of India’s top birding locations.


What would tomorrow bring.

Well, it brought intermittently sunny weather, which was very welcome, though the jungle was still very dense and dark.

This was, without doubt, the toughest place I have ever tried to take bird photos. They rarely emerged from the shadows onto open perches and they refused to stay still. Clearly they had not read the briefing.


Rufous-necked Laughingthrush


Our guide and driver worked well together. The driver, as far as we could tell, is employed by the lodge, whilst the guide is freelance.

Both of them, the driver in particular, had phenomenal eyesight. The guide certainly knew his birds, the driver could spot them but did not always know what they were called.
The problem came when they tried to explain to us exactly where the bird they’d spotted was located.

The other issue seemed to be that whilst Manas attracts many birders, not all of them want photos so it took a while to get them to understand what we needed.


To be honest, we did not see a large number of species at Manas, but many of the ones we did see were lifers.

I got quite excited when we found a Long-tailed Broadbill nest hanging 10 metres from the track but even though we waited quite a while we did not see the bird.

We had better luck with Silver-breasted Broadbill though. We saw 3 different nests and 2 of them had birds actively nest-building.


Silver-breasted Broadbill


Silver-breasted Broadbill

They were too busy to pose for photos though.

I had not even noticed there were 2 birds in this photo until I processed it  :blink:



Blue-throated Barbet

Blue-throated Barbet


Amazingly, the weather held for the whole day and our afternoon drive also enjoyed decent weather. The sky was blue and the air was wonderfully clear.

I would have loved to go back and sit near the Broadbill nests but I did not have the only vote.


We also saw Dhole, Mum with a pup




In addition to the elephants, rhino and buffalo, Manas NP also has Indian Gaur and so this afternoon we went looking for them. It seemed only fair; we’d spent 3 drives peering into the undergrowth for birds so it was time to spend some time on the grasslands.

Of course when we spotted birds we stopped.






Chestnut-capped Babbler

Chestnut-capped Babbler


We didn’t manage to find any Gaur, though we did see plenty of elephants



Elephants, Manas NP


and right at the end of the day there was a special treat. We drove to one of the many watchtowers that are built above ranger posts and anti-poaching posts and looked out over the grasslands. About 200 metres away we saw a black & white speck. A Bengal Florican.



yes, it's an ebc, but I've never seen one before and may never see another




Tomorrow morning would be our last drive and it was agreed that we would not drive very far, just to the area where we’d seen the Broadbills to try for better photos.


Well, that was the plan.

It started raining during the night and continued pretty much up until a very grey dawn.

We made the decision to abandon the morning drive as the light was awful and we doubted we’d see much.

A good decision as it turned out, because at about 7am it started raining again and did not let up for hours.

I never did get my photo of the New Zealand Jet Boat or the Hillary plaque.


To be truthful, Manas NP had been disappointing. BUT, I think that was largely due to very bad luck with the weather. The end of March/beginning of April is supposed to be dry and sunny. In fact guidebooks to Manas warn about the likelihood of game drives being very dusty.


I would go again though, as long as the chances of fair weather were high; I’d seen enough of the birdlife to convince me there was a lot that we had not seen.


I asked at reception how long it would take us to drive to Guwahati and was told 3 hours, possibly 3.5, so I asked our driver to be ready to go at midday.

After the heavy rain he thought it might take us at least an hour longer, and he wanted to leave earlier.

We left just after 11, it took us exactly 3 hours. We concluded that he just wanted to get back to his own home as soon as possible.


Though our trip had not really lived up to our hopes in terms of wildlife, it was certainly a trip of great contrasts and we saw a very different side of India to more commonly visited regions like Rajasthan and Central India. The laid back pace of Kaziranga and Manas made the trip far more relaxing than we’d expected.

Edited by Soukous
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