In the quest of the 'out of syllabus'
Far eastern Arunachal - Walong
by Rajneesh Suvarna
28th Dec '13 - 2nd Jan '14
The Lohit, which is later the Bramhaputra flows from China into Arunachal Pradesh, the idea was to drive upstream along the riverLohit towards its source in china, this valley could thus be a logical extension for birds that are normally seen in China. This route through the valley twisted and turned on broken roads that converted to a dirt track after Walong until the road itself vanished at Kubithu and all that was left was a trail towards china. The last part of the road was the eastern most road in India passing the little hamlet of Dong that laid the claim of receiving the first rays of the sun in India.
The route being long, circuitous and winding and no destination at the end saw no tourists. Consequently there are no hotels or home stays or even a tea stall let alone a restaurant enroute. We set off from tinsukhia towards Hiyaliung praying that IB's on the way would accomodate us. We had planned to bird on the way but calculation of time and distance goes awry on the condition of the roads in the Northeast. We made decent speed on the plains where a patch of broken road rewarded us with a unexpected sighting of an adult male Hen Harrier. We passed Parashuramkund a place with mythological significanse, the bridge here the longest in the area has practically destroyed the 'kund' but allows a panaromic view of the valley.
The steep high mountain were draped with thick virgin forests that skirted the sometimes emerald green sometimes turquoise blue waters of the Lohit. The river banks sometimes embellished with white rounded boulders or beaches of sparkling white sand. We reached Khupa by late afternoon but getting a room took more than a few hours. Along with the room we also got the news that the governor with his z+ security was on a visit to Walong for the next couple of days which meant that the entire officialdom of the valley was in town so any guest house was out of question.
The next morning we set off towards Walong, birding on the way notables included Crested Goshwak, Grey-chinned Minivet, close looks at the Rufous-backed Sibia and Flavescent Bulbul. It was late afternoon and the wind had now picked up when we had our first flock of Black-headed greenfinch and immediately the Godlewski's Bunting, a little drive and another mixed flock and we got a merry flock of the Black-browed tit all within a span of an hour! All this excitement meant that we we too late to drive back, we were lucky to be able to snag a room in a central government guesthouse, that on paper was equipped with a flat screen tv. In reality it was one bare cramped room with windows having broken shutters, there was no question of a bathroom. The employees stationed there kindly offered to shutter the windows and save us from the now howling winds they even cooked up a way meal further helping hand from the army enusred that we could spend the night warm and indoors while the wind huffed and puffed around.
The road towards Kibithu was now just a trecherous dirt track fit only for army vehicles, here on the dirt showeled on the side we had yet another sighting of the Godlewski's Bunting foraging in the dry dirt. As we drove back from kibithu we had another glimpse of the black browed tit and then heard the call of the Black-spotted Parrotbill, which we werent expecting on this leg of our trip. Further investigation got a flock of these in more than one location. We stopped at a place that looked like buntings haven and not one but three species made their appearance apart from Bush warblers and two species of scimitar babblers, before settling back in Hayuliang.
As we drove back to Tinsukhia driving through bird rich country but the drivers watch not letting us do justice. We though did make time for the umpteenth time for an 'orange stop' picking up 4 baskets or roughly 200 of the sweetest oranges any of us had tasted before, though some people made an excuse that they were buying it for the pretty baskets that they were sold in.
We arrived back at Tinsukhia after 4 days of hard driving, tired but happy. The dash to Tinsukhia successful we did have enough time to squeeze in the customary samosa/kachori at Madhumilan before embarking on the next leg of our tour, on the other side of a Train ride to Jorhat.
Epilogue : My sense of adventure was put into perspective after a conversation with my uncle where he talked about his time in Walong. Then there were no roads after Hayuliang and Kibithu was a tough 6 day trek peppered with river crossings on 'cable bridges' where you strapped yourself to the cable overhead and pulled yourself to the other bank with the raging tiver in the gorge below, knowing very well if you do fall in even your body would not be recovered. Our hardships seemed very tame to say the least after hearing this.
Click here for Images from this trip
Bird list for the Trip
© Rajneesh Suvarna 2014