India & Nepal Expedition 2019
We decided to drive up a day before travelling to Kathmandu, as the last few times we have driven to Heathrow on the M5 and M4, we have been involved on a series of major holdups – eight miles one time, and a 90 minute delay at Bristol last time, we then had to change routes at the last minute to the A303, but so did many other motorists, so it was a slow journey.
This journey however, was superb with no holdups (a few 50 mile per hour areas) but we completed the drive from home to the airport in three and a half hours.
No holdups, but when we saw the news on TV that evening, we were upset to see that the south west had suffered a huge snow storm and from there to Heathrow there had been following snow. So, we were right to drive up the day before to avoid any unexpected problems.
We are looking forward to the trip enormously – Cherry has always wanted to see the strings of Prayer Flags in Nepal and I have always wanted to see the Indian White Horned Rhino. We should be seeing both over the next 17 days.
We caught the flight to Kathmandu via Doha. As we approached Kathmandu, the Himalayas, a huge jagged column of sugar white mountains set up a swirling mist below which sat much lesser, but still magnificent mountains and hills. Only residual frozen snow was evident where the melt water had poured down the mountain only to be refrozen and then held further frozen snow. There were great greenish blue partially melted waters following the easiest way down. Some looked like gigantic pythons winding their way down the hills. Some were served by many tributaries winding their way into one gigantic trunk, making the whole thing look like a massive petrified tree skeleton. In some cavities sat dirty green smears as though a giant had squeezed mint coloured toothpaste haphazardly. Green trees and Brown hills all merged with an irregular pattern of camouflage below the dark mountains overseen by the mighty Himalayas.
Twenty minutes before we were due to land, the Captain spoke into his intercom explaining that bad visibility had made Air Traffic Control instruct the Captain to “stack” his aircraft with others until the weather improved.
Twenty minutes later, he told us that he was preparing to land.
Because of the “stacking” and the subsequent landing of two aircraft within minutes of one another; there were hundreds of travellers in the Arrival and Immigration and Customs building. Great masses of people all moved towards only two officers in two booths apparently for immigration checks. We were at the back of about 600 people. Suddenly a uniformed gentleman came towards Cherry and me and asked “have you got a visa?”
“Yes” we retorted joyously, hoping for some action.
“Follow me” he said promptly taking us to the very front of the queue. One of the ‘checkers’ scrutinised our visas and passed us through. He did not even look at the photo page of our passports.
As we moved through Customs and Security, Cherry mentioned to another passing officer that a lot of staff seemed to pass around but not do anything formal, “I have a lot of metal in me” she said. He told her to follow him through to the main security check to await a female officer who would complete a body check. He allowed me through without any checking at all. I suggested while Cherry waited I would recover our cases from the carousel, which seemed to have about 700 pieces of luggage on, some so bundled together that others fell off of the system. Fortunately, I claimed our two cases quickly and went to see how Cherry was proceeding. No one had come to ‘body check’ her. I looked at the officer who had spoken to her, caught his eye and he motioned for Cherry to move on. So, neither of us had had our passports checked or were security checked personally. Nor was our luggage checked. We proceeded to the outside of the airport. (So far, it reminded me of our first visit to the Gambia in 1983, where a beautifully navy blue uniformed officer with skin the colour of polished birch wood and a smile as wide as the table he was standing behind (which looked like a worn out decorators wallpaper table), asked me to put the cases on the table, I was petrified that the weight of the cases would smash the table in two. He leant over them, beaming, looked me in the eye and said “Have you any ‘beams’” just as Peter Sellers might have years ago.
Cherry and I smiled back at him saying we had no bombs or ‘beams’. He beamed again, put a large white cross on both items of luggage and wished us “You must have a wonderful holiday here in the Gambia).”
As we came out of the airport, a Nepalese gentleman by the name of Suchit (pronounced Sue as in the girls name and CHIT from Chitwan) introduced himself, telling us that he would be our guide for the next two weeks. We introduced ourselves to three others on our safari when we spotted them and they spotted us by the safari company luggage label. We were hoping to try to find the One Horned Rhino in the Nepalese and Indian National Reserve. Our guide and driver conveyed us to the Shangri-La Hotel, a beautiful colonial style building finished with a red brick and attractive rich tones of wood inside. On the short trip back, several black kites flew above. Our room was called the “Sir Edmund Hilary.” We sat in the garden that afternoon, watching black kites, green parakeets and house crows. Tomorrow we are off to Chitwan. Meanwhile we thoroughly enjoyed our beautiful rooms with the usual extra wide bed in which we slept, together with a separate sitting area with a three-piece suite and coffee table and desk working area. Outside was a 12’ x 12’ balcony overlooking the garden. Since we were about to undertake a good deal of travel we decided to sit in the garden enjoying the flowers, trees and bird life. This was most relaxing after the usual unrelenting twenty four hour period of travel from Tredivett Mill.
After a good night’s rest, followed by an early breakfast, we departed in our safari van to be driven to Chitwan National Park and Tiger Reserve. The van had nine passenger seats so the six in our group, including Cherry and me, had more than ample room and visibility.
We drove through Kathmandu. What a sad city it is. Back in July 2014 there was a catastrophic earthquake affecting a band of one hundred miles including the city. Everywhere you look reminds you of the disaster. The roads are in a desperate state of disrepair. The houses are wounded. Huge masses of red stone and brick lay haphazardly. There is no greenery anywhere. Roads are full of broken tarmac and enormous pot holes. Some are so large – one I noted was three quarters filled with an old oil barrel so that pedestrians and drivers alike should avoid it. The whole area likens to a war torn middle eastern city, after years of bombing. Because of this, there is a terrible dust problem. Locals wear masks. It is staggering that in this disastrous dirty mess, that is no fault of the populations, that school children look so clean, neat and tidy in their black or navy blue or red maroon or royal blue uniforms. The locals, as though to beat their sad environment, wore bright colours; oranges, purples, blues, yellows, reds and floral designs.
On the whole traffic was quieter here than India. There is a general rule against “sounding horn” except in emergency. Fresh meat and vegetables laid out in areas open to the dust and exhaust fumes. I noticed a little tailors shop with three old-fashioned treadle tables with antiquarian Singer sewing machines mounted on them. The tables are more often now seen in public houses and the sewing machines in antique and collectible shops. In the distance, as we left the city, there was a good view of the Minachali Mountain in clear sunshine.
We entered the mountain valley roads on the Chitwan road, all downhill, dangerous, twisting and turning for several hours. We were amused by the very skimpy rope and wire bridges connecting the two sides of the River Threshuli, which we were following down. A few goats and water buffalo were kept by small subsistence farmers. Others kept chickens and grew mustard for oil and as a spice. We saw Black Drongos everywhere and Barn Swallows in the air.
At a comfort stop, we were introduced to our first group of birds by our guide who is a fine self-taught naturalist.
Common and Jungle Mynahs
Red Bush Chat
Red Vented Bulbul
Little Egrets roosting
We continued down the twisty road. Vendors were selling cooked sugar cane.
We kept on down. We were now in the area midway between the mountain range called the Mahanharat, and the lower ground called the Churia.
We quickly started to see an assortment of more birds:
Common Tailor Bird
Red Billed Blue Magpie
White Capped Water Redstart
Red Throated Flycatcher
We stopped after about 5 hours for lunch at the Riverside Stream Restaurant. We enjoyed sizzling steak and chicken after a Hot and Sour Soup and watched for birds while having our lunch.
Large Cuckoo Strike
Grey Throated Martin
Star of the day: Collared Falconet which we watched for sometime. A pair would collect food on the ground and return to a perch high in a tree.
We also saw our first reptile; a common garden lizard.
The journey took about 9 hours and was 170 Kms.
After arriving at the Hotel Tigerland Resort we watched in the garden overlooking part of the Chitwan Park and saw:
Brown Water Rail
Open Billed Stork
White Breasted Water Hen
Racquet Tailed Drongo
Indian Pond Heron
Oriental Darter (Snake bird)
Red Jungle Crow
This is our first full day at Chitwan. First, we walked in the early morning. Heavy mists made for a very ethereal atmosphere.
We spotted signs of many animals.
Dung of: Rhinos Paw prints/pug marks
Wild Boar Leopard
Spotted Deer Mongoose
Beautiful wild ageratum (blue) flowers everywhere
And about ¾ mile away an Indian One Horned Rhino.
Many birds seen but only ‘star’ birds will be referred to in narrative. A list is checked off everyday.
After our walk we went on a short trip on a flat bottomed boat. To keep noise down we were punted with long poles.
The highlight of this was spotting three large Gharial resting in the sun on a sandbank. Another lesser ‘star’ was a Lesser Adjutant Stork with two Woolly Necked Storks* playing body guard.
After lunch, we spotted four more Rhinos from our safari jeep; a mother and calf and two separate bulls, one in deep water. We also spotted seven Mugger (Marsh)* Crocodile.
Today, Tuesday early in the morning, we walked through a nearby Sal forest. The Sal is a huge straight growing tree with massive leaves. It has been used for generations to make railway sleepers but now is being preserved in the parks. It grows up to 100 feet and lives for up to two hundred years. A number of birds seen are recorded. Our destination was The Garial Breeding Centre, a Nepalese government sponsored exercise in Chitwan National Park. We saw over two hundred animals from 11” to 15’. Apparently started in 1987 the centre has released over eight hundred animals. They are released at one and a half metres, about four feet and five years old.
The centre rears eggs gathered from the wild and reared in pools according to age once incubated successfully. This method increases the percentage of survival from 2% in the wild to 60%. World numbers were down to about 200 in the 1970’s and 80’s. Now Nepal alone has 285 and the world number is up to 2,500 or so, a huge conservation success due to the various breeding centres in Nepal, India etc.
An odd fact is that they only currently have one huge male with a massive nostril swelling the size of a tennis ball on the end of his nose!
Nobody really knows why but it is thought it is something to do with temperature of incubation.
6th Day Wednesday, 7.30am
We left the Tiger Reserve in a thick mist. Most locals were dressed up in hat and scarves almost hiding their faces, and big coats. We were seen off by the manager and whistling Hill Mynahs. The locals, very much on bicycles and motor bikes, as the area is very flat. School children, again very smart, especially considering the very poor housing and how little they have. Common Mynahs and House Crows flying all around and on the roads. Locals standing around, some in the middle of the road ignoring traffic. Some transport is outrageous, bikes being held by passengers on buses, motorbikes with huge panniers, some of which are traditional basket weave making the bikes as wide a small cars. We travelled on the road to Koshi. The roads became wider, not better. On the journey a huge number of commercial lorries prevailed, fairly few cars and more motorbikes as well as Tuks Tuks both man and engine propelled. The roads were quite badly affected by the monsoon floods.
I noted a goat brought out of the luggage compartment of a coach – poor animal. A motorbike passenger was carrying a fifteen foot ladder on the back, held upright.
We stopped for what is generally called a comfort break. The river beds are completely dry and building companies are collecting stone, shingles and sand, a never ending source of building materials as every monsoon brings down the next years offering.
We passed over dozens of bridges, all over dried watercourses, and saw Macaque Monkeys on the sides of roads begging.
We enjoyed seeing pairs of Buffalo and Zebu cattle in pairs pulling carts full of sugar cane.
Around 3.30pm the locals started to bring in their goats and cattle and Water Buffalo to feed and bed down for the night. The animals, being used to this routine, were extremely calm on these busy roads.
Eventually after 9 hours of a continually interesting drive, we came to Koshi. Before going to Koshi Camp, we went to the road over the embankment, the Koshi barrage, with the hope of spotting some Ganges River Dolphin*. Cherry and I both saw several. I actually saw five, three of which raised their beaks in the air as they rolled to breathe.
We arrived at Koshi Camp, a small tented resort, having twelve modest tented rooms with full lavatory and shower facilities attached.
Immediately on our arrival an Osprey flew over as though welcoming us. We settled in, enjoyed supper and had an early night after the long journey. We both had a surprisingly comfortable night. This camp is a bit quirky but it appeals to Cherry and me!
Koshi has planted thousands of trees over the last twenty years with a huge fig right in the middle of the site, and ponds, one with a hide.
Thursday 7th March
After a good breakfast of porridge, pancakes and eggs, we walked in the grounds, at one time seeing seventeen Hill Mynahs and eleven Green Pigeons together.
We walked along an embankment on the side of the Koshi Reserve. We watched an Osprey dive and catch fish. We also saw a White Rumped Vulture on the nest with her mate perched next to the nest.
Again, after a buffalo burger, chips and vegetables we were off further along the embankment we had walked and jeeped in the morning.
Before that we had some time to ourselves early afternoon, so I wrote up notes and we sat and watched the local Little Cormorant and Egrets roosting and a group of Common Babblers, Red-vented Bulbuls (R.V.) Common and Jungle Mynahs feeding on the bird table and washing in the water baths put out for them. In the large Fig tree these birds went to preen and dry and, we also sighted a Rufous Treepie and the highlight; an Indian Grey Hornbill.
On top of the barrage/embankment we drove along quickly bird watching when we were aware of a large male elephant in the middle of the road on the embankment. A first we kept driving slowly but when it was self-evident that the elephant was single minded in its slow but steady advance, the van driver stopped to take stock.
It was at this stage that our guide Suchit, muttered quietly “the army who guard the Reserve know him well, he’s the bull that has been tagged with a neck collar, you see!”
We looked and we could see. “He has already killed twelve people so they keep an eye on him.” He added casually, “It wasn’t his fault, the villagers annoyed him when he was raiding the crops. In fact, the villages were shouting with lighted fire torches and banging tin trays to try to safeguard the crops.”
The six of us were somewhat surprised. There was a huge killer bull elephant walking towards us. Cherry and I quickly worked out that we did not want to be number 13 and 14 on his list. However, just when it seemed inevitable that he would come right up to us, a couple of the off duty army soldiers (who are based there to protect the animals) came up in a tractor and revved the engine. The bull, not liking the noise, turned into the park off of the road. We each breathed a huge sigh of relief. He, the bull, had gone down the fairly steep bank and was quickly pulling at sedges and grasses. We watched him for a few minutes. Once again, we resumed out trip. We spotted many birds (see list) and then we were lucky enough to spot two separate pairs of Jackals. They skulk along as though hoping you cannot see them, then when they think they are safe to go on their way or when it is clear you are going to chase, they move very quickly. Like all dogs, they lope and cover ground surprisingly fast.
On the way back, having had a good afternoon bird and Jackal watching, suddenly we were aware of the bull elephant (killer of twelve), walking towards us again and this time we were two small four by fours and nobody else in sight. Our guide was very impressive. He got out of the lead van and watched quietly, hoping that maybe the bull would turn off of the main way as he had before. But, there was no tractor with soldiers now. In fact, there was no one or any other vehicle in sight behind or ahead. The elephant came on with a sedate march. When the bull was about fifty yards away, Suchit, the guide, instructed both his drivers, the first of whom was definitely very nervous, to press hard on the accelerator pedals constantly to try to turn the bull. The engines roared. The bull came on. I think it was fair to say that we all wondered how this would all end, when suddenly the bull just turned off of the path and went quietly down the embankment. For the second time we all smiled at one another nervously, heart beating slightly more than normal. Suchit then told us that the bull, in fact, was the sire of a baby two and a half months old and the other three domestic cow elephants were all served by him. Apparently, when he visits, the keepers throw lots of food in and leave in a hurry as it is inevitable at this time he is on musth, sexually aroused and very dangerous.
On the way back to camp, we watched three bull Wild Water Buffalos. Unlike the in-turned horns of the domestic variety, the Wild Water Buffalo horns are widespread. He also has a white spot on the end of his tail and lighter ‘leggings’, some say whiteish.
Finally our guide spotted a Nilgai the blue bull and largest antelope, feeding in some dense undergrowth.
Day 8, Friday
In the morning, we went for a drive about an hour from Koshi Camp to the areas of grassy sandy land on the edge of the river Koshi. We spent some time here and soon saw different sand larks as well as ducks and the best sighting for me, a large flock of small Pratincoles both feeding on the sandflats and whirling in flight. They are the smallest of the Pratincoles, the largest being the Oriental Pratincole which is a very attractive bird the size of a Golden Plover. The small Pratincole is sandy slate grey with an apparent black tail when resting. In flight it shows blackish underwing coveats and a black tail band. It is a similar size to a Ringed Plover.
As we drove back to camp for lunch, we spotted a pair of Bengal Foxes (Vulpes Bengalenensis) smaller and a paler grey than the red Fox. The first pair were seen around a mound of sand. One ran off, the other dived into what we though was a foxes earth. Unfortunately, it is hunted for the superstitious properties of its flesh and bones. Fortunately, we had two more sightings of these beautiful small foxes.
Just after we saw the second fox, we had a very good sighting of an Indian Grey Mongoose. This is a good sized Mongoose that runs very near to the ground with its tail held low. We watched it alongside a stone wall where no doubt, it was hunting and then it ran across the road/path in front of our vehicle.
Unfortunately, as we returned to camp, the rain started and continued all that afternoon and the following night. I wrote up my notes converting from rough commentaries to this diary.
As at each night at Koshi, we slept very comfortably and as we were in a tented camp felt nearer nature certainly with the howling and yowling of the Jackals, and calling of the Jungle Owlet and Brown Hawk Owl.
We packed up and left early for a long journey, ultimately to Darjeeling. We have loved Nepal and its people and wild life but the sheer dirt and filth is something that is most unappealing. There is rubbish outside every house, every village, and every town and all along the roads. Used plastic bottles are everywhere, as is paper, metal and all other human rubbish. All of this is picked up by the monsoon rains and much of it is washed into the huge number of river feeds. Ultimately, it finds itself in the sea. There is no doubt that while third world countries ignore all waste and rubbish it will make little difference what we in England and the UK for instance, do to minimise the problem.
That of course does not say we should not continue with proper waste management and a positive recycling attitude.
One of the major problems that is self-evident is the practice of using plastic agricultural sacks filled with sand and sometimes used to build barrages against the future monsoons; every year these bags are washed away and find their way into the major rivers and ultimately our oceans.
It rained for the whole four hours to the Nepalese border where the six of us had to report to the Nepalese Immigration Office, where we were to complete a small form, which seemed to be a duplicate of our passports but was easily accomplished. We also converted some sterling currency and any Nepalese currency to Indian Rupees.
The rain continued as we passed through no-man’s land, which was a bridge between Nepal and India. It was diabolically busy; lorries, vans, cars, Tuk Tuks, bicycles and bicycle rickshaws all pushing and shoving every inch both ways on the most narrow of bridge all made worse by pouring rain. Eventually we made it to the Indian side with our new Indian drivers who will now be with us for the next few days. As we reached the Indian side, all six of us were immediately pulled into a police station. A young Officer made us sit and wait until he had noted details of our passports. He seemed aware of only the last word on the front of our passport, which of course is ‘Ireland.’
“How have you travelled from Ireland and what are you doing in India.” He asked in stilted English.
“We are English. It is a UK passport” I told him. “
“Where have you been?” He asked. This seemed a particularly stupid question, as we were on the Nepalese Indian border.
“Nepal” I answered.
“Where are you going?”
He filled in a simple book line which had been ruled by hand; name, from, to, date of birth, tourist/business. He then insisted on taking a photograph of each of us on his mobile phone.
This seemed completely superfluous because we then had to attend Indian Immigration where all 6 of us had to complete another form and then wait for an interview with a gentleman who looked more like a south American drug dealer than an Indian Immigration Officer.
Unfortunately, his computer system was on a go slow, so everything took far longer than necessary. It took 2 hours for us all to be processed. We ate our packed lunch while waiting, still watching the incessant rain.
We were finally on our way.
India was noisier because drivers actually encourage one another to sound their horns with a sign on the back of almost every lorry “honk horn.” There is a lot of music blaring out of little cubby hole shops and lots of cars. The whole atmosphere is an assault on the senses but is exciting. It was a long journey and we finally were in sight of Darjeeling. Now we had to drive up a long steep road, hairpin bends and very narrow dangerous roads. The weather was wet and became slowly worse, the mist was coming down. The driver, obviously anxious to reach our hotel, was driving impatiently and I had to have a quiet word to ask him to slow down and not be so impatient. When we finally arrived at the Elgin Hotel, I congratulated him. He was a very good young driver and bore no malice having been asked to slow down.
So, we arrived at the Elgin Hotel. It is described as an elegant hotel combining tradition with modernity and was once the residence of the Maharajah of Cooch Bihar, and is 120 years old. We were greeted by being draped in a silken scarf called a Khada and with a small delicious glass of cherry brandy. The lounges are oak floored and oak panelled with astonishingly comfortable couches and chairs. Lighting is outstanding with a series of quadruple brass lamps. The bedrooms follow the same style. We collected some menus which show the authentic dishes served and sometimes too much rather than too little. Unfortunately, with the mists and rain, we were unable to see any of the marvellous views boasted. Worse than that the local weather forecast said that it would not clear for several, days which would certainly reduce the pleasure of such a town.
My notes read:-
Last night we had an enjoyable meal – retired, hoping for the best. Unbelievably the sky was a cloudless blue and the sun was shining brightly. We were due for breakfast at 7am but the staff were half asleep. We thought it funny enough that the pianist in the dining room last night was sat in a large fur collared coat whilst playing, but this morning the waiter served us in a full weatherproof coat. The fruit juices were there, but no glasses. There were 8 ‘hot’ serving dishes but only baked beans had been brought in. A man was standing by a mountain of fresh eggs. He made an enormous omelette which was cut into slices. I did not see where it went. I asked for a cheese and chilli omelette. He started to cook, but instead of the request for cheese and chilli, none was forthcoming. He offered me the cooked egg. “No” I said, “no cheese, no chilli.” He put it to one side and cooked another and another before eventually a block of processed, most unappealing cheese arrived. I never did get my chilli, so I had hot chips that had arrived and baked beans, and to enjoy the juice, we ‘stole’ some glasses. Cherry enjoyed cornflakes, toast and marmalade. She put the bread through the toaster 4 times to get any semblance of toast.
We then found out that although they were organised to have breakfast at 7am, the dining room did not formally open until 7.30am.
We all prepared to go up Tiger Hill for a view of Everest. Yesterday was so miserable and misty that it was wonderful to be greeted by such clear skies and bright sunshine. On the way up, we stopped at several convenient places to take photos of the marvellous snow-capped mountain range. As we drove higher, it was clear that snow had fallen the previous evening – apparently the first time in 10 years, so the cars were unable to gain the summit of Tiger Hill. The others of the party walked the last kilometre or so. I would not let Cherry walk on snow, so we, cars having been parked, walked down to a slightly lower area where almost as good photos and sights could be gained including a view of Everest; although the first range is 60 kms away, Everest is 100 kms away. I don’t think that the photos will be that good.
In the afternoon, we walked the mall, a vehicle free walk, again with wonderful views. We spotted Northern Palm Squirrel running across some power lines to a nearby tree.
The chef greeted me today. “Chilli and cheese today,” he exclaimed and promptly made me a cheese and chilli omelette, which I enjoyed with a flavoursome potato curry. We had looked forward to this particular day and it came up to expectation.
We were to board the Toy Train, one of the most famous narrow gauge railways in the world. We travelled the Batasia Loop and enjoyed spectacular views down into Darjeeling and the surrounding snow covered peaks, including Kanchenjunga, one of the sister peaks. Kanchenjunga is the highest peak in India and third highest in the world. The steam train that we were actually pulled by was called the Himalayan Bird and was made in 1982 and is sister to a train used at Launceston Steam Railway in our home town. We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, first on the platform where we took many photos, and then on the train itself. The track follows the mountain road into Darjeeling, sometimes crossing from one side to the other. Motor cars pass within inches and the train passes within a couple of feet of houses and shops. The whole thing was a delight. The Toy Train which is the name given to the whole railway is an engineering marvel. Railway enthusiasts regard it as one the wonders of the world. Oddly enough, the engineer responsible for this whole exercise was the father of the great late naturalist and conservationist, Gerald Durrell. We had a marvellous morning.
In the afternoon we visited the Darjeeling zoo. Oddly enough, it was the zoo in Darjeeling that was the first zoo Gerald Durrell visited at age 6. It could not have been this actual zoo, which was opened long after this, but perhaps an embryo zoo existed before the current, splendid zoo, built into the hill and exhibiting mainly local animals, Tigers, Leopards, Tahrs, wolves, bears for example. All of the animals seemed well cared for and in good health. Some new Takin recently arrived from Germany were settling in behind the scenes.
The zoo lead on to a visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, formed in 1954 and tells the story of Everest, its historic conquest and related matters. It was quite moving.
Lastly, we visited the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre which is a home set up to aid Tibetans escaping the traumas of the second world war. There is now a substantial cooperative operating craft workshops, carpet and rug making, woodwork, and brass work among others. We bought some model prayer wheels for Cherry and a small ox drawn cart made of brass for me.
Up early we travelled down the windy, hilly road out of Darjeeling, one of the most interesting places we have ever visited and it certainly found its way into Cherry’s soul, “one of the loveliest places I’ve ever visited” is her opinion.
When we arrived, it was misty, we saw nothing, but this morning was again beautiful, sunny and dry. I noted a Blue Whistling Thrush in the garden of the Elgin Hotel seeing us off. Then, we were surrounded by some of the 87 tea plantations Darjeeling is famous for. When seen from a distance, the plantations are so well tended – picked and preened, that the whole field looks like a lawn. We then drove through flat lands to Bagdogra Airport where we boarded a flight to Guwahati in Assam, just 40 minutes actually in the air. We were then driven to Kaziranga Tiger Reserve; almost five hours later, we arrived at the Infinity Lodge at 8.30pm., a very full day’s travel.
Kaziranga is a 430 square kilometre national Park and I have read a great deal about it and its success in protecting the India Rhino. We settled in, ate and slept.
It, Kaziranga National Park, is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful National Parks. It lies on the south bank of the Brahmaputra River and was given protection as a forest reserve in the early 20th century and not opened to visitors until 1938. It was not until 1954 that the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros was given complete statutory protection, allowing Kaziranga to become the most important refuge for this endangered animal – the sanctuary was given national status in 1974. According to the forest guides, there are now up to 2,400 Rhinos in the park.
We were now driving around riverene forest of the Western block.
The scenery was as expected; lakes, ponds, rivers, light forest and grass land.
I am simply going to list the animals and birds seen which will say as much about the area as any description – open grassland, dense forest.
Lesser Adjutant Stork fishing in ponds
Hog Deer almost everywhere
Grey Backed Shrike sitting on tops of small bushes
Rhino, unbelievable, so often seen that we counted 39 creatures, adults – male, female and calves
Pallas’s Eagles on huge nest high up in tree with 2 chicks
Shikra and Green Pigeon both perched in tall bare tree
Red Breasted Parakeet
Water Buffalo grazing and bathing in huge numbers
Elephant (1) long distance
Pelicans spot billed – a good number soaring, swimming, roosting.
Stonechat, just like in England
Toc Gecko – sold for £1,000’s to the pet trade, squeezed in gaps in Banyan Tree bark
White Wagtail by water
Long Tailed Shrike on bush top
Rhino – mating call
Red Vented Bulbul – common
Rhesus Macaque – eating flowers
Red-wattled Lapwing – singing and flying “did you do it, did you do it”
Scarlet Minivet – stunning little red birds in flight
Dusky Eagle Owl – sitting quietly high in tree
Red Jungle Fowl – all chickens, worldwide come from these
Great White Pelican – swimming
Black-breasted Weaver – small flock in flight
Striated Babbler – group chattering on floor
Hill Mynah – everywhere
Great Mynah – very rare
White Throated Kingfisher – on stick in water
Grey Headed Fishing Eagle – in high tree near water
Small Cormorant – high in tree
Spotted Eagle – flying
Black Necked Stork – by water reed bed
Hen Harrier – flying over lake
Asian Roof Turtle
Soft Shell Turtle
Wild Water Buffalo – a huge number
Griffin Vulture – flying
Great Hornbill – eating fruit at top of tree silk cotton red blooms
Pied Wagtail in field
Grey Headed Canary Fly Eater in hotel garden
PM Riverene Forest
Bar Headed Goose – thousands – capable of flying over Himalayas on migration
Snake Bird, swimming
Open Billed Stork – fishing
Black Hooded Oriole – singing
Pied Kingfisher – hovering, fishing
White Breasted Kingfisher on post
Crested Serpent Eagle – high in bare branch
Green Sand Piper – wading on edge of water
Ruddy Shell Duck – love ducks, they pair for life
Bar-headed Geese – hundreds
Spot Billed Duck – very common
Citrine Wagtail – Wagtail like a canary
Spot Billed Pelican – so graceful gliding above us
Greenshank – as in England
Lineated Barbet – calling continuously and monotonously
Alexandrine Parakeet – screeching above
Striated Grass Bird – dull, difficult to see
River Lapwing – warning flying
Woolly Necked Stork – exactly as it sounds with black scarf
Black Hooded Ibis – same
Grey Heron, as home
House Sparrow – as home
Buzzard – as home
Indian Roller – as we see in Dubai
Pied Starling – very attractive
Green Bee Eater – as we see in Dubai
Jungle Mynah – they carry out murmeration (like our Starling) at about 4.15 pm
Chestnut Tailed Starling – again very smart
Streak Throated Woodpecker
Coppersmith Barbet – also calls incessantly
Rhino including many babies
The above shows just what a good day our first day was, wonderful green grass (long), forest and lakes and ponds abound.
Thursday 14th AM
We visited the Eastern Block
Again, I am listing what we saw (only additional to yesterday or exceptional).
Greylag as we see in Scotland
One male Falcated Duck – very rare
Pintail Ducks as our Thorburn Print in the front room
Occidental Pied Hornbill – very rare
Malayan Giant Squirrel
Five wild Elephants with baby – very wary – and then two females by river
Brown Fish Owl
And of course three different families of Smooth Coated Otters – 19 in all, playing, fishing and feeding, three very young, not swimming yet
Visited Central Block
Probably almost one hundred Rhino
Hoary Bellied Squirrel
Many Water Buffalo
Wild Boar – a few all over the place
Golden Fronted Leaf Bird
Finale for the day was a sighting of a Bengal Tiger walking along the side of a large lake and another two walking down the road towards us.
Friday 15th – CHERRY’S BIRTHDAY
Up at 4.40am and off to the Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary, arrived at 7.30am, based in a dense original forest.
We watched four families of Hoolock Gibbons resting and feeding high up in trees including tiny two month olds playing.
We also saw rare Pig Tailed Macaques, as well as the more common Macaque, begging for food while we had a picnic breakfast.
Equally high to the Gibbons are Black Capped Langurs of which we watched a family feeding.
(There are 18 families – about 116 of these rare Gibbons).
We were accompanied around by a park warden in case we met elephants.
The final sighting was a very good view of the Malayan Giant Squirrel, a huge dark brown creature with a yellow bib.
The afternoon was spent particularly trying to see another tiger – no luck but Cherry had a particularly happy event when the tame park elephants passed us as they went off to feed. One curled his trunk all around Cherry’s head and body looking for a titbit.
This was the end of the safari.
Tomorrow we drive for five hours, fly to Delhi where we stay overnight in the Holiday Inn before flying back to Heathrow via Doha.
- A collection of short stories -
Tony is a passionate writer as well as an active conservationist. He is currently working on a number of books and we are delighted to be able to share a few stories from them.