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Assam Plains & the Eastern Himalaya [NE001]

Nameri - Dirang (Sangthi Valley, Mandala Road & Sela Pass) - Eaglenest - Kaziranga

 

Overview

 

India's northeast corner, a stretch of extremely rugged mountainous terrain intersected by the broad Brahmaputra valley, is justifiably considered the richest birding area in the country.

Along the western edge of the region the Eastern Himalaya climb steeply out of the plains, reaching an elevation of over 7000m at the border with Tibet in less than 100km.  As a result, contrasting life-zones and distinct communities of species are found within unusually close proximity of one another, creating a biodiversity unmatched anywhere in the country.

The states of Assak and Arunachal Pradesh present the remarkable opportunity to explore with relative ease a cross-section of the bird-rich Eastern Himalaya, from the floodplain of the Brahmaputra basin to the arctic cold of barren Sela Pass, one of the highest motorable passes in the entire Himalayan chain.

Our comprehensive birding tour begins at little over 100m in the hot and humid sub-montane forests of Nameri National Park, home to the secretive White-winged Duck.  We ascend into the hills to the town of Dirang, our base for exploring the highest accessible reaches of the Eastern Himalaya and some of the least-visited birding hotspots in India, including Sela Pass, where we hope to come across numerous Himalayan specialities restricted to these elevations such as Blood Pheasant and the stunning Grandala, and the ornithologically rich Mandala Road.  From here we make our way into the montane rainforest at the border of neighbouring Bhutan, where the rich avifauna of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary comprises a host of enigmatic regional specialities, including the recently discovered Bugun Liocichla, many associating in fast-moving mixed species flocks which make for exhilarating birding.  Finally, we descend to the heart of the floodplain of the Brahmaputra to Kaziranga National Park, where the exceptional birdlife, including a number of grassland specialities, is equalled by the incredible density of large mammals, most notably Indian One-horned Rhinoceros.

This tour provides thorough coverage of more than 4000m of altitude in the eastern Himalayan environment, taking in two Endemic Bird Areas home to some of India's most sought afterer and enigmatic regional specialities.  These are complemented throughout by Palaearctic and altitudindla migrants in some of the region's most exhilarating birding destinations, and with excellent opportunities for sightings of large mammals at Kaziranga, one of India's most famed reserves.  

 

Outline Itinerary:

Day 01 - arrive Delhi

Day 02 - Delhi to Guwahati to Nameri National Park

Day 03 - Nameri

Day 04 - Nameri

Day 05 - Nameri to Dirang

Day 06 - Dirang

Day 07 - Dirang

Day 08 - Dirang to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

Day 09 - Eaglenest

Day 10 - Eaglenest

Day 11 - Eaglenest

Day 12 - Eaglenest

Day 13 - Eaglenest to Kaziranga National Park

Day 14 - Kaziranga

Day 15 - Kaziranga

Day 16 - Kaziranga

Day 17 - Kaziranga to Guwahati to Delhi

Day 18 - depart Delhi

 

 

Tour focus:  Birds, in particular specialities of the Eastern Himalaya and Brahmaputra Floodplain

 

Best time to visit:  November to April

 

 

Highlights:

• Comprehensive coverage of a cross-section of the eastern Himalayan environment, from 100-4176m

• Four sites in two Endemic Bird Areas - the Assam Plains and Eastern Himalaya

• A range of habitats, from grasslands, swamp & sub-tropical forest to temperate conifers and alpine meadows

Relatively easy birding in most places, more challenging in others as a result of geography, climate and in particular altitude

• Extremely rich, varied, and exciting birdlife with an array of regional endemics and high altitude specialities - 370+ species

• Opportunities of a wealth of mammals, including some of India's most sought-after species

A variety of birding experiences - on foot, by open jeep and dinghy

Spectacular views of the Gori Chen Himalaya which mark the Tibetan border

Comfortable accommodation in places, basic tented camps in Eaglenest 

• Excellent local cuisine throughout, although limited choices in Eaglenest

 

Tour info

 

Tour code:  NE001

 

To register: Contact us, or see our tour calendar for forthcoming dates and prices, or to arrange a custom tour.

 

Duration:  17 nights / 18 days

 

Arrival & departure: This tour starts and ends in Delhi.

Arrival in Delhi should be by 1600hrs on day 1, departure from Delhi may be at any time on day 18.  You may require additional domestic flights and accommodation before/after the tour which we would be happy to arrange for you.

 

Tour price:  on enquiry

 

Prices:  Our tour prices are inclusive of all road transport and domestic flights, accommodation, all or most meals, all birding/wildlife activities, park entry fees, and guiding throughout by one of our professional bird tour leaders.

 

Tour documents: Participants will receive detailed tour information with important details regarding health precautions, accommodation, clothing & what to bring, spending money, the visa application process etc., as well as a comprehensive species checklist and list of recommended field/sound guides.

 

Maximum group size:  10

 

Key species

 

Key birds:

 

In lowland Assam:

• Greater Adjutant

• Bengal Florican

• White-winged Duck

• Ibisbill

• Pied Falconet

• Sultan Tit

• Abbott's Babbler

  

At altitude in the eastern Himalaya:

• Long-billed Plover

• White-throated Dipper

• Wallcreeper

• Black-tailed Crake

• Temminck's Tragopan

• Blood Pheasant

• Snow Partridge

• Himalayan Monal

• Grandala

• Alpine Accentor

• Red-headed & Ward's Trogons

• Fire-tailed Myzornis

• Sultan Tit

• Beautiful Nuthatch

• Cutia

• Spotted Nutcracker

• White-gorgeted & Sapphire Flycatchers

• Bugun Liocichla

• Bay Woodpecker

numerous Thrushes, Laughingthrushes, Scimitar-babblers, and Wren-babblers

 

Key mammals:

• Greater One-horned Rhinoceros

• Asian Elephant

• Tiger

• Asiatic Wild Buffalo

• Capped Langur

• Pig-tailed & Arunachal Macaque

  

Itinerary

   

Day 1: arrive Delhi

Arrive in Delhi to spend the day birding locally or at leisure.  Night in a city hotel.

 

Days 2-4: Delhi to Guwahati to Nameri

Depart Delhi on an early morning flight to Guwahat (2.5hrs), the capital of Assam.  On arrival transfer by road to Nameri National Park (5hrs), birding en-route in roadside wetlands and gardens where species such as Lesser and Greater Adjutants, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Blue-throated Barbet, and White-vented Myna can be found.  Spend the remainder of the afternoon, along with the following two days exploring Nameri, an undisturbed patch of undulating forest terrain that lies at the border of Assam with neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, extending along both banks of the snow-fed Jia Bhorelli River.  Nameri is part of a huge expanse of wilderness that has facilitated the preservation of a continuous stretch of sub-Himalayan forest, much of which has been decimated elsewhere.  Birdlife in this delightfully undeveloped area is exceptional, and the rare chance of exploring on foot allows for excellent birding in the lush lowland forest interspersed with marshy grasslands and secluded swamps.  One of our target birds at Nameri is the striking Ibisbill, which overwinters here along the boulder-strewn banks of the Jia Bhorelli, and we will spend one morning floating down the river in rubber dinghies in search of this species, alongside River Lapwing, Great Thick-knee, and Pallas's Fish-eagle, with Striated Grassbird in the adjacent grasslands.  Other key species at Nameri include Wreathed and Great Pied Hornbills, Pied Falconet, Oriental Hobby, Daurian Redstart, Siberian Rubythroat, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Sultan Tit, and Streaked Spiderhunter.  The globally endangered and largely nocturnal White-winged Duck can be found at roost in secluded forest swamps, with the understorey hosting the more skulking of Nameri's specialities, most notably Abbott's Babbler, Striped Tit-babbler, and Yellow-browed Tesia.  Nameri is also home to a host of mammals, its more common inhabitants including Asian Elephant and Asiatic Water Buffalo, however the density of the forest makes sightings difficult.  Nights in a comfortable tented birding camp.

 

Days 5-7: Dirang: Sangthi Valley, Mandala Road, Sela Pass, 1500-4176m

After an early breakfast at Nameri depart on the drive into the Dafla Hills of Arunachal Pradesh to the town of Dirang (6hrs) via the army town of Tenga.  On crossing the state border there is a noticeable change in terrain and vegetation, and in this relatively unexplored territory we will spend time birding en-route as the journey cuts across elevations and through the transition from degraded scrub to pristine forest.  Our first montane specialities may include Black-breasted and Green-tailed Sunbirds, Scarlet Finch, Long-tailed and Beautiful Sibias, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Golden Bush-robin, Plain-backed Thrush, Black-faced and Bhutan Laughingthrushes, Coral-billed and Slender-billed Scimitar-babblers, and Red-headed Trogon.  Dirang is the perfect base for birding excursions into this part of the Himalaya, allowing access to a range of elevations from 1500m at Sangthi Valley, to 4176m at Sela Ridge, which marks the boundary between West Kameng district and Tawang district further north, all of which host an array of some of India's most highly prized species.  With no protected areas in this region birding is mostly from the road, which cuts through a succession of habitats from temperate broadleaved forest to the conifer-dominated treeline, and alpine meadows and barren rocky land at the highest altitudes.  The cultivated Sangthi Valley hosts a variety of species in an assortment of habitats, most notably wintering Ibisbill, Long-billed Plover, and Wallcreeper along the river's gravel banks.  Black-tailed Crake can be found here in patches of marshy grass within areas of cultivation, with a selection of flycatchers, warblers, tits and buntings in surrounding broadleaved woodland.  The flat marshlands adjoining the riverbank are the only wintering area of Black-necked Crane in India, supporting 1-10 birds sporadically from late November to the end of February.  South of Dirang the Mandala Road climbs up through moss-draped temperate broadleaved forest that gives way to fir with patches of rhododendron and birch scrub towards the treeline at Mandala Pass at 3200m.  Birds sweep through the forest in waves, comprising Black-faced, Ashy-throated and Buff-barred Warblers, the near-endemic and localised Brown-throated (Ludlow's) Fulvetta, Bar-throated Minla, Yellow-browed, Rufous-fronted and Rufous-vented Tits, Green-tailed Sunbird and Stripe-throated Yuhina.  Other key birds along the Mandala Road include Black-throated Thrush, Spotted Nutcracker, Ward's Trogon, Streak-breasted and Slender-billed Scimitar-babblers, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Himalayan Red-flanked and Golden Bush-robins, Fire-tailed Myzornis feeding on rhododendron, Crimson-breasted Pied Woodpecker, Speckled Woodpigeon, and secretive Temminck's Tragopan.  Sela Pass lies north of Dirang along the road to Tibet, and at 4176m is one of the highest motorable passes in the entire Himalayan chain.  At the pass the birds can be few and far between with biting wind whipping over the mountain ridges, however this area is home to unequivocal montane specilities such as Snow Pigeon, Grandala, Himalayan White-browed and Beautiful Rosefinches, Tibetan Siskin, Alpine Accentor, Red-billed Chough and Himalayan Griffon.  The upper forests and scrubby slopes host Snow Partridge, Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal, Spotted Laughingthrush and Rufous-breasted Bush-robin.  Nights in a comfortable hotel in Dirang.  

 

Days 8-9: Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary: Lama Camp, 2350m

Depart Dirang in the morning of day 8 for the drive south to Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary (3hrs).  The primary advantage of Eaglenest over other areas in Arunachal Pradesh is the presence of a barely used jeep track that winds its way through the sanctuary from its highest point, Eaglenest Pass at 2780m, down to the floodplains of Assam, allowing easy access to pristine forest across the enture altitudinal range.  To enable thorough exploration of the range of elevations present within the reserve, and the distinct set of species associated with each, our nights here are divided between two campsites - Lama Camp on the outskirts of the sanctuary at 2350m and Bompu Camp within it at 1940m on the opposite side of the Eaglenest Ridge, moving up or down daily as the weather permits or birding dictates, using our vehicles to cover distance.  Arrive at our first camp, Lama, by afternoon to spend two days birding in the northern part of the sanctuary, and in coniferous temperate forests down to 1800m on the road down to Tenga.  Birding in this isolated region is truly exhilarating, with large and highly active mixed flocks containing species such as Golden Babbler, Red-tailed Minla, Golden-breasted and Yellow-throated Fulvettas and Cutia.  Other key species here include the scarce and elusive Temminck's and Blyth's Tragopans, three species of hill-partridge, Ward's Trogon, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Beautiful Nuthatch, Gold-naped Finch, Plain Mountain-finch, Maroon-backed Accentor, Dark-breasted and Dark-rumped Rosefinches, Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Red-headed and Grey-headed Bullfinches, Spotted Nutcracker, and Red-faced Liocichla.  The recently discovered Bugun Liocichla is known almost exclusively from the area around Lama Camp and we will make every attempt to find this secretive bird here.  Nights in a basic tented birding camp.

 

Days 10-11: Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Bompu Camp, 1940m

Depart Lama Camp on day 10, crossing Eaglenest Pass and entering Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary proper, halting at Bompu where we will spend the following two nights.  Our stay here will allow us to explore the sub-tropical forests of lower elevations, in particular bird-rich mid-altitudes from Bompu at 1940m to Sessni at 1250m, and the higher altitudes up to Eaglenest Pass on the alternate side of the ridge from Lama Camp.  During our stay we can expect to encounter a host of species such as Bay and Pale-headed Woodpeckers, Red-billed Leiothrix, Mrs. Gould's and Fire-tailed Sunbirds, Yellow-browed and Fire-capped Tits, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Sapphire and Slaty-blue Flycatchers, Large Niltava, Black-eared and Green Shrike-babblers, Broad-billed and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Eyebrowed, Long-tailed and commoner Plain-backed Thrushes, White-collared and Grey-winged Blackbirds, Blue Whistling-thrush, and numerous wren-babblers and tesias.  This area is also home to some exciting mammals, including Red Panda, Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel and Arunachal Macaque, with wild Asian Elephants present throughout the year at lower elevations.  Nights in a basic tented birding camp.

 

Days 12: Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Lama Camp

Drive back across the Eaglenest ridge to Lama Camp on day 12, to spend our final day at Eaglenest birding in the the northern part of the sanctuary.  Ovenight in a basic tented birding camp.

 

Days 13-16: Eaglenest to Kaziranga

Depart Eaglenest in the morning of day 13, descending through the foothills and back into Assam, to Kaziranga National Park (8hrs).  The drive will take most of the day, however we have a further three days to explore Kaziranga's three primary ranges from open jeep, and the adjacent tea estates on foot.  Kaziranga is located within the fertile alluvial plains of the narrow Brahmaputra valley, its terrain dominated by landlocked water bodies known as beels enclosed by extensive flats, occasionally giving way to small patches of mature woodland.  Avifaunal diversity is incredible, with birds such as Greater and Lesser Adjutants, Black-necked Stork, Pied and Pallid Harriers, rare Falcated Duck, Striated and Rufous-rumped Grassbirds, Kaleej Pheasant, Red Junglefowl, Swamp Francolin, Spot-winged Starling, Common Green Magpie, Green-billed and Blue-faced Malkohas, Great Barbet, Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Scarlet-backed an Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers, and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird comprising a birdlist of over 480 species.  One of our most difficult target birds here is Bengal Florican, which we will search for in the grasslands from elephant-back.  Mammal densities at Kaziranga are equally spectacular, most importantly the grasslands support over 70% of the world population of Greater One-horned Rhinoceros and Barasingha, or Swamp Deer, 1000+ Asian Elephants, Asiatic Wild Buffalo, and Tiger.  Nights in a comfortable wildlife lodge on the edge of the park.

 

Day 17: Kaziranga to Guwahati to Delhi

Depart Kaziranga for Guwahati (4hrs), from where we will take an afternoon flight back to Delhi.  Night in a city hotel.

 

Day 18: Depart Delhi

Depart Delhi on your onward journey.

  

What to expect

 

In summary 

• Easy to moderate walking requirements

• Remoteness and high altitude in places, which necessitate a good level of fitness and good health

Comfortable en-suite accommodation at Nameri, Dirang and Kaziranga, basic tented camps at Eaglenest

Road transport in modern, comfortable car, jeep or minibus

• Roads variable - good in lowlands, poor in parts within Eaglenest, some long distance drives

Variable weather - warm to hot in lowlands, cold and misty/wet at altitude and in particular at Sela Pass

Highest altitude - Sela Pass at 4176m

• Worthwhile photographic opportunties throughout but bird photography can be challenging in places

Exhilarating birding with knowledgeable guides

 

 

Tour grading & health requirements

The walking requirements of this tour are generally easy to moderate although altitude must be considered and together with remoteness in places this necessitates a good level of fitness and good health.  We do not spend any night at high altitude, however at 4176m Sela Pass is considered very high and our brief ascent to this altitude may cause mild symptoms of altitude of which you must be aware before embarking on this tour.  No long treks are involved, however birding walks may extend from early morning until lunch.  At Eaglenest and Dirang these walks will be mostly downslope and with vehicle support.  Most birding at Kaziranga will be from open jeeo by necessity.  Mosquitoes are not prevalent at altitude where temperatures are cold, however suitable precautions should be taken at lowland sites.   

 

Travel

All road travel will be in modern, comfortable jeep(s).  There will be some long drives on roads of varying quality, but we will stop to break the journey where we can, usually for some en-route birding.  In the hills there will be some stretches if winding mountain roads. 

 

Climate

Lowland sites are likely to be warm to hot by day with cooler nights and early mornings.  Conditions at altitude are inherently variable - temperatures are likely to be cold, at times warmer in the sun, but habitually dropping below freezing at night.  The biting wind at Sela Pass makes conditions here very cold.  Parts of northeast India experience the highest rainfall on earth and dry weather cannot be guaranteed at any time of year.  At altitude precipitation should be anticipated in the form of rain, hail or even snow.  Dense fog is a feature of altitudes of 1700-2500m, which falls in the cloud forest zone, particularly in the afternoons.

 

Accommodation & food

Accommodation at Nameri, Dirang and Kaziranga will be in a comfortable and friendly permanent tented camp, hotel and wildlife lodge respectively, with all rooms en-suite.  At Eaglenest accommodation will be in basic, though adequate, temporary tented camps (2-man tents with camp beds), with shared bathroom facilities (water by bucket) and limited electricity in common areas only.  Meals are often served as a buffet incorporating a range of delicious local dishes, with Indian, Chinese and Continental cuisine available (limited choice at Eaglenest).  On some days breakfast and/or lunch may be served as a picnic in the field.

 

Special requirements

Leech socks recommended for use at Nameri

Four-season sleeping bag recommended for use at Eaglenest

 

Map

Click the blue location balloons to learn more... 

 

Images

Fire-tailed Myzornis Lama Camp Wards Trogon Rufous-throated Wren-babbler Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler
Fire-tailed Myzornis Lama Camp, Eaglenest Ward's Trogon Rufous-throated Wren-babbler Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler
         
Cutia Grey-headed Bullfinch Beautiful Nuthatch Greater Adjutant Ibisbill
Himalayan Cutia Grey-headed Bullfinch Beautiful Nuthatch Greater Adjutant Ibisbill

  

 

Click here for more photographs from northeast India in our tour gallery...