Next morning, we woke up bright and early at about 5:30 AM. Had it been Mumbai or other city, I would have called 5:30 AM an unearthly hour to wake up. But at Namdapha, it was the perfect time and I wouldn’t have missed the sunrise hour for the world. Imagine crawling out of the tent and being greeted by a river flowing along a rocky bed and mountains towering behind it. Wisps of clouds hung about the mountain making me feel that I had reached a magical land!
After soaking in the beautiful mountains in the morning light, a hurried round of daily ablutions and a quick breakfast, everyone was ready to be off. Our guide, Vidyut led the way and we started walking in a single file on a narrow path away from the campsite and into the forest. As we passed through the fields, a small boy peeked at us from his small picturesque home.
Our first bird sighting that day was a White throated Kingfisher. By then, even newbie Birders like me were able to recognise the Kingfisher by its silhouette alone, even though it was far off.
Next we came across a female elephant & her calf owned by the Forest Department of Namdapha. As we clicked pictures of the duo, the mother became increasingly protective of her baby and kept nudging it behind her with her trunk. So without agitating it further, we quickly moved past.
A little way off further we noticed some lovely flowers and realised that they were of Touch-me-not plant. That set us off deliberately touching all the compound leaves just to see them respond and fold up.
Our guide Vidyut had sharp eyesight and soon pointed out a group of Hill Mynahs to us. Jet black in color with bright orange patches of naked skin, quite a few of them were perched on the bare branches of a tree. This bird has a large range of vocalizations. Although it does not mimic other bird calls in the wild, when raised in captivity, this bird is an expert mimic and can even reproduce human voices. This last, I have seen for myself at the Sarthana zoo in Surat, where it actually called out a Hello to visitors from its cage!
The day was getting hotter and we saw a lot of butterflies along the path. Some even came and perched on us, since by then we were all sweating. It is common knowledge that butterflies are attracted to sodium found in salt and sweat.
We walked and walked and finally reached a small pool of water surrounded by rocks. There were butterflies flitting about and periodically settling on a wall. It was noon and way past our lunch time and we decided to wait there itself for lunch. Most of us removed our shoes and leech socks thankfully and soaked our feet in the cool water. The more enthusiastic followed the butterflies and tried to get the perfect shot.
Vidyut’s assistant sped off on his two wheeler to get the lunch to us. An hour passed by but there was no sign of lunch arriving. Eventually we decided to walk back to the camp hoping that, that way, we will meet the lunch team sooner. And sure enough after another thirty minutes, we met the team with our lunch on the path. The joy of seeing food arrive however lasted for only a few minutes when we discovered that the cooks hadn’t received their daily supplies and we were expected to make do with only an Alu Paratha each.
Hunger was getting the better of us and we were all ready to attack Vidyut with a barrage of complaints, when suddenly, he excitedly pointed at a tall Hoolock tree nearby and said Hoolock Gibbons! The simple two words “Hoolock Gibbons” had the desired magical effect on us Wildlife enthusiasts and we forgot all about lunch.
Hoolock Gibbons are the only ape species found in India. We had been hearing their calls all day, but as per Vidyut, it was very difficult to spot them. Out came the cameras and the binoculars in a hurry and sure enough, we could catch sight of a couple of gibbons high up in the trees.
The Gibbons had spotted us as well. As they gazed at us from afar, the most prominent feature was their white shaggy eyebrows!
After we had our fill of watching and photographing them, we amicably sat down on the path to finish our lunch of Alu Parathas. Later we teased Vidyut of knowing the where-abouts of the Gibbons all the time but only pointing them out to us, to get himself out of trouble.
After lunch, we were tired out and the thought of covering all the miles back to the camp seemed more tiring. So we all agreed, when Vidyut’s assistant offered to take us through a short-cut in the forest. Armed with a knife, he obligingly cut the forest foliage that got in our way and led the path. Little did we know we were in for a battle against the blood suckers of Namdapha…the leeches! The leeches are sensitive to our smell and blood and attacked us from all directions. Suddenly we could spot them all around on each other on the socks, shoes, jackets et al.
Fortunately, we were all armed with salt and we helped each other, sprinkling salt and flicking the blood suckers off while they looped. The treacherous leech infested forest route lasted for a while and we could not help feeling relieved when we at last reached the rocky River bed. Battle weary, we sat down on the river bed and rested for some time.
After we reached the camp, Vidyut’s team soon set to work to prepare a wonderful dinner to make up for the meagre lunch.
Water was being boiled for those who cared for a hot bath and given the day’s adventures, there were many who wanted it including me. There were two temporary plastic tent-like bathrooms put up on the river bed facing the river for that purpose. The flap of the structure that served as the bathroom entrance had to be zipped up for taking a bath. One of the ‘bathrooms’ had a faulty zip which made people reluctant to use it. The result was that the queue for taking a bath in the working bathroom was longer.
Darkness fell and the moon shone a silvery path on the river. The boiling water was sending of wafts of vapour in the air and made the night look hazy if you looked at the moon through it. The night took an appearance of the cover of a fairytale. Something about the scene made the idea of having a hot bath overlooking the moon shining on the river seem irresistible.
After putting my friends on guard on the river bed, I stepped into the special bathroom. I probably sound foolish, but I declare, that it was the best bathing experience ever. Even the most luxurious Jacuzzi or a bath tub would not compare to this. The feel of bare rocks of river bed on my feet, soothing hot water at a place where there is no electricity and a marvellous view of the full moon over the Noa-Dehing River while bathing! I felt like Jane of the Jungle!
A hot meal after the bath marked the end of this most remarkable day!