Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Guwahati is a hot seat to spot Rhinos and other animals in the wild

The query one is greeted with, the moment you say you are from Assam is: “So have you seen rhinos? Have you been to Kaziranga? How far is it from Guwahati?” As a native of Assam and having grown up in Guwahati, it is embarrassing to say, “No, I haven’t been to Kaziranga. But yes I have seen a live rhino in the wild.”

The fact being anyone can get a binocular view of a rhino from the National highway 37 which leads to Upper Assam. But what many do not know is— spotting a rhino in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary is much easier, and that it is closer to Guwahati.

Located just about 40 kilometers from the Guwahati Railway Station, Pobitora is about 30 kilometres from Numati oil refinery. The route is absolutely traffic free and the newly laid Chardrapur highway makes the road journey a pleasure. It is located in Morigaon district but it is easier to reach this sanctuary from Guwahati. The habitat comprises Assam alluvial grassland with hilly forests for an area of 38.81 sq. kms.

Right from the entry to the office of the Sanctuary nothing is loud; nor is it crowded with the usual souvenir and small change shops. The Assam wildlife division staff makes sure the surroundings are clean and litter free. Right at the entrance there is a small park with exactly three play equipment and lots of shade for families to sit and enjoy the tranquillity.

The Sanctuary houses the world’s highest density of one horned rhinoceros. To get into the forest, the forest department provides open jeeps and elephant rides. We had no choice but to opt for a jeep because the elephants were all booked. We are reassured when told that an elephant ride can be long and tiring and unless you have company of other ‘elephants’, it is not advisable. “Rhinos sometimes attack riders when an elephant isn’t in a group of elephants,” we are told.

Besides the driver of the jeep, an armed forest guard accompanies you as your guide. These guards know exactly where the rhinos can be spotted and give a lot of information about their whereabouts and their behaviour. Five minutes into the forest and we spot our first rhino. Our excitement is expressed in squeals and the guard is quick to request to keep it low, ‘or else we will scare them away from grazing.’ Once inside the sanctuary it is rhinos at every other corner. On a lighter note: ‘Spotting rhinos in Pobitora is like spotting cows on the streets of Guwahati.’

Spotting the healthy beasts from close quarters will make one realise how small we are as human beings. But these beasts are usually gentle unless they have a baby or are provoked. But once provoked, they can give athletes a good run for their speed.

The beauty of the sanctuary lies in the way the forest is left wild. From odd branches of tall trees hang washed out remains. A forestguard explains, “Those are brought by flood waters. Water reaches to that height during the monsoon, killing several animals.” Which means the jeep would have been under water.

Further deep into the sanctuary the ground is white, as if it has snowed. For the city bred who sleep on fibre-filled pillows, it will be shocking to know that the white stuff on the ground is the best cotton one can get to make pillows and they grow in the wild. It is called Ximolu Tula and grows from Ximolu trees.

After seeing rhinos it was time to spot Asiatic water buffaloes wallowing in the mud.

The ride is extremely fun as one sees and hears birds and their calls and wild orchids in different colours hanging from trees. The ride takes approximately 40 minutes with stops to go over to the river basin to catch a glimpse of the river that flows by the sanctuary.

The animals are well protected because Pobitora is next to a village and the locals make it a point to protect the borders.

Fact file

Mammals: A total of 81 rhinoceros were sighted during the estimation in April, 2006. Other mammals found are leopard, leopard cat, fishing cat, jungle cat, feral buffalo, wild pigs

Birds: Altogether 375 species of both migratory and resident birds of 46 families have been recorded so far, with 14 listed in the Indian Red Data Book.

Fishes: An important breeding ground for a variety of fish

Amphibians: 9 species of amphibians have been recorded

Reptiles: 27 species of reptiles have been recorded