Shruti Kothari Tomar never thought she would get this close to a onehorned rhinoceros. But at the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Guwahati, it was a dream come true
Despite an early-morning flight out of New Delhi, Guwahati’s Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport saw me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed upon landing. I was whisked away to the Vivanta by Taj, by which time I was raring to explore the city. A refreshing drink in little bamboo cups did the rounds while our hosts brought us up to speed on what to expect ahead. But what caught my eye on the itinerary was a visit to the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. I had read up a little on the sanctuary and its residents, but I knew that no amount of reading could prepare you for an experience in the wild.
About 30 km from Guwahati, the sanctuary is an hour’s drive on a road that gives you glimpses of daily local life, the vast Brahmaputra river and the magical district of Mayong. A word on Mayong here. The name comes from the word maya, meaning illusion. The district is a cluster of hamlets on the banks of the Brahmaputra and is known as the land of black magic. Swaddled in a blanket of mystery, Mayong has several secrets and stories tucked away in its dark corners. Tales of people who disappeared into thin air, of those transformed into animals and of wild beasts magically tamed emanate from every home. It is said that black magic folklore is preserved at the Mayong Central Museum. Legend has it that the emperor of Mayong named the forest Pobitora after his daughter, who passed away in youth.
Finally, we reached the gates of Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, and the anticipation of seeing the one-horned rhinoceros and the elephants was palpable. After the customary paperwork, we piled into “Save the Rhino” four-wheelers and were given the lowdown on how to behave in the wild. There are strict do’s and don’ts, and you don’t want to do any of the don’ts and you simply have to do the do’s. (I bet you read that again, didn’t you?) Jaspreet Singh, our guide, gave us a few extra pointers on what to watch out for – along with a bottle of sunscreen – and off we drove into the sanctuary. The Indian one-horned rhinoceros, now an endangered species, calls Pobitora home. The sanctuary lies on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra, the boggy marshlands making for a perfect natural habitat for rhinos, wild buffaloes and wild boars. Kaziranga National Park, Manas Wildlife Sanctuary and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary are three of the most significant areas for the conservation of the one-horned rhino.
Though the 38.8-sq km area of the park may seem small for a sanctuary, the density of the one-horned rhino here is quite high, which ensures no visitor goes back disappointed. And neither did we. The first we spotted was trying to fend off a croaking egret circling him, and annoyed further by a jeep-ful of staring tourists, threatened to run right at us if we got any closer. Can’t say we blame him! The next one refused to even acknowledge our presence from her muddy slumber bed till we actually started whispering a bit too loudly. That is when she looked up, and I am sure I saw her wink at us before she promptly went back to her siesta. A little ahead, we spotted a sounder of wild boars playing under the shade of a huge tree. Lumbering along ahead were a herd of elephants. Towards the end of our safari, Jaspreet said, “I would live in the jungle forever if I could, but the government is not giving me a house here!” Such is the call of the wild, I suppose.