A route less travelled

jungle retreat

A route less travelled

After parathas for breakfast at a road side dhaba, we passed through Tinsukia, Digboi, Ledo and Margherita. We crossed the Assam border at Namchik and reached Miao — the taluk head quarters of the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh.

We got the restricted area permit from the forest authorities and then had a three-hour-drive on a narrow slushy road before reaching our final destination — Namdapa National Park, which is the largest protected area in India and is a rich biodiversity hotspot in the Eastern Himalayas. It was declared a Project Tiger Reserve in 1983 and spans an area of 1985 sq km.

Abundant wildlife

The park is home to about 96 species of mammals. These include four big cats, namely the snow leopard, clouded leopard, common leopard and the tiger. Other predators that are found here are dholes, wolves, Asiatic black bears, red foxes, civets and marbled cats.

Herbivores like elephants, boars, gaurs, wild buffalo and hog deer also abound here. The park is home to seven species of primate including the stump tailed macaque, slow loris, hoolock gibbon, capped langur, Assamese macaques and rhesus macaques to name a few. Abundant in birdlife, the park also has about 453 species which include rare members like Fulvettas, Amur falcons, Green Cochoas and white tailed fishing eagles.

The next morning we woke up to the howling of hoolock gibbons. Our guide Bansa was ready with morning tea. After a quick run through about our trek route in the buffer zone area and an early breakfast, we set out with backpacks and two porters. We crossed the fast flowing Noa Dihing River by ferry and continued our walk  uphill. After crossing the Deban stream we reached a mark called zero point.

Here we wore leech guards as per Bansa’s advice as we were entering rich evergreen rainforest infested with numerous blood sucking leeches.

We were walking under a thick canopy of trees shooting up to a height of about 200-300 ft and passed through a large clearing in the forest called Haldibari and about a three-hour-trek from there took us to the Hornbill camp, which we reached in the evening.
Hornbill camp is thus called as it is one of the few places in Namdapa where one can see four hornbill species — the great hornbill, white throated brown hornbill, rufous necked hornbill and the wreathed hornbill. Other birds like white tailed flycatchers, pied falcovets, large scimitars, streaked wren babblers and nut hatches are also in plenty.

On the second morning of our trek, we woke up to the usual live orchestra of great barbets, sultan tits, bulbuls, sun birds, doves and gibbons. After a cup of hot tea and noodles for breakfast, we started early and soon reached a place called Bulbulia — a decrepit watch tower overlooking the valley. We could hear the call of peacock pheasants hoolock gibbons and capped langurs all around us.

Local culture and cuisine

Soon we came upon natural sulphur springs bubbling out of the ground. The atmosphere was heavy with a pungent smell caused by the methane. Here we noticed a curious phenomenon — the mud would ignite if it came into contact with a spark because of the natural chemicals in the ground!

We also noticed pugmarks of elephants, gaur, mithun and sambar on this marshy area. The animals come here after dark to drink and the water is said to be salty to taste. It is also believed that this water has medicinal properties which cure some skin ailments. We then descended from the plateau and came upon grassland about three kms wide. It was an unforgettable experience pitching our tents on the sands next to the swift flowing Namdapa river and with the snow-clad Dapha Bhum peaks in the background.

Now it was time to taste the local cuisine. We started with a drink called Apong, which is a kind of rice beer. Wangpa our cook, prepared chungma rice or bamboo rice (made with rice rolled in kopat leaves then inserted in bamboo and baked) with green vegetables for dinner. We retired early as it was very cold and everyone in the group is exhausted.

 The whole valley was enveloped with fog on the third morning of our trek. We crossed the Namdapa River over a bamboo bridge to reach our next campsite of Embeong. Bamboo bridges found here are the only way to cross the river. A nominal fee of Rs 15 is collected from those who use the bridge. This area is also home to the Singpho,Tangsa and Chakma tribes who are said to have migrated long back from Bangladesh.

Situated at the confluence of the Noa Dihing and Namdapa rivers is the Embeong campsite. From here we started immediately to visit the fascinating Lisu village. The last leg of our trek involved climbing up and down hills and dales. Finally we hit the Miao —Vijoynagar road by evening. From here we could get a bird’s eye view of the thick forest cover and could see the Noa Dihing River snaking through the valley and Himalayan mountain range.

This four-day circuit trek through the Namdapa wilderness was a wonderful opportunity to see up close some of the remote flora, fauna and local tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. An experience of a lifetime indeed.

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