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Day 99: Majuli to Kaziranga

Michael Palin - HimalayaBack on the river, the wide, open reaches of the Brahmaputra are as calming as the monastery. Most of the vast, impermanent mud flats are devoid of humans or livestock. A few other boats pass, including a travelling theatre group in a green barge, noisy and low in the water. Mobile theatre is highly popular in Assam.

Time drifts by. A flock of lapwings from the other side of the Himalaya wheels above us. A solitary vulture turns slowly over the southern bank. Maan takes my binoculars and has a closer look. He is searching for more vultures and their absence confirms his worries over their dramatic decline in numbers, thought to be largely the result of chemical pesticides.

Where we shall be tonight is considered a shining example of how environmental protection can work. Kaziranga, which boasts the disconcerting slogan 'Come. Get Lost', is a 293-square-mile (760 sq km) reserve on the banks of the Brahmaputra. It was the first wildlife sanctuary in India, set up 100 years ago, by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, after his wife had gone to see the famed horned rhinos of the area and returned without encountering a single one. Since the Rhino Protection Act of 1913 the horned rhino has returned from the brink of extinction, and Maan tells me there are now 1500 to 1600 of them in the park, 70 per cent of the world's population, protected by 400 staff and 120 anti-poaching camps.

Not everyone sees this as a fairy tale. Serious concerns have been raised that animals matter more than people and that the local population has paid a high price for Kaziranga's 'success'.

We shall see.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 99: Majuli to Kaziranga
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Kaziranga
  • Book page no: 233

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