By Dr. L. R. Bishnoi, IPS, ADGP, Assam.
I wish to share my short sojourn to majestic Mathanguri in Manas National Park (Assam). Manas is a famous world heritage site in lower Assam. The sheer magnificence and unique landscape of Manas has attracted many travellers to explore its surreal topography. Few years back, Manas was not a preferred destination because of image of BTAD as troubled territory and non-existence of travel conveniences. But now this is definitely the most sought after tourist spot in lower Assam.
Wild life tourism continues to be the most popular in N-E India. I love travelling because of sheer pleasure of exploring new places. When there is not enough time to proceed on long holiday, then short sojourn is the best choice. So after fabulous festive fervour in Assam, I thought it wise to go to deep, dark and mysterious Manas on 16th of November, 2016 by having work and trip merge together.
My short trip was not to lord over jungle like a wild man, Tarzen but to balance work with pleasure, to sniff the crisp air, to enjoy the pristine ambience and to get much needed respite from the madness of our concrete jungles.
I left kokrajhar a bit early and reached Barpeta road within couple of hours. The drive from Barpeta road to Bashbari was ethereal amidst serene country side. I stopped few times on the way to interact with villagers and also to take some pictures. At Bashbari, I met with Dharni Dhar Boro ( retired Dy C.F. but redeployed by BTC as OSD). After a brief interaction with him, I instantly developed a lot of respect for him. He has a real passion for his work and fairly familiar with the beautiful Manas and seems to be most suited man for conservation job. I found him very informative and good communicator.
He explained me in detail about the massive encroachment at Betbari, Panbari, Dihira, kahitema, Bhuyanpara and kokilabari in the park area. It is extremely galling to see the unabated encroachment in this majestic national park. I met few encroachers also and noticed real selfishness among them as they are not willing to acknowledge how much damage they are causing to this ravishing park.
I also met with many nature loving locals who perceive forest guards as non committal. By seeing the commitment of those nature lovers, it reminds me of Bishnoi community, which is religiously affiliated with environmental conservation and always willing to sacrifice own life for trees and black bucks.
Examples of sacrifices by Bishnois are numerous. Dharni Dhar Boro explained me that the animals are already under stress due to intrusion and habitat destruction in park areas. Indeed, the massive encroachments in Manas epitomise how callous we have been in treating our priceless heritage. As we all know that the heritage once lost is lost forever. So it warrants comprehensive intervention to ensure intactness of park. Dharni Dhar Boro’s exemplary commitment to work, sharp instincts, pleasant demeanour and immaculate manners endeared to anyone who come in contact with him. He chooses to work sincerely away from the glare of limelight. He is basically a rural person and village resides in him.
After a fruitful interaction with D.D. Boro, I left Bashbari for Mathanguri. It was green all around and shades of green danced in front of my eyes. On the way, I saw many majestic trees standing tall and strong. Its prettyish biodiversity spots offer stunning views and piercing through it was a soul soothing experience for me. Bashbari- Mathanguri road is a kacha track full of broken parts but after seing the serenity of place my mind speaks to the heart about nature’s beauty. At a distance of 22 kms from Bashbari, a forested motorable road, perched amidst a thick foliage of trees lies a forest guest house at Mathanguri. It was like a house tucked away in nature’s lap.
My accommodation was arranged in lower forest banglow, a stone’s throw away from southern bank of Manas river. For me it was like a premier luxury resort for staying in a forest in the middle of nowhere. After keeping my luggage in the room, I went to see the sun set across Manas river. Watching the sun set across the river, seeing the birds return to their homes, taking in soft breeze on body, windy weather, inhaling purest air, it was all mesmerizing. On the other side of Manas river, are the majestic, silent and scary mountains of Bhutan.
I walked for sometime on river bank and clouds were my constant companion. I quickly settled down to a delicious dinner as food was served to me within no time. I had some mouth-watering and yummy local vegetarian cuisines consisting of dal- outenga and narikol payas. In the forest, food was like a manna from heaven. I walked a while after dinner.
After seeing the calm ambience, millions of feelings rolled down my mind but words fail to flow from within. I got completely soaked in the tranquil environment and realized after a while that how rivers and forests are linked inextricably to our lives. With no electricity, no mobile connectivity and no news papers, the only connection with outside world was through our wireless sets. After half an hour post dinner stroll, I went into deep slumber as early morning was reserved for river rafting. The next morning dawned bright and clear.
The Sun rises early in N-E India. The morning light started peeping into my room as if someone is slowly raising the curtain of my window and golden ray is making its way to room through small fascinating wooden window grills. The morning was surreal as sound of wind and water blend perfectly. To capture Sun rise, I decided to sacrifice my morning sleep. After a quick freshening up, I proceeded towards two waiting rafts, one for me and other for my security component. After seeing the captivating rising Sun, I cautiously sat on raft. The sound of pure riverine water dominated the sound of my own heart beats. The morning fresh and chilled air touched my face and a kind of cold sensation just ran through my body. The golden reflection in the water, rising Sun behind the majestic hills of Bhutan, the cold breeze, dancing waves and rhythmic sound of watery waves- the whole aura was enchanting. The picture was too perfect to ask for. It really made me still and speechless. I wondered about God’s creation and felt blessed to experience river rafting in mighty Manas at magical Mathanguri.
The new dawn smiled at me and I too gulped the purest air as the raft moved on. I captured few scintillating moments into my lens. A breathless rafting excursion down the Manas river continued for more than an hour. On the way the numerous birds like pani kauri ( cormorant), darter (snakebird), fishing eagle, swallow martin, scarlet minivet, oriole, heron, Bengal pelicans, swift, sand piper, hetulika etc entertained us by their majestic flying skills. I have also seen the powerful wild buffaloes with their big horns grazing in the grassland.
Dear friends if you are an adrenaline junkie, the rafting in majestic Manas is must. The local raft man and D.D. Boro were so informative that they made me instantly comfortable by satisfying my all queries. Well, the rafting in majestic Manas river ( Beki), most certainly was the high point of my trip. River rafting was followed by an elephant ride. I rode on an elephant personified as Radhika to see wild rhinos from the back of it. Sh Dulal Roy, an erudite handler(Mahavat) of Radhika was very knowledgeable man and explained me about some peculiar habits of rhinos from its favorite pass time mud bathing to prolong mating. Sh Roy briefed me about favorite grasses namely Nol Gah, Ekora, khagori, Borota kher, lokosa gah, tora pat liked by elephants. He also explained about Uriam goss, popularly called as tiger tree( tigers scratch on this tree for demarcating his territory). I also offered some fruits to Radhika and her lactating baby Purnima which were duly relished by mother- baby duo. I felt completely invigorated after a memorable trip to majestic Mathanguri. I not only reminisced old memories but created and recreated new memories. To me Mathanguri stands for—-
M- magnificent/ majestic
After memorable elephant ride, I opted for sprouted whole grains in breakfast owing to the array of its nutritional benefits. I was told by Niranjan , the waiter at Bashbari lodge that whole grains retain the bran and hence rich in fibers, so they digest slowly and one ends up feeling fuller for longer duration. And after travelling nearly two hours through forest tracks, I realized that how correct was Niranjan in his assertion.
Dear friends, Manas is repository of an invaluable wealth in the form of unique flora and fauna. So it is a Tiger Reserve, World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve, National Park, Elephant Reserve and fulfills criteria of N7 (Natural 7) ( exceptional natural scenic beauty), N9( outstanding example of ongoing ecological and biological process) and N10 ( in situ biological diversity) and highest population of Pelican birds in the world as well as only dwelling place for pygmy hogs. It has the greatest transborder landscape in Asia.
So it is the bounden duty of not only every local and excursionist but all the people of Assam to preserve it for posterity. After visiting traveler’s and Biologist’s paradise, I reached kokrajhar with a heart filled with contentment and peace. Dear friends, if you are looking forward for green destination and want a break from hustle and bustle of polluted cities then plan your trip to majestic, magnificent, mighty and magical Manas and spend some time in pristine ambience of Mathanguri. I am sure it will not only refresh you but dissipate any tension that niggles your mind.