Text by Munmita Boruah
Photos & Videos by Udayan Borthakur
A view of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary
There are places that give us great experiences, breathtaking views and amazing moments to cherish for rest of our lives. Each place is beautiful in its own way and unique for what it offers. Yet, sometimes we are left to wonder if nature has been more kind to some parts on the Earth! Arunachal is one of them, where nature plays its game at its will on various locations.
The largest of the seven sisters of NE, Arunachal Pradesh, the Land of the Rising Sun, is known for its pristine beauty and the lush green forests. The beautiful plateaus, mountains, rivers, valley, flora, fauna and also the culture of local people of the state have been attracting tourists for years. Like other parts of the state, the western part of Arunachal has a number of tourist destinations such as Sesa Orchid Park, beautiful Dibang Valley, Tenga Valley, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Bomdila, Sela Pass, Tawang etc.
It was around 7 am in one fine morning of January 2022, we started our journey from Guwahati towards Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary via Bhairabkunda road. The both side of the road from Orang to Bhairabkunda is surrounded by tea gardens, rivers and roadside vegetations. From Bhairabkunda, the changes in vegetation types, curvy roads and small roadside houses instinctively bring the feel of entering a hilly area. The forests covering both side of the road as well as the rocky slopes are habitat of many rare bird species. The Wallcreeper that catches immediate attention with bright red on its wings when it flies, the skulking Laughingthrushes, the Blue Rock Thrush sitting on the boulders, the shrilling call of the Spiderhunters, naughty whistles of the Blue Whistling Thrush, monotonous calls of the Great Barbet so typical of the hills are to name a few. It’s better for every birding enthusiast to be ready to stop their vehicles at any point to spot and photograph many such avian delights on the way!
The beautiful road to Tenga Valley via Rupa
I had the opportunity of joining Aaranyak team which is studying elephants of northeast India using genetic technology. As part of their work, they are visiting several places of Arunachal Pradesh to collect dung samples of elephants, which provide the required genetic material for identifying the source populations and migration routes of the species in the landscape.
Our destination, the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, is popular only amongst a few handpicked tourists particularly interested in birds and other wildlife. The sanctuary is stretches over 218 km sq, and is situated in the Himalayan foothill of West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh. It took us almost 8 hours to reach Tenga Valley, the nearest township of Eaglenest. After a little refreshment, we finally reached Ramalingam, the entry point of Eaglenest, where we have booked our stay at the forest rest house. We received a warm welcome from the Range Office Pema Dorjee and his colleagues from Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department in a very traditional style! The rest house is situated at the adjoining hilltop of the entry gate and one can witness the scenic beauty of Tenga Valley and Sinchung clearly from there. The mesmerizing view of the snow-capped Himalaya and calls of White-collared Blackbird and flycatchers always give a fresh start for the rest of the day. One can stay at Tenga Valley, the beautiful small township to visit Eaglenest which only takes about 45 minute drive to reach Ramalingam.
The forest rest house at Ramalingam in the twilight hours
With its pristine mountain forest, Eaglenest is categorized as one of the top-ranked birding hotspots. It has to be mentioned that, the discovery of Bugun liocichla by birdwatcher Ramana Athreya, has brought a new global limelight to this place. In addition to Bugun liocichla, the Wildlife Sanctuary is home of many other high altitude bird species such as various Rosefinches, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Spotted Nutcracker, various species of Parrotbills, Warblers and Flycatchers, The Ward’s Trogon, Blyth’s Tragopan, several species of Hornbills, Black Eagle, Himayalan Buzzard and other birds of prey etc. are just to name a few.
From left to right: Scarlet Minivet, Dark-breasted Rosefinch, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Strip-throated Yuhina, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-throated Bushtit and White-collared Blackbird.
Besides birds, Eaglenest is also known for its mammalian diversity such as Asian elephant, red panda, gaur, barking deer, marbled cat, wild dog etc. As the wildlife sanctuary is ranged from its highest point Eaglenest Pass (2780m altitude) to lowest point Kamengbari (100m altitude) towards the South, the possibilities of discovering fauna characteristic of different altitude is very high there. The diversity of plant species also very significant and it is clearly visible for every one while crossing the sanctuary. With a very minimum entry fees, one can spend whole day and enjoy the beauty of Eaglenest along with rich biodiversity.
A very shy Arunachal macaque
About 10km from Ramalingam, is the Lama Camp, situated in an area owned by the local communities and maintained by the Bugun Welfare Society. Birdwatchers generally prefer to walk this area as in this way it is easy to spot birds and take photographs. Once you reach Lama Camp, undoubtedly the view of Snowy Mountain range will not allow anyone to leave the place very soon. Tourist can stay in the camp based on availability of the accommodation facilities. In fact the boundary of main Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary starts only after a few kilometers from the camp. To that point, the whole area is known as a community reserve forest, managed and looked after by the Bugun community people.
A rare Abor Hills Agama
The hilly and tough road passes through the sanctuary and gives tourists thrill and unique experience of visiting and spotting animals in dense hill forests. This experience is quite different from taking a jeep or elephant safari in the protected areas of the plains. After almost two hours of drive, we reached the highest point of Eaglenest WLS known as Eaglenest Pass. By now snowfall has started and in no time the area was covered with white snow. The branches of trees looked absolutely stunning with snow cover. I was very excited as this was the first time, I had witnessed snow fall inside a forest and also tracked stiff hilly areas layered with snow.
View of snowy Himalayan mountain range with Gorichen peak from Lama Camp
Our next destination was Chaku. On the way to Chaku, there is a watch tower which is known as Hawa Mahal (as told by the forest officials). As the name signifies, we have experienced cold air from all the sides and we were chilled to the bones after a few minutes. The road was narrow and due to rain fall it became muddy at certain points. In some areas, we really had to think twice whether our SUV will take us ahead or not. Snowfall continued till we reached Chaku. The view of the open area during snowfall from Chaku camp was indescribable with words. As it was already 3 pm in the afternoon, the forest officials suggested us not to move forward that day as it might become dangerous due to lone elephants while returning back to Ramalingam. Our team decided to come back and planned to visit again on the next day. After sunset, the drive was bit scary but the beauty of the snowy road and never-ending talk between our team members and forest let us skip the perilous part with ease.
The road to Chaku
Trekking to surrounding areas comprises of some small villages also gave us opportunity to interact with local communities and understand their close bonding with nature. The villagers are true guardians of these forests as well as welcoming and they feel blessed to stay as one with the nature.
The breathtaking landscapes of Tenga Valley near Bugun community villages
We are grateful for the warm reception and exceptional support by Arunachal Forest department during the trip. With a promise to ourselves to come back again, we had to leave Eaglenest after spending 6 wonderful days. While we were gradually coming down towards the plains, along with thinning forest cover we also felt the sudden rise of temperature. Truly, Arunachal is a land that you cannot afford to miss the unexplored beauty of India. The beautiful landscape around, vivid wildlife, vibrant flora and fauna guardian local communities make Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary a must visit place for every nature lover bitten by the travel bug.
About the Author:
Munmita Boruah, is the Executive Editor of ecoNE. She has been working with Aaranyak for last 5 years.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org