Wednesday, March 07, 2012

9 Days in Paradise - Leg 1, Nameri

It wasn’t going as I’d planned it. Sahana had dropped out of the trip at pretty much the last moment. This meant that we’d have just four people in our group to Nameri and Kaziranga as against the planned five. On the face of it, this didn’t seem much of an issue, except it hiked up the costs that we’d divided across five people. I like being meticulous in the way I plan, so this was a bit of a hiccup. As it turns out, some hiccups are for good reason.

Onward to Assam

So on 21st Feb - a day I’d been waiting for months, we set out on our journey. Raji picked me and Chirdeep up, we reached the airport well in time, met Sudhir over breakfast, got into our flight and then made an uneventful trip several hundred miles away to Guwahati. Our first stop was going to be Nameri Tiger Reserve - a quiet forest tucked away not very far from the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border. Nameri is known to be a birdwatcher’s paradise and we’d planned to stay at the forest department’s Kanyaka Lodge. While the roads from Guwahati to Balipara were OK, the route from that point on was nothing but an absolute nightmare. We’d made quite a few stops on the way - a few times for lesser adjutant storks, and once for some tea at the NH52 Dhaba. So, after a five hour bone rattling drive, we made our way into the lodge and were able to stretch ourselves.

Rolling into Nameri

Nameri is not short of accommodation options despite the limited footfall it receives. Nameri Eco Camp is the most popular property in the neighbourhood and is run by the Mahseer Conservation Society in the region. I haven’t heard very good things about the Jia Bhorali resort (Email: / Mobile: 9435101614 / 9859262831), but I can’t believe it’ll be absolutely awful. We however couldn’t get accommodation in the Eco Camp, so we decided to go with the Kanyaka Forest Lodge which at Rs 800/- a night per room seemed like an absolute steal. Located right next to the 134 Eastern Planters unit which is part of the Indian Army’s Eco Task Force, the property is a good, no-frills wildlife enthusiast’s accommodation. Mr Sarat Sarma who runs the lodge on behalf of the forest department is a funny man who has limited knowledge about birds, but more than makes up for it with his enthusiasm. That first night, we slept really well - it’s funny to think how just sitting through a long flight and a long drive can tire you out.

Exploring the Wilderness

The next morning we were up early. The plan was to go rafting down the Jia Bhorali river. If you stay at the Kanyaka lodge, be sure to speak to Mr Sarma and have the boatmen either stay over at the lodge or come really early in the morning. The rafting point is about 10 kms away at a point called the 13th mile and an early start at 0630 AM gives you a good chance to spot birds. On that first day we were late, but the Jia Bhorali didn’t let us down. Ibisbill, Mallard, Ruddy Shelducks, Black Stork, Black Necked Stork, Pratincole… we found birds faster than we could call out their names. A part of me felt we were on a birding roller coaster. Be mindful though that rafting down the rapids is not an easy way to take photographs and while you’ll spot many birds on the way downstream, you’re quite likely to come back with no pictures.

Post the rafting trip and a pit stop for breakfast at the Potasali camp we set out on a forest trek with Meenaram Gogoi. At Nameri Tiger Reserve, birdwatchers need a permit to explore the trekking routes along its peripheries. You’re usually accompanied by an armed guard just in case you run into an aggressive elephant or bison. Now, it pays to have a guard who is a birdwatcher and knows the forest well. Meenaram Gogoi is one such man. From Kaziranga, he’s what you’ll call a born wildlifer. As the birds whizzed past on the canopy, he would operate without binoculars and help us identify exotic species that we hadn’t ever seen before. A little pied flycatcher flew by, as did a blue throated barbet. A streaked spiderhunter perched itself in an unusually high spot. As we went ahead redstarts and bulbuls dotted our path. A crested serpent eagle played hide and seek while a buzzard and a booted eagle soared high above us. You don’t expect to see this level of activity at 11am, but Nameri was truly a different kettle of fish.

As we trudged ahead and reached the Oubari camp, Meenaram started to get more alert. He had his mind on a more prized sighting - the white winged duck. You wouldn’t think of a duck being difficult to find, but these guys are shy and super elusive. They choose small ponds in the middle of the forest as their habitat and come noon, they go up on the trees and rest unless disturbed. We tiptoed to a haunt that Meenaram knew of. “Don’t talk, when I point out a location, look there without saying anything.” And that’s exactly what we did. As we approached the pond though, we startled an otter. The otter lunged into the water and off flew some of the most beautiful ducks I’ve ever seen. We’d seen the white winged duck, but had no chance of getting a photograph. Damn!

Over the next two days we spotted over a 100 bird species and trekked through some of the most beautiful woodlands you would have seen. Mr Sarma played eager host, Meenaram the astute guide and Jaykumar the caretaker was a wonderful cook who rustled up some simple, yet tasty food. If you’re a birdwatcher, then there’s nothing quite like birding in these evergreen forests. As we went down the Jia Bhorali for our last trip almost all of us felt that Nameri needs a lot more time than we had planned for it. Had we stayed longer and not had a hard stop to the trip, we could have come back with some pretty decent photographs. We didn’t, so I’m sure I’ll return there at some point to photograph the avifauna of the region. Until then, I’ll live with memories.

Travel Tips

Here are a few points that’ll help you plan your trip to Nameri:
  • To get to Nameri, you can hire a taxi at Guwahati airport for about 3600 INR.
  • To book Kanyaka Lodge, call Mr Sarat Sarma (the forester in charge) at +919435381990. He doesn’t operate by email but will mark out your name in his diary.
  • The ensuite rooms are 800 INR apiece, though for hot water you’ll need to share one of the common bathrooms. You can also opt for a deluxe room with a TV and that costs 1000 INR each night.
  • Food is usually simple and consists of local vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Jayakumar, the cook is quite obliging with requests and is usually willing to do what it takes to please you.
  • Rafting and trekking require separate permits and cost 280 INR and 320 INR respectively. Mr Sarma can help facilitate this.
  • The boatmen’s charge for the rafting trip is usually the bigger amount - 3240 INR for the trip. Each boat can accommodate upto 4 people. So in hindsight it wasn’t too bad that Sahana couldn’t make it. It helped all of us be together.
  • You’ll also need to hire a vehicle to carry your raft to the 13th mile and to pick you up from the end of the trip. This usually costs 1000 INR.
  • Apart from birding, there’s also the pygmy hog breeding center to help in the conservation of this endangered wild pig. Well worth a visit and I also saw some pretty interesting butterflies in the area.

I hope you visit Nameri soon - it was leg 1 of what’s been my most productive birding trip by far. Our next stop was Kaziranga - more about that in my next post. By the way, for this post and for this trip in general I tried using my iPhone as an alternate camera. I was quite pleased with the results in several cases. I'd love to know what you thought. So please, please, please - do share your feedback. I'm guessing you'll be able to make out the ones I shot with the phone, won't you?


molarbear's posts said...

Waiting to leave for Bhadra, and enjoyed this post very much! We stayed at the Eco Camp, but it's nice to see that there are other good options at Nameri.


Tom said...

Nicely written Sumeet. Must've been real frustrating missing getting a photo of the white winged duck.

tauruskvs said...

nice report....what about those mosquitoes...what are the precautions required....
do let me know when you are planning your next trip

bwl said...


Anita said...

I love those shots. You've taken great photos in that place. You really have a great skill in photography. I wish I had the same talent in photography. Anyway, I look forward to seeing more excellent photos of your trips.

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I'm sure you had a great time while you were in the raft. Thanks.

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