Friday, March 25, 2016

Northeast India Trip - Arunachal Pradesh


We made it across and were relieved to get back in the car and drive on towards the border with Arunachal Pradesh.   No photos allowed at the checkpoint as China is maintaining a territorial claim on the State (to the extent that citizens of Arunachal Pradesh don't require a visa to visit China as they are considered by China to be Chinese.  Complicated).    The border security therefore keep a close eye on where tourists and visitors are headed (our guide fielded a few calls checking our location both during and after our stay in the State).

Along the road to Roing, our next destination, we saw this Indian Vulture, starting to build a nest:


An Olive-backed Pipit perched on a wire:


A Long-tailed Shrike sat sentinel:


In Roing we checked into the DS Lodge, possibly the best hotel in the town.   This was the start of another new holiday phenomena.   Turning-up somewhere without knowing where your actual destination is.   We drove to the top of the town.   We didn't find it.  We drove back the way we came. We stopped and asked lots of people directions.   We were sat in the back somewhat baffled by all of this.  More people were asked, most agreed you had to be on the other side of the town and that involved going to the top or bottom of the town and the way through was blocked by road-building.   Anyway we did finally get there after a few more stops and a few more double-backs, etc.

The hotel was helpful and we were able to order food.    The room was quite private and pleasant, more so when i'd hung blankets over the windows to augment the curtains.   The bed was concrete-like again and unfortunately we all caught viral gastro-enteritis during our stay here.   We know it was viral as Helen was on antibiotics as a malaria prophylactic and she was also ill.  

Our purpose for visiting Arunachal Pradesh was to go birding in the Mishmi Hills, chosen for us as my vertigo precluded visiting the best site, Eagles Nest (one of a number of good choices made for us by the travel company).

We collected our local guard, called Chipra, and headed across the river using a temporary bridge (the main ones keep getting washed away by monsoon rains).

It was on this trip that we started to experience another of the recurring phenomena of the trip, the use of the taped or whistled Asian Barred Owlet to call out the smaller birds (which it eats) in response.

One of the most persistent responders is the Fire-breasted Flowerpecker species, along with Sunbirds:


We also saw Stripe-throated Yuhina:


and Grey-crowned Warbler amongst others:


We headed back to the hotel for dinner and some pain-inducing sleep ahead of an early start and a drive to high altitude in the Mishmi Hills.

One of the most common early birds is the Blue-whistling Thrush:


Higher up the road we encountered a number of flocks of birds including one of our target species, the Sultan Tit:


As you can see below, we were mostly in cloud so the light was poor, which was a shame as it hampered the photography and kept the activity of the birds down:


All the way along the mountain roads are various signs posted by BRO, the Border Roads Organisation.  This one is good:


This one, however, speaks volumes about the prevalent culture and prejudices:


There were others on this theme.  We carried on up towards the pass, looking for the higher altitude species.  

On the way up we crossed the snow line:

We stopped for lunch at a 'lodge' which was basically falling apart.  The electrics were burned out in places, the doors ill-fitting.  Some windows were broken and covered with plastic, it was cold, unheated and we were chuffed we were only staying for lunch although the guide was complaining that we were staying in the town instead of in this usual place.   Outside the cloud was rolling in and the temperature dropping.

As we dined a group of German birders arrived with their luggage, they were going to stay for two nights.  Rather them that us!

We finished eating and had a wander around.  A small group of Nepal Fulvetta's flitted in the low scrub:


Eurasian Jays and Common Blue Magpies fed on the white rice the staff placed outside:



A Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler popped-up briefly as the cloud thickened:


We finished lunch and headed further up, reaching Mayodiya Pass:



We were passed on the way up by a military convoy who at the pass mostly wanted their pictures taken with us.  I wish i'd thought to ask them to use our camera too.  On the way down a number of them saluted us as they drove past.

Right after the pass the mountain road has been sliced in half by a landslide, and had a half-kilometer drop with no barrier, etc..  Our guide wanted us to walk along this road in the gathering cloud.  Given the road condition the weather and my vertigo I refused so we retreated back to town via a wine shop!   We tried various Indian wines on our trip and found them all to be really quite good, especially the Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot varieties that we tried. Irrespective of brand they were consistently good.

The following morning we headed out but turned down after only ascending a little, heading for some grassland, looking for the Bengal Florican.  We didn't see this species despite walking a lot, however on the way we did see White-crested Laughing-thrush:



Golden-throated Barbet:



Rufous-backed Sibia:



and Striated Bulbuls:


One beast we kept encountering is the Mithun, a semi-wild (though farmed) mountain cow species.   They have no trouble navigating extremely steep mountain paths, hence no doubt their relatively short legs:


The weather deteriorated and very heavy and sustained rainfall drove us back to our hotel.   Apparently at the high-altitude lodge it was relentless rain and cloud for 36-hours, so thanks again to our travel company for their choices :)

Back in Roing we took some pictures of the signs painted on the walls of the Forest Department compound:




Given our tummy troubles and the weather, we weren't disappointed to leave and head on towards Nagaland.  

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