Nature’s Paradise: Manas National Park!
The night vigil prolonged almost into the wee hours. We were perched on the wooden balcony of the forest bungalow hoping against hope to have a darshan of the uncrowned king of the jungle. The darkness was impenetrable and the air was still. Except for the night forest sounds and the thin cackle of the river flowing behind the bungalow there was absolute silence. We were asked to look for a pair of luminous glows coming out of the thick forest beyond into the open courtyard in front of the bungalow. We were told that the animal’s eyes burn at night and that they normally prowl around the bungalow—not for hunting, only for maybe an evening stroll. We were a little scared too if the animal tried to jump into the balcony. However, we were given assurance that the height was good enough, and the animal never becomes aggressive unless provoked dearly. Finally, we had to give up and agree with the general opinion that the animal is rarely sighted there since years.
That was a long time ago at the Mathanguri Forest Bungalow, most sought-after even now, of the Manas National Park of Assam—better known that time as Manas Tiger Reserve. It is a sad commentary that the numbers of the majestic Royal Bengal Tigers are dwindling fast in India. That time the tiger population at Manas was about 125 which decreased to around 60 at present. No doubt, the National Tiger Conservation Authority recently disapproved plans of tiger preservation in 16 states of India including Assam some time back. This puts the onus on the Assam government to thrash out more practical ways to preserve the beautiful species.
The Manas National Park consists of the core area of the sprawling Manas Project Tiger Reserve, which encompasses an area of 2,837 sq. km running into five districts of Assam. The Park has several dense reserve tropical forests and vast stretches of grasslands. The significance of Manas lies on many counts. Considered among the best national parks in the world, Manas is also a Biosphere Reserve, an Elephant Reserve, an Important Bird Area (IBA), and a World Heritage Site. It is a prime tiger habitat that had the country’s second highest concentration of the great cat till the late 1980s and is one of the earliest Tiger Reserves of the country, formed in 1973. In view of its pristine natural eco-system representing the overall biota of the region, it was elevated to a Biosphere Reserve in 1989 under the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1985 as a site of outstanding universal value.
The Mathanguri forest bungalow is situated just by the side of the Manas River, named after the serpent Goddess Manasa of Assam. Water of the river is crystal clear and you can see the river bed littered with stones of various sizes, shapes and colors. Sitting down on the rocky shore you can look beyond to the blue hills of Bhutan on the other side. A view of such natural purity and beauty that it leaves you glued to the spot never wanting to go back to the mundane concrete jungles ever. This nature’s paradise does not offer you much in terms of amenities in the guest houses, but it is more than compensated by the ecstasy you feel looking around and imbibing the spirit of pristine nature.
Manas National Park lies on the gentle slopes of the Himalayan foothills and is located on the north bank of River Brahmaputra. It is bounded on the north by the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, on the south by the populous North Kamrup district of Assam and on both east and west by buffer forest reserves which are part of the Manas Tiger Reserve.
Among the 22 endangered mammal species found in Manas are the pigmy hog, the hispid hare and the golden langur. In fact, Manas boasts of the only viable population of the pigmy hog, the smallest and rarest wild boar, anywhere in the world. It is also the only place where you can see the big five of the Indian jungles – the tiger, the elephant, the rhino, the buffalo, and the gaur. The avian population is impressive too with nearly 500 species of birds of which ten are listed in the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. For the tourists the Park provides excitements like white water rafting on the Manas river, trekking, elephant rides and arranged trips into Bhutan on the other side.
This nature’s paradise was in dire straits due to social unrest and insurgency for a decade from the late eighties. However, the vibrant and immensely diverse biosphere emerged successfully again attracting lots of tourists in the last few years. The World Heritage Site was also restored.
Manas National Park is connected by air, rail and road. The nearest airport is Guwahati and it is about 4 hour’s journey by road. By rail, Barpeta Road is the nearest railway station from where you can travel 40 km to the Park by car or bus. The best season is from October to March. If you love nature and want to be in her lap then Manas National Park is the ideal destination for you.
(Photos by Sivasish Thakur)