Day 1 : Delhi – Guwahati – Nameri NP
From Delhi, we take a domestic flight to the Northeastern part of India, the capital of the Assam state, Guwahati.
From Guwahati, we will continue even further Northeast by either minibus or state cars. We will head towards Nameri National Park lying on the edge of the Assam grass plains. On the way we have time to enjoy about a wonderful wildlife experience at the Guwahati rubbish dump! The great deal of the whole world population of the ma-jestically ugly Greater Adju-tant can be seen here. Also, the number of Black Kites soaring in the sky is enor-mous.
On the way we cross the mighty and holy Brahmaputra River. The bridge over the river is modestly three kilometers long. We will stop by the bridge and try to see one of the rarest animals in the world, the endangered Ganges River Dolphin. The species has declined dramatically and its current world population is 1,200-1,800 individuals. Decent numbers of them still occur in Brahmaputra river.
We will try to reach our accommodation in Nameri Eco Camp, a comfortable safari-style camp, before dark, so be-sides mentioned above, there is not much time for birding. Still many species that are common here, but exotic to us, can be spotted from the car: Asian Openbill, Black-winged Kite, Black Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Indian Roller, to mention a few.
Day 2 : Nameri
In Nameri, we mainly focus on the lower altitude species. The camp’s surroundings consist of lush forests, cultiva-tions and river valleys, so birding can start right from the cottage door. One of the most important target species is the endangered White-winged Duck, for which Nameri is probably one of the best places in the world. Other possi-ble interesting species include Sultan Tit, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Green Cochoa, Hill Myna, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Streaked Spiderhunters and with a punch of luck, even rarely seen Pied Falconet.
After lunch, we will board small rubber boats and enjoy an afternoon’s peaceful rafting down the Jia Bhareli River. The river and its surroundings are rather natural, and you don’t see many people. It really can be like this even in the country of more than a billion people! While floating downstream we look closely at the rocky river sides, since this is a regular wintering area for every birder’s dream bird, the Ibisbill. Other species attracted by the river are e.g. Small Pratincole, River Lapwing, River Tern, Great Thick-knee and Jackdaw-sized Crested Kingfisher. Even magnificent Wreathed and Great Hornbills can be spotted on trees by the river or flying over us.
Day 3 : Nameri – Eaglenest
Today we will head North to Arunachal Pradesh state. Arunachal Pradesh is a mountainous state along the border of China and Bhutan. It has an area of almost 84,000 km2 and a population of less than a million, so it is a rather sparsely populated area in India. We only move around the westernmost part of the state, which is called West Kameng.
En route we will explore some lower elevation bamboo and mixed broad-leaved forest where some very special species can be found. We stop in Bhalukpong, at the border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, where pass-ports and special permits are checked. The special permit required for Arunachal Pradesh is called the Restricted Area Permit and it is required for all foreign people.
Immediately after Bhalukpong, the landscape changes quite a bit when we start climbing along the edges of the ravines up towards the Himalayan foothills. Soon we turn from the main road and Jia Bharel Valley to a small, winding road that passes through Eaglenest National Park. Along this little road we spend the next four full days and five nights. Our first accommodation, Lamacamp, is located at 2350m just besides the Eaglenest National Park.
Eaglenest National Park covers the area of about 218km2 and its altitude ranges from 500m to 3200m. Ea-glenest’s advantages in other Arunachal Pradesh parks and woodland areas are its very large altitude variation as well as the drivable road winding through the park making it easily accessible.
A versatile selection of Himalayan specialty species and the pristine, tropical mountain forest with huge moss-covered trees spreading on the both sides of the road, makes Eaglenest a mythical, magical place. Early in spring the birds are still in large flocks, forming kind of “bird waves” swarming along the forest canopy. This makes birding challenging, but at the same time very exciting.
We hope to reach Lamacamp before the dark, to have the first chance to find the absolute specialty and star of this place, the Bugun Liocichla, named after the local tribe in the area. The species was described for science only in 2006, and it is not known to occur anywhere else in the world than in this small area around Lamacamp.
In Eaglenest, we will accommodate in two differ-ent camps: the Lamacamp and Bompu Camp in-side the park. Both have tents built as “row hous-es”. The tents have pads, so you do not have to sleep just on the ground, and warm sleeping bags or blankets are provided. The nights and the morning are still cold, so you should pack plenty of warm cloths, though.
Days 4-7 : Eaglenest – Lamacamp and Bompu camp
Name of the game in Eaglenest is that we spend most of the time along the small road leading through the park. We drive for a while, jump out and walk a few miles along the road while the jeeps follow, and jump on them again. How luxury is that! We have four full days to explore the park, and we will visit a wide range of altitudes to enable us to score most of the excellent species that occur here. And the list of them is indeed impressive. Or how do these sound like: Blyth’s and Temminck’s Tragopans, Chestnut-breasted, Rufous-throated and Hill Par-tridges, Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Beautiful Nuthatch, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Slender-billed and many other Scimitar Babblers, Himalayan Cutia, Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, Gould’s Shortwing, five to six different Wren-Babblers, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, about a dozen Laughingthrushes, Brown, White-breasted and Black-throated Parrotbills, Long-tailed, Beautiful and Rufous-backed Sibias… to mention some of them. Since the variety of species is so huge, clearing all of them is likely not to happen, but we will try our best to lo-cate as many of these Himalayan gems as possible. So, it will be busy, and for sure, rewarding four days !
Day 8 : Eaglenest – Dirang – Sangti valley
After breakfast and some final birding, we will say our farewells to this won-derful area and depart for the town of Dirang. We try to reach Dirang by lunch time, to have time to visit Sangti Valley, a plateau lying down in Tenga river valley, in the afternoon. There is locally exceptionally wide plateau by the river, so the area has been effec-tively cultivated making it quite differ-ent habitat from its surroundings. The target species here are e.g. Long-billed Plover and Black-tailed Crake. In the past the place has been famous for its wintering Black-necked Cranes, but they haven’t been around for a while. But who knows this year…
Tonight, and next night, we will ac-commodate in a proper hotel with hot shower!
Day 9 : Sela pass
Today we hope for clear skies and calm winds, because our aim is to climb all to way up to altitude of 4200 m asl, to Sela Pass. Via this very pass, Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet to In-dia in 1959. We are leaving early in the morning, hours before dawn, to get as high as possible before sun rises. The forests change from lush forests to coniferous forests and at about 3,800 meters the trees fade out completely. Landscapes are literally breath-taking. In addition to these unique snowy and mountainous landscapes, we have great opportunities to see the spectacular Himalayan mountain specials, such as Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Snow Partridge, Snow Pi-geon, Grandala, Brandt’s and Plain Mountain Finches, Collared Grosbeak, many different rosefinches and with some luck, the rarely seen Solitary Snipe.
As we ascend rather fast to the significant altitudes, we should leave Sela pass during the early afternoon to avoid the high-altitude sickness (HAS). However, our previous days in Eaglenest in 2000 meters have acclimated us for this compared to getting here already on the first day after leaving the low altitudes in Nameri.
It must not be forgotten that Sela pass is very sensitive to bad weather. A cloudy day often means that the highest peaks are covered with heavy fog and poor visibility, which naturally makes birding impos-sible. At high altitudes, rain will also become practically always snow and after a snowy night the road may be broken. That’s why we wait for clear weather to reach the pass in the best possible conditions. If the first day seems not good, we still have the second day in Dirang to get to Sela pass. It is also possible, that we can’t get there at all.
Day 10 : Dirang – Mandala Phudung – Bomdila
If we manage to reach Sela pass on the previous day, today we will climb another high-altitude area, Mandala Phudung. However, it is not quite as high as Sela pass, and is dominated by rhodo-dendron and conifer forests. Our targets here are in particular Bar-winged Wren-babbler, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Fire-capped and Grey-crested Tit, many sunbirds, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Grey-headed and Red-headed Bullfinch and several laughingthrushes.
For the night we will descent back towards South, to Bomdila, to reduce the driving on the next day.
Day 11 : Bomdila – Kaziranga
Today we head back to the South, and continue to home of the megafauna, Kaziranga National Park. On the way, however, we still have time for some final birding in Himalayan foothills. We will try to find some of the species missed earlier, but the focus will be on the bamboo and lower altitude forests along the road. Also, we search the rivers for the rare and elusive Blyth’s Kingfisher. With some luck bamboo can produce rarities like Pale-headed Woodpecker and White-hooded Babbler.
We can expect to arrive at Kaziranga and Wild Grass Lodge in the late afternoon.
Days 12-13 : Kaziranga
These two full days we explore the Kaziranga National Park. The roads lead through grass plains and lush forests as well as some bird-filled lakes. There are several birding towers along the lakes, where we naturally spend time. We will move with two or three “Gypsy” jeeps, of which, due to dense tiger population, it is not allowed to jump off at all outside the marked places.
Kaziranga is an exceptional place. A vast grass plain, dotted with gray figures of elephants and rhinoceroses, is a pretty prehistoric landscape. In the middle of a densely populated and effectively cultivated plain there is 430 km2 of area for wildlife. Nearly 2/3 of this is grassy Brahmaputra floodplain, the rest being lush forests and small lakes. Originally, Kaziranga, like all the remaining grass plains in the Brahmaputra area, were protected for the rhino, but many bird species are equally endangered. Today, Kaziranga has 70 % of the world’s Greater One-horned Rhi-nos, half of the Water Buffaloes and large numbers of Barasinghas (Swamp Deer) and Asiatic Elephants. According to the latest studies, Kaziranga also has the world’s highest tiger population! Seeing them, however, is far from easy because of the high grass. We still have fair chances to encounter this majestic creature during our two days here.
Target birds include in amongst others are Bengal Florican, Swamp Francolin, Grey-headed and Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Spot-billed Pelican, Lesser Adjutant, Grey-headed Lapwing, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and with some luck Blue-naped Pitta. Here we should score clearly the highest day lists of the tour. It is also nice and welcomed to enjoy the warm temperatures after the coolness of the Himalayas.
Day 14 : Kaziranga – Guwahati – Delhi
Today is a long drive back to Guwahati and a domestic flight to Delhi. In Delhi, we will stay at a good quality hotel near the airport.
Day 15 : Delhi – home
After breakfast, the last thing left on this tour, is a transportation to Indira Gandhi International Airport for home-ward flight.