View Full Version : People and wildlife of Eastern Himalaya_My journey to some remote village_Batasia

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 10:58 AM
It was an early dawn when I reached New Jalpaiguri station and the morning chill was piercing our bodies. The Siliguri town is gradually waking up from its sleep. As I were nearing Siliguri we were so tired that we did not know when we gave in to sleep. I was awakened by the first morning sunrays coming to my eyes. I pulled down the window glass pane a little and the outside breeze was so cold that I started shivering. Thick lines of the pine trees caught our eyes all around along the road. At some intervals were one or to rectangular wooden box houses. The car stopped and the driver informed us that I had reached Mirik and it was time to have our breakfast.

At Mirik we completed our breakfast with hot and mouthwatering ‘chicken thukpa’ (noodles with soup) and black tea. Then the car again sped up. Then my sleep vanished. After some time we were through India -Nepal bordering town Pashupati and then arrived at Sukhiapokhri. We had one more tea session at Sukhiapokhri. I was pretty excited after we left Sukiahpokhri and was heading towards the small Nepalese town Maneybhanjan. The sky was covered with thick layers of cloud all around. The tips of the tall pine and juniper trees have touched those layers of the clouds. This is the first time I visited some place for birding which is more than 2000 meters higher than MSL. I left behind Maneybhanjan and on our way met our new friend Mohan Thapa who will be looking after our lodging for the next two days and requested him to make an arrangement so that we could stay at least one night at the Batasia Forest Bungalow. Otherwise we will stay at Mohan`s house. After we left Maneybhanjan and were heading towards the small hilly settlement named Batasia the surrounding areas were almost empty of people along the 14 km stretch of the road and all the surrounding hilly terrain were full of thick forests.

[I]Batasia Forest Bungalow /I]

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:03 AM
The Batasia settlement is situated along the road from Maneybhanjan to Rimbik. As we arrived Mohan`s house we were given a warm welcome and were served veg momo. His only son Nishan aged about 16 years runs a grocery cum stationary shop in their own house and will appear in the higher secondary examination the next year. He studies in a school in Manebhanjan about 14 kilometres away from their house. He is at home now during the recess of the winter vacation. Theirs` is a multi-store shop. From rough exercise book to ear rings and from vegetables to chilled beer- everything is available in their shop. On average the daily turnover is about fifty Rupees! But when its time of blooming of rhododendron(Guras in nepali language) flower during the months of March and April a lot of tourists come here at the Singalila National Park to enjoy the beauty of the Guras and there is a boom in the volume of the daily sales; ten bottles of beer sales easily in a day during that time. But during this bone chilling cold winter I am the only visitor in this place. No other outside people are here nearby. So Nishan is lazily watching WWE in the TV with the shutter of his shop left open and unguarded. Kalpana, the wife of Mohan, is always wearing a smile in her face while single handedly doing almost all the household chores. And Mohaon is a small local Contractor. He also cultivates some cabbages, radish, ghundruk[ A type of hilly grass] etc. in a small plot of land in front his house. He has two cows as well. All these things provides for his small family and the education of his son.

Some time after we finished our lunch Mohan and I went out to move around the village. This Batasia village is a Beat area under Tonglu Range of the Darjeeling Forest Division. As Mohan said that many years ago the earstwhile British administration allowed some villagers to settle here so that they could work in the forest. Still now nobody has been allocated land in their names in the village. There are about forty to forty-five families settled in the village. Most of the people are of the “Tamang” community. There are some others like Mohan who are “Thapa”s. At the laps of the forests the land is ready for agriculture at different steps along the slopes of the hills. Cabbages will be cultivated there. I did not know when in the cloudy afternoon I fell in love with this small hilly village named Batasia.

Batasia forest village

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:05 AM
The students of the primary school, the only one of its kind in the village, are having a long winter vacation and are happily busy with themselves in the premises of the school.

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:07 AM
I could hear the calls of a lot of birds from the nearby trees of the forests. I consulted with Mohan and made a plan to go for a trekking through Guras towards Singalila. I finished my supper early at night and slipped under a thick blanket in the bed and realized how cold the weather was.

As I woke up in the morning the morning sun was peeping through the pine forest and was drenching everything with red hues. The sky was crystal-clear. There is a small water reservoir made of concrete just in front of Mohan`s house. Water coming down from the uphills are channelized to the reservoir through a pipe to the reservoir continuously and the excess water is overflowing to go downwards. I was sitting there and sipping tea when I saw an extraordinary view of something. A flock of about twenty five to thirty Red Crossbills has come down to the reservoir to drink water and they were having a lot of fun being close to the water. I was wondering that to take some snaps of these Red Crossbills my friends visit the forests of Buxaduar and have to wait hours and sometimes days whereas so many of these birds now have arrived here to drink water and are now as close as 5 meters to me! Mohan informed me that they have been frequenting the reservoir since the last one year.

Red Crossbill

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:12 AM
The Red Crossbills are always very important to the bird watchers due to their peculiar and unusual shape of their beaks. the yellow-red bird in the picture is a male. The two mandibles are close X shaped. The beaks of the Red Crossbills have underwent this type of evolution so that they can easily eat their main staple food which is the fruits of the pine trees. They come to the reservoir five to six times a day to drink water. I was in a hurry to go for a trekking that day. So I decided that I would take pictures of their drinking water from the reservoir the next day.

Our trekking started from Batasia to Dhotre which is a small hilly settlement on the way towards Singalila and is about 2700 meters above MSL. The road is fairly good. But the sky was looking somber. The thick forest in the slopes of the hills on eitrher sides became almost invisible by the clouds and fogs. Still, in that dull background I could see a lot of birds. Rusty-flanked Treecreepers have grown and are flourishing in large tree trunks. I saw some Laughingthrushes in the dense undergrowth under the trees, but could not figure out which species of the Laughingthrush they were. There I saw some white Guras blooming in a tree in the slope of a hill. Some Yuhinas have thronged there with a lot of excitements. There was a Rusty-fronted Barwing in the bush. The last one kilometer stretch of the road towards Dhotre is fully through the Guras forest. It is time for the trees to shed their leaves. The floors of the forests are all covered with dry leaves.

We had tea in a small hotel at Dhotre and took some dry foods from there for ourselves. We became introduced with a local person who has opened a bird guide club with some of his other friends and has named their club as Guide & Porters Association.

We moved fast and were heading towards Tonglu from Dhotre which required a steep trek of about two kilometer. In those heights there were only forests of Guras and Bamboo thickets. It was a piercing cold weather with a gloomy sky. I came across a good many numbers of Leothrixes, Fulvettas and Minlas.

Chestnut-winged Minla or Bar-throated Siva

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:14 AM
One will be surprised when one witnesses the struggle that the local people have to do for their livelihood. They have to get permission from the forest department to collect wood from the forests for their fuel for cooking. They collect slender and dry bamboo leaves to for feeding the cattle.

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:16 AM
I took some pictures of one of my very favourite birds, a Brown Parrotbill which was sitting in a thick bush and were very busy but very shy along the road towards Tonglu. A group of those birds of about ten to fifteen in number were whispering to one another and were eating bamboo bracken.

Brown Parrotbill

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:17 AM
The sky was very dull; and the light was really very insufficient. We had to return to Batasia. Mohan discouraged me from moving towards Tumling. We turned around and moved towards a village named Meghma in the bordering areas of Nepal. The Fog had obscured our vision to a great extent. It was very difficult to click the shutter ion that low-light conditions. That was when I viewed a Dark-throated Thrush....

Dark-throated Thrush

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:19 AM
...and a flock of Yellow-billed Blue-Magpie.

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:23 AM
We had our lunch at Meghma with Veg Thukpa, Yogurt and Tea. The road coming down from Meghma to Batasia is ideal for watching birds. It requires a trekking of about two hours. it will take much more time if you stop at places to watch birds and take their photos.

At night we were informed that permission to stay at the forest bungalow at night were unavailable due to some unknown reasons. My moods were down as I received the information. I decided that I will explore the Batasia village minutely and would take some close shots of the Red Crossbills at noon when they come ti drink water near the reservoir.

I was awakened early in the morning by the calls of the Barking Deer. Mohan was making a haste to go down the road in the forest, as the deer had gone to that direction. I had my breakfast quickly an moved towards east in the deep forest. A little distance ahead was the Batasia Beat office. I became acquainted with the Beat Officer. He was about to go out for a patrolling. He informed us that there are three beat areas in the Tonglu range. They are Maneybhanjan Beat, Reling Beat and the Batasia Beat. The area of Batasia beat is 581 Hectares and is 2269 metres above MSL on an average. It has an extraordinary bio-diversity. The main and important trees of this range are Guras, Dhupi, Chap, Tite Chap, Fusre Chap, Salla or Pine, Kotrus, Pipli, Mohua, Chilowni etc. A lot of trees with medicinal properties are available here. Among those are Chirata, Jinsang, Nagbeli, Mojito, Aratichur, Pakhanbet are the important ones. And among the mammals are Barking Deers, Rabbits and, though in small numbers, some leopards are seen in this region. The local people are very sociable. You cannot leave someone`s house here without having tea and biscuits from them. I requested them for a group photo for which they gladly gave their consent.

At the extreme left it is Mohan and second one from right side the Beat officer

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:26 AM
The Beat officer requested me to have a look at the micro hydel power system at the forest bungalow. I saw that fascinating system while going down towards the village. A small turbine is run by the water that comes from the reservoir in front of Mohans house through a pipe. Two electric lamps are put on by the electricity generated by that turbine in the Bungalow at night.

Mini turbine at Batasia forest bungalow

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:28 AM
When I returned at Mohans house at noon the memory chip of my camera was full of pictures of Rufous Sibia, Whiskered Yuhina, Spotted Nutcracker, Himalayan Blutails etc. After I finished my lunch I eagerly waited for those Red Crossbills to come to the reservoir. They did not dishearten me. I spent my whole afternoon with those Red Crossbills and considerec myself very lucky to witness the wonderful co-existence of the local people with those beautiful birds.

Red Crossbills are drinking water on reservoir

Samrat Sarkar
26-02-2017, 11:33 AM
Tomorrow I will return to Siliguri. I was offered a special dinner at night; bread-chicken, a soup of Ghundruk[a type of hilly grass] and a type of boiled potato[‘tarul’ in nepali language] which is a traditional delicacy of the Thapa tribe.
As I was about to leave for Siliguri. Mohan was repeatedly reminding me to visit this place again during March, when Guras bloom in a very large number. He held both of my hands and requested to find a suitable job in Kolkata for his son Nishan. But Nishan informed that he will not go anywhere else from his village and will spend his whole life in the village itself and will take up some small job here. But he will never leave this village for his livelihood. Hats off to Nishan!

Originally written in Bengali and photographed by Samrat Sarkar.
Translated into English by Biswajit Debnath.
Equipment used – Canon EOS 7D + Canon 500mm f4 IS II USM L + Monopod and Olympus OMD EM-1 + Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 PRO.
I have used some Nepali names in place of English or scientific names for the trees and medicinal plants found in Batasia. It was difficult for me to identify each and every plant species.

Green-tailed Sunbird and Rhododendron

Biswajit Debnath
01-03-2017, 02:35 PM
A really interesting story to go through. I appreciate your way of observing the nature and and the way you have depicted it through your words. Thumbs up to you! Looking forward to seeing more such stories like this in future.

Debasis Bose
06-03-2017, 09:21 PM
I could smell the joy and passion in your writing and feel the Batasia and its surrounding through your fluid narration. Images compliments the write up perfectly. Thanks for sharing.

Saktipada Panigrahi
08-03-2017, 05:05 PM
Discovery of Indian East Himalaya. Very colourful but less travelled. Thanks for sharing. SaktiWild

Samrat Sarkar
11-03-2017, 01:59 PM
@Bishwajit Da
I am Always thankful to you for your kind support. Thanks a lot.

@Debasis Da and Shakti da

I am trying to explore the entire North-East Himalaya in all respect. People, culture, political crisis, natural beauty, wildlife etc. Only I wish that I could have stayed there more and more days for a single expedition. I also wish that my articles and photographs will help to understand North-East in a different way..
Thanks for your appreciations...


Subhash Shrivastava
13-09-2018, 12:28 AM
I made up my mind many times to share my views on this wonderful photo-log & document. Hats off to you and thank you from core of my heart. May be I get a chance someday to see and feel it.

Samrat Sarkar
22-09-2018, 10:09 PM
Thank you so much Subhash ji for your appreciation... Do visit Batasia...


Subhash Shrivastava
25-09-2018, 09:16 PM
Would love to, Samrat sir. I am continuing making my rounds of central India and south India as of now. North east mesmerizes me like a ethereally beautiful Siren of the pristine Forest.