Kaziranga lies about 220-odd kilometers from Guwahati and most of the road stretches on beautifully before you. Patches of green alongside are so green that your mind register any other colour. And all along the road are little stalls selling the juiciest and sweetest pineapples ever!
There are a few tea plantations too, although they are very different from what you’d see in Darjeeling or the rest of north Bengal. These are on near-flat grounds, and not slopes like I am accustomed to seeing. Then along the way, the plantations give way to clumps of forest land with a stray house or two in between.
My arrival at Guwahati was around midday, and the driver was at the airport with a placard of my name. I asked him to stop someplace for lunch, and he took me to this place where they were serving an Assamese thali. Extras were rohu fish or duck, and since I am not a fan of the poor man’s Katla, I asked for the duck curry. It was very bone-y but nice, and the Assamese thali was tasty. I do wish they had given more of the sides though – I wonder if it’s regular to give such dismal amounts of sides with so much rice. The copper plates were a wonderful touch!
So anyway, I got to the resort in Kaziranga well after sundown, and after a fair number of heart-in-the-mouth moments thanks to the rash driving of Deepok Kolita. The Wild Grass Lodge in Kaziranga looks deceptively run down from the outside, but inside, it is a surprisingly elegant place. The wooden flooring, the furniture and even the food is rustic Assamese, and the staff was extremely helpful, except perhaps for one very drunk waiter in the restaurant. The restaurant itself had the decor and lighting of an old ’50s movie, and the rustic nature of everything around helped me get over the weariness of the early morning flight and Kolita’s scary driving.
But what actually helped me slip into that blessed feeling was some spectacular Assamese tea. Sure my room was very comfortable, but it was the tea that really sunk in the fact that I was in Assam, and on holiday! On that first day itself, I had what felt like a few gallons of Assamese tea, thick with milk and very different from the usual Darjeeling. So there I was, curled up in a bamboo chair with a book, a thick jacket to keep out the cold and downing cup after cup of excellent Assamese tea while doing away with the trappings of everyday life – no Wi-fi, no TV, and taking in the silence of the lodge.
Dinner was at the beautifully colonial dining room – a plain meal of dal, rice, fried potatoes and a chicken curry. There’s something about chicken curry in a place like this you know. I have felt it before in the Sundarbans too – the more rustic the place, the tastier its food feels. The piping hot curry with loads of pepper and extremely soft chicken felt otherworldly.
I also had the option of tasting a local catfish called Ari but chose to skip it. It had been a long day and I had big stuff lined up for the next day – three Kaziranga safaris arranged for by the hotel. It was going to be a wonderful day and I couldn’t wait for it. If only nights were shorter!