If Tamil Nadu is proud of Rajnikanth and Gujarat, of Modi, then Assam is equally proud of its Rhinos. The Indian one-horned Rhinoceros.
You stand atop a building in Guwahati and throw a stone, more often than not, it will fall on a poster/hoarding which has a Rhino in it. Rhinoceros is more than just an animal in this part of the country. It is an identity.
For the people of Shillong who feel Kaziranga is too far and mainstream to sight Rhinos, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) is a good substitute. It’s just a 4 hour ride from Shillong city, located about 30 km from Guwahati.
A group of nine of us left in a Sumo at around 3:30 am from Campus and reached PWS at 7:30 am, after having Alu Parathas for breakfast at Jorabat. On reaching the place, the guard told us that the density of Rhinos as compared to Kaziranga, is higher in Pobitora. Number wise, Kaziranga has 2000 odd Rhinos, compared to Pobitora’s humble 91.
A long bridge connected the mainland to the land of the Rhinos. Beneath us in the waters, we saw a great exhibition of human-animal interaction; mahout standing fearlessly on top of a slippery elephant body, helping it take bath.
We had booked for the early morning elephant ride through the dry land of the Rhinos, right in their territory. We split ourselves into three elephants initially; apparently all three were from the same family – mom, dad and daughter. Can’t recollect all names but my elephant was called Bhagee. Other than the mahout, an armed security guard also accompanied each elephant. Two other guards in a cute tiny elephant (let’s call it Kalyani) also joined the contingent of elephants into the Rhino zone.
Ten minutes into the safari, my legs started to cramp. Bhagee was so fat (even for an elephant) that my legs on either side of the elephant were almost parallel to the ground; yes, so fat. One of the guards suggested I move to Kalyani. For a boring person like me, jumping from Bhagee to Kalyani amid a forest where Rhinos were roaming around, was adventurous enough.
Kalyani had the best seat of the lot. I was at eye level with Bhagee and family and closer to the Rhinos.
The Rhinos were so lazy to even move, that one could easily mistake them to be statues. It was quite a sight, watching the lazy beasts lazing around in their home. They looked larger than I imagined or what the photos showed.
Humans aren’t respected if they don’t do work, stay at home, just eat food and sleep. Rhinos do the same thing and become famous, even attracting crowds from across the globe. Only, they have to be wary of poachers who might cut their nose off anytime, in pursuit of printed paper what people call “money”.
The Safari lasted roughly an hour. A few exotic birds were also spotted here and there. The interesting part of the Pobitora trip started and ended with the elephant safari, for me. We then went for a two hour boat ride in the backwaters. I slept for the entire duration. After lunch, we went on a jeep safari around the perimeter of the sanctuary. Unlike the elephant safari, the jeep ride didn’t give us a clear view of the Rhinos. In fact, they were so far that we couldn’t differentiate Rhinos from Buffaloes.