Dibru Saikhowa: Of River Dolphins, Wild Horses and River Cruises
Assam has always been known for its vibrant jungles and near virgin beauty. But the limelight has always been Kaziranga’s and more specifically the one horned rhinos’ found therein (though they are present elsewhere as well). Officially, there are five national parks in Assam and several other protected sanctuaries. Among them, the Dibru Saikhowa National Park offers probably the most diverse blend of animal sightings and many unique experiences.
Chiseled by Rivers
Dibru Saikhowa has been blessed with a unique topography. Situated at the easternmost point of Assam, Dibru Saikhowa has been carved out where the main Tibetan stream meets the Dibru and Lohit rivers to form the mighty Brahmaputra as we know it. It is one of the largest swamp areas in the region and the floodplains combine with river islands to create a striking landscape. This partly deciduous and partly evergreen forest is spread across 350 square kilometers and is the easiest to reach from the town of Tinsukia, a busy trading centre in upper Assam well connected though road and rail networks.
An Avian Paradise
It is not only a home to several endangered avian species but also plays host to scores of migratory birds in the winter. Watch out for thousands of bar headed geese and ruddy shelducks painting the sky with myriad colours. Cormorants, sandpipers and kingfishers are common sightings in the Dibru Saikhowa. Hornbills are there too, but one has to be lucky to find them. Even rarer is the white-winged wood duck – the state bird of Assam. But at the present rate, it may be well in a rush to extinction!
The Elusive River Dolphins
The river and its tributaries within the Dibru Saikhowa is one of the best places to catch fortunate sightings of the highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphins – the Platanista Gangetica. They have almost disappeared from the Ganges and even from most parts of the Brahmaputra due to pollution and indiscriminate poaching. As a frontier location just at the bottom of the hills, Dibru Saikhowa remains one of the safer refuges for these water mammals. Local motorboats can take you to the locations where they are easily sighted. Do not expect them to fly out of the water like those oceanic cousins you see on TV. They flip out for a fraction of a second to draw in oxygen. You’ll need some serious luck to photograph a Gangetic River Dolphin.
This is another interesting story that reverses the usual flow of domestication of animals. Once the World Wars drew to an end, the soldiers of the eastern theatre left their horses behind while moving back, owing to logistical issues. In the absence of any large predators, these domesticated horses found refuge and thrived in this vibrant jungle. It is the later generations of these abandoned ones that grew up to be wild, feral horses. These horses mostly remain in the interiors and one needs to camp inside the jungle for a night to sight one of these majestic animals roam the wild. Rest assured, it may still need a rare stroke of luck to sight these magnificent creatures in their purest form, free from any human intervention.
To visit the Dibru Saikhowa National Park
One can make day trips from Tinsukia (nearest railhead) or Dibrugarh (nearest airport). But for the best experience, a night spent at one of the eco-lodges by the side of the Brahmaputra followed by a river cruise on one of the double-decker boats to the interiors of the park packs in the most – both in terms of opportunity and area covered. Large land mammals are rare and no – there are no rhinos or tigers. But it is a great place for avid bird watchers – and of course for unique sightings of the river dolphins and feral horses – things you are unlikely to check off your list anywhere else in India.
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