Overflow channels that have become shallow lakes, periodically recharged with water and fish by the floods, pattern the landscape. Migratory waterbirds, from bar-headed geese to ruddy shelducks, crowd into Kaziranga wetlands over the winter with spot-billed pelicans and black-necked storks. While rare Pallas's fish-eagles scoop prey from ponds, or bils, otters on the hunt sometimes arc from the water like dolphins. I even saw seven-foot-long Ganges River dolphins rising from the surface in the Brahmaputra. Endangered over most of their range, these mammals appear to be holding their own along the park's length of the river, free from fishing pressures and entangling nets.
Budheswar Konwar, my guide, stopped our open-topped jeep so he could move another aquatic creature—an Indian tent turtle—off a back road on a hot afternoon. The rest of us got out to stretch and watch. When I turned to check in the opposite direction, the view was terrible.
"Rhino!" Close and churning toward us.
These organic tanks can sprint at more than 25 miles an hour. Visitors (Kaziranga hosts about 70,000 Indian tourists and 4,000 foreign tourists annually) must have an armed park guard travel with them, and the requirement is not an idle formality. We didn't have time to leap in the vehicle and race away, so Ajit Hazarika fired a round. It was a snap shot but perfectly placed. The bullet kicked up a stinging spray of dirt inches from the attacker's front foot. Combined with the crack of the rifle, it was enough to make the rhino veer aside two seconds from us.
Ten minutes later we were driving through forest along a raised dirt track when a rhino fresh from a wallow climbed onto the road, followed by an equally muddy juvenile two-thirds her size. Walking in leaf-softened light on the red blossoms fallen from a silk-cotton tree, the pair slowed and exchanged a sniff. A second subadult appeared behind. All three then dropped out of sight down the other side.
We drove on after waiting a bit, only to discover mother rhino charging through the trees on a course aimed to collide with ours. No chance to back up, no hope of accelerating out of trouble on the rough track. Hazarika, in the passenger seat, couldn't even get off a shot before the earth-glazed female clobbered the jeep, which she far outweighed. His door caved in. I realized the rhino was shoving us toward the road's edge and butting our rig up onto two wheels, and I'd better get ready to jump before she rolled us.