Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Northeast India Trip - Rabong, Sikkim

Sikkim!   Finally.


We've read and heard a lot about this relatively small country and of course the meeting of the previous day had really added to the sense of atmosphere as we drove from Kalimpong and then entered Sikkim.   On arrival we had to check-in, including being issued with an Inner Line Permit, which all visitors must have.   In the office we met a Spanish couple who had been staying around Gangtok, the Capital, and whose comments mostly reflect how clean they had found Sikkim to be.

We topped up on supplies (of wine and water) and then headed on to our first destination in South Sikkim, Rabong and the Bon Farmhouse, passing a typical Sikkimese town in the valley:


Everywhere in Sikkim is development, although it's done in the Indian way, by hand, as you can here, where a road gang is cooking up the tar ahead of the arrival of the teams that will lay it on the road:


As we ascended we stopped in a few places when we encountered flocks, seeing birds including Bar-throated Siva:


Black bulbul:


and Brown-throated Treecreeper:


This part of the trip was the moment of truth for my vertigo.  I pretty much had to keep my eyes closed for the entire ascent, over three hours, as the roads were narrow, steep and usually had enormous and deadly drops with no form of barrier at all, my personal driving nightmare.  Even Helen balked at some of the roads and road conditions as we made our way to Rabong.

We settled into the Farmhouse and enjoyed a late lunch though the food was very simple.  Dinner proved equally simple, being nearly identical.  Our room was pleasant enough though dusty and the electricity and wifi in the lobby helped us pass the time as a weather system moved through dumping a large volume of water as it did so.

The following morning we started promptly and headed from our homestay in Kewzing back to Rabong, some 10 kilometers.  In the town they have constructed an enormous Buddha, the largest in fact in Sikkim.   It's so new it doesn't yet feature on the tourist map you;re given as you enter Sikkim.   It really is magnificent:





Apparently there's 5 kilos of gold lining the Buddha, amongst a host of other precious materials.

Finally we were at altitude and we had good weather, hurrah!



The plan for the day was to walk into the Manenam Wildlife Sanctuary forest, which we did, encountering on the way in a Darjeeling Woodpecker:


And the target species for the area, the Fire-tailed Myzornis:



A cracking little bird.   Despite it being a lovely day, once we'd seen the Myzornis we didn't see a lot more, other than the odd Fire-tailed Sunbird:



And this Himalayan Bluetail:


Green-tailed Sunbirds:




a Rufous-winged Fulvetta:


Grey Bushchat:


White-tailed Nuthatch:


And White-throated Fantail:


The guide tried to tape-lure various species at the top, and then we turned around and retraced our steps, following the lines of the water supply pipes back down the hill.

As we left the Sanctuary we noticed a number of Orchids growing on a tree:


It was a lovely spot but we didn't fancy doing the whole thing again the following day so requested birding around the Kewzing area.  That evening the food improved too as they fed us their own dishes including spicy dumplings.

The following day we did some birding around the area and spent the afternoon sat on our porch spotting the birds that visited the working garden.   We saw loads and thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing time around the property.

Species included Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher:


Grey-winged Blackbird:



and a female:


females only of the Dark-breasted Rosefinch:



Large Niltava:


and female:


Red-billed Leothrix:



Scarlet Minivet:






Small Niltava:



No idea what kind of tree this is but it was amazing seeing so many Azalea, Rhododendron, Magnolia and other species flowering the forest at this altitude:



The following morning it turned out is celebrated as Buddha's birthday.  It was a crisp and clear morning and for the first time we could see the Himalayan Mountains clearly.   We were advised to walk up to the Buddhist Monastery at the top of the local hill as they apparently have a shed from which you get a better view.   We walked through the prayer flags fluttering in the breeze:



And could indeed see the mountains through a light haze.


It being a major holy day the temple was in full swing with prayer, offerings, a small march, ladies and monks dressed in finery.   It felt odd to among the worshippers but they were quite happy for us to head up to the wall on top of the temple for the view.   Then it was time to head on to our second destination in Sikkim, Yuksam.

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