One of the best opportunities you’ll have of seeing a one-horned rhinoceros in India is by visiting Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. With the highest concentration of them in the country, it’s unlikely that you’ll miss the chance to see these rare giants in the wild. At only 38 square kilometers in size, most of the park can be seen in a short visit.
Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in the state of Assam in North East India, and is bounded by the Garagal Beel pond and the mighty Brahmaputra River. It's just 40 kilometers from Guwahati, 40 kilometers from Morigaon town and 270 kilometers from Jorhat. The park's proximity to Guwahati makes it a popular day-trip or weekend visit.
Pobitora is accessible by road 35 kilometers from Jagiroad off National Highway 37. The park is located just off the main road. It’s a tiny town so the park entrance is hard to miss.
Guwahati is well serviced by its airport that has flights from all over India, or alternatively you can fly into Jorhat from Kolkata or Shillong. From Guwahati, it’s only about an hour’s drive to Pobitora in a private taxi.
We traveled by private taxi that was organized by tour company Kipepeo at a cost of 2,000 rupees per day for a small vehicle. The nearest railway station is Jagiroad, which is about an hour and a half away from Pobitora.
There are many trains a day that stop there from Guwahati, as it’s a big stop on the well-traversed route across Assam. Local buses also stop near Pobitora on their way from Jagiroad and Morigaon.
When to Visit
Like most national parks in India, Pobitora is shut during the monsoon season. It closes at the end of April or mid May, depending on the weather, and re-opens at the beginning of October. Unfortunately, devastating widespread monsoon flooding in 2019 has delayed the reopening of the park probably until November.
Pobitora is a relatively quiet park, so it’s good to visit any time, although perhaps best avoid the Guwahati day-trippers on weekends and holidays. They go there for picnics rather than to spot animals and can be very disruptive.
From November to February, the weather can be a bit chilly in the evenings but the sun usually comes out during the day. After April, the rising temperatures make it rather uncomfortable. The bright yellow mustard fields in full bloom during December and January are picturesque.
What to See
The latest census, conducted in March 2018, found 102 rhinos living in Pobitora. Sometimes, it's possible to see 30 or 40 of them on a single safari!
The waterside location also makes the park an ornithologist’s treat, with over 86 species of birds present. Some are migratory birds, while others are local residents like the Grey-hooded Warbler and the White-vented Myna. Some species close to extinction also frequent Pobitora including Nordmann’s Greenshank and the Greater Adjutant.
How to Visit
One-hour jeep and elephant safaris are conducted inside the park. Both elephants and jeeps are used for the safaris. Many tourists prefer to go on an elephant safari because it enables them to get closer to the rhinos. However, others believe it's cruel to ride elephants and choose a jeep safari instead. Jeep safaris follow the road and tend to be dusty.
The elephant safaris take place in the morning at 6.30 a.m. and 7.30 a.m. The first jeep safari departs at 7 a.m., and the safaris keep running until 3 p.m. except for lunch between noon and 1 p.m.
It's not necessary to book safaris in advance. You'll find jeeps and drivers waiting near the entrance gate. However, when the park is busy on weekends and holidays, it's a good idea to arrive early before it opens. If you're concerned about availability of elephant safaris, contact the Range Officer for assistance on 03678-248157. It's also possible to book elephant safaris through local tour operators and hotels at a higher price. Here is one option.
Fees and Charges
There are separate entrance fees and safari fees at Pobitora, and the rates differ for Indians and foreigners. The entrance fee is 50 rupees per person for Indians and 500 rupees per person for foreigners. The rate for jeep safaris is 1,300 rupees for up to six people, including the cost of toll, guide and security. Elephant safaris are 500 per person for Indians and 1,000 per person for foreigners. There are extra charges for still and video cameras, with prices starting at 50 rupees (for still cameras).
Solo travelers can try their luck joining a group to reduce the jeep safari price.
It's possible to spend the whole day inside the park, from sunrise until sunset. The cost is 200 rupees for Indians and 2,000 rupees for foreigners.
Rhinos can be seen without even entering the park, albeit from a distance. Just go past the turnoff to the park and drive through the town and over the bridge. You’ll be surrounding by rice paddies, and in the distance to your left you may just see a rhino or five. We saw a few here although the chance of seeing one at close range is much more likely within the actual park.
Where to Stay
There aren’t too many options for accommodations in Pobitora, with only a few places to choose from.
The best one is the outstanding new Zizina Otis Resort with luxury air-conditioned tents and mud cottages from about 5,000 rupees per night. It's conveniently situated right near the entrance gate and has a good relationship with the forest department. Safari bookings are arranged.
We stayed at the Arya Eco Resort, and were the only people occupying one of their four rooms. Don’t let the name fool you though, there’s not much “Eco” about the “Resort”, from the faux log cabins to the male staff standing around watching our every move but offering little in the way of service. Less than 100 meters away from the entrance of the park, it’s functional though, albeit a bit pricey at 3,000 rupees per room.
Decent budget accommodations can be found across the road at Maibong Resort. It’s a larger complex and a bit older, with cottages starting from 1,800 rupees a night.
Should You Visit Kaziranga or Pobitora?
Are you short on time, most interested rhinos, don't want to travel too far, prefer to avoid the crowds, and don't mind less facilities? Definitely consider Pobitora as opposed to the larger and more famous Kaziranga National Park. Not only is it much more convenient to visit, it's cheaper and the elephant safaris will take you close to the rhinos.
The drawbacks at Pobitora are that the safaris aren't as long and there aren't as many other animals to spot. However, the rhinos will be enough if that's mainly what you want to see!