The Jungle Look

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Phawngpui (Blue Mountain) National Park

Day 4 - 13 December: Journey to Phawngpui (Blue Mountain) National Park

We got up early in the morning all set to start our journey towards Sangau, which is the closest village to Blue Mountain NP (around 14 km). Michael, our driver went at 5:45am towards Aizawl to fill fuel for Sumo and said he would be back by 6am. Meanwhile, today being my Birthday started receiving phone calls from my family wishing me on the occasion. We waited till 7:15am for Michael to return as the Petrol Bunks open not before 7am. I had already shot some Tree Pipits, Warblers and fantails around the tourist house. The habitat around the rest house is quite good for bird watching and photography.

We started our journey at 7:30am. Some points to note about Mizoram roads and the journey time:

The conditions of the road are quite good. But due to the terrain, the roads are curved and you can drive straight hardly a couple of hundred yards before you have to slow down to make a turn. On an average, you can cover a max of 30 kms in 1 hour. So, if you have to travel 200km, you need 200×2 = 400 mins, that is approximately 7 hrs on an average. And adding some pit stops for breakfast/lunch/nature call, you can add in an hour. So, our estimated time to travel from Aizawl to Sangau was 8 hrs. But hold on, the road condition of the last 40 km to Sangau is quite bad. That itself will take around 2 hrs. So, the total time to travel would be around 10 hrs. And plan your journey accordingly, as we have to cross the river Chhimtuipui in a ferry, the operations of which closes at 4pm.


During this journey from Aizawl to Sangau, we had to travel from North part of Mizoram to South East Mizoram crossing through Aizawl, Thenzawl and Lunglei divisions.


The ACF Mr. Thalna had mentioned about the highway restaurant where we could have our breakfast. We reached that place by 11am and had some good aaloo parathas. We don’t get airtel signal here, but only BSNL. We made some phone calls and continued our journey. In between we had to slowdown as people were clearing the landslides which had occurred the previous week. But luckily the roads were not completely blocked. All throughout Mizoram, we saw people using these Flintstones kind of vehicles made out of wood. It had a good platform for a couple of people to sit, breaks for the wheels as well as s steering. Apart from kids using it to play, it was also a means of transportation for the locals to move around. And we saw plenty of these throughout our journey. Going further, we took a diversion 6km before Leite going towards Sangau which is around 60km from this point. Down below in the valley we could see the blue waters of the Chhimtuipui River, which we had to cross in a ferry. We reached that spot at 3pm and our Sumo along with 2 other vehicles were loaded onto the ferry. We took some photographs of this, crossed the river and continued towards Sangau.


This part of the habitat had plenty of birds. We were greeted by a Common kestrel as we stepped into this wonderful habitat. We stopped to record/photograph around 30 or so laughing thrushes. They refused to come out in the open and hopped from bush to bush, which is a typical behavior of the laughing thrush. The sun had already gone down and it was getting dark. We did see a pair of Blue Bearded Bee-eaters roosting on a lone tree. The next couple of hours were pretty tough as the road condition was quite bad. We finally managed to reach the Forest Rest house of Sangau where the Range Forest Officer was waiting for us. As per our original plan, we were supposed to be here by 2pm, and we were there by 7pm. We had dinner and jumped to our beds thinking about next days excitement.

Day 5 and 6 - 14/15 December - Blue Mountain National Park

Early morning the sweet call of the birds woke us up and we had a glimpse of the much talked about Blue Mountain National Park, which is the highest place is Mizoram at around 7200ft. We birded/photographed around the camp a bit before starting the journey towards the Blue Mountain NP. We took some supplies to the park as we were supposed to spend the next 3 nights on top of the National Park, where the forest department has another rest house. Some of the department staff had already gone there earlier in the day with some basic supplies.


This stretch of 14 km to the rest house takes around 2 hrs, passing through 2 villages, one of which was relocated from inside the park boundary. The road is quite steep and narrow at certain places and we had to get down from the Sumo for it to climb those difficult routes. It was quite a scary drive as I could see the valley through the window and the tires a few inches from the edge. Michael was a very skillful driver and this was his first time to this place. All through this stretch, he kept on wishing for a 4WD as it was almost impossible to make certain climbs without a bit of help from the department staff who had to push the vehicle, of course with the rest of us on foot.

Pratap Singh decided to come to the rest house on foot while Yathin and I decided to check into the rest house, and then take it from there. The Sumo could not reach the rest house because of its incapability and the forest staff had to carry the luggage to the rest house. The rest house had basic amenities for our stay and we were well prepared to stay there. The weather was quite chill as we were at 7000ft and we required some extra clothing to keep us warm. I unpacked my equipment and set out to explore the area. We could see the Chhimtuipui river far below in the valley, which forms a natural boundary between Mizoram and Maynmar (Burma). The scene was quite breathtaking with mountains everywhere, till our eyes could stretch.


I was back at the rest house for lunch and had some Dal and rice. Well, that was the lunch as well as dinner for almost a week - just Dal and Rice along with some veg side dish. You need to be prepared for this kind of food and not have too much of expectations. We had carried lot of bottled water as we did not want to try the local tap water. That’s another care you need to take. After lunch, Yathin and I decided to explore the Farpak fort area. It was huge grassland adjacent to a cliff area where the opportunity to sight the Perigren Falcon existed. Well, though we did not see any, we did see some scat of a wildcat. We then came back to the rest house after an hour. We then met Pratap Singh who had come for lunch and he mentioned about these flowering trees which were about 20 mins from the rest house and the kind of bird activity around that place. I decided to visit that place and spend the rest of the day there.

There were two paths to go down to the flowering trees. A short cut using the steps and the long way through the vehicle path. Both are equally good for birding. I decided to use the steps for some distance and then use the road from there. I had my equipment mounted on the Gitzo 1325 tripod and it was resting on my shoulder. As I was getting down the steps, I saw a lone Blyths Tragopan a few steps below in my path, coming in my direction. I froze and wanted to rest the tripod so that I could take some shots. But these birds being so shy ran into the bushes before I could make any move. But I was quite happy that I had a glimpse of this North East beauty.


On the way to the flowering trees, I did see a lot of bird activity along the way. But shooting these birds with a 500mm is almost next to impossible. You need a fast hand held lens (a 400mm IS DO lens would be the perfect one for this terrain) to shoot these skulker birds. But still I managed to shoot some of these. I reached the flowering trees by 3pm and the light was perfect. There were a lot of Sunbirds and a pair of Grey Sebia visiting these trees. While I was shooting these, a Golden Throated Barbet flew into the trees. I was able to get some decent shot of this before it decided to fly away.

I hung around that place till evening and returned to the camp after capturing some beautiful landscapes of the sunset. Yathin, Pratap Singh and I sat down to list the birds we had heard/sighted/photographed. There is no electricity at this rest house and I had to manage for the rest of the trip with the remaining two fully charged camera batteries I had.


The next morning I again went down the path towards the flowering trees to capture the Sunrise. The clouds had settled across the valley and the scene was simply terrific. I photographed the landscape and proceeded towards the flowering trees. But since it was backlit, I spent time exploring other parts of the park. But to give justice to this place, you need to spend at least a week’s time. Only then you can get a feel of the place and know where to find what. But still we managed to see and record a variety of birds in this area. I spent the rest of the day along the same path and was lucky to photograph the Grey Sibia which I was aiming for since the previous day.


Day 7 : Journey back to Aizawl - 16 December 2006

Since we had a long way to travel back, we decided to leave the place at 6:30 in the morning, do some birding on the way and then reach Aizawl. We took it easy all the way to Sangau and spent a lot of time birding and photographing. Here I was able to sight and take a record shot of the Golden babbler. Such a beauty!!! It was 9am by the time we reached Sangau. We had dinner at the Channu’s home, who was the main guide for us at Blue Mountain NP. We left Sangau by 10am and headed towards the river to cross the ferry. We did spend a lot of time birding all the way. It was 1pm by the time we reached the ferry. But as luck would have it, the ferry was not working because of some technical snag. We were told that it would be fixed by 3pm! We did not have any choice but to wait. Yathin and I started to think of alternatives as we did not see any signs of it being operational even till 3pm. We thought of calling for another Sumo on the other side of the river, transport the luggage in a small boat and reach Aizwal. But finally at 4pm a new battery arrived and we heard the roar of the engines of the ferry. That cheered us up and we were able to cross the river after a 3 hrs wait.

Though we had got delayed, we were very happy that we were on the other side of the river and it was road all the way to Aizwal, with hopefully no other interruptions. We reached the highway restaurant at 6pm only to find that they were closed. With no other options we proceeded towards Aizawl and got some chips and biscuits in the next village. We were not sure if we would get dinner at the tourist house at Aizwal as we would be reaching pretty late in the night. We reached the next town at 9pm where there were some hotels and had dinner.

We then continued our journey towards Aizawl. Though our driver Michael was pretty tired driving for the whole day, his enthu was still high and stopped the vehicle to show us a small Indian Civet cat. We were glad that he sighted it and stopped to show. Going further we saw a small cat beside the road. When the headlight was focused on it, we were was the Leopard Cat. An endangered species found in the North East India. We had good glimpse of it for around 5 seconds before it disappeared in the thickets of the jungle. What a way to finish the trip. We reached the tourist house at 10:30pm and checked into the rooms.

The next day, we met the ACF Mr. Tlana at his residence, thanked him for the wonderful trip we had and the arrangements made by the forest department. We then left for Lungpui airport to catch a flight to Kolkata and then to Bangalore from there.