A 24 hrs ban by the ULFA kept me longer in Dibrugarh than I really wanted to. Bans are quite common in the insurgency hit states of the North East like Assam and Manipur, but nothing is as serious as a ban by a militia group; they could shoot down anyone on the street. Trust me, I’ve been in all sorts of bans, but there’s nothing like a ban imposed by insurgent groups- streets go silent! This was my second day ban within a week in Assam. This first time I locked myself in the hotel almost the whole day, but this time I was going to take a walk as far as I could.
I had to go see Jokai Botanical Garden, which was listed as one of the tourist destination in Dibrugarh, but it was 12km south of the town. The road was empty, though occasionally a rickshaw or an auto would pass by. Many people from smaller village hadn’t even realized that it was a band and they drove to the town to earn their daily wages only to find out that everything was closed.
Luckily, there were few local taxis plying on the road towards Jokai Botanical Garden. I didn’t know whether I would reach there or not, but I took a taxi to Sajal Nagar. From there I hopped on to a taxi to Mancotta, then to Khanikgar and so on until I reached Jokai Botanical garden. There were small villages and rice fields on the way. The road was quite good, though it was small. After painfully asking for directions from several passersby and a fisherman I finally made it to the Jokai Botanical garden. The entrance to the park was modest; at best it looked like a much neglected garden.
Jokai Botanical Garden is spread over 1.2 hectares of land in the midst of Jokai Reserved forest. Apart from being a storehouse of germplasm, the garden also houses an orchid house, a rest house, and a lake.
Most of the park is kept unspoiled and that is one of the best things about it. I ventured deeper into the forest and met a tall man carrying a bundle of dried wood he had collected from the garden. Though the area is under protection, villagers still venture into the woods and do damage to plants, which is a cause of concern. I could hear the faint sound of woodcutters cutting wood and scampering in the forest. I came upon a beautiful sight; trees laden with evergreen plants covering all their trunks. I could have ventured deeper but I knew too little about this garden and walking in the woods at an unknown place with an expensive camera is a risky option.
A quick walk in the woods was enough to give me the feel of a tropical rain-forest. Tall fruit bearing trees also served as food and sanctuary for many bird species. Plant species, including medicinal plant have been brought in and the authorities are pressing hard to turn this garden into a great tourist destination.
I read about an elephant safari at Jokai forest, but when I went there the locals were dumbfounded by that notion. It could tap in good revenues and attract more tourists but now at this state, there nothing much to see except for the beautiful forest which looked quite out of place in this landscape dominated by yellow rice fields.