Jungle Cottages of Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp, Assam
A green carpet moist with dew drops to walk on and a diamond studded sky to stare at, this is how my day started and ended in the wildlife resort Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp near Manas National Park, Assam. Situated in lap of tea gardens and just beside the core of Manas National Park this is an ideal family friendly holiday resort.
How Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp Started?
The resort has interesting history. What we see today is ‘a dream come true’ for a group of young elephant lovers and enthusiastic wildlife lovers. Earlier elephants were used in trade, especially in logging industry. But with government ban the elephants were thrown out of their jobs, which worried the elephant owners, how to feed them. Now that the elephants were domesticated they couldn’t be sent back to jungles either. So these like minded friends got together to build a better life for the elephants.
Nearby Manas National Park was opened to public in 2003. And tourists started pouring in for safaris. They saw their opportunity here and planned to use couple of elephants for safari. Along with this came the need for accommodation for tourists. Connecting the dots they started this resort from scratch with initially just tents, common washrooms and food in 2008.
Today they have cottages, more rooms, tents and improved amenities for tourists. It is environment friendly; the building materials used, the furniture, all made with locally available materials and local craftsmen. They employ locals to cook food and provide services for tourists thus offering employment opportunities to them. This is indeed a wonderful ecotourism venture run by local youth.
Their tag line in Facebook says this:
Mission – Conservation and re-utilisation of trained, domesticated and unemployed elephants through eco-tourism.
Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp was awarded the Runner Up in Wildlife Tourism Related Community Initiative of the Year 2014 category by TOFTigers Sustaining the Wild.
Rooms in Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp
They have planned the rooms very well to cater for families with kids. There are 4 bedded, 3 bedded and 2 bedded rooms. If the child is below 5 there is a nominal sharing charge. There are cottages too with similar room facilities. For those who like tent life there is option to rent the well designed tents with toilets.
My room was spacious with 3 beds. The furnishings were good. Wall to wall curtains brightened up the room and kept it warm too. There was no electric water heater in toilets which is okay throughout the year but not during winters. However if you call them up they do provide buckets of piping hot water.
Food in Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp
Food options are local traditional food with some inclusion of dishes from other Indian cuisines. Kitchen is staffed with 3 chefs, all locals and they served such wonderful dishes, the very thought of the food there is urging me to get back there again. Lunch was several items of Bodo Cuisine. The greens tasted heavenly. They were generous in including 2 non veg dishes, often chicken and fish. Meals were often accompanied with different kinds of fritters; I looked forward to them especially the fish fritters (maachh bhaja in Bengali).
Breakfast was a simple buffet with poori-sabzi, eggs, cut fruits and juice. Throughout the day one can have their famous Lal chaa which is made with no milk, famous Assam Tea and sweetened with molasses. So perfect for the winter days! (Breakfast is not included in room cost.)
Activities at Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp
The resort has adopted 2 orphaned elephants whom they have named Ratnamala and Jaymala. Two dedicated mahouts look after the elephants and they live within the same campus of the resort. Yes, you will be sleeping close to elephants in your tents! The resort authorities have chalked out several activities with the 2 elephants which the guests can participate. Children especially find them interesting.
Bathing the Elephants
I think you can name it ‘bathing with the elephants’. Just beside the resort is a small lake. We walked along with Ratnamala and Jaymala to the lake to watch them bathe. It was interesting to watch the mahouts make them lie in the lake and scrub their body. The excited ones among us got in to the lake with the elephant on the pretext of scrubbing the elephants’ back and in the process had fun getting drenched in the showers from the elephant trunks. A good funfilled event!
Village Trail with Elephants
Evening was well spent in the activity ‘Village Trail with Elephants’. We explored Village Barangabari in Manas, both Ratnamala and Jaymala leading the way. This was the best nature therapy I have had in a long time now. We walked through tea gardens which was green and green all around. Escorted by the elephants we walked along streams and fields. Locals welcomed us with warm smiles. Wish the world had one language we could have conversed then. But they did greet us with the universal language of love!
Elephant Safari through the jungles of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
This is a very early morning activity. You have to be up by 4AM. With the tiger reserve close by wildlife safari on elephant back is a great idea. If you spot a tiger, perched on elephant back you are definitely safe compared to being in a jeep safari. Possibility of good photography is high. I will elaborate on jeep safari in another post.
Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp has done well in nurturing native talent as a part of local community development. It was a treat to watch the locals perform their traditional dance Bihu. There was a photo session in the end when we could take their pictures and also pose with them.
Location of Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp
The resort is located 139km from Guwahati Airport. NH27 is the fastest route to Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp from airport. It takes 3hours 20minutes.
By Rail: Travel time from Guwahati Railway station is 3hours 25minutes.
By Road: You can take state run and private buses; alternately you can hire a private vehicle too.