Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary had caught our attention since the time we decided to make our first trip to Northeast India. We were looking at the map to get an idea of the places we could visit and this piece of land in the middle of what looked like the mighty Brahmaputra looked intriguing. That it was a wildlife sanctuary meant that we had to visit it.
After our travels in Arunachal Pradesh, we had two days to spare before we headed to Nagaland for the Hornbill festival. We were already in Dibrugarh and the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary didn’t look far.
Reaching Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary
To visit the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary, you first need to reach Guijan. At the bank of Luhit which is a tributary of the Brahmaputra river is the Guijan ghat. You can either stay at the houseboats anchored at the Guijan ghat or at any of the eco-camps in and around Guijan. A houseboat sounded like a perfect place to stay to visit a wildlife sanctuary which was an island. We decided to stay at the Nakshatra houseboat.
Shankar Das, brother of Sanjay Das who owns the houseboat lives on it and manages the Nakshatra houseboat. He gave us perfect directions to get to the boat from Dibrugarh. A local bus brought us from Dibrugarh to Tinsukia. From where we took an auto to the Guijan ghat.
It was past sunset and as we reached the final stretch we could make out that we were quite far from the city. It was pitch dark. After reaching the Guijan ghat, we had to call Shankar to ask for directions to reach the boat.
The Nakshatra houseboat is a two-storeyed boat. It stays parked at the Guijan ghat at night. The Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary was across the river, Shankar pointed out of the window. We couldn’t see anything at all. There weren’t any shimmering lights to give us any reference. “You will know when you wake up in the morning”, Shankar smiled.
Birdwatching near the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary
The anchored houseboat and a stable bed had made us forget that we were on water. Our previous experience of living on a river had been in the Amazon where a hammock had been our home for the entire stretch of the journey. Staying in a small cabin equipped with A bed and a bathroom was a novel experience for us.
The next morning, the blue landscape all around us reminded us of our location. We now saw the other bank of the river. Beyond this bank was the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary. But that would be for later. First, we were going to the Maguri Bill for some birding.
Shankar drove us in his gypsy through several villages. All houses, made of bamboo, stood on stilts. Greenery surrounded all the houses – a small kitchen garden, palm trees, bamboo and some wilderness. Almost all the houses had their own lake. Hens and ducks flittered around. Cows were waiting for their morning feed. Everything moved at a slow pace early in the winter morning.
The starting point of our birding trail on the Maguri Bill was around 5 km from the Guijanghat. A small boat was waiting for us to take us into the lake (Bill). The boatman asked us if we wanted chairs to be placed inside the boat. We refused, the planks would be fine. We didn’t want to stand out to the birds.
We saw several cormorants, kingfishers and ibises. We also saw fishing nets set up and lowered into the water. The fishermen would come later in the day and check their catch. The highlight of this trip was sighting the Rudyshel ducks. We could hear them from afar. They were by the hundreds near the swamps in the lake. But they are shy and we could never get close enough to them.
We spent around an hour in the lake and got back to the houseboat for breakfast.
Into the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary
A small boat took us to the other bank of the Luhit river. A long walk across the sandy shore got us to the edge of the sanctuary. Two guys from the Nakshatra houseboat were accompanying us. We first crossed a settlement, almost a village.
The guys accompanying us now picked up some long sturdy sticks. “In case the bison gets alarmed”, they told us. Initially, we saw some cows grazing. They belonged to the people who lived here, inside the sanctuary.
There are over 500 species of endemic and migratory birds here in the Dibru SaikhowaWildlife Sanctuary. Sanjay Das, the owner of the Nakshatra houseboat is an avid birder, photographer and a conservationist. He grew up inside the sanctuary and the place is close to his heart. The ecological balance of the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary was the main reason behind taking up the tourism initiative.
He now actively documents the sightings on the various species of birds, mammals as well as plants and uploads the data, including photographs on the various ecology and conservation related websites. Being able to share these sightings and images with the outside world plays a huge role in generating interest of the academic world to the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary. Groups of students studying biodiversity, botany and such fields now regularly visit the sanctuary to understand its unique ecosystem.
This awareness plays a huge role in conservation. We were amazed at how mobile technology was being used for ecosystem conservation at the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary.
We walked further into the sanctuary and reached a tree spread out over such an expanse that we couldn’t figure out where it began and where it ended. Known as the Kekjori, it takes around 10 minutes to walk the circumference of the tree. You can try to climb its multi-storeyed branches and try to reach the top tier!
It had taken us over 2 hours just to reach here. The sanctuary went much deeper, meeting the Brahmaputra river at the other end. People of the Mishing tribe lived inside the sanctuary and they had their settlements at a few places. The Guijan ghat was their connection to the outside world, otherwise, they lived within the sanctuary itself.
Visiting the village inside the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary
On our way back, we stopped at the village we had crossed on our way in. Here too, the houses were built on stilts. Cabbage, beans, laipatta (a green leafy vegetable, popular in Assam) and other greens were growing in small patches outside most homes.
Seeing us, the curious tourists, a family invited us for tea. While we waited outside in the front yard, people came to chat. A young guy asked where we were from. When we replied Mumbai, he asked us if we understood Gujarati. We were surprised to know that he and several other young guys from this village work at the diamond factories in Surat. They were all visiting home during the Diwali break. How had they, from this tiny corner of Assam learnt of this job in Surat?
Sujay Das had mentioned his desire to make this into a model village and start homestays so more people could come to explore the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary. If assured of a stable income, the families could all stay together without having to step out for jobs. “We get good internet speeds here. Airtel 4G works very well for us”, he said. He would train the people to take bookings online or through the phone, just like they were doing for the Nakshatra houseboat.
We now headed back to the boat to take us to Nakshatra houseboat. We were walking on the sand when Subhash called one of the guys. He wanted to know much longer we would take. A boat had arrived with some fresh local fish, and if we were close by, he would buy it to make some fish preparation for lunch.
That evening (late afternoon actually as the sun sets much earlier in North East India) we saw a glorious sunset over the Luhit river. The water turned a silken pink before darkness descended and once again, it turned pitch black.
The Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary had surprised us, not so much with its remoteness (which was expected), but with inclusiveness. A tribe managed to survive in harmony with the wildlife. A village survived without destroying the ecosystem. And the plans for growth were centred around conservation – just as they should always be.
Tips for visiting the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary
- The sanctuary is easily accessible from the cities of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh in Assam. Being on the plains, both these cities have rail connectivity. Buses also ply regularly.
- If travelling by public transport, you first need to get to Tinsukia. Inform the conductor that you want to go to Guijan ghat, he will drop you accordingly.
- Shared rickshaws will take you to the Guijan village. But for the Guijan ghat, you will have to hire a separate rickshaw.
- When travelling in the winters, keep a light sweater as it can get a little chilly on the water at night.
- If you want to see the feral horses, you will have to camp on an island nearby. Pack accordingly and inform your hosts of your intentions so that they can make the arrangements.
- Keep an insect repellent handy.
- Enjoy the local food. Bring your trash back to the city.