A brief introduction to Pakke Tiger Reserve:
Pakke Tiger Reserve (referred to as PTR for the rest of this article) is a tiger reserve in the East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. At almost 862 sq km, it is quite an expansive reserve, with an equally large altitudinal range of 150-1500m asl. The northern part of the reserve, called “Pakke Kesang”, borders Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in the neighbouring West Kameng district. The type of forest here is generally referred to as Assam Valley tropical semi-evergreen forest, although one can find a significant variation in the dominant flora between regions. Several large and small streams are scattered throughout the park. The river Pakke is the dominant river in the region.
The park is open throughout the year. The weather during my visit was fairly chilly at night and hot during the day, with a moderate level of humidity throughout (much less than what I expected).
One of the striking features of PTR is the degree of involvement of the local Nyishi tribe with the Forest Department, in carrying out or assisting wildlife research and conservation activities and managing camps & tourism in the park. The chiefs of the surrounding villages and hamlets formed the Ghora Aabhe Society (literally “village chiefs’ society”) in 2006 after they felt the need for coordinated efforts to conserve the Pakke forest and its denizens. This society administers most of the activities in PTR, conducts activities to sensitise local children towards conservation and also works in unison with the FD and other independent researchers to conduct wildlife conservation research, most notably the monitoring of hornbill nests. They also penalise deforestation, slash and burn agriculture and the traditional hunting of wild animals, activities that not long ago were rampant in the region.
Day 1: Arrival at Camp
This was my first visit to North-east India. The trip was organised as an eleven-member group birdwatching tour to Pakke from 10th to 15th November. The departure to Pakke from Guwahati commenced by hired SUVs on the morning of the 10th, and the almost 280km long (but by no means monotonous or boring!) journey brought us to Pakke Jungle Camp at around 5 pm, by when it was pitch dark.
Pakke Jungle Camp (also known as Pakke Eco-camp) is PTR’s primary accommodation option, run entirely, solely and to a certain degree independently by the locals, and administered by the Ghora Aabhe Society. Accommodation includes traditional bamboo huts and small tents. The camp has a library decently stocked with field guides and books on the history of the region and its people. The food served is pretty good with a local touch to it. A watch tower is also present in one corner of the camp. There is an electric fence around the camp periphery- this is a feature found throughout the region owing to a threat of elephant raids. There is a great deal of birdwatching to be done in and around the campus.
Day 2: Trails around Langka
Wildlife watching in the northeast necessitates waking up early in the morning. The sun rises around 5 am, and in about an hour the light is bright enough for good photography.
We travelled by the same SUVs to a small hamlet (about a half hour’s drive) towards the Langka area of PTR, which is mainly broadleaved semi-evergreen forest. The streams on the way are worth watching. We could effortlessly sight spotted and black-backed forktails, white capped and plumbeous water redstarts, and a few other passerines at pretty close range. Walking uphill from the hamlet for a short while (with many more bird sightings- several flycatchers, niltavas, warblers, black-headed bulbuls, great & wreathed hornbills etc.) brought us to the Langka inspection bungalow (or IB) and anti-poaching camp, which served as our base of activities for the day. The bungalow is on a cliff overlooking an extremely scenic part of the Pakke river. The cliff edge again serves as a great place to sight canopy birds at eye level; these include streaked spiderhunters, minivets and other passerine birds.
Near the IB is a path that goes a very long way into the forest and is a great place to go birdwatching. We sighted several birds here, and almost all were new to me. The path has dense shrubbery on its sides and that gave me a great deal of macro subjects as well. We spent the entire morning, until lunch time, on this walking trail.
Post-lunch, a few of us in the group chose to go down to the river and walk upstream (the river being very shallow, not more than shin deep, at this time of the year). The climb down from the cliff is pretty steep and slippery, but is short and certainly manageable with a little care. Not many birds to be seen here, but the dazzling array of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies would draw anyone’s attention. However, I did see my first crested kingfisher here, another plumbeous redstart, and the maroon oriole, an initially elusive sighting that would later start happening around every corner in Pakke.
By sunset we were back at the hamlet where the vehicles had dropped us off, and returned to camp.
One word of caution when visiting the Langka area: This place is teeming with tiny bloodsucking insects called black flies, locally known as “damdum”. I usually don’t bother much about creatures like leeches and ticks in the vicinity, but these damdum delivered a lot of painless bites to my legs (I was wearing shorts), which after a few days turned into very itchy sores, a few others who had been bitten that day reported painful swelling lasting a few days. Later research on the internet revealed that these flies are even giving a tough time to the Indian Army in Arunachal Pradesh!
Day 3: Trails around Khari
On the third day we travelled by vehicle to the Seijosa main gate of PTR. En route to this place, near Seijosa town, is a small dam on the river Pakke, which offers a few bird sighting opportunities, mainly kingfishers, sandpipers etc.
From the park gate, we walked into the park along the safari route towards the Khari inspection bungalow, with the vehicles trailing behind us at 20-25min intervals (this is a good option since the IB cannot be reached all the way on foot). The start of the trail itself gave us our first mammal sightings- a Malayan giant squirrel, a hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel and a few minutes later a stunning sight of a young black bear climbing down a tree and rambling off into the undergrowth (I had always dreamt of a bear sighting on foot!). We also saw a good deal of birds- green-billed malkohas, orioles, several flycatchers and warblers again, blue-throated barbets, a great barbet etc. Certain sunlit clearings in the forest yielded a bonanza of butterflies.
After walking for a while, we proceeded to the Khari IB, arriving there around noon. Post lunch, we crossed the Pakke river near the IB and walked on into a distinct tract of forest characterised by a good amount of secondary bamboo growth. This area had us witness a few more birds at close range, including the mountain tailorbird and more warblers. Also found the pugmarks of a leopard and wild dogs alongside prints of deer and elephants.
As it approached sunset, we turned back and boarded the vehicles. We were half way out of the park and it was near dusk when we were blessed with another marvellous sighting- a red-headed trogon. The extremely eventful day couldn’t have ended on a better note.
Day 4: Trails around Khari (2)
On the morning of day 4 we were back at Khari (after having seen a couple of oriental pied hornbills en route), this time covering those parts of the trail we had missed on the previous day when covering ground by vehicle.
This was another very fulfilling day in Khari. The sighting and photographing of a flying frog early that day really lifted my spirits high! This was followed by some difficult to photograph yet very fulfilling encounters with wreathed hornbills. Walking on, we came across a bat (later identified as a lesser hairy-winged bat) that was lying inconspicuously in the middle of the safari road, apparently dazed by daylight. It moved only after someone’s foot missed it by a few inches. Fortunately there didn’t appear to be any injuries; we put it on a shrub at the roadside after making a few images, from where it flew off. Shortly after, we saw another charismatic species- a pair of pied falconets. Approaching the Khari IB, we were blessed with another mammal sighting- a troop of capped langurs. After arriving at the IB, a few of us decided to venture upstream of the river we had crossed on the previous day. Parts of the river bed were exposed, and this proved to be the ideal habitat to sight some more birds- a river lapwing, a black stork, a spotted forktail, a white-capped water redstart and a blue whistling thrush perched on an overhanging branch. The river bed was also a haven for tiger beetles which were literally all over the place. We also saw some more wreathed hornbills around here.
Lunch itself was had late that day, and following this we headed out of the park as the sun began to set. Again, the place offered a dream sighting towards the end- a flock of six silver-breasted broadbills.
Day 5: Other Short Trails
Day 5 did not have any scheduled plans, so we used it to look around the camp premises, which should by no means be discounted as bird-watching spots.
We sighted another forktail in a small stream right outside the camp to get us going. This was followed by a falcon and several more passerines.
After breakfast at the camp, our Nyishi guide took a few of us willing people for a trek to a great hornbill nest that he monitors (being winter the nest was empty at the time). The trek was arduous at times with a lot of dense vegetation to crawl through and a lot of ant nests to avoid . It paid off though- besides all the birdwatching along the way, the sight of a hornbill’s hollow high up a rainforest tree with huge buttress roots is a sight to behold. I could imagine how much more majestic it would look with its owners around.
Immediately after this trek, a handful of us eager to make the most out of our last day chose to embark on a short trail up a small stream behind Vivekanand Kendriya Vidyalaya (VKV) in Seijosa town. This trail is overgrown with very dense vegetation- offering some interesting macro subjects. We also sighted one more forktail, one more maroon oriole and the elusive pygmy wren babbler here.
The rest of that day was spent at the camp, with a folk dance by the tribals followed by a long chat with two members of the Ghora Aabhe Society.
This brought the trip to a conclusion, and we left for Guwahati early next morning.
PTR's official website: http://www.pakketigerreserve.org/