ASSAM AND DARJEELING
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Join us on this journey from the grasslands of north-east India, with its abundant mammals and open country birds, through the tea plantations of north Bengal to the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. After a morning’s birding at Deepor Beel, Guwahati’s famous wetland with its endangered Greater Adjutant Storks, we will drive west to the grasslands of Manas. Regarded by many as India’s most beautiful national park, we will hope to see floricans and rhinos, amongst other less iconic species. Further west still, we stop for one night at a lovely lodge at Gorumara, before ascending to the hill station of Lava. This is a great place to find a plethora of Himalayan forest birds, Minivets, yuhinas, sibias, barwings, rosefinch, sunbirds and parrotbills. Finally we will drive to the ‘Queen of the Hills’, Darjeeling. Overlooked by the world’s third highest mountain, the hustle and bustle of Darjeeling is in stark contrast to the rest of the tour, while the quaint Cedar Inn Hotel takes you back to a bygone era.
We will start with an overnight flight to Delhi, followed by a connection to Guwahati, the capital of Assam. After the long journey it is good to know that our very comfortable hotel is just 15 minutes away. The next morning we will visit Deepor Beel, a shallow lake just outside town. This Ramsar Site is one of the best places in the world to see the endangered Greater Adjutant, a huge stork which stands almost as tall as a man! Lesser Adjutant and Asian Openbill are found here too, alongside a multitude of species including Lesser and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Ruddy Shelduck, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Garganey, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Purple Gallinule, Grey-headed Lapwing, Citrine Wagtail, Rosy Pipit, Grey-backed Shrike and Striated Grassbird. Later in the day we will drive to Manas National Park, our home for the following five nights.
MANAS NATIONAL PARK
Against a backdrop of Bhutan’s Himalayan foothills, the grasslands and forest of Manas are often described as the most beautiful of all India’s national parks. Our time here will be split between jeep safaris and birding on foot, something which is not allowed in the more well known and much busier Kaziranga. First and foremost we hope to find the remarkable Bengal Florican, a rare species that finds the habitat in the park to its liking. Males should be starting their display at the time of our visit, and can also be watched strutting through the grass in typical bustard fashion. Grassland is one of the most endangered habitats on the subcontinent, and consequently many of its inhabitants are very localised. Early morning is the key to seeing some of the special birds, but luckily our hotel is close to some of the best areas, where we will look for the recently split Chinese Rubythroat, Rufous-rumped Grassbird, Chestnut-capped Babbler and Slender-billed Babbler. More widespread species in this habitat include Indian Peafowl, Black Francolin, Red Junglefowl, Red Turtle Dove, Pied Harrier, Indochinese Roller and Bluethroat.
In the forest there are Pin-tailed Green-pigeon, Crested Serpent-eagle, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Great Hornbill, Blue-eared Barbet, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Rosy Minivet, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush and Green Magpie, while along the river we might come across Small Pratincole and Pallas’s Fish-eagle. At dusk Large-tailed Nightjar and Savanna Nightjar appear seemingly from nowhere, while Brown Hawk-owl and Asian Barred Owlet can also be found. Manas is also famous for its mammals, being a particularly good place to see Asian Elephant, Water Buffalo and Gaur. Indian One-horned Rhinoceros numbers are on the increase, while two primates are also noteworthy. The smart Capped Langur is easy to find inside the park, while the Golden Langur, an endangered species described to science as recently as 1956, can be found nearby.
After five days at Manas we will head west, entering the northern part of the state of West Bengal. We will have one night at the lovely Riverwood Forest Retreat, with its abundant birdlife in the gardens and surrounding area. Many of the species here are shared with Manas, such as Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Blue-throated Barbet, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Taiga Flycatcher and Black-hooded Oriole, but we can expect a few new species including Tickell’s Leaf-warbler and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. After a morning’s birding here we will then start heading up into the hills.
LAVA AND THE NEORA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Sitting on a ridge at 7000 feet, the small hill station of Lava has long attracted visitors hoping to get away from the heat of the lowlands. Hillsides cloaked in oak-rhododendron forest stretch away to the horizon. Our home for the next three nights is the stunningly located Neora Valley Jungle Lodge.
Mixed species flocks are the keynote of these forests and, in the right areas, they come thick and fast. Wave after wave of birds pass the observer, mostly at or below eye level. The most visible species are the Rufous Sibia and Whiskered Yuhina, large flocks of which are a regular sight. With these are swarms of White-browed and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Striated Bulbul, Buff-barred, Ashy-throated and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Bar-throated and Red-tailed Minlas, Brown Parrotbill, Striated Laughingthrush, Red-billed Leiothrix, Scarlet Finch, Golden Babbler and perhaps a scarce Yellow-throated Fulvetta. Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush can be watched searching through the leaf litter, sometimes alongside White-collared Blackbirds.
Flowering and fruiting trees attract Golden-throated Barbet, Mountain Bulbul and Fire-tailed Sunbird. Along forest tracks we should come across Spotted Forktail, Blue-fronted Redstart, Collared Owlet, Maroon-backed and Rufous-breasted Accentors and Himalayan Red-flanked Bluetail, the adult males being one of the most stunning birds in the forest. Skulkers may include Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler, Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler and Rufous-throated Wren-babbler. Even in the garden of our lodge it is often possible to find Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher, Large Niltava, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Short-billed Minivet, Dark-breasted Rosefinch and Red-headed Bullfinch. There are many more species here that we could list; suffice it to say that we will be kept rather busy!
On day 12 we will drive further west to what is, perhaps, the best known of all the British Raj hill stations, Darjeeling. Tea plantations surround this fascinating town, with its ornately decorated buildings and famous ‘toy train’. Our hotel, the Cedar Inn Hotel, is one such building, adorned with much original furniture and decorated with faded pictures of the Planters’ Club hanging on the walls. Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak, sits imposingly in the distance.
We are here to look for birds, and a drive to the edge of Singalila National Park will bring us to a rich area of magnolia and rhododendron forest where we will look for Hill Partridge, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-throated Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Blyth’s Leaf-warbler, Black-faced Warbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Chestnut-winged Shrike-babbler, Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Black-throated Tit, Sikkim Treecreeper, Green Magpie, Gold-naped Finch and Russet Sparrow.
There will be time to visit the vibrant Chowrasta, Darjeeling’s main square with its panoramic views, rickety old shops and tea stalls. We can arrange for you to travel a stop or two on the ‘toy train’, a narrow gauge railway that was built to bring people here at the end of the nineteenth century, and is still used by many for their daily commute. The sight of the Glasgow-built steam engines hauling carriages up these Himalayan slopes, with the accompanying sound and smell takes one back to a time long since past.
Finally, on day 14, we will drive from Darjeeling to Bagdogra and take a flight to Delhi. Our last night in India will be spent near Delhi airport, before taking a daytime flight back home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
At lower elevations it is normally hot and dry. Higher up it is normally cold in the morning but, as the sun comes up, it is very pleasant. Rain is a possibility, but is unpredictable. Early to rise and early to bed is the norm and this fits in well with the best birding times. Despite being in the Himalayas, there is very little uphill walking. However, the hotel at Lava has a series of steps between the car park and rooms. In the mountains the birding is done at an altitude below 7000 feet.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with one night at the Radisson Blu, Guwahati, five nights at the Musa Resort, Manas, one night at the Riverwood Retreat, Gorumara, three nights at the Neora Valley Lodge, Lava, two nights at the Cedar Inn, Darjeeling and one night at the Atrio Hotel near Delhi airport. All hotels are of a good standard and all rooms have an en suite bathroom. Packed lunches will be taken some days, but mostly we will have lunch at the hotels. We can only offer two single rooms on this tour (limited en suite accommodation at Neora), on a first come first served basis.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with Bird Holidays leader and expert local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 11th, ending with breakfast on 24th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, transport throughout by people carriers, all safari activities, cultural visits, ‘toy train’ ticket, reserve entrance fees, domestic flights and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Cost of obtaining an Indian visa (approx. £40). Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry. Please note: the Indian authorities have now introduced the eTV, a vastly simplified tourist visa scheme, saving us all time and money.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Delhi, using the scheduled services of Jet Airways. Outbound flight departs mid-evening, return flight arrives back late afternoon. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
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