There is no one way to describe Manas National Park.
Lying on the foothills of the Himalaya, Manas is the most stunning pristine wildlife habitat in India, comparable to the best in the world in the beauty of its spectacular landscape. It is also a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, a Project Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve - a unique distinction. This Brahmaputra Valley semi-evergreen forest Terrestrial Eco-region is also the richest in species of all Indian wildlife areas and the only known home for the rare and endangered Assam Roofed Turtle, Hispid Hare, Golden Langur and Pygmy Hog.
And the shame is that we watched and participated in the butchering of Manas for 17 years !!
Manas is the closest I have come to seeing paradise on earth in my life - but that was 35 years ago. Today, Manas looks like an aged diva wearing rags, though I think I still caught the familiar sparkle in the eye.
The focus point of Manas National Park is the enchanting Manas River, named after the serpent goddess Manasa. It is the largest Himalayan tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra. Coming down the Bhutan Hills from the north, the crystal clear waters of the Manas river runs through the heart of the 500 sq. km core area of Manas Park. The main tourist spot of Mothanguri, on the northern border of Manas with Bhutan, is situated on the banks of this river.
Situated in the north bank of the Brahmaputra river, in Assam, Manas lies on the international border with Bhutan. It is bounded on the north by the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, on the south by populous North Kamrup district and on both east and west by buffer forest reserves which are part of 2,840 sq. Km Manas Tiger Reserve.
The Manas River flows through the west of the park, where it splits into two separate rivers, the Beki and Bholkaduba. These and five small rivers drain the Reserve which lies on a wide low-lying alluvial terrace below the foothills of the outer Himalaya.
Limestone and sandstone form the bedrock of the savanna area in the north while the grasslands in the south consist of deep deposits of fine alluvium.
Vegetation: The Burma Monsoon Forests of Manas lie on the borders between the Indo-Gangetic and Indo-Malayan bio-geographical realms and is part of the Brahmaputra Valley Biogeographic Province. The combination of Sub-Himalayan Bhabar Terai formation with riverine succession leading up to Sub-Himalayan mountain forest makes it one of the richest biodiversity areas in the world.
Two major biomes are represented in Manas ~ the grassland biome and the forest biome.
The main vegetation types are: i) Sub-Himalayan Light Alluvial Semi-Evergreen forests in the northern parts, ii) East Himalayan mixed Moist and Dry Deciduous forests (the most common type), iii) Low Alluvial Savanna Woodland, and iv) Assam Valley Semi-Evergreen Alluvial Grasslands which cover almost 50% of the Park. Much of the riverine dry deciduous forest is at an early successional stage. It is replaced by moist deciduous forest away from water courses, which is succeeded by semi-evergreen climax forest in the northern part of the park. A total of 543 plants species have been recorded from the core zone. Of these, 374 species are dicotyledons (including 89 trees), 139 species monocotyledons and 30 are Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms.
The Park's common trees include Aphanamixis polystachya, Anthocephalus chinensis, Syzygium cumini, S. formosum, S. oblatum, Bauhinia purpurea, Mallotus philippensis, Cinnamomum tamala, Actinodaphne obvata, Bombax ceiba, Sterculia villosa, Dillenia indica, D. pentagyna, Careya arborea, Lagerstroemia parviflora, L.speciosa, Terminalia bellirica, T. chebula, Trewia polycarpa, Gmelina arborea, Oroxylum indicum and Bridelia spp. The Grasslands are dominated by Imperata cylindrica, Saccharum naranga, Phragmites karka, Arundo donax, Dillenia pentagyna, Phyllanthus emblica, Bombax ceiba, and species of Clerodendrum, Leea, Grewia, Premna and Mussaenda
Fauna: Manas is the melting point of the west and the east, with many species at the westernmost and easternmost point of their range representing a gateway for species exchanges between the typically Indian and Malayan' faunas.
A total of 55 mammals, 50 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded, several species being endemic. Manas contains 21 of India's Schedule I mammals and at least 33 of its animals listed as threatened, by far the greatest number of any protected area in the country. Some, like the Assam Roofed turtle Kachuga sylhetensis, Gee's Golden Langur Trachypithecus geei, Hispid Hare Caprolagus hispidus, Pygmy Hog Sus salvanius and the only pure strain of Asiatic Wild Buffalo Bubalus arnee, are only found/best seen here.
Gee's Golden Langur
Image: Sujan Chatterjee
Bird life: The diverse habitat of Manas is ideal home for a variety of specialized birds. Manas boasts the largest population of the endangered Bengal Florican in the world and is also a great place to see the Great Hornbill. The National Park lists around 380 species and the adjoining hilly terrain in Bhutan can easily add a hundred birds to that total. Good birds to look for are Greater Adjutant, Black-tailed Crake, Red-headed Trogon, Swamp Francolin, Wreathed and Rufous-necked Hornbill, Marsh and Jerdon's Babblers, Pied Harrier, Rufous-rumped and Bristled Grassbirds, Hodgson's Bushchat, Rufous-vented Laughingthrush, Finn's Weaver, Ibisbill and a variety of foothills species.
Ethnic political and civil unrest in the area (not unconnected with the conservation of Manas and the poverty of the locals) led to unchecked arson, poaching and looting in Manas for almost two decades. This caused widespread degradation and loss of as much as 50 per cent forest cover in many parts, plus inevitably, the loss of animal species.
On ground conservation action has commenced at Manas after the signing of an agreement between the Bodo people and the Government of India in 2003 and the subsequent formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). The responsibility for management of the park now rests with the BTC and specifically with an Executive Member of the BTC. The BTC has stated that Manas is an asset and should be managed to protect wildlife.
With these developments, Manas appears now to be entirely peaceful and perfectly safe to visit again.
How to reach: The National Highway No.31 adjoins Barpeta Road (not Barpeta town), the headquarters of Manas Tiger Reserve. The nearest point on the southern boundary of Manas National Park is 22 kms from the NH 31, and 19 kms from the town itself. Barpeta Road is 176 km from Guwahati, from where one can drive to the Mothanguri area. The journey takes about 51/2 - 6 hours by road. The eastern sector is also accessed from either Barpeta Road (if coming by train) or from Guwahati. Pathsala town, 100 kms from Guwahati, on NH 31 is the main entry point. From here the road travels north on NH 152 for 30 kms to reach Lakhi Baazar, the entry point. This journey takes about 41/2 - 5 hours by road from Guwahati airport.
The nearest rail junction is at Barpeta Road and the most convenient airport is at Guwahati.
Permits: No special permits are required to visit Manas. You must, however, obtain permission to stay inside the forest from the Filed Director's Office at Barpeta Road.
Where to stay:
The central zone of Manas, covering the Mathanguri area, is the most scenic and must be visited to appreciate and savour the beauty of Manas. Eco-tourism has been recently initiated in the eastern Kaklabari area by the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society, opening up this bird rich area to visitors. Though connected, distances and road conditions do not permit visiting both parts of Manas from one point. Those desiring to cover both central and eastern parts are advised to make overnight arrangements for the two areas separately.
1. Mathanguri Forest Bungalow
1a. Forest Lodges at Barpeta Road and Bansbari
Field Director, Manas Tiger Reserve, Barpeta Road -781315,
Tel.- 03666-261413(O), 260289(Control Room)
2. The Bansbari Lodge, Bansbari (For Mothanguri area)
Assam Bengal Navigation Company
Tel: +91 92070 42330
email: email@example.com; Website
3. For guided tours contact Sujan Chatterjee at East India Birding
Longitude: 90°50' - 92°00'E Latitude: 26°30' - 27°00'N
Rainfall: 3330 mm
Altitude: 60 -200m over m.s.l.
Temperatures: Min 5°C; Max 37°C
Best Season: November to March. Park is closed between June and September.
The Manas ~ Assam's unknown wildlife sanctuary - J. Burnett (1958). Oryx 4: 322-325
Conservation in Manas Tiger Reserve - A. Choudhury (1988). Tigerpaper 15(2)
Manas ~ A Monograph - S. Deb Roy (1991). Tigerpaper 18(1)
Manas tiger reserve threatened - P. Jackson (1989) . Environmental Awareness 13(1)
Manas: Paradise under siege - G. Narayan (1990). Sanctuary Asia 10(1).
Department of Environment & Forests; Government of Assam
UNESCO World Hertiage Centre
Birdlife International: Manas
Note: Text originally written in 2005. Minor updates 2017.