Durations : 12 Days
Destinations : Assam
Met at Guwahati airport and driven for 4 hours to Manas National Park, on the border with Bhutan, checking in to the simple but comfortable Bansbari Lodge. This Project Tiger reserve is now recovering well from earlier unrest - the tiger count is now estimated at around 50, and wild elephant number some 500. Alternatively own arrangements for reaching Manas by road from the Bhutan frontier at Phuntsoling or from Darjeeling and Sikkim.
We take an early morning elephant ride through grassland, hopefully seeing several different species of deer and monkeys, as well as otters and some of the park's 380 different species of birds, perhaps including the rare Bengal Florican or the Great Hornbill. After breakfast, we walk through a local village, visit the nearby tea garden and see Bodo tribal handweaving. If time permits, we will see working elephants bathing in the nearby Beki River before carrying on by jeep to spot wildlife en route to Mothanguri Lodge, where we see the sun set over the Manas River and the Bhutan hills. Returning in the dusk we should again see some wildlife, perhaps including wild buffalo, wild elephant and if we are exceptionally lucky, a tiger. After supper, we watch a tribal dance around the camp fire.
This morning we drive to Hajo, a place sacred to Hindus, Moslems and Buddhists. We visit a Moslem shrine with extensive hilltop views over the surrounding rural landscape, as well as the simple Hindu temple with its frieze of elephants and its sacred tank full of great catfish, carp and turtles. After lunch we drive on to Sualkuchi and visit its silk weaving workshops. We shall see the whole process of silk manufacture, from cocoon to spinning to dyeing and finally to handweaving into exquisite saris and dress lengths. Continuing on, we drive across the river to Guwahati and up Nilachal Hill to see the holy Kamakhya temple. With its tantric rites and animal sacrifices, the more squeamish may prefer to content themselves with the exterior. Finally we check in to the Dynasty, Brahmaputra Ashok or similar hotel for overnight.
This morning we drive some 4 hours to Kaziranga National Park. After lunch we drive to Kaziranga's Western Range for a jeep safari and to scan the wilderness from an observation tower. Kaziranga is a World Heritage site and with a population of well over 1000 rhinoceros is the best place in the world to see these beasts. There are also good populations of tiger, wild elephant, sambar, swamp deer, hog deer, wild pig and many other species. We overnight at Wild Grass, Bonhabi or similar lodge.
Start pre-dawn for Kaziranga's Central Range for an early morning elephant ride, the best way to get really close to the rhino and other animals. After breakfast at a lodge, we walk through terraced tea gardens and past a Karbi tribal village, then drive to a Mising tribal village, with their distinctive houses raised on piles. After lunch drive to the banks of the Brahmaputra at Steemer Ghat (sic), a lovely beach below jungle-covered hills, and board your river cruise vessel. Cruise upstream until dusk, with Kaziranga National Park on the right bank - wild elephant can sometimes be spotted.
The morning is spent cruising, and around midday we reach Vishnath, with an Ahom-period Shiva temple. There are other later temples too, and we can walk through the town before reboarding and setting off again.
The day is spent on the river, and we have a good chance of spotting Gangetic dolphin, as well as creating a sensation in bankside villages as we pass. We should arrive in the evening at lonely Dhansiri Mukh.
This morning we land and take a jeep safari in Kaziranga's little-visited Eastern Range, with good woodland as well as grasslands where you may spot the rare Bengal Florican. Returning to the boat, we continue our cruise upstream.
Another day spent cruising upstream. We shall take time to pause and walk through a village, getting an insight into the life of Indian villagers.
Around breakfast time we should reach Majuli Island, supposedly the world's largest river island, and possessing unique Hindu monasteries famed for their dance-drama performances- the whole island is now shortlisted for future UNESCO World Heritage status. We visit a monastery at Auniati with an eclectic museum and another at Kamalbari where we attend a dance performance before cruising across to Neamati Ghat on the opposite bank.
We drive for about an hour to Sibsagar, the one-time capital of the Kings of Assam. Shan by origin (Assam and Siam share the same derivation) but converted to Hinduism they ruled Assam for some 700 years until the 1820s, and their culture and architecture is a strange and delightful amalgam of Indian and S.E. Asian. We shall see temples with stupa-like profiles, and palaces of distinctive form - note the crocodiles and rather sexy caryatids that adorn the roof of the Rang Mahal. For the record book, the temple tank here is believed to be the world's largest hand-excavated reservoir. Later we visit the Tocklai Tea Research Station to learn something about the different processes of growing, picking and processing tea. Returning to the boat we spend our last night on board.
AM drive c 2 ½ hrs to Dibrugarh airport, passing through this typical colonial town and major base for American flights over "The Hump" to China in WWII. Alternatively transferred 30 mins to Jorhat airport.