Into the morning mist
Weâ€™re off through the tall dewy grass, which rustles the elephantsâ€™ shoulders and dampens my knees. And just like that, a rhino appears. It wades through muck as the morningâ€™s first light glints off the surroundings. Atop the rhino, birds perch from neck to rump, leaving little white stains all the way. The rhino pays almost no attention to us â€“ an occasional turn of the head, a tiny eye toward us. But it seems to care nothing of the half-dozen elephants and quadruple that number of people arced around the animal 30 meters away.
We all have a good look, elephants shifting as per the mahoutsâ€™ directions so that each guest may take a photo or five or 10. We continue on across the wide earth of 10-foot grasses that will wither in the dryness of the coming months. By February they will burn when the people set this land afire to regenerate growth.
Hundreds of deer congregate on the mudflats, which suck and slurp beneath the elephantsâ€™ toes. Swamp deer â€“ some with mighty racks â€“ graze and lounge, while smaller hog deer scamper through the grasses nearer to us.
The great ones
Turn around: there she is, the
Farther on, we find a mother rhino shielding a baby. Itâ€™s a weak attempt, it seems, for she lets us circle her and gaze upon her, merely 8 feet away. They hide beneath grasses taller than her head. She shifts; so do we. She seems not annoyed, but hospitable. The baby wanders from her side, frontward and backward until they both bid us farewell.
Endangered one-horned rhinos
These rhinos â€“ such leathery skin and prehistoric appearances! And yet, a gentleness. A trust that allows us just meters from their world. Of course, not all encounters are so peaceful. A park guide later tells us mother rhinos often grow frustrated and angry. Thatâ€™s when the ranger with a rifle shoots into the air, and the rhinos inevitably moves on.
Later in the day, we wander a small road past the government-run park lodges, past a tea plantation where women come up the path with firewood resting atop their heads. Men weed the plantation, scythes in hand. We follow the road to a bend by the water, where a man washes his SUV.
From there, we climb to yet more tea trails, watching three women swiftly shifting loads of leaves from sack to sack. Their boss arrives, and smiles fade from the womenâ€™s faces. Soon, they are down the hill, picking more leaves.
We pass village homes, tidy flower gardens, packed-earth huts, goats and roaming cows. We pass people who exude an air of peace. They seem happy, anyway â€“ and this place inspires it. Kohora has nothing to do with the slums of Guwahati or Kolkata. I write, as mynas chortle out my window and I am remembering the great chorus of parakeets we passed in the morning.