“In order to see the birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence” – Robert Lynd
We had set off early morning from Chennai, South India and reached Bagdogra close to the afternoon. A slow drizzle began, and we had to hurry on, for a long 5-6 hour drive to Maneybhajang. I felt the familiar tinge of excitement and anticipation as I caught the first whiff of the crisp cold mountain air at a tea break at the hill station Mirik. The destination of the trek was Sandakphu, to view the majestic tapestry of the Himalayan peaks…but what I looked forward to all the more, was the promised beauty of trekking through one of the most lush and varied terrains of India.. the rolling hills, steep ridges, quaint villages, endless meadows, snow-lined pathways, bamboo , silver oaks and pine forests and the breathtaking burst of blooming rhododendrons and magnolias in the Singalila National Forest, West Bengal.
Eurasian Collared Dove
Utterly famished, we stopped at a highway roadside eatery to grab some food. A bit refreshed, I walked back to our TATA Nexon only to hear a high pitched musical cry of a bird somewhere. Sitting on the high tension wires were a pair of Asian Pied Starlings also called Pied Myna, with their backs to one another, as if after a small spat. I was glad my birding spree had begun. Across the highway, in the open dry countryside, were a flock of Eurasian Collared Doves foraging, recognizable by their sandy colour and thin black half collar.
It was a late evening that we reached Maneybhajang and we met our affable and energetic guides Nimu Sherpa and Ram. Exhaustion crept up on us after a long days journey, and we were soon tucked in and fast asleep.
Next morning, I was woken early up by a loud chorus of twittering filling up the air, and I gazed out of the room to the sleepy town, crisscrossed by a mangle of wires and cables. Congregating and gregariously tweeting on these wires were groups of Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows, gliding in and out of windows and balconies of tightly packed houses and grooming themselves..their beautiful electric blue coats shimmering in the warm morning sunlight.
Scaly Laughing Thrush
There was a chill to the air that didn’t even spare the rock pigeon puffed up on a rooftop. It was time to start the trek. Armed with supplies in the day pack, I ambled on. Our IDs were checked and payments for the entry and cameras were duly made at the forest checkpoint and the trek was officially on. After the first few twists of the road, we soon got off into a dirt track. Not too long before I heard a short churring and saw some movement in the shrubbery ahead, and in a blip, a Scaly Laughing Thrush made its brief appearance and scurried back quickly.
Bar Throated Siva
The air was thick with fog, the climb was getting steeper, and I stopped to catch my breath in between. In sync with my short breath, I heard a raspy tsee-tsee in the nearby forest undergrowth. A whirr of yellowish green flew past me and settled on the thicket ahead. It was a delightfully vibrant pair of Bar throated Siva flitting around and merrily swaying on the branches.
The visibility was getting lower, and, my guide gently enticed me with the thought of hot lemon tea ahead. I briskly walked up to the next tea house and gorged upon my snacks. A bunch of returning European trekkers warned me of the inclement weather at higher altitudes. It was already raining and snowing intermittently so far…TO BE CONTINUED (1 of 3)
Photos and essay by Sripriya Rajan