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Old 30th March 2013, 07:35   #1
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Default Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Hello respected Members and friends,
This is a long long over due trip report of a place that is mystical, yet seldom spoken about, hidden yet known, reachable yet a bit risky.
Borong, is a small peaceful hamlet which is a forty five minutes drive from Rabongla in Sikkim.

The cottage we stay in since 2010.
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On the way to Borong, Sikkim, my early days.
Off Topic: The tripod here is cheap(5k) yet very heavy and sturdy,
did not have enough cash to spare for a professional one then.
Ultimately this saved me 20k on the ball head, 10k more on flash brackets etc.
As I upgraded to a Gitzo, improvised parts of this old tripod on the Gitzo. It works like a charm.

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How I found it?
With birding sites, areas getting infested by so many over enthusiastic bird photographers,
people who run after birds to get a "shot", I started
looking for alternatives, places where I could just stand and watch in peace.

I love to watch a single bird and its behaviour rather than a whole list of them.
After Google-ing for days, zeroed down to Maenam Santuary which is just around 2 kms from Rabongla.

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The Map
There are two ways of reaching this place, both are through very dense forest at times. Both routes are 150km approx.
I personally prefer route 2.

Route 1: Via Sevoke road on NH 31A,
Melli checkpost (have to take a right from main road, NH 31A, to come up on the bridge at the end of which is the check post) ,
Kitam Bird Santuary (lovely roads)
Namchi (town), Damthang (village), Rabongla and then to Borong.

Route 2: Via Sevoke road on NH 31A, move straight ahead on NH 31A and not taking the right for Melli.
Cross Rangpo, travel ahead and take a left from Singtam.
Travel ahead to Rabongla through some dense forest and then to Borong.

A word of caution for first timers, please do not take either of the routes after 6pm, might not find anyone to ask for directions.
There are a lot of diversions at Namchi on route 1 and a tricky diversion at Singtam in route 2.

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The first time
On a lovely day of Gandhiji's birthday, 2010, we drove down from Kolkata to Rabongla.
This journey takes around 18 hrs if made non stop but for first timers, as I did it too, halt at Siliguri.

Fresh and fine in the morning of 3rd Oct at 5am, we started for Rabongla.
It was all cool as long we were on NH31A but after crossing Singtam the thrill begins.
Those days, there were hardly any roads, plain stones and gravel, steep ascents,
descents, land slides, they were all there.

Reaching Rabangla at 2 in the afternoon, we found our way to Mt. Narsing resort.
A piping hot lunch tasted even better with
the sightings of Blue-Fronted Redstart, Great Barbet and Grey Wagtail.

Mt. Narshing Resort, Rabangla, Sikkim
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Blue-Fronted Redstart
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Large Niltava
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Later in the day, enquiring about the way to Maenam Santuary and its trekking route,
we came across a narrow broken road that leads to Borong.
With still an hour left for sunset, we started driving to this new found place. The scenery starts to change.
Wild flowers blossomed everywhere, all along the road side.

But this is a risky road infested with land slides. Since it was not a high traffic zone, there was hardly any maintenance.
Boulders, fallen tree trunks, steep declines, it was all there and it tested all my years of driving experience.
( 2013 - the road condition has improved due to an upcoming monastery, one of the largest in Sikkim with a Buddha statue around 15 stories tall)

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Around sunset and in drizzle we reached Borong. There were hardly any houses then.
Moving ahead we came to a halt in front of Wild Flower Retreat, a small, very small resort with 4 cottages.
The caretaker, Dhananjoy, a boy around the age of 22 then came out to greet us.
Asking him about bird sightings here, he asked us to come and stay here saying, "Sir, you won't regret".

Sunset from Borong, Sikkim
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Waiting for the shot, this part is tricky for me.
There are trees all around but I always choose a particular branch of a particular tree for a smooth background.
Highlights or distracting elements in a frame is a complete no for me.
So will adjust my position and wait for the subject to sit on that location .

Birds may sit everywhere on that tree except that branch or else everywhere on other trees
for the whole day and I might not get a single shot.
Only if the bird sits on that branch which gives me the perfect frame, I lock focus and click.

This is why a trip to Borong gives me only two to three keepers.

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Birds are generally active early mornings and late evenings(seldom in these areas).
Rest of the time is just gaping at nature and see the clouds and Sun pass by.

Two persons have always accompanied me for my trips since the year 2000.
One can drive, the other can't but none of them are either interested in photography or birds. Why do they come with me?
Just for the love of nature, the freedom, the cold fresh air and Cooking, sitting in heaven and not a single car to pass by.

So much so, we have a icebox that can house chicken to last for a week.
All rations are brought along, from the finest basmati rice to vegetables, oil, masalas, chicken, mutton and maggi too.
All menus gets planned months in advance.

But somewhere down the line, the cooking goes for a six.
Three of us become chefs, each running down their own versions of making the tastiest chicken tandoori or curry.
What ever it is, the atmosphere is fantastic. Silence is either broken by bird calls or our disagreement to a style of cooking.

A honest confession, I don't drink in the city but neither do I drink water when sitting idle in the afternoons and evenings
when in this part of the world.

Main cook, Monojit Das
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Manager F&B when on trip, Abhijit Chakraborty.
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I am not a heard core Birder, the long list of sightings does not matter to me.
Its the photography aspect that matters, creating art through photography gets me going.

Since then till now in 2013, I have been visiting Borong, sometimes three to four times a year.
Just love the birds there, Mrs Gould's Sunbird being the special attraction.

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The resort and its surrounding areas are filled with rhododendron flowers.
Special mention to another plant known as Cestrum Elegance,
the plant bears a flower which turns to a cherry like fruit.

Sunbirds just love the nectar in these flowers and they hover for a few seconds to feed on this.
When the flower turns into cherry like fruit, then comes the Yuhinas and the Grosbeaks.

Striped-Throated Yuhina on rhododendron.
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The road to Borong has now improved with considerable maintenance,
though there were times when my car got stuck for several hours caught in a land slide.
The resort has grown over the years and can house quiet a number of people now.
Accommodation standards have improved a lot, so is the fooding.

But I still drive down from Kolkata to this heavenly piece of land, cook our own food
and stare at the birds.

Will update with time how the birds of Borong make me grow as a photographer and win
a few awards at the national and international circles.

Art with Mrs Gould's sunbird.

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Very slow shutter speed of 1/60, F5.6 creating the motion blurr.
Fire-Tailed Sunbird, these birds should be 4-7 inches in length, plant Cestrum Elegance

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Last edited by Rudra Sen : 4th April 2013 at 16:00.
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Old 2nd April 2013, 16:07   #2
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Note from Mod : Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing
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Old 2nd April 2013, 16:15   #3
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

These are just beautiful. Oh, how I envy you. Please do keep the pictures coming
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Old 2nd April 2013, 16:20   #4
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Superb photos and and a wonderful location, you have found, himadrimondal.

Thanks a lot for sharing!
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Old 2nd April 2013, 16:52   #5
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Awesome Pictures and Great Location!!
I liked your Cottage Pic with that dark clouded valley in the background.

Thanks for letting us know about Borong.
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Old 2nd April 2013, 17:11   #6
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

To simply pass off the pictures in your travelogue as "mind blowing" just would not do justice. Splendid photography with vivid color balance and contrast.

I would have loved to ask you several questions to know more on how you took those spellbinding photographs. However, for now, I shall stick to just one - how far was the Fire-Tailed Sunbird away from your lens?
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Old 2nd April 2013, 18:17   #7
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Awesome is the word. The place, the setting and of course the prize!
Very nice indeed.
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Old 3rd April 2013, 11:04   #8
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Beautiful pics Himadri! Some more details on your gear please as well! Absolutely loved your photo of Mrs Gould's Sunbird. Its as good as having our own Indian Bird of Paradise, in my opinion
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Old 3rd April 2013, 12:01   #9
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Awesome pics Himadri! As a birder, I know how satisfying it is to be able to do some serious bird-watching in solitude and at your own pace, without being surrounded/disturbed by pesky so-called "wildlife" photographers, who are more interested in getting the perfect shot, clean background etc rather than the simple pleasure of watching the beautiful creatures. Looking forward to more on your experiences in this beautiful place!
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Old 3rd April 2013, 12:39   #10
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Quote:
Originally Posted by SafeDrive View Post
These are just beautiful. Oh, how I envy you. Please do keep the pictures coming
Thanks SafeDrive for liking and time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HappyWheels View Post
Superb photos and and a wonderful location, you have found, himadrimondal.
HappyWheels, I too consider myself lucky.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vidyanand View Post
Awesome Pictures and Great Location!!
I liked your Cottage Pic with that dark clouded valley in the background.
Thanks for letting us know about Borong.
Its indeed a fantastic location, the cottage is like my second home.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ampere View Post
Awesome is the word. The place, the setting and of course the prize!
Very nice indeed.
Thanks Ampere

Quote:
Originally Posted by crazydave View Post
Beautiful pics Himadri! Some more details on your gear please as well! Absolutely loved your photo of Mrs Gould's Sunbird. Its as good as having our own Indian Bird of Paradise, in my opinion
Crazydave, thanks for the comments.
I have developed my gear with time.

1. Initially it was a Nikon D70s, Sigma 150-500.
2. Then D70s with Nikon 500mm F4, TC14EII and a basic tripod.
3. After two years, Nikon D300s as addition.
4. Two years later, Gitzo 3530LS tripod with improvised ball head of the previous tripod.
5. Two years later, SB900 flash, SC-29 TTL cord, FX-6 Flash X-Tender and a personally built flash bracket.
6. One year later Lowepro Pro Trekker 600 AW.
It was of great difficulty carrying all this equipment and trek with my hand built backpack.

Old Bagpack - I made it with the help of a tailor. Cost: Rs900
The equipments lying outside had to be carried in another bag
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New bag - Lowepro Pro Trekker 600 AW. Cost: Rs22,000/-
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shomshree View Post
I would have loved to ask you several questions to know more on how you took those spellbinding photographs. However, for now, I shall stick to just one - how far was the Fire-Tailed Sunbird away from your lens?
Shom, you are free to ask me as may questions you feel like, hope I have the knowledge to answer them.
My shooting distance in case of these small 4-5 inches birds never exceeds 20 feet. The fire-tailed was withing 20 ft.

Most of my shots are pre-fixed.
The perch or a flower is pre decided.
Focus on the flower or perch, even before the subject arrives, to save time.
Many a times I have waited all day but the subject has not arrived.

This shot for instance and a similar one above took me 3 days of waiting as this was the only branch
which gave me the perfect background.

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But I never required all these upgrade until I visited Borong.
From point no 4 to 6 (see above, before the bag photos), all these were bought to meet up with the challenges Borong offered me.
My preparation started giving me results.

Fire-Tailed Sunbird in Borong, flight time, a max of, 2-3 seconds for flowers where it cannot sit have have nectar.
This frame looks too good to be true, always fetches me honour mentions, not an award yet.

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Mrs Gould Sunbird, this frame gave ma a lot of awards.

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Whiskered Yuhina

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Enroute Borong I took this photograph, I myself cannot make a second copy of this.

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Old 3rd April 2013, 13:56   #11
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Vow!! No words really. And appreciate your passion too

That's a lovely place you have thrown open to us. Hope it remains as pristine in future too
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Old 3rd April 2013, 14:52   #12
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this is just awesome. The quality of your pics could easily win you some natur photography awards. Seriously consider these!

Regards
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Old 3rd April 2013, 16:16   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by himadrimondal View Post
Shom, you are free to ask me as may questions you feel like, hope I have the knowledge to answer them.
My shooting distance in case of these small 4-5 inches birds never exceeds 20 feet. The fire-tailed was withing 20 ft.

Most of my shots are pre-fixed.
The perch or a flower is pre decided.
Focus on the flower or perch, even before the subject arrives, to save time.
Many a times I have waited all day but the subject has not arrived.

This shot for instance and a similar one above took me 3 days of waiting as this was the only branch
which gave me the perfect background.
You have already answered my next query , so really wants to say thanks. This all photographs are truly award winning photographs. Waiting for more such beautiful snaps.
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Old 3rd April 2013, 17:57   #14
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Hi Himadrimondal,

All your pictures were truely award winning and feast to the eyes. I also love nature photography. I have to buy telephoto lens for similar type of photography, what do you suggest best buy. Here in Jeddah, I have
Nikon D7000 camera with 70-105mm lens, I want to add 70-300 mm telephoto lens for birds, nature phography. Nikkor lenses of above specs. were very expensive. Tomron or Sigma were cost about SR. 600/= approx. What do you suggest Tomron or Sigma is will give this type result
as you have taken.

Look forward to see more of your creative photography.

Cheers!
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Old 4th April 2013, 09:35   #15
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Default re: Mystical Borong - A Birder's Paradise

Wow!! Amazing photos Some of the best I have seen taken here in India I must say. Your patience and technique to capture these little things are laudable. Is there a place where I can see these photos in bigger resolutions?
Loved the last one you posted with the bird looking at the passing-by insect. It's a keeper. THe background has made all the difference to bring out the colours of the bird and the insect. Cheers.
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