Recently the oil spill at Baghjan in Upper Assam caused a massive explosion and the authorities are still trying to douse the fire. Nearby villages had to be evacuated and a lot of irreversible damage has been caused to the farmland. This unfortunate incident becomes all the more important for nature lovers because this village is located on the edge of Dibru Saikhowa National Park, one of Assam’s most diverse yet underrated wildlife spots. I visited it a few years ago, under normal circumstances, and found it to be one of the most unique sanctuaries in India. So, this incident reminded me of that trip.
Where Brahmaputra is Born
Dibru Saikhowa is situated at the easternmost point of Assam where the main stream from Tibet meets with Dibru and Lohit rivers and forms 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 unique landscape. This partly deciduous and partly evergreen forest is spread across 350 square kms and is the easiest to reach from Tinsukia town, which is a busy trading centre.
An Avian Paradise
So, the sanctuary is surrounded by rivers on all sides and boat rides are the only ways to explore it. We arrived in Tinsukia and contacted a local tour operator whose number we found online in a travel forum. He instructed us to hire an autorickshaw and arrive at Guijan, a small river port, a few KMs ahead of the town. After some negotiations, we hired a small motorboat for the day, primarily for a birding trip, but there was more in store.
This confluence of three rivers 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 here. Hornbills are there too, but one has to be lucky to find them. Even rarer is the white-winged wood duck, which is the state bird of Assam but at present rate it may go extinct very soon!
As we were enjoying the brids, the boat stopped at one point suddenly and we were informed that it is one of the best places to catch highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphins (Platanista Gangetica).
While I had always known about them, I had never seen any as they have almost disappeared from most parts of Brahmaputra due to pollution and indiscriminate poaching. However, this is one of the few remaining places that can give you guaranteed sighting. Do not expect them to fly out of the water like those oceanic cousins you see on TV. They come out only for a fraction of a second to draw oxygen and after a lot of effort, I managed to click one of them.
Elusive Feral Horses
This is another interesting story at Dibru Saikhowa that reverses the usual flow of domestication of animals. After the World Wars, the soldiers of the eastern theatre left their horses behind due to logistical issues. In the absence of any large predators, they found refuge and thrived in this jungle and their later generations grew up to be wild, feral horses. We could not spot them as they mostly remain in the interiors of the jungle and you have to camp inside for a night to see any of them (So, you need an extra day at hand for this). But I would suggest it to anyone who has the time as it will be a rare opportunity to sight these magnificent creatures in their purest form, completely free of any human intervention.
So, we returned after a good day of bird and dolphin sighting, along with a refreshing boat ride. I have been looking to go there again for a longer trip but it has not materialized so far and this year has seen too many crises. I just hope they get rid of the oil spill while we overcome the pandemic and we can go looking for the wild horses again. However, honestly I think we need to be more aware of the fragile ecology here.
Tips for visitors:
You can make day trips from Tinsukia (Nearest Railhead) or Dibrugarh (Nearest airport). But for the best experience you should spend a night at one of the eco-lodges by the side of the river, take a river cruise on the double decker boats to the interiors of the park, and camp at one of the river islands for one night. Large land mammals are rare and no there are no rhinos or tigers. But it is a great place for bird watchers and of course for unique sightings of dolphins and feral horses that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in India.
Jitaditya Narzray is known mostly as Travelling Slacker, as he has been running that travel blog since 2011. He is a digital nomad who left his corporate job and prefers to focus on Indian Himalayas and Northeast India and mostly travels solo, uses public transport, and prefers hinterlands over hotspots.
Jitaditya is North East Travel Contributor for Ukhrul Times
You can follow him on Instagram Travelling Slacker