A birding trip report from Latpanchar - Rishyop - Lava

#1 Feb 8th, 2014, 21:17
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If November is one's chosen month for a holiday, ideally what should be the destination? A sea beach in some warm, tropical clime? We had chosen Vizag too for our holiday in mid-November, but the ongoing political turmoil in Andhra Pradesh made us change our minds. And we again chose our favourite destination - the Himalayas in the northern part of West Bengal Both my husband and I have visited (separately and together) the Himalayas for the umpteenth time and yet they continue to beckon us time and again, never ceasing to fascinate us with its beauty and grandeur. With bags packed, off we went for our soujourn. Our itinerary was something like this:

Nov 15: Board Padatik Express from Sealdah at 10:55 PM.
Nov 16: Reach New Jalpaiguri Station at 9 AM. (We decided to stay that day in Siliguri and resume our journey the following day)
Nov 17: Hire a car and start for Latpanchar at 8 AM.
Nov 18: Stay at Latpanchar.
Nov 19: Leave for Rishyap.
Nov 20: Stay at Rishyap.
Nov 21: Leave for Lava.
Nov 22: Leave for SIliguri.
Nov 23: Leave for Kolkata.

Nov 17: We left for Latpanchar at around 8 in the am. It was a typical winter day in Siliguri- cool, crisp with an azure sky. The Kanchenjunga stood in all its glory against the blue looking resplendent. Latpanchar is at a distance of about 41 kms from Siliguri. The Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary reaches its highest point here in Latpanchar. It took us about an hour and a half to reach. As soon as you reach Sevoke, a road veers steeply on yourleft which carries you to Latpanchar. However this stretch of road is almost un-traversable. The road is inordinately steep punctuated with hairpin bends. To add to the woe, it is filled with craters and the asphalt/cement has completely worn off. At places, the road is just broad enough for one vehicle to pass at a time. So if you have another vehicle coming from the other end,it requires great sense of spatial adjustment. Make sure you are in safe hands and it is advisable that one travels with a seasoned driver. We checked in at a home-stay "Cinchonest", probably named after cinchona plantation that this place is famous for. We were given a warm welcome by Mrs and Mr Gurung, the owners of the homestay. After a cup of hot piping tea, we set out for Sarsari Dara with Manzil, our guide for the day. We walked for about a kilometre and a half, uphill, to reach the spot. Sarsari Dara is at an elevation and gives you a vantage point to oversee the adjoining hills and the Kanchenjunga. We were lucky to a get a good view owing to a bright, sunny day. We also spotted an Indian spotted eagle here. After coming back to our homestay we were served lunch comprising of steamed rice, dal, beans, roasted papad and fish. We were hungry and ate voraciously After finishing lunch we got our backpacks ready and set off for the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, a trek of about 5/6 kms with Manzil. After trekking for roughly about 3kms we reached another hill from where we could see the tiny little hamlet of Latpanchar. It was then that we realised how far we had come along. From here, the trek becomes picturesque, with tall pine trees flanking both the sides and the Kanchenjunga glistening on your left. The road here is such that you feel as if you are trekking in thin air. The road is narrow and at a distance you can see the forest office of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. It was here that I suddenly heard a whooshing sound and thought it to be that of an aeroplane coming from a distance. A little later I realised that it was actually the sound of wind coming from afar. Because the road is narrow and at quite an elevation, the wind and its sound travelled unhindered. It was Nature at its best. The last leg of the trek is again uphill until you reach the sanctuary.I am a lousy trekker. Specially when trekking uphill, I tend to run out of breath. So I made sure that I carried drinking water with me.Once we reached the sanctuary, we sat on the grass floor and drank water. We then entered the sanctuary in search of spotting the now 'vulnerable' rufous-necked hornbill. We trekked for almost half a kilometre inside the sanctuary until it was getting dark and we decided to return. We didn't the hornbill but we did spot whiskered yuhina,scaly thrush, ashy-backed shrike, himalayan wood pecker, black bulbul. On our way back we happened to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen in my life. With sun setting on the west, it spread its orange and red hue in the sky . And the sky dotted with cotton-like patches of cloud imbibed its colour so synergistically that it seemed as if a mad painter was painting the sky with bold strokes of colours. It was ethereal to watch the sky change its colour from orange to red to purple. We returned to the home stay pretty exhausted but were soon refreshed after taking a cup of tea in the cold night of Latpanchar. At the homestay my husband,I, Mrs and Mr Gurung, Manzil and couple of other neighbours sat chatting and discussing the avid avian life in Latpanchar. During the course of the discussion, my husband and I realised that the local people not only took avid interest in birding but also took steps to preserve the myriad avian life there. One of them actually planted saplings in the neighbourhood of trees growing in the sanctuary to attract birds. In today's day and age of technology, these Nature loving villagers of a sleepy hamlet actually made us realise that instead of encroaching upon the wildlife habitat, it is better that one lives in complete unison with them.

Nov 18: We woke up at 5 in the morning to watch the sunrise. Since Latpanchar forms almost the zenith of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, one has a good vantage point. Our balcony , facing east provided this perfect vantage point overlooking the lower reaches of the Sanctuary cut across by the river Teesta. Needless to say it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I had ever seen in my life. But what really caught our eyes was that the lower reaches of the Teesta was dotted with numerous small islands. We had never know about this phenomenon and were pretty amazed by it. It was pretty cold outside at that early hour of the day, but we braved it nevertheless. We couldn't afford to miss such a spectacular sight. After grabbing a cup of hot tea and biscuits we three headed towards the sanctuary once again. I also carried drinking water and biscuits with me. On the way we did spot a magpie and a minivet(male). Unfortunately even on that day we weren't able to spot the hornbill. We were trekking along the other side of the hill that houses the sanctuary. This side was mostly shaded and a bit damp, only to be punctuated by sunlight in places. It was in one such sunny spot that we spotted a host of minivets, both male and female, a yellow-tailed minla, a racket-tailed drongo and a couple of yuhinas. All these were chirping to glory as if they were out on a picnic. On the trek we crossed paths with many a woodcutters coming back with bag full of logs. Their smiling faces belieing the load of the logs they were carrying, their hunched style of gait clearly betraying it. "The woods were lovely,dark and deep", enticing us each moment. We returned to the homestay around noon all tired. Mrs Gurung fed us steaming white rice and lovely chicken curry along with dal and roasted papad. I decided to rest in my room after lunch since my feet gave away. Mr Gurung having realised that we were unable to spot the hornbill even on our second visit to the sanctuary, offered my husband to go for a bike ride in search of it. My husband readily agreed. We were moved by their enthusiasm and generosity. Their first visit was Ahaldara. Ahaldara is another vantage point offering beautiful views of sunrise, Kanchenjunga and the adjoining hills. On a clear day, one would be lucky to see towns as far as Gangtok and Kalimpong. My husband was fortunate enough that day catch a clean view of these cities and also of the famed Silk Route. If one is interested one can even spot the Himalayan Salamander in Ahaldara. However there are specific seasons to spot this creature. Mr Gurung's and my husband's impromptu trip to Ahaldara didn't yield the desired result. No hornbill was spotted. From there they again visited the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary as a last ditch attempt to spot the ever elusive bird. Alas to their dismay, even this attempt failed. However we took heart from the fact that not all visits result in finding the unfound. Perhaps another reason for us to pay another visit to Latpanchar in the near future We were immensely touched by Mr and Mrs Gurung's hospitality, their enthusiasm in birding and their love for their guests. Latpanchar is a sleepy hamlet, unadulterated, still untouched by the complexities of urban life. We learnt from them that Man and Nature can indeed live in complete harmony. Its a beautiful symbiosis. On that note, we bid the night a farewell.
#2 Feb 8th, 2014, 22:00
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  • Pupulu is offline
#2
Very exciting narration
Details of the homestay along with contact number and cost will be of great help...
#3 Feb 12th, 2014, 15:08
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#3
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pupulu View Post Very exciting narration
Details of the homestay along with contact number and cost will be of great help...
Hi Pupulu, I will update all the information in this post, including contact number and cost, within next week.
#4 Feb 25th, 2014, 18:03
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#4
Dear Trekker world, for us a week consisting 13 days have past . Does it contain more?
Request you to post photos of the birds sighted and answer pupulu's query, please .
-Paglaghora
Paren Asola Gue Leh Ajmer Gurudongmar Hogennakkal Orchha Raiganj Agartala

Phadamchen AritarTop Gnathang Lunghtu Akpa Gramphoo Hee Osiyan Rampur Attargo
#5 Feb 25th, 2014, 18:20
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#5
On a different note and off-topic too , Trekker world, the sunset on Nov 17 you were referring to yield a lot to me and hence sharing now ( two TR's are in process IMer's !!)
Quote:
..one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen in my life. With sun setting on the west, it spread its orange and red hue in the sky . And the sky dotted with cotton-like patches of cloud imbibed its colour so synergistically that it seemed as if a mad painter was painting the sky with bold strokes of colours.
.

For curious IMer's - this was shot at Gnathang village,Alt ~13500ft, dated: 17 Nov 2013
Attached Images
gnathang.jpg 
#6 Feb 25th, 2014, 21:43
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I am really sorry, for late reply. As I am not getting time to write the remaining part, so I am just providing the contact information:

Latpanchar:

Homestay - Cinchonest
Owner - Padam Gurung
Contact - 9475959974
#7 Apr 24th, 2014, 18:21
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#7

Talking Latpanchar trip

Hi Friends,

I have a question. I am planning for Honeymoon trip to Latpanchar - Darjeeling in the month of June. Is it possible to go Darjeeling from Latpanchar? I have made an itinerary. Any suggestion is welcome.

1st Day > Darjeeling mail from Sealdah
2nd Day > NJP, NJP to Latpanchar, Stay at Latpanchar
3rd Day > Latpanchar
4th Day > Latpanchar to Darjeeling
5th Day > Darjeeling
6th Day > Darjeeling to NJP, Boarding train at 8PM
7th Day > Kolkata

Thanks in advance
#8 May 10th, 2014, 14:57
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#8

Latpanchar or Lava in June

Hi,

I am planning a trip to north bengal in Mid June with my family. I needed a break from regular office hours ... I want to have two options for this. Either Latpanchar-kolakham or Lava-lolegaon-Rishyap. Please suggest which would be a better plan and please plan me a tour if possible. I want to reach NJP on a Saturday and want to take a train back from NJP on Tuesday or Wednesday. Please help...
#9 Jul 11th, 2014, 23:29
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#9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trekker world View Post I am really sorry, for late reply. As I am not getting time to write the remaining part,
expecting remaining part of your report.....with some snaps.
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
Garhwal | Dooars | Dhabaleswar | Dabu | PURI | Gujarat | Kamarpukur-Jairambati
#10 Sep 9th, 2014, 00:28
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Sorry for such a late post. Remaining part of the write-up is as follows:

Nov 19: We were all set to leave for Rishyap early in the morning. Mrs Gurung fed us a sumptuous breakfast of 'luchi' and 'alu sabzi'. We hired a car belonging to a local to drop us to Rishyap. Since the driver would be left with no company during the return trip, Manzil, our guide and Sunil(another seasoned birder) decided to accompany him to Rishyap. That is Latpanchar for you. Here, human company comes for free However a word of suggestion here though. It is difficult to find a car from Latpanchar to Rishyap. Hence it is advisable that one starts making enquiry at least a day or two in advance.

Again the journey from Latpanchar to Rishyap is a bone -rattling one, specially the leg from Sixth Mile to Rishyap. This stretch has no road worth the name, only pebbles and stones are laid on the dirt stretch. So everytime a car rattles down it, the chips are diplaced. It is steep, part uphill part downhill and certainly not for the faint hearted. However the pine trees lining this road travel with you giving your eyes an exquisite sight to savour.If you are interested in birding you can certainly while away your time in the Algarah-Sixth Mile stretch. It is a haven for common and also rare birds. We didn't have much time in our hand hence we couldn't devote time here and my husband only spotted a blue-fronted redstart(male) and a whiskered yuhina.

We put up at the Neora Valley Resort in Rishyap, a sprawling property spread with individual cottages across its compound. We had made our bookings through HolidayHome India located in Dalhousie, Kolkata. During the booking I had repeatedly confirmed with our agents if the room provided a view of the snow-capped
peaks to which they assured us the same. However only after reaching the resort did we realise that the room/cottage was not one that provided a view. When we called our agents they refused to listen to us.We were lucky that we were the only boarders at that time and hence could change our cottage to a one that provided us with a good view of the Kanchenjunga. This property is dotted with trees that is house to a great variety of birds like redstarts, thrush, yuhina,striated bulbul, black bulbul. So if one is a birding enthusiast, you know where to stay in Rishyap. Also the property provides breath taking view of the Kanchenjunga from morning till evening However there is nothing much to do in Rishyap. It is a back-of-the-beyond village and many tourists choose to visit this place as a day trip from Lava. We too later realised that only one day+one night's stay would have sufficed us instead of the two days that was planned in our itenerary.

Ahead of our cottage was a small lawn, beyond which was the huge expanse overlooked by the Himalayas. In the afternoon, post lunch when we didn't have much
to do apart from strolling and spotting birds in the resort premises, I would sit in the lawn in a vinyl chair with my back against the mellow afternoon sun and my book to read until cold in the evening forced me to get inside. These two days in the lap of Nature, exempted from the public haunt were a much needed stimulus in our stress-torn lives. If you are a Nature lover like us, then your eyes won't tire themselves from the endless views of the snow capped peaks.

The kitchen and the dining area of this property is located centrally while the cottages are spread around it. So for dinner we would order room service instead of walking down the cobbled pathway to the dining area. We spent the first evening in darkness owing to power cut. However the two young men attending to our needs supplied us with candles. Dinner was at eight, a hot bowl of vegetable thukpa which turned out to be a candle-lit dinner, more by chance than by choice Ration supplies are hard to come by in this remote pocket of the Himalayas, hence expecting lavishness in food would be asking for too much. However the boys took enough care of us in the freezing cold when temperatues dropped to zero in the night. It was cold enough for us to ask for a portable heater to keep us warm through the two nights. It came at a rent of Rs 500 for the two nights.

Nov 20: We woke up at five in the morning. When I stepped on the grass bed of the lawn, I was delighted to find that the low overnight temperatures had tranformed the grass blades go white from frost. The wind stung us with its cold, the birds greeted us with their clamourous chirrup and the Kanchenjunga? The Kanchenjunga greeted us with its proud peaks that were merrily allowing themselves to bask in the orange glow of the gloriously rising sun as though we were witness to the wedding of the sun and the hills- a sight priceless enough for us to make us gape in sheer admiration. Legend has it that upon setting his eyes on the Kashmir Valley, emperor Jahangir had remarked in admiration:

Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.

Loosely translated to English it would mean- If there is ever a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here. For that moment the spectacle we were witness to was heaven for us.

We grabbed a steaming mug of frothy coffee and set for Tiffindara, a vantage point, famed for providing a 360 degree view of the Kanchenjunga. One of the boys from the resort accompanied us as the guide for the trek, again uphill. It was during the trek that we spotted a rufous bellied eagle that, after sitting for a while on the top of a tree, swooped, lightning fast, diving for its kill, until we lost it from our eyesight but not before we got a few good shots of the raptor. Our tiring trek led us to a place which offered us an unobstructed view of the whole Kanchenjunga range, glistening against the sky, not a speck of cloud to dot its blue vault. From there the trek was barely a kilometre away but through a path that cut across the woods, tremendously steep, slushy and narrow enough to skip your heart a bit for on one side was the deep expanse of bottomless pit. After a while I developed a case of vertigo from the height and my aching feet gave way making me to discontinue the trek. However if you do visit Rishyap and you are not chicken-hearted like me, make sure you trek to Tiffindara and not discontinue it merely half a kilometer away. Yes the heights can be dizzying at times but if you are the adventurous sort do make a kill for it. I do intend to go to Tiffindara someday and watch the Kanchenjunga from there. Someday for sure when I will defeat my vertigo J

We returned to the resort, tired, panting and famished that was quelled by the modest breakfast comprising of bread and butter toast and omelette. Both lunch and dinner comprised of chicken which we had ordered for the previous day. Throughout the day endless cups of coffee kept us warm.

Nov 21: After breakfast we set for Lava in a rickety old Jeep that was driven by a pair of expert hands who was kind enough to stop at points where we thought we heard birds chirping. Lava is a small town, much bigger than Rishyap but smaller than Kalimpong. We were booked in the Yankee Resorts in Lava that provided us with a pleasant stay. Immediately after checking in we inquired for a birder to guide us through the hills towards Kolakham, a birding haven. Within a matter of half an hour we set for our trek with our backpacks nicely ensconced. We left the market place in Lava and headed towards the hills, and as we did so we were palpably going away from the company of people towards avian life until we were in the thick of the hills when nothing but only bird chirrups fed our ears J The hills were damp, cold and dark interspersed with patches of sunlight in between. While the hills right opposite to us, red with rhododendrons, was magnificently bathed in the sunlight. Our guide informed us that it formed the Neora Valley National Park and the hill beyond it was that of Bhutan. That is the beauty of the meandering paths in these hills which I have always found to be overly mysterious. Cascading streams cut our path intermittently that were home to the pygmy blue flycatcher, black throated thrush and a host of striped throated yuhina, playful like clamorous young children. Also spotted other birds were black bulbul and striated bulbul and several others that we could only hear but couldn’t spot. Poor light made it a challenge to shoot these fickle creatures that would rarely sit in a place for a while.

During our return journey, our trek was halted for a while when our alert ears were fed by a bird’s shrill call as if it were calling us. We went a few steps back, tracing its call, when we caught sight of a yellow billed blue magpie perched among a clump of trees. Isn’t that the beauty of Nature that it beckons you all the time? Only we need to keep our eyes and ears open.

Lunch was a simple but tasty affair- rice, daal, potato fritters and potato and cauliflower cooked in a broth. For that afternoon we decided to rest our peripatetic feet, sore and aching. However by three we were up and about, sipping tea in a roadside shack before heading to the monastery down the road. It was probably called the Jamgyong Kongrul Monastery, its red fašade looking majestic in the evening glow of the sun. Post evening we decided to watch television, our feet under warm blankets and with coffee and piping hot pakodas for snacks.

Nov 22: Early morning we decided to venture into another hill which we hadn't explored the previous day. We again spotted redstart, black faced warbler, green backed tit, rufous sibia and black throated thrush. After breakfast we set out for Siliguri travelling through the verdant green tea estates of Gorubathan and Chalsa in Doors.

Ps: If you are a trekking/ camping enthusiast, do trek in the Neora Valley National Park famous for Himalayan monal and red panda among a host of other mammals and birds. They do have organised treks where you trek and stay in camps for a couple of days.
#11 Sep 9th, 2014, 00:29
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#11

Remaining part (Cont)

Will post the photos separately.
Last edited by Trekker world; Sep 9th, 2014 at 00:32.. Reason: Duplicate Post
#12 Sep 9th, 2014, 00:48
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#13 Sep 9th, 2014, 00:54
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#13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paglaghora View Post On a different note and off-topic too , Trekker world, the sunset on Nov 17 you were referring to yield a lot to me and hence sharing now ( two TR's are in process IMer's !!)
.

For curious IMer's - this was shot at Gnathang village,Alt ~13500ft, dated: 17 Nov 2013
awesome!
#14 Sep 9th, 2014, 01:07
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Trekker World... appreciate your undertaking to post remaining report, alias so late. maybe consider some more pictures when time permits.
regards

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