When Gaurav Kataria, a birder and tour operator, invited me to go along with him to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary during March of 2015, I had loads of apprehension about the weather, terrain and the proximity to medical assistance. Earlier, before my trip to Namdhapha it was Gaurav who counseled me on similar fears and he egged me on: Namdhapha, a lowland rainforest with “empty forest syndrome” calls out to only a handful who are fortunate to appreciate it, continuing that having managed that, Eaglenest would be a cakewalk for me. In the presence of intense birders, tough itineraries become a joyous holiday. Eaglenest and Bompu camp were no exception. As the jeep, loaded with breakfast and lunch, followed us at intervals, I never felt the need to hop onto it. We would walk with our gear on the shoulders for 6 to 8 hours each invigorating day.
The virgin forests of Mandala, Eaglenest and the trek between Bompu Camp to Haathi Naala and Lower Kellong threw up surprises at each bend. The change in habitat and seeing different flocks or individuals after every 500 meters is a photographer/birder’s delight.
We had Phurpa Arteju as our guide. This kid was a big surprise. He could identify dozen birds in a mixed flock by their calls alone.
Trekking with him we heard and saw 220 species and photographed around 75 species.
The moment you cross into Arunachal Pradesh the change in air quality and visuals is palpable. Cross Balukpong and the festival begins. We were welcomed by the Rufous woodpecker amongst the bamboos and 500 meters later we were wondering which bird to focus on. My jaw just dropped looking at the activity of the hunting flocks.
Mandala is a constant surprise and the birds were quite comfortable in our presence. At Eaglenest, the Bugun gave us the slip. 6 trips later, it showed up as the “Year Bird” in 2018. That time my companions and I had to leave the pair of Bugun Liochicla after watching it to our hearts content.
Bompu Camp is a visual delight. The stay and food are both excellent.
It was here I met Marmot Snetsinger, daughter of Phoebe Snetsinger, my idol, the record holder for seeing the highest number of birds. That meeting was more precious than the sighting of the rare Chestnut Breasted Partridge. The moment Marmot slung Phoebe’s binoculars around my neck, patted my back and asked me to go watch birds was the most magical moment in my bird photography life.
The story on photographing the Chestnut- breasted Partridge is worth telling.
On the way up from Haathi Naala to Bompu Camp towards evening, Phurpha heard the call from about 100 metres away. I was tired and looking forward to the local brew organised by Gaurav’s partners at Bompu Camp and was already happy with the day’s results. I reluctantly halted and on looking back at my companion’s face, I sensed his seriousness to get this bird. I dragged my feet back and positioned on the far end of the track. The call came a bit closer by the minute. After a seriously long wait, we could sense movement behind a pile of dry leaves. First only the crest appeared a few centimetres above the pile of dry leaves. The bird kept moving to and fro, feeding and finally, he just stood before us with his head cocked up and started calling. One after the other we all pressed into the click button of our cameras – our fingers sore after about 2 minutes of frenzied action. For a change, what appeared like a first in my photography times, the ear-to-ear grins, backslapping and fist pumping happened even before we reached for the LCD display, to have a peep at the pictures.
Very few places on this planet offer you endless serendipities other than the one main reason you have travelled there… maybe a couple more, if you are fortunate. But to witness such a constant series of majestic views and exceptional sightings is beyond my comprehension.
You could be anybody or everybody in a magical merge… A birder… Photographer… Honeymooner… Drifter… your time hangs still and you begin to transcend into pure bliss.
The mist hangs over the thick forest like a shimmering sheer and drifts across the hills bringing in the right amount of pleasing light for photographers.
The camping experience is magical and at the same time offer you a mood of luxury. I customised my tour plan and the programme was conducted flawlessly. Each meal of the day was nutritious and a veritable spread.
Would I go back…? Definitely yes. At the first opportunity, I would be back in Eaglenest and Arunachal Pradesh.