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N.E. India Eaglesnest (Part 1) and Singalila (Part 2). Part 2. (1 Viewer)


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N.E. India Eaglesnest (Part 1) and Singalila (Part 2). Part 2.


April 05th. I arrive Bagdogra Airport (West Bengal) on a flight from Dibrugarh (Assam).
I have planned to visit Kolakham, a village close to Nameri NP and 130km to the north east. I decide on a taxi and find the long distance taxis are located in car park 1. This is found only 50+m from the arrivals exit just walk to the left. It is a tiny airport. The taxi charges me 3500INR for what turns into a 3.5hr journey.
I am told enroute that the taxi will only take me to Lava because the last 8km from Lava to Kolakham is not driveable without a 4x4. To travel this last part the driver contacts my homestay who sends a landrover for me. Turns out the landrover charges 1000INR for this service but we agree on 700INR.

I stay at Rai Paul’s Residency +91 9832837689 (booking.com) 1800INR for an ensuite room.
For a 3 night stay including breakfast and dinner I am charged 6100INR. I had found this property on booking.com but it turns out that nearly every building is a homestay and when I visited there were few if any tourists apart from a couple of birding groups.
Kolakham sits on a hillside.To birdwatch I could follow the single road I came on, mainly beyond Kolakham and bird, from the roadside as I walked downhill. I concentrated on walking from the homestay for 2-3 km on this road which had very little traffic.The road passes through secondary forest.
Birding was excellent with no need to keep watching for elephants.

Interesting birds:
Red faced Liocichla, Yellow-rumped honeyguide, Brown-throated treecreeper, Tickell’s thrush. Dark-sided flycatcher. Grey treepie. Streak-throated Woodpecker, Nepal fulvetta.
Blue-capped Rockthrush
turned up again and I could also watch Chestnut-capped and Blue-winged Laughingthrush’s, from my bedroom window.

Kolakham to Singalila NP

Back into budget mode, I make the journey in a shared taxi. My homestay book a front seat for me on a taxi coming through Kolakham from a more distant village. It charges 200INR to take me to Kalimpong and the driver then puts me on another shared taxi to Ghoom 250INR for an uncomfortable 3.5hrs. From Ghoom another taxi to Manebhanjan 100INR 40min.

Manebhanjan is the gateway to Singalila NP which sits on the border with both Nepal and Sikkim.
I stay at Vedas homestay [email protected] +91 9002741237
The homestay is excellent, more like a western hotel (2400INR). Mandira who runs the homestay speaks perfect English and knows everyone. She arranges for a friend who runs birdwatching tours to take me out early the next morning. This walk from the Homestay turns up quite a few more birds for my trip list including Scarlet Finch, Barred Cuckoo Dove,Black-Eared Shrike babbler.

It turns out my guide Reewang Bhutia runs Firefox Expeditions. Based in Manebhanjan they have their own vehicles and take groups into Singalila to watch Red Panda and Birds depending on peoples requirements. [email protected] +91 8016029499.

I have planned to stay at Gairibas Trekkers Hut within Singalia and booked 4 nights in a private room.
Bookings can be made through Highlander Guides and Porters Welfare Association [email protected] +91 9734056944 or visit website highlanderguidesandporters.com
In addition everyone visiting Singalila must have a guide or porter. I opted just for a porter and was charged 1500INR per day. Finally they booked a landrover to take me 2500INR.
On arrival at Gairibas my guide negotiated a price and we settled on 1200INR a day including all food.
Gairibas sits at 2700m. It takes around 1 hour to reach it.

Background on Singalila NP
A paved road runs all the way from Manebhanjan to Sandakpu (30km) along a ridge which forms the border with Nepal. The road is good but is very narrow and steep in places with numerous hair pin bends. This makes driving very tricky especially when meeting vehicles coming in the opposite direction.
A trekking route takes walkers all the way from Manebhanjan to Sandakpu (alt3600m). Prior to covid foreign traveller’s could cross into Nepal if staying in one of the homestays supporting trekker’s. Since Covid the border is closed to foreigners but Indian nationals can cross. It has meant that the majority of homestays are not available to foreigners so foreign trekkers must now stay at Gairibas and the next day walk 18km all the way to Sandakpu.
Sandakpu draws in many visitors, mostly non trekkers, who take landrovers all the way 30km from Manebanjan. They visit to watch the sunrise and see the spectacular mountain vista which includes Kanchenjunga.
Gairibas is a tiny village of a dozen houses perhaps and the Marigold Hotel sits right on the roadside but is unavailable to foreigners.
The park itself is spectacular and I soon wish I had planned more time. Instead I was centered at Gairibas for a few days with my porter. It turns out my porter is a young man waiting to receive information regarding selection for the army.

Right in front of the trekkers hut there is very good habitat, and a path from the hut leads down a small valley rich in bamboo and finally runs into good forest.
In the small area outside the hut it is continuously birdy.

Golden Bush Robin. Rufous-throated Wren Babbler. Ultramarine flycatcher. Brown Parrotbill. Rufous-Winged Fulvetta. Rufous-breasted Bush Robin. Blyths and Whistler’s warblers. Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler. Darjeeling Woodpecker. Kalij Pheasant etc. Also, a calling Himalayan Owl each evening.
Spotted Laughingthrush in the rhododendron at the start of the trek going back from Gairibas to Tumling.

I meet a few Indian birders also staying at the hut. I receive information that a good site for Satyr Tragopan is found alongside an old jeep trail which branches right from the road about 3km further on, towards Sandakpu from Gairibas and where there is an isolated property called Habre’s nest. The site is 2-3km along this jeep track.

Habre’s nest. ( Homestay Experience | Habre's Nest) is an upmarket/luxury homestay which offers visitors packages made up of guided Red Panda walks or birdwatching walks or a combination as required. It is actually located in Nepal so you would need to contact them for current access requirements.

We set off at 05.00 the next morning and find that the road out of Gairibas goes almost vertically upwards using tight switchbacks for over 2km. It takes over 2hr to get to where we wish to be. After which we never even hear a tragopan. I later find that it is not the old jeep track but another track we should have taken (see below. Best sites to see Satyr). Fire-tailed sunbird seen but not the Fire-tailed Myzornis normally found here.

The next day, we walk back along the road leading to Manebhanjan. Our enquiries suggest that an area 2-3km away has good habitat. We walk about 1km and hear a tragopan calling right at the side of the road from on top of a steep bank about 7-8m tall (05.30). We back off and wait to see if the bird is going to find a path and cross the road. After some time and a pause from calling the bird flies over our heads and down the valley into some bamboo. Not the classic view hoped for but a good view anyway.

I hear very few Satyr’s during my stay and fail to see another Satyr even though I was hopeful of seeing one on the bamboo trail leading down the valley from the trekkers hut. Birds have been seen here and a bird was occasionally heard not far away.

Before leaving Singalila I soak up all the information I can on the best places to see the bird.
  1. Find the old jeep track which branches off the main ridge road at Habre’s nest. You will find that to the right of this there is a dirt track which begins in the same place but separates and runs into forest after 400m. About 2-3km on this track is where the best habitat is with every chance of a bird trackside.
  2. The Singalila trek goes through Tumling before reaching Gairibas. Take the track backwards from Gairibas towards Tumling for 2-4 km (a lot of uphill climbing) to find good habitat.
  3. Gairibas valley itself but the bamboo is very thick.
ebird shows that the bird can and does turn up in many places and is widespread.

Gairibas Trekkers Hut and Homestays in general

Gairibas is very basic. It has 6 or 7? Rooms each with 3 or 4 beds and I had an ensuite. The ensuite was really basic with tubs of cold water for a shower and a sink which emptied over your feet. The beds had a pillow, a heavy cover/duvet filled with some sort of heavy contents along with a thick woollen blanket. None of these items are clean and they felt cold and damp. A similar arrangement was found at Mandala and Kolkaham. (Kolkaham itself was warm and the homestay much better but still no clean bedding). Vedas in Manebhanjan however is more like a modern hotel with a good mattress and clean bedding. Essentially I recommend bringing a sleeping bag and a sheet to cover the mattress if intending to stay in homestays. Gairibas was freezing, it’s a large building but the first floor is more like a wooden hut with absolutely no insulation. Luckily I had a room to myself and I could use all the thick blankets which I wrapped around myself like a cocoon. Each morning I was so thankful to have survived the cold and not turned into a butterfly. Take lots of bottled water with you, but it can be bought locally.
There is no electricity for charging phones etc. My guide took his phone into Marigold Hotel and left it with them to charge. Nepal does have electricity but there is none on the Indian side in Singalila. There is a generator at Gairibas for lighting.

Transport in Singalila involves dozens of 4x4 vehicles based in Manebhanjan and need to be booked. It may be possible to book a car and driver which will stay with you or more likely one could be booked to arrive early at Gairibas and take you elsewhere for the day. Book or enquire through Highlander Guides. Expect to pay 5500-6000 INR for a day.

My guide hitched a ride back for us on our return from Gairibas.

Singalia deserves more than a few days and some of the special birds require transport e.g. Blood pheasant. Having help from Firefox (Red Panda) to find Red Panda, and their help in finding some more difficult birds followed by some trekking and a stay at Gairibas would make for a really great trip. But I am not a travel agent and have no interest in recommending birdguides or homestays. I am just reflecting on my visit and that whilst my visit was successful with 5 lifers and Satyr Tragopan I left feeling unsatisfied with part of me wanting to return even though it would be difficult for me to find a new bird.

Shared taxi

I finally travelled from Sukia back to Bagdogra by shared taxi. [Manebhanjan is reached by a rough road about 5-6km from a much larger town called Sukia. Most taxi’s will not travel this route so you should go to Sukia first in one of the many landrovers which do ferry people back and forward 50INR] I had learned that the quality of the shared taxi makes a big difference to comfort and that I should pay double the fare and sit in the front seat. Normally 2 people occupy the front so to have it for yourself you pay double.

At Sukia for my return journey it worked well, the vehicle was quite new and comfortable and even had seat belts. I had earlier travelled to Darjeeling about 1hr away to find when I had bought the two front seats, that there was no seatbelt and I was flung around the front of the car alternating between hanging out of the passengers front door window and being sat on the driver’s knee. I was wishing I had someone alongside me.

The journey back to Bagdogra was therefore really pleasant (500INR) not least because it took what was called the tea route, a very scenic route. The driver then hailed an auto rickshaw or tuk tuk to take me to the Marigold Hotel.
The Marigold (yes another) Hotel was the closest to Bagdogra Hotel. A 20min walk. A new hotel which was very good. [email protected] +91 7872022000.
The hotel has Wi-fi and they will call a auto rickshaw which charged 30INR to go to the airport.

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