World Heritage wildlife haven off the beaten tracks

Manas National Park

The only park in India where you could, with luck, see the ‘big five’ on the same game drive – herds of elephant, wild water buffalo, leopard, tiger and the Indian one-horned rhino!

With luck, patience and effort, you can also spot clouded leopards, golden cats, hoolock gibbons and even Gangetic dolphins.

It is not without reason Manas has been designated a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, a tiger reserve, an elephant reserve and a biosphere reserve – all at the same time.

World Heritage wildlife haven off the beaten tracks

Spectacularly beautiful Manas is a fascinating place for nature lovers to observe wildlife away from the crowds, with great birding and wonderful vistas.

Manas is also a haven for the rarest of rare Indian wildlife, more than any other park in India, like the pygmy hog, Bengal florican, Golden Langur, Assam roofed turtle, and its large population of wild water buffalo.

The park is an important migratory corridor for the elephant population of the entire Indo-Bhutan region, and 380 species of birds have been recorded here.

On the Indian side, the sanctuary was established in 1928 on what was once the hunting preserve of the royal families of Cooch Behar and Gauripur.

Manas’s richly variegated landscape and diverse vegetation, from moist deciduous to evergreen and riverine forests to lush grasslands, and its wide range of endangered species led it to being declared a World Heritage Site.

Mathanguri, where the Manas river enters India from Bhutan, is a wilderness dominated by the gushing river and forested hills.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Golden Langur

One of Manas’ most famous residents is the rare Golden Langur, discovered only in the mid-20th century.

In 1947, C G Baron, a sportsman and naturalist, penned the following lines: “I saw snow white monkeys (langurs)… and so far as I know they are an unidentified species. The whole body and tail is one colour… somewhat like the hair of a blonde.”

The naturalist E P Gee, authenticated the discovery in 1953 when he recorded the Golden Langur in the forest between the rivers Sankosh and Manas.

Experiences

You’ll be spoilt for choice in Manas.

Opt for extensive birdwatching, jeep safaris, elephant safaris, river rafting, visits to the India-Bhutan border or the eastern range, and jungle treks in the buffer zone.

If peace and quiet is what you seek, head towards the Mathanguri tourist site on the bank of the Manas River, close to Bhutan to experience nature at its tranquil best.

While the range of wildlife here is mind-boggling, this is one reserve in India where you’ll be happy to just visit for the sheer natural beauty, especially when the semul, also called the silk cotton trees (Bombax ceiba) bloom with their pinkish-red flowers in February and March.

From the Director's Travel Diary

One sunny morning in Mathanguri, I sat on boulders on the river bank with childlike glee, enjoying a simple breakfast as the clean and chilled waters of the Manas river swirled around my ankles. Apart from the birds and the river, not a sound could be heard.

Across the bank, lay enchanted and enigmatic Bhutan. After breakfast, a short walk across took us in to Bhutanese territory to meet the friendly guards at the Royal Manas National Park. It felt like this perfect morning could not get any better.

And then, just as we walked back into Indian soil, a sound made us look up. Sitting among the branches of a tree, chewing some fruit and looking benevolently down upon us, was a Golden Langur.

In all my travels around the world, I have yet to come across a better-looking immigration officer.

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