I had to tear myself away from this beautiful place and continue the trek. The days’ trek was promised to be all descent and through the thick Singalila forest. I was more than excited about what lay ahead. The route to Kalipokhri was mostly bamboo forests, peppered with magnolia trees and occasional dark red rhododendrons, the flowers scattered on the path making it a special red-carpeted forest floor. Quickly descending down these trails, my attention was caught by a bird call-a harsh raspy far sounding Kraaak…Kraak… at short intervals. I gazed back to sight a crow-sized bird perched behind a bare tree, hidden between the branches it’s a Spotted Nutcracker. The bird hopped and called on, while I moved ahead.
Dark red rhododendrons – Special red-carpeted forest floor
A host of small birds were flying across the giant silver oaks and were too quick to make out on the move. Very curiously, I saw a bird peeping from behind a tree and flying off… as if playing peek a boo. Slowly it moved out into a clearing, it was the White-browed Fulvetta, a resident in this region, identified by the chestnut brown crown, the broad white supercilium black and grey panels in the wings. On an adjacent branch were a busy lot of Rufous-vented Yuhinas, all looking dapper with their grey crest and rufous nape patch briskly hopping between branches feasting on the pollens? A burst of crimson was in flight in the alpine shrubbery. It was the Fire-tailed Sunbird, darting with a dzi…dzi…dzi…dzi… between flowers looking utterly resplendent.
White Browed Fulvetta
I was in overwhelmed by the huge oaks and silver firs and the life they sustained, their arms spread wide in welcome. Here u could see a Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch busily swirling around its branches and, there, a steady hammering on the trunk, was a Darjeeling woodpecker furiously chipping away at the trunk. It was late afternoon and finally reached Gorkhey, a veritable paradise on earth…and I could just stand there and gape at such beauty. My reverie was soon broken by a ti ti ti of the cutest and impish Rufous -Gorgeted flycatcher sitting on a stump in the middle of the terraced fields.
Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch
The village was the most idyllic and the most colourful of birds flew around mindless of the human habitation, feeding off the canals and the cultivated fields…flocks of Oriental Turtle doves, a pair of Verditers Flycatcher, two pairs of scarlet minivets, plumbeous redstarts, streaked laughing thrush, grey wagtails. The sunset on this beautiful village, a day away from the end of our trek and it rained the whole night as we were safely tucked into a nice warm tea house overlooking the River Gorkhey. Across the other bank of which was Sikkim and I made sure I stepped into that state too.
Oriental Turtle Dove
The penultimate day of our journey had begun. The rain lashed relentlessly, my cameras were packed up and I briskly completed my trek ahead of the group, much to the relief and astonishment of my guide, who was used to me endlessly lagging behind with my birding and photography.
We spent the evening in glum contentment of having successfully completed the entire trek. And I was on top of the world looking through my camera pictures, the range of birds and experiences I had gathered. The evening was spent with songs and music, hot momos, and drying our gear in the fireplace at the lodge and reminiscing our trek.
The next thing to do was head to the airport and home. The sunrise was glorious and a befitting closure to the trek. I jumped into the TATA Nexon for another 6hr drive to Bagdogra. The route was scenic and the driver was insanely rushing through the hairpin bends. I was half asleep, and gazing at the rains out of the window, and, out of habit gazing now and then at every passing tree for any bird like object.
Suddenly I jumped up and asked my driver to stop, he screeched the vehicle to a halt down the road, a bit startled and annoyed, but I was already off the vehicle, running toward a pine tree, gaping at the unbelievable sight of the Common Green Magpie as it hopped in and out of sight, all in a flash.
I got back in the car, so excited to be able to witness this perfect gift of nature. My heart filled with gratitude for this opportunity to see such tremendous creations, and once more, I told myself, I was glad to be alive to all this. And I headed home.
Now when I look back and am sure that John Muir was not exaggerating when he said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”. – Photos and Essay by Sripriya Rajan
With this ‘A Walk in the Woods – Himalayan Trek Series Ends.