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Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

West Bengal and Sikkim - March 2016

Our route...
This morning  I am going to concentrate on getting a better image of the Monal declared Anantha! We were at a Homestay in Dhupidara near Lungthung a bit above Zuluk, in East Sikkim at about 12,000 ft above sea level. It had snowed the previous night and the temperature was nearly 0*C! Previous evening we had glorious sightings and some decent photographs of a Himalayan Monal family right at our Homestay!

Himalayan Monal - Male
Leaving Anantha to his quest, the rest of us proceeded in the early morning fog towards the Old Baba Mandir.  The freshly fallen snow had just been cleared enough to let vehicles pass. Breathtaking landscapes! We were able to photograph the White-browed Rosefinch (Female), Alpine Accentor, Rufous-vented Tit, Common Buzzard, White-winged Grosbeak, Blue-fronted Redstart and the Ruddy Shelduck in Snow!  We then waited for Ananta and Mitash at the Old Baba Temple. They arrived with breakfast but no Monal images this morning. After breakfast we drove up to Kupup and returned.

This entire trip was about decision making! Unpredictable everything! Limited time! To stay and wait for one bird or move and grab whatever meets the eye? I mostly choose the later on this trip…

In East Sikkim (Silk Route), the entire area we were in was a restricted area. We would get two or three days permit (from Rongli) to roam in the area. One cannot miss the presence of the Indian Army here. The officer at the "Madras Goondas" offered us some superb tea!

The fun begins from Lingtam. Lingtam is the first village with a check post after Rongli on this route. We need to get permits from Rongli first. Located at an altitude of around 5000 feet above sea level, Lingtam is surrounded by hills on all sides. A small river called Bakhuter Khola along the road yielded some fine birding.

As we climb to around 10,100 feet on the rugged terrain of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim we reach  Zuluk or Dzuluk a small village of about 700 people. We spent two nights here at the “Mama Homestay”!

There is plenty of birding all the way to Zuluk and beyond! At 11200 feet, Thambi View Point offers a panoramic view of Mt. Kanchenjungha. Located at a distance of 14 kms from Zuluk on the famous zig-zag road (locally called Bhulbhulaiya for its 30 hairpin turns)

A couple of kilometers after the Thambi view point is a very small village called Dhupidara. We stayed at the “Lungthung Eco-Retreat Homestay” here for two nights.


Kupup Lake

Locally called Bitan Cho, it is one of the most sacred lakes of Sikkim, with high mountains and valleys bordering it. Owing to its resemblance to elephant, Kupup Lake is also known as Elephant Lake. The lake nestles at an altitude of 13,066 feet, on the way to Jelepla Pass, bordering area with China and India. This was as far as we went!

From Lingtham to Kupup, from 5000 ft to 13000ft. From 8th March Evening to 12th March Noon. This one road fetched us some fascinating birding not to mention the cute homestays, wonderful food, people and psychedelic weather! Fog, Snowfall, Rain, Hailstorm, Wind and bright Sunshine…we saw it all in these three days! Too much fun! I love my India!

Himalayan Ghoral - An unexpected sighting above Zuluk!
A pair of Rusty-capped Fulvettas! The Himalayan Monal Family. The  Maroon-backed Accentor, A group of Snow pigeons, White-collared Blackbird, Bar-throated Siva, A large group of “Plain Mountai Finches and the Eurasian Wren. I shot all these on this road!

We saw over a dezzon raptors in the sky in this area! This one appears to be a juvenile Mountain Hawk Eagle...
Anantha called me in November 2015 about this trip. March 4 to March 17th – West Bengal and Sikkim with Mitash Biswas. While I said Ok without hesitation, we were looking for a team of four. I spoke to Kulashekara and he was keen on going. Later Anantha confirmed that Guru would be joining .. the trip was on and for the first time in my life I booked my air ticket five months in advance!

Yes, as planned on the 4th of March we reached Bagdogra Airport, a 4hr flight from Bengaluru. We stayed that night in a decent hotel at Siliguri. 5th March, early morning we drove to the Gajoldoba barrage. This barraga on the river Teesta is an hour’s drive from Siliguri and has an excellent wintering population of ducks. Photography is tough. I was after the “Northern Lapwing” and was glad to get some images..

We then drove on wards to Latpancher for one night. The main attraction here was the “Rufous-necked Hornbill” which we did not get to photograph, though we had decent views late in the evening.

Next day (6th March) we drove to Lava for a two nights stay and roamed about in the Neora Valley National Park area. Plenty of birding! The long trek with local guide “Joseph” was fascinating! We encountered Speckled Wood Pigeon, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, Long-billed Wren Babbler, Golden-naped Finch, White-tailed Nuthatch, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Red-tailed Minla,  Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Black Eagle, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Black-faced Warbler, Bay Woodpecker and Short-billed Minivet.

Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel
Neora Valley National Park is one of the richest biological zones in the entire Northeast. An important wilderness zone, the 160 sq. km protected area is a virgin forest . At one place there is a forest camp where many shy birds break cover to feed. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to grab some decent images of these very shy birds that included the Black-faced Laughingthrush and the Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush and I was very lucky to strike a “Horay-throated Barwing here! Also a brief appearance of a pair of Red-headed Bullfinch. We earlier heard the Satyr Tragopan calling closeby and made some nice pictures of the Brown Parrotbill!

On the 8th March evening we reached Zuluk.

Plenty on the road  - Assam macaque 
On the 12th March we did the very long (all day) drive from Dhupidara to Maneybhanjang and then up to Tumling! The road up via Meghma is really steep and the surface most of the way is made up of rocks! Bumpy, Bumpy, Bumpy! The fun part of this area is that as you drive on this road you never know when you are in Nepal and when you are in India! Though there was a outpost for checking vehicles, there was little else from which I could make out if I was in Nepal!

I am standing in India. That vegetable shop is in Nepal!
We spent the next four nights at the most wonderful “Shikar Lodge” at Tumling! The super lady “Nila Gurung” runs this famous resting place most efficiently! At an Altitude of 2970 mtrs this location is to die for! Fascinating Sunset and Sunrise among the meandering hills and the ever present “Kangchenjunga”! Heaven!

We walked all over the “Singalila National Park” seeking birds! Fire-tailed Myzornis, Spotted Nutcracker, Rufous-fronted Tit, Scaly Laughingthrush, Spotted Laughingthrush and the Chestnut-crowned Warbler, I was able to add to my collection. I was just a bit lazy and missed the wonderful “Red Crossbill”!

Cowshed at Kayiakatta from inside which we shoot birds!
 Singalila National Park” area attracts walkers from all over the world! They come, they walk, they go! Very refreshing! On our last night there we had a wonderful ‘Sambar Party’!

On the 16th  March we climbed down to Siliguri after a brief lunch at Darjeeling town and were safely home on the 17th March! Thank you Mitash Biswas and team for taking such good care of us!

Please "Click Here" to see the birds images I shot during this trip.

Endurance test, Euphoric moments, Lifers and all! Life is good!

Vijay Cavale
March 2016