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Thread: People and wildlife of Eastern Himalaya_My journey to some remote village_Ghumtigaon

  1. #1
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    Default People and wildlife of Eastern Himalaya_My journey to some remote village_Ghumtigaon

    A young and energetic boy of about 25 from the hilly terrain, Kartabya Pradhan, had been waiting for me for the past three hours in Mal railway junction station. Kanchankanya Express, the train I was travelling in, had been running unusually late due to lack of visibility in the foggy weather. I boarded the train at Sealdah and planned to go to a famous spot of the Dooars named Samsing. It was not exactly Samsing but a shanty village named lower Ghumtigaon which is some distance below Samsing where we intended to camp for the next few days in the house of Kartabya Pradhan. Kartabya Pradhan’s father has been making all the arrangements for fooding and lodging for the touring guests in their small house for the past twenty years. This, in simple language, is what we call “homestay”. This was my first visit to the Kalimpong District, earstwhile Darjeeling, after there started unrests in the hill with fresh deamands for a separate Gorkhaland.

    With the crystal clear sky, curvy and smooth upper surfaces of the tea plants, cool breeze and with a lot of tiredness out of the long journey we arrived at the house of Kartabya and then the day has already given in to the impending mellow afternoon. Their house is on the downward slope of the hill. On the eastern side is the Murti river. When I stand in the wide second floor verandah the river can be seen to flow in a serpentine path and is seen to go to obscurity in the faraway horizon. When we move forward there is the Kumai hill on the left. I can see the outline of the tea garden which has started at the bank of the river and has extended upto the slopes of the hills.

    Hill Myna
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    Default Part 2

    The daylight had become subdued greatly when we became fresh. I took my camera with me and went around the small village to become a little familiar with it. Only seventy families live in this village. Just below the house of Kartabya is a village co-operative bank. And in the front, beside the road is a small Post Office. It was two p.m. in my watch and the Post Office had already closed down. On the opposite side there were lines of large teak trees. I moved a little further and the road bifurcated and have lead to the hills. On my right side a narrow footpath has proceeded to Suntalekhola through a dense forest and on the left is an office of the forest department by the road which leads to Sakham. That is Lower Neora Range. There was an unusual calm and quietness all around near the office and the staff quarters. A board describing the government department was put up in the office surrounded by many colourful flowering plants.

    Forest Office
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    Default Part 3

    I came to know from Kartabya that a new Division of the forest Department of the newly formed Kalimpong District has been declared. They have a number of branches. Out of those the Forest Development Corporation Limited (FDCL) is an important one. One can see the closed down workshop of the FDCL. This was where the tools and plants of the forest department were assembled and their maintenance works were carried out. Very close to that place was a very old and obsolete road roller laying idle.

    The wheels of that road roller have long ago stopped moving. During the Gorkhaland movement in 1986 the workshop was burnt down and and was damaged beyond a condition of repair. Since then it could never come back to its original form and shape. One may wonder why the forest department should own a road roller! That is because the forest department previously constructed their own bituminous roads for the convenience of their patrolling through the forests. Those are all the things of the past now. Not only that, Kartabya claimed that this was the biggest stackyards for the wooden log among all the four Sub-Divisions of the erstwhile Darjeeling District.

    A little further there is a large and open water reservoir at the foothills. Water from Murti River is being carried through pipes above the hills and is being stored here. This water caters the requirements for the tea estate of the Mittals’. The still water of the reservoir reflects the images of the tall trees near it. The surface of the crystal clear water looks like a large canvas in which the blue sky and the white clouds are floating merrily and in between some grey and black haphazard patterns made by the outlines of the trees peep in.

    Spring is not very far away. The dry leaves have started falling in the water. As the yellow dry leaves were falling one after another suddenly I noticed some black and white stuff to pass with an electrifying alacrity with a very well known “ghank ... ghank” sound. That was a Hornbill! An Oriental pied Hornbill, to be precise. To watch that very bird I came to this place in Kartabya’s village.

    Ghumtigaon village is a well known place of the hornbills. All during the day they come flying from the riverside. On the north side of Kartabya’s house is the only primary school of the village. There is a very large banyan tree which is full of banyan fruits and the branches of which have stooped over the roof of that school. That was a veritable open kitchen cum dining space for the Hornbills. All around the village there are many more trees and plants with wild fruits. These birds move from one branch to another in all these trees carelessly without any fear. They are seen in large flocks from the beginning of October. If a bird can find a suitable partner in the beginning of March it is not very often seen in the open. It remains busy constructing its nesting activity. A pair of the bird construct their nest in a tree at the backside of the range office every year.

    We made some haste for the arrangements for the dinner at night. We were having conversation with Kartabya and he talked about his large family, about their cardamom and orange cultivation and about their homestay business. Kartabya’s father has now left everything on kartabya’s responsibility so that he can look after all the business on his own.

    That way, Kartabya is now doing graduation on the studies of tourism. But the business is undergoing through a lean period since the last year which is a direct outcome of the Gorkhaland movement. Now they have got a new District. Still now the dream of a new state glitters in his eyes. He elaborates the identity of their ethnicity with a hope of a separate state of their own and the future possibility of the development of their community. I then changed the topic and started enquiring about the hornbills.

    He assured me that the hornbills come to this place everyday without fail from 8 in the morning to 12 at noon. He seemed to be very confident about that. He stands in the wide verandah and points his finger out in the darkness to the branches of the trees where he claims the birds come to sit there and then in which direction they go away towards the hill.
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    Default Part 4

    I came out of my sleep in the early morning with the sound of the water flowing along the Murti River. I did not waste my time and proceeded fast along the narrow hilly footpath towards the river. The birds were chirping everywhere. There were innumerable number of Canary Flycatchers all around.

    Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers
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    Default Part 5

    The soft morning sunrays have touched the red Shimul flowers. There the Bulbuls, Starlings, Spangled Drongo and the Barbets have flocked in large numbers and a large number of Hill Maynas also were moving to and fro in that place. I came to learn something new. Ghumtigaon village is actually a home for the Hill Maynas.

    Their sweet and shrill twits creates an intoxicating obsession in my mind. I was late. As Kartabya called me back at his house I sped up my steps and when I arrived there panting the flocks of hornbills have already went away from that place in the same manner as Kartabya had mentioned in the night before.

    I did not lose my patience and decided to keep waiting a bit longer there in the verandah. That verandah is a real birding studio. A golden fronted leafbird was feeding on eggs from an ants’ nest. That was a small ecosystem of the large forest.

    Golden-fronted Leafbird
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    Default Part 6

    As I proceeded towards Suntalekhola the branches of the various small and large trees caught my attention. I snapped some pictures of Streaked Spiderhunter, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Grey Treepie, Yellow bellied Fantail.

    Yellow bellied Fantail
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    Default Part 7

    You can see the rest house of the Forest department of the Samsing range when you move a little forward along the road towards Suntalekhola. That is an attractive place for staying in the lap of nature. The local people come to the nearby forest to collect firewoods. They love to speak to the unknown persons like us. They would freely guide us as to when and where the birds come and sit in the forest. These people do not know the names of the birds but these birds are very much well known to them.

    In the mean time, I kept my eye on the viewfinder of my camera and was astonished to see something. There were a Puff-throated Babbler and a Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush on the ground of dry leaves in the dark and dense forest. There was a Greater racket-tailed Drongo as well. I also discovered a Snowy-browed Flycatcher in the dense bushes in the forest.

    I mentioned earlier that Ghumtigaon is actually a paradise for the birds. The birds live happily in the forest, in the river, in the gardens of this village. The people of the village consider these birds as a part and parcel of their lives, not the way like us who see these birds mere compassionately but they think that these birds depend on the forest the same way as they themselves depend on the forest. These are some of those selective few people who knows the value of the forest and knows how to live with and save the forest.

    Snowy-browed Flycatcher
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    Default Part 8

    As I was returning from the forest I could not hold back my temptation of eating some momos. I have rarely seen such small a shop like this in my life. In the first half of the days these girls collect firewoods and carry out other domestic works and in the second half they open this great shop!
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    Default Part 9

    The next day the only thing that I could do was waiting for the coveted moment. The Hornbills totally disappointed me. I went to deep inside the forest with some firewood collectors.

    I spent the whole day inside the jungle itself. I was sometimes following some Black-winged Cockooshrikes and sometimes guiding the new tourist vehicles the way to the rocky island or the way to the Mouchuki river camp. By then I had become a long time inhabitant of the Ghumtigaon village.
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    Default Part 10

    Today is my last day in Ghumtigaon and I will return back to Kolkata by an evening train. Since the morning the sky is fully covered with thick layers of clouds and fogs. For me it was a long wait for the Hornbills but without any outcome. Then I went down towards the Murti River. A Slaty-backed Forktail was hopping behind some large stones in the cold breeze.

    I saw Black-crested Bulbuls and Redstart close to that place. There were many butterflies also. All were colourful. By this time I started to believe that Ghumtigaon is a village in the lap of the north Eastern Himalayas which is full of biodiversity where the sal, teak and shimul trees stand tall and provide shelter for the living creatures, the orange orchards of which provides serenity, where we can see the cohabitants of the grasslands and the stones and the pebbles and can listen to the symphonies made by the various sweet chirping of so many birds. At that moment there came a phone call from Kartabya telling me that the Hornbills had arrived and were sitting in the teak tree just in front of the Post office.

    Slaty-backed Forktail
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    Default Part 11

    I sprang from where I was sitting and started running towards Kartabya’s house and landed myself in the second floor verandah. There were a large number of Oriental pied Hornbills sitting here and there in different branches of trees behind a thick layer of fogs. One pair of those birds came and sat hopping on a branch of tree just in front of my camera. On the right was the male and on left was the female.
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    Default Part 12

    They were twitting, keeping a watch of the surroundings, were hopping from one branch to the other. They were simply majestic! It was hard o imagine how large these birds could be. What a grace their flight can be! There were about ten of them there at that moment. Some of them went away towards the Range office. Some other went to the banyan tree and sat there. They come here to eat the banyan fruits which they love very much. But the thick layers of the fogs were obstructing the visibility.
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    Default Part 13

    As we see them we become grateful and behave in a childish manner. We compare the different pictures shot of them. Those pictures are the only things that they leave with us. Then the Ghumtigaon village laugh at us because the Hornbills are not its guests but are its close neighbour for the whole year round. People of this Ghumtigaon village have conserved the environment with its natural trees and plants and rivers. So the birds love this place. They come and stay in this place with a feeling of security.

    A school teacher walks past along with his students under the banyan tree unconcerned of the fact that there are Hornbills eating banyan fruits just above their heads. Leftover crumbs of the banyan fruits fall on the footpath below, on the roof of the school. They come here everyday and they will continue coming here this way. The Ghumtigaon village did not have to do some research work to woo the hornbills to visit their place and it was never required to do that either. Ghumtigaon is another name for the staunch epitome for the conservation of the mother nature.

    Written and photographed in Bengali by – Samrat Sarkar.
    Translation into English by Bishwajit Debnath
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    Nice account. One can easily have a relaxing time in such places. Where is the exact location of this place? Can you give details of the forests as well?

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    A beautiful village and with such amazing sightings of birds, it would have been a lovely experience. Nice photographs. Would love to visit it someday . Thanks for sharing.

  16. #16
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    This is actually lower Neora valley Range of Eastern Himalaya. From Siliguri or Bagdogra it is 2.5 to 3 hrs drive distance. Nearest Railhead is New Mal junction. Here Samsing is a famous tourist spot.

    Thanks Mrudul ji. Do visit this place for birds.

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