THATTEKAD

Prelude:

The forest inspection bungalow sat in quietude amid jackfruit, mango and mahogany trees. Insects hovered around in plenty; encircling under the tube-light and crawling on the walls and the white marble floor. I stepped out on the porch and sauntered around with my cup of piping-hot instant coffee. The air was still and sultry, yet pleasant. Thattekad, illuminated by a pale moon looked both lovely and creepy at the same time. Under the flash of our swaying torchlights, we walked to the other side of the road into the sanctuary towards Girish’s homestay.

Girish and the Malabar Gliding frogs: 

After reading a few blogs that spoke highly about his birding expertise I had cherry-picked Girish from the handful of guides at Thattekkad. Girish’s family comprised of his wife, two kids, his mother Sudha and his 90 year old grand-mom. A lawyer by profession, he was a cheerful man in his forties. Thattekad being his birthplace, he had developed a keen interest in birding since childhood. Sudha, a soft spoken and energetic lady, was a bird enthusiast too! Interesting conversations unfolded around Thattekad and its ecosystem. Girish’s home, painted in electric blue, nestled cozily in the forest canopy.  An army of Malabar frogs dwelling in his courtyard had taken me by complete surprise! With their smooth and vivid green body, yellow feet and bulgy yellow eyes, they looked like characters out of a fairy tale. Gliding frogs are tree frogs that can make gliding jumps of upto 12 meters, approximately 100 times their length. This rare specie is found only in the Western Ghats.

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Malabar Gliding frog-Mobile click

Urulathanni : 

Seven kilometres away from the main sanctuary, Urulathanni was waking up to a cloudy and drizzly morning. Such a weather in the mid of May was both unexpected and disappointing. To our luck, it cleared off sooner than anticipated. Traversing through teak and rubber plantations, we reached a flat rocky patch, ahead of which, a moderately elevated climb led us to a clearing that presented a panoramic view of the forest and the mountains surrounding Thattekad. A small tribal hut stood towards one end. Girish mentioned that the hut was in the elephant and leopard crossing zone, but the small tribal family of four along with their dog, were well adapted to the lurking dangers. We glanced around and realised that this stretch was bustling  with flower-peckers, minivets, starlings, hill mynas, parakeets, sunbirds, drongos, hornbills and others flew in plenty. The sun was up and the birds we active already. Girish sped like a superfast train, spotting and identifying birds by their flight and calls, while I struggled to keep up with his pace. The hyper-activeness of the birds and the considerable distance from them made focusing almost impossible. I toggled frustratingly between mounting my beast-like lens on the tripod and hand-holding it. As the morning sun became harsher, humidity started taking a toll. I hadn’t clicked a single good image, except that of a giant butterfly and a bug! Eventually, when the heat became unbearable, we started to descend into the lower terrain. It had been a frustrating and ugly start!

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The Srilanka Frogmouth

‘I can’t see them’ I uttered in an anxious, but hushed voice. ‘Go closer, be careful not to touch or shake the branch though’, instructed Girish. I inched further towards the bunch of dried leaves of a slim tree that stood amid hundred other identical trees. I noticed a withered leaf gently ruffle for a  split-second. I found the pair of Srilaka Frogmouths roosting on a fragile branch; one of which had acted like a dead leaf dangling in the wind! They duo was glued to each other, absolutely motionless and so perfectly camouflaged, that if not for Girish, I would have never been able to locate them, even at such close proximity. Srilanka Frogmouth is one of the tougher birds to spot due to its plumage that resembles dried leaves. More so, these are nocturnal and usually perch at the same spot for long hours with slight or no movement. Its elongated eyes, wide bill with moustache and frog-like face renders it both beautiful and weird-looking at the same time! We encountered more frogmouths at considerable distances from each other later on the trail. It wasn’t surprising that we bumped into all of them at the exact same spots over the next couple of days.

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Srilanka Frogmouth stretches its neck when alert

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Srilanka Frogmouth pair- the female is rufous and the male is slightly grey in color.

The mysterious hooter and the Jerdon’s Nightjar

Noon was well-spent near a placid lake which had a colony of bee-eaters and swallows As the sun began to set, we were back into the forests to hunt down the Jerdon’s Nightjar. However, our attention was diverted to a loud and mystical ‘wooooh-woooh-wooooh’ that echoed from a distance. “I think its a Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, but I am not sure!”, Girish exclaimed overwhelmingly. We hastened through the bushes and thorny shrubs, in the direction of the hooting. Each time we felt like we were getting closer, the owl would pause for a few minutes and then hoot again, but farther away. This hide and seek continued for sometime, until we eventually gave up! It was high time we headed back for the nightjar. Girish brought us back to a small expanse, not too far away from the road. He started playing the nightjar’s call on his phone repeatedly. Drawing our attention towards two bare branches of a bush nearby, he confidently implied, “It would fly around here anytime now and sit on either of these branches for a few seconds; be ready”. And as though Girish had some premonition, a beautiful Jerdon’s Nightjar perched exactly on the branch that Girish had pointed out. Its plumage was in shades of black, brown and white and it had deep black eyes. It sat for less than thirty seconds before disappearing into the woods. This was too good to be real!

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Jerdon’s Nightjar. Pic Credits : Mihir Vilekar

Tracking down the Trogons

A faint and short ‘eaw eaw’ lead us offtrack and down a gentle slope to the base of the jungle with a brook running through it. Here, the ground was moist and laden with leeches. Albeit my efforts and repeated pleas from my husband, I just couldn’t pull my attention off the blood suckers and in the bargain, we lost track of the Trogon. I looked down to pull away from the cursing look on his face, only to find that three leeches had already crawled up my left foot, despite all the drama I had put up. We continued walking off-road for a few meters and connected to the-mud trail in no time. My face lit up as we chanced upon a beautiful pair of pruning Trogons just 10 feet away! The male was handsome, with a bright crimson front, black head and white color. The female had a chrome yellow chest while the head and collar were brown. Malabar Trogons are resident birds of the Western Ghats. Due to their shy nature, they are usually found in thick canopies. Even with  such striking colors, they blend well with their surroundings since their backs are camouflaged! For me, these were no less than the birds of paradise.

Malabar trogon male front

A vibrant male Malabar Trogon

Hornbill Best

A Malabar Grey Hornbill with its juvenile

Salim Ali bird trail

On the last day, we explored the Salim Ali trail inside the Thattekad sanctuary with Sudha. Apart from a jungle owlet, a few malabar parakeets we did not sight anything much. A stunt watch tower inside the forest threw some scenic views. Further ahead, we reached a pond skirted with dense growth of bamboo beyond which the trail opened up into a long and narrow path with thicket of tall trees on either sides. Drongos and woodpeckers wandered in abundance. A pair of white-bellied treepies with never-ending tails, looked majestic when they flew from tree to tree.  These again, can only be found in Western Ghats. 

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White Bellied Treepie. Pic credit : Mihir Vilekar

With the last bird on my wish-list ticked off, it was time to leave. An unexpected overcast took over Thattekad, vanquishing the intolerable airlessness with soothing whiffs of cool winds. We drove past the area where had head the enigmatic hoots the previous evening. From deep within the woods, the uncanny ‘wooooooh-woooooh-woooooh’ echoed, piercing the silence of the jungle. The mysterious owl though, had made up its mind to maintain its inconspicuousness.

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The rare, Drone Cuckoo

Greater racket tailed drongo

Greater Racket tailed Drone

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Orange-headed thrush

Malabar giant squirrel

Malabar Giant Squirrel

About Thattekad: Thattekad is a dense evergreen forest situated approximately 65 kms to the east of Cochin in Kerala. More commonly referred to as The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, it is considered to have the richest bird habitat in the peninsular region of India with close to 280 reported species(resident and migratory). In the local dialect, Thattekad translates into ‘Thatte- plate’ and ‘Kad-forest’. The topography of Thattekad comprises of flat rocks and hence the name. Also, the pristine Periyar river branches into and cuts through the sanctuary. Few rare birds endemic to western ghats can be found here. Urulathanni is the richest in terms of bird species and population, in my personal opinion.

Best time to Visit : Oct through March. To skip the crowd of birdwatchers, one may visit in April, though most migrant birds return from Thattekad by then but resident birds can be sighted in plenty.

How to reach :

By Air : The nearest airport is Cochin. Private taxis could be booked to reach Thattekad.

By Rail : Aluva is the closest station. Hire a private taxis or take a bus hereon

By bus : Overnight bus from Bangalore to Koothuparamba- local bus to Kothamanagalam- local bus to Thattekad.

Where to stay : You can choose to stay in Girish’s homestay. If you are on a budget, try the Forest Inspection bungalow. In both cases, advance booking is strongly recommended. Alternatively, one can stay in Kothamangalam. For Forest IB contact Mani @ 8547603174

Where to eat : the nearest eatery joint is 3 kms away. Thattekad is mostly rural, hence no big hotels in the vicinity. Kothamangalam is a slightly bigger town, 12 kms away.

Guide info : Girish @ 9847034520.

Essentials : A good telephoto lens above 500mm, tripod, binoculars, sunscreen, light, camouflaging clothes, cap, 2 litres of water, umbrella ( it may rain post March), leech socks (if visiting pre/post monsoons)

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A serene sunset on river Periyar that cuts through Thattekad

My list of identified and photographed birds species at Thattekad: 66. For a pictorial tour, click here : Birds of Thattekad

  1. Srilanka Frogmouth -male and female
  2. Malabar Trogon Male- male and female
  3. Jerdon’s Nightjar
  4. White-bellied Treepie
  5. Malabar Grey Hornbill
  6. Rufous Treepie
  7. Vernal Hanging Parakeet
  8. Malabar Parakeet
  9. Red Whiskered Bulbul
  10. Red Vented Bulbul
  11. Yellow Browed Bulbul
  12. Flame Throated Bulbul
  13. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  14. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
  15. Black Drongo
  16. Drongo Cuckoo
  17. Streak-throated Woodpecker
  18. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker
  19. Lesser Yellow Naped Woodpecker
  20. Lesser Goldenback Woodpecker
  21. Heart-spotted Woodpecker
  22. Bar-winged Flycatcher
  23. White-bellied Blue Flycatcher
  24. Little Cormorant
  25. Little Egret
  26. Great Egret
  27. Darter
  28. River Tern
  29. Spot-billed Pelican
  30. Cotton Pygmy Goose
  31. Bronze-winged Jacana
  32. Lesser Whistling Ducks
  33. Coppersmith barbet
  34. Grey Shrike
  35. Bay backed shrike
  36. Wood Shrike
  37. Asian fairy Bluebird-male and female
  38. Black Hooded Oriole
  39. Oriental Magpie Robin
  40. Hill Myna
  41. Orange Headed Thrush
  42. Spotted Dove
  43. Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
  44. Imperial Green Pigeon
  45. Pompadour Green Pigeon
  46. Blyth’s Starling
  47. Brahminy Starling
  48. Jungle Babbler
  49. Common Kingfisher
  50. Pied Kingfisher
  51. Stork-billed Kingfisher
  52. White throated Kingfisher
  53. Minivet- male and female
  54. Green Bee-Eater
  55. Chestnut Headed Bee-Eater
  56. Blue Cheeked Bee-Eater
  57. Grey Tit
  58. Red-Rumped Swallow
  59. Flowerpecker
  60. Indian Nutthatch
  61. Jungle Owlet
  62. Sunbirds
  63. Indian Coucal
  64. Jungle Fowl
  65. Red-wattled Lapwing
  66. Hoopoe

 

Birds of Thattekad

My list of identified and photographed birds species at Thattekad(including record shots): 66. Pictures below the name list. Click here for my blog : THATTEKAD

Photo credits : Mihir Vilekar and self

  1. Srilanka Frogmouth -male and female (lifer)
  2. Malabar Trogon Male- male and female (lifer)
  3. Jerdon’s Nightjar (lifer)
  4. White-bellied Treepie (lifer)
  5. Malabar Grey Hornbill
  6. Rufous Treepie
  7. Vernal Hanging Parakeet
  8. Malabar Parakeet (lifer)
  9. Red Whiskered Bulbul
  10. Red Vented Bulbul
  11. Yellow Browed Bulbul
  12. Flame Throated Bulbul
  13. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  14. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
  15. Black Drongo
  16. Drongo Cuckoo (lifer)
  17. Streak-throated Woodpecker  (lifer)
  18. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker (lifer)
  19. Lesser Yellow Naped Woodpecker  (lifer)
  20. Lesser Goldenback Woodpecker 
  21. Heart-spotted Woodpecker
  22. Bar-winged Flycatcher (lifer)
  23. White-bellied Blue Flycatcher  (lifer)
  24. Little Cormorant
  25. Little Egret
  26. Great Egret
  27. Darter 
  28. River Tern
  29. Spot-billed Pelican
  30. Cotton Pygmy Goose (lifer)
  31. Bronze-winged Jacana
  32. Lesser Whistling Ducks
  33. Coppersmith barbet
  34. Grey Shrike
  35. Bay backed shrike
  36. Wood Shrike
  37. Asian fairy Bluebird-male and female
  38. Black Hooded Oriole
  39. Magpie Robin
  40. Hill Myna
  41. Orange Headed Thrush
  42. Spotted Dove
  43. Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
  44. Imperial Green Pigeon (lifer)
  45. Pompadour Green Pigeon
  46. Blyth’s Starling (lifer)
  47. Brahminy Starling
  48. Jungle Babbler
  49. Common Kingfisher
  50. Pied Kingfisher 
  51. Stork-billed Kingfisher
  52. White throated Kingfisher
  53. Minivet- male and female
  54. Green Bee-Eater
  55. Chestnut Headed Bee-Eater
  56. Blue Cheeked Bee-Eater
  57. Grey Tit
  58. Red-Rumped Swallow
  59. Flowerpecker
  60. Indian Nut thatch  (lifer)
  61. Jungle Owlet
  62. Sunbirds
  63. Indian Coucal
  64. Jungle Fowl
  65. Red-wattled Lapwing
  66. Hoopoe
_MG_0054-2-1srilankan frogmouth pair

Srilanka Frogmouth

_B8A2613-1jerdons nightjar

Jerdon’s Nightjar

Hover mouse over the stacked images for description

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaziranga

Pobitora

Pobitora Sanctuary 

A narrow, dusty road leading to the forest inspection bungalow (IB), cut through a massive and impressive marshland. I was elated to spot the first single-horned Rhino within minutes of entering Pobitora!  The Rhino and its young were grazing miles away from us into vast expanse that looked more like an enormous grass field. The picturesque surroundings led to frequent pit-stops en-route to the IB. With little time at hand, we managed to gulp some food at a small home-cum-eatery at the forest gate. Rotis were served straight out of the pan onto our plates with some Subzi, Dal, pickle and onions. Pobitora, largely underdeveloped, has little trace of tourism. There aren’t any stand-alone hotels and resorts are only a handful. We got onto a gypsy, accompanied by a driver and a guide. A little ahead of the entrance, a baby elephant swayed merrily next to its tamed mom. Apparently, all the other elephants had been temporarily shifted to another location for a few days under the order of the forest department, thus hampering our plans to explore Pobitora on an elephant back. Our gypsy passed through some striking and placid landscapes with water bodies scattered in patches. Water birds were in abundance– Herons, Ibis, Terns, Ducks, Lapwings, Adjutant storks and more. We were told of a garbage site nearby where the shy and endangered adjutant storks were found in plenty! A little ahead of the swamps, the terrain gradually transformed into a grassland. A Rhino was spotted at close proximity, feeding next to a stunt tree, basking in the golden light of the setting sun. We had hardly moved a kilometer further on the trail, when our guide signaled the driver to stop, urgently. The gypsy halted abruptly, blowing a cloud of fine dust into the air. A robust Rhino stood under the canopy of woods, almost motionless. Fully grown and powerful; its heavy-duty muscles were clearly visible from a distance. It twitched its elfin, dusty orange ears occasionally. The Rhino, aware of our harmless presence, continued grazing peacefully, keeping a watchful eye on our movements. Pobitora also had a substantial population of deer, wild buffaloes, eagles jungle fowls and water birds. Mist had begun to settle over the extensive grassland and by around 4.30 pm, twilight took over. Deer and wild pigs ran timidly into the canopy of tall grass and peaked at us with curiosity from a distance. Pobitora saw only a bunch of tourists that day, all of whom had departed after the safari, except for us. The inspection bungalow faced a serene lake with a wooden hanging bridge. We spent some time in tranquility of the lake before we could leave to explore the darker side of Pobitora- the side ruled by black magic..

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The hanging bridge over a lake in front of the Forest Inspection Bungalow

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Pobitora landscape

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The single-Horned Indian Rhino. Its elfin ears have a rusty orange tinge.

Mayang

6 kms away from Pobitora, in a village called Mayang, a trim, cheerful man with a pony tail, Roninder Nath, welcomed us. Entering his dimly lit home provided quite a relief from the chilly December night of the forest. A few items including a wooden box, a scarf, towel and rice grains were kept on the sofa. Roninder narrated the history of his village.  Mayang was infamous for black magic for ages and is dreaded by many even now for its sorcery. Though witchery and blind faith have been wiped out, its traces still prevail, but mostly in the form of harmless magic performed for entertainment. Magic ran in Roninder’s family for generations. He learnt the tricks from his father and is currently passing it on to his 4 year old son. After a brief rendezvous, Roninder demonstrates his first trick. He opens an empty wooden jewelry box. Seeking a concurrence from us that it is indeed empty, he shuts it and chants a Mantra. In a flash he flips open the box, which now contains a few currency notes! My gaze shifts to our driver, a native of Assam, who is petrified by the abracadabra! Next, Roninder places a bowl of rice grains into an open towel, instructing his son to hold the other end of it. ‘Magical’ water from a small bottle is sprinkled onto the grains while another hymn is chanted. He tosses the rice grains in the towel for a few seconds, transforming the grains into rice puffs or Poha!  In his third trick, Roninder holds a coin under a small cloth asking us to touch and confirm its presence between his fingers. Within moments, he retrieves the coin from my spouse’s palms, while his hands are empty. In his last trick, he displays a medium sized “Jhola” or a pouch with a handkerchief dropped in it, asking us to identify the color. While I identify it as white, my spouse sitting at a distance from me, sees it as pink. This is repeated a few times, however, our answers remain constant. Thoroughly entertained by his magic, we thank Roninder  and take this leave. The show isn’t over yet..

Not too far away, a museum dedicated to black magic awaited our visit. It felt like a scene straight out of a typical Bollywood horror movie. It was pitch dark and the lights were out. The caretaker of the museum was an old, skinny man, dressed in a white dhoti and kurta. As we followed him hurriedly under the faint light of his torch, I smelt a strong  trail of toddy behind him. He unlocked the rusty lock and flung-open the squeaky gates, behind which, a dilapidated house-like structure stared into my face. Its door opened into a dingy room and I could sense that it hadn’t seen visitors for a long time. To the right, a replica of a group of men and a tiger was arranged in a semi-circle. The keeper tells me that this depicts the power of a specific mantra, which when read, is known to mellow down a ferocious tiger. “See, the tiger is actually bowing to the men with its front paws joined together”, he says. Vessels and cutlery in copper and brass in varied shapes and sizes were on display. I got curious about a heavy brass plate, almost the size of a drum lid with a small stand attached to its bottom. ‘Who Raja ki Thali hai’ (That’s the plate of the King), said the feeble, shivering voice. A host of daily-use household items, hunting weapons, tools and pottery had been haphazardly arranged in the room. The central wall had a line-up of frames with photographs of locals engaged in various acts of black magic and animal sacrifices or ‘Bali’. A huge glass cabinet placed at the centre of the hall contained primeval currency coins and neatly arranged books wrapped in red cloth. Each book had a description of the black magic it pertained to. Some Mantras were inscribed on palm leaves secured together with a thick jute thread. There were books with Mantras for wealth, love, power, fortune, ill-luck, destruction and so on. A chill ran down my spine on the very thought of a world that set its beliefs so deeply on blind faith and magic, not very long ago.

The squeaky gate closed behind me as we retreated from the museum. On our way back to Pobitora we were urged by our caretaker, Joton, to visit his home. It was a petite hut made of bamboo and dung, comprising of a small courtyard and a cowshed. The family barely earned anything, but their hospitality was heart-rending. There couldn’t have been a sweeter end to Pobitora, than munching on delicious Peethas* and Laddoos* served with love by his aged mom. All of this, amidst some piping-hot tea and conversations beyond language barriers with a warm family in the magical land hidden from the rest of world..

*Peetha– A savory made of rice flour.

*Laddoos– traditional Indian sweet usually made with sugar or jaggery combined with flour or coconut, shaped into a ball.

Snippets :

  1. Best time to Visit : October through April. Though April is the best since the grassland is almost dry.
  2. How to reach : Nearest airport is Guwahati. Hire a cab through a travel agent to reach Pobitora.
  3. Stay : A few resorts are available. You may choose to stay at the Forest Inspection Bungalow(IB). Contact Ashok Das-9435141158 for bookings. Rate is @ 1400 for room only.
  4. Safari related info : (do validate with the forest officer while booking). Elephant Safari is available only in the morning. Starts at 6/ 6.30 or 7 am depending on the season. Cost along with entry fee, cam charges and other fees is approx. 1800 INR Jeep safari available at noon : starts at 2.30 pm. All inclusive cost comes to 2200 INR approx.
  5. Things to do: Two safaris are sufficient. You may combine a visit to Kaziranga and Hoolongpar Gibbon sanctuary if you have 3 to 4 days at hand. However, since local commutation may be challenging, the same cab needs to be blocked for the whole trip in the interest of time. Don’t forget to visit Mayang and witness the world of magic!

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Under the faint luminescence of a crescent shaped moon that hung from a star-studded sky, we strolled the forests of Hollongpar on a cold December night. The silence around was deafening, except for the crumbling of withered leaves under our feet and the intermittent buzzing of crickets. While we hovered our torches along the length of the tall Hollong trees, our eyes prudently followed the narrow beams of light, searching for a rare and demure soul of the night. Not may know of Hollongpar –a sanctuary that lies approximately 160 kms to the east of the mighty Kaziranga. It is home to two endangered creatures of the animal kingdom, the Bengal Slow Loris and the Western Hoolock Gibbon- the only ape specie found in India. Slow Lorises are nocturnal and shy, making it extremely cumbersome to spot. Sanjib, our guide, had elevated our sprits stating that a Loris was sighted on a tree adjacent to the rest house just two days ago. So there was a high possibility that it hadn’t reached too far. We ventured into the forests in the dark of the night, scanning every single tree trunk on either sides of the trail. Almost an hour into the forest, there was no sign of the Loris. On a couple of instances, Sanjib took a deviation from the trail and disappeared into the bushes to try his luck, only to reappear with a dejected look on his face. As we inched further, the chances got bleaker. There was no way the Loris could have come this far with its snail-pace. My desperation even lead me into imagining a Loris hugging on to a Hollong tree, staring back at us with its nervous, yet watchful eyes gleaming like large fireflies. After about two hours of unsuccessful endeavours, we finally took a U-turn. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew that the probabilities of sighting such an evasive animal in a limited window of time were grim; almost null. However, the experience of exploring a pristine forest in the dark was so fulfilling that, not being able to see the Loris did not really matter any longer. Upon our return to the rest house, a huge Gecko peek-a-booed from behind a rusty cupboard. Dinner comprised of piping-hot Maggi cooked on wood-fire with onions and potatoes – undoubtedly the most perfect way to end a long day.

In the wee hours of dawn the next day,, we took the same trail, but this time our target was to track down a Hoolock Gibbon. Hollongpar had transformed from a mysterious piece of land under the moon the previous night to a celestial world that morning, illuminated by the golden rays of the sun piercing through the slightest opening in the canopy of a dense evergreen forest . The dry leaves were now wet with mist and dew drops dripped from the shrubs and trees. Butterflies and moths in vibrant colors and varied sizes fluttered everywhere. The quietude was blissful; almost meditative, only to be broken by sudden and loud echos of  ‘wooooo-eh-wooooo-eh-woooooh-eh’. The shrieks were long and continuous, more like sounds coming off a wind instrument. Yes! It was the song of the Gibbons! Sanjib spotted the first Gibbon within seconds of hearing the calls and pointed towards the rustling of leaves amidst a cluster of Hollong trees a few feet away. The first gibbon was out for some sun-basking! It was perched so high up, that our necks began to hurt as we tried to follow its movements! Soon, a second gibbon with a baby clung to its chest joined in. A little ahead, we heard more calls. This time, there was an entire clan, settled on lower branches than the earlier pair! The males were furry and black with long white eyebrows. The females were white with a lovely orange and golden tinge to their fur. Spreading their ultra-wide arms, the Hoolocks swayed between branches with superb precision. They seemed to be self-entertaining! As the sun went higher, the jungle reverberated with gibbon calls from all corners. The forest floor was scattered with thousands of half-eaten Hollong fruits thrown away by the playful apes. Hollongpar was abundant, not just with Hoolocks, but also with Pig-Tailed macaques, Stump-Tailed macaques and Capped Langurs, apart from countless butterflies and birds. A spectacular pair of Trogons hovered in the woods with their brilliant orange bellies looking like flames flying through the evergreen forests. After soaking in all that I could, I left Hollongpar with fond reminiscences of the gibbons; their ‘‘wooooo-eh-wooooo-eh-woooooh-eh’ echoing in my ears.

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A male Hoolock Gibbon with distinct white eyebrows

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A female Hoolock gibbon swings on a Hollong Tree. Her fur has a orange-golden tinge.

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Hoolocks make superb use of their long arms to swing with precision

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A Pig-tailed Macaque with its young

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Capped Langur

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Sunrays piercing the forest canopy

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Rich biodiversity of the evergreen forests of Hollongpar

Snippets

How to reach: Nearest city is Jorhat in Assam , which also has an airport. The sanctuary is apprx 20 kms away from Jorhat town and can be reached through a taxi.

What to do: Explore the evergreen forest, rich is biodiversity. The only species of ape, namely the Western Hoolock gibbon is found here. Apart from gibbons, the sanctuary also has multiple species of macaques, butterflies and ample birdlife. Leopard sightings are rare. Special permits need to be taken for a night trail to spot the Slow Loris. Permits may NOT be granted.

Ideal season: Oct through March

Ideal length of stay : Max 2 days.

Where to stay: Forest Rest house. Contact DFO, Proshun Das-7086984546. Ask for a guide called Sanjib, an expert in spotting gibbons. Cost of stay is INR 450, plus camera and forest charges. Total cost comes upto INR 500.

What to carry : Warm clothes for winter, leech socks. Basic food supply.

Avoid : Littering, playing loud music or creating ruckus. Do not feed the gibbons.

*We refers to myself and my spouse who is usually my partner in most of my travel feats.

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