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Old 24th January 2023, 07:35   #1
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Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

“There! Is that it?” I asked, craning over Sourabha’s shoulder, hoping I had just seen Mount Everest.

A nebulous snowy spike rose far over the sky horizon, piercing the endless expanse of cloud: like an iceberg over a sheet of ice, an Arctic mirage 12 kilometres above the sea.

“Are you sure that’s even a mountain and not just another cloud?” she replied, binoculars in hand.

I squinted out the ovoid window through the haze from the seat we had purchased for just this moment. I couldn’t tell and the captain said nothing over the in-flight announcement.

I took a picture with my SLR and tele lens. The LCD was just a haze.

Moments later, the plane dove under the layer of clouds. And the plan had just fallen off a cliff.

---

That plan had begun taking shape some three months earlier, when I was choosing the destination for my next spring birding trip in the Himalaya, after the eventful self-drive trip to Chopta (Uttarakhand in an Asthmatic Ertiga) the previous year.

For there’s only one thing I like more than the combination of brownie and Americano, and no, it’s not TSI and DSG.

It’s the unmatchable allure of Himalayan mountains and birds that I can never pass up – not even for a plate of neer dosé and ghee roast; or paratha and pickle, if your northern palate is the more vulnerable.

There is something unutterably exciting about setting off in pursuit of small birds in the lap of big mountains. And this time, I was looking eastward.

Initially keen to visit Arunachal’s Mishmi Hills, which had remained on my wishlist for long, I was dissuaded from the choice after BHPan @robimahanta apprised me of some ongoing disruption in the region.

And then as I was mentally thumbing through my options, it hit me all of a sudden, like dopamine hitting a sweet-tooth at the first contact with a jalebi. And my mind interjected, Sandakphew!

I had fed on a regular diet of Sandakphu drive reports on Team-BHP, Phalut trek reviews on Indiahikes, sunsets over a miles-across mattress of cotton-tuft clouds, red pandas on the forests of the Singalila ridge and even Land Rover’s film on the vintage Landies of Manebhanjan.

Yet, it was only now that I pieced it all together.

To have Everest on one side, and Kanchenjunga on the other? While fondling the sights of Satyr tragopans, blooming rhododendrons and comely red pandas? What infernal force stopped this from occurring to me before?

It was a case of bingeing concurrently on a cinnamon brûlée, a raspberry pavlova, and a chai latte honey mousse. Singalila National Park was where we ought to go, to have our cake and eat it too.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1910.jpg

Sourabha seated by by the airplane window all set to see Everest.


I dialled up my friend S, who runs a company that operates both group and personalised tours, predominantly in the Northeast. I had last met him in Manas in 2019.

Having been a professional tour leader myself (for wildlife photography) and at the receiving end of some ludicrous demands, I was careful to rein in my zeal and avoid sounding like a restaurant patron placing an order for a three-course meal, and instead pitched my desires like items on a wishlist whose realisation I would dearly relish.

“You’re planning for April?” asked S. There was a discomfiting pause, during which I thought my idea had landed on the wrong side of reason.

“Why, it’s the perfect time!” he rejoined, shattering the ice. “As you’d know, the rhodos will be flowering, the birds will be breeding…”

“...and the mountains will be towering?” I chimed in with hopeful nervousness.

“Of course!” he exulted fulsomely, to my relief.

I told him I wanted to see Kanchenjunga and Everest as ardently as fulvettas and laughingthrushes. I could see my vision turn pink even as I uttered those sweet words in the same breath.

He said it wouldn’t be a problem, as one clear morning was all we needed.

That didn’t seem unrealistic over the course of a week in spring. In fact, it sounded most sanguine. Could spotting a mountain be more difficult than prying out tiny birds from the undergrowth? I mean, rain can wash away a molehill. But a mountain…

I looked up the weather, and although rain was forecast for around then, I found a week that was pegged to be clear. In any case, I thought, being in the hills in the Northeast in spring meant some rain was almost inevitable. But S’s words were the clincher: one clear morning is all we need.

Sourabha’s friends, Archana and Pooja (names changed), said they’d join too. So payments were made and bookings secured pronto. The plan was set. Even the cloud of covid had ceased casting a shadow on sparkling travel dreams. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, it was still February, and to grease the agonising countdown to the trip (for the weight of a wait is the heaviest for the pining heart to lift), I began looking up material on Singalila.

The first I found was a blog by my old photography-friend V. Krishnan, in which he chronicled visiting in November or December and enjoying magnificent mountain views, but concluding that spring would be way better for bird activity. This was reassuring.

Less assuringly, though, I found another blog by a birding enthusiast from the UK, who had documented her struggles with rain throughout the duration of her trip in April. It seems even clear mornings in Singalila were beset by terribly whimsical afternoons.

But surely, that was then and this was now. In any case, even a sustained stint of rain couldn’t obscure the mountains forever, could it?

Little did I know that it wasn’t exactly rain I had to worry about, but something rather more subtle.

And that more often than not, in the Himalaya as in life, it’s the invisible force that stands in the way of the desired object.

Last edited by BackstraightBoy : 24th January 2023 at 14:42.
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Old 24th January 2023, 08:00   #2
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Finding Our Shangri-La in Singalila

Day 1: Bagdogra to Tumling (2970 m) via Manebhanjan (1928 m)

Landing at Bagdogra, we were first to be ferried to Manebhanjan (Maneybhanjyang), the land of the ancient Land Rovers, the gateway to Singalila and the last town accessible by a 2WD vehicle (unless you’re Sirish Chandran), from where we were to change over to a 4WD Bolero for our ascent to our first camp, Tumling. I’d have loved to use one of those legacy Land Rovers, but S had advised that Boleros were more robust and reliable.

In sharp contrast to the truant self-drive rental vehicle in Dehradun two years before, as readers of that account will probably recall, we found our cab promptly waiting for us at the arrival gate. If we thought that was half the battle won, we didn’t know the quarter of it.

For the mists of uncertainty were replaced this time by something far less allegorical: fog. Miles of it. Portentously plentiful.

Cleaving through it all, Samson, our chauffeur, ferried our quartet in his white Scorpio steadily towards the mountains, past paddy fields, iron bridges and tea-estates.

Soon we reached Mirik for a stop at the Golpahar Viewpoint Tea Shop. Straddling a curve in the narrow road directly overlooking a tea estate, this unremarkable building was an oasis of cosiness bustling with tourist activity.

After a quick lunch of Chinese cuisine in the basement-level restaurant, we surfaced to the tea bar. From behind a counter swarmed by patrons, a lady dispensed mint-fresh tea brewed apparently using leaves plucked literally from their backyard, in shapely glass cups that fully flaunted its enticing hue.

But while we sipped the precious warmth from the translucent beverage, the many trinkets on sale made a vivid landing before our ‘whitewashed’ eyes.

Chief of these were the prettiest teapots, kettles and cups we had seen anywhere; apart from ornate hand mirrors, quaint combs and knives, little metal prayer-wheels in gold, silver and bronze finishes, and sundry other keepsakes.

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1941.jpg

It was already well past noon, and alarmed by the languorous ardour with which we were shopping for everything we didn’t need, Samson bade us hurry, for the check-post at Manebhanjan shuts to traffic at 14:00.

We grabbed all we could in our bags already bursting at the seams with warm clothing. Then, it was off to the races.

Some 90 minutes later, a narrow street choked with Boleros and Land Rovers abruptly took us into its midst, and we knew we were there.

It wasn’t just misty now. It was raining.

Fighting the inertia imposed by the cold weather and my cosy chair, I stepped out of our Scorpio to meet my bird guide, Batsa Sherpa and the Bolero driver, Martin (names changed).

Pleasantries exchanged, Batsa ushered me pronto to complete the entry formalities with an official who sat on a metal chair under a metal roof that muttered from the drizzle. Meanwhile, Samson and Martin transferred all our baggage to the Bolero.

All done, we tucked ourselves in. With the three ladies sitting at the back, I slotted in between the two gents, where the captain seat should be. And off we went.

“What’s with the weather?” I asked Batsa, where normally I’d have grilled him about the birding first.

“A mystery,” he declared. “Never seen this in the beginning of April. Been like this since yesterday. Let’s hope it improves.”

But hope needs a little sunshine and space to spring, neither of which we had.

The very road before us was barely visible from my ringside perch, as Martin wiggled our laden steed up the twisties with the fluidity of a mid-swim serpent, marshalling the brute on those precipitous slopes with the nonchalance of a town traffic amble in an Alto.

Summarily I felt my choice of seat justified, as wedged cheek-by-jowl between two men, I was at least spared the ungainly yo-yo as we ascended, circuitously, ever higher towards the heavens.

With the mist and the clouds (which were now indistinguishable) lending the road a distinct feel of the ethereal, at any moment now I fully expected to fly past a god recumbent on a throne enjoying cloud-based services.

The god I really wanted to see, though, was the Sleeping Buddha, but of that there was not a question, when a glimpse of even the road culvert was a luxury.

Some 30 minutes later, we slowed to a crawl, took a steep hairpin to the left descending to a rocky dirt-road, and noisily squeaked to a halt outside a stately-looking building on a steeply raked slope. We had reached Nepal.

Wait, where?

Since the Singalila ridge marks the border between India to the east and Nepal to the west (left of the ridge road, as we climb up), and most or all of the lodges are on the left, we were to stay in Nepal throughout the trip!

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1969.jpg

Shikhar Lodge in the rain and mist

This sort of freedom to sleep in one country and walk in another, and insouciantly amble across the border with the impunity of a goosander, is a rare privilege in the subcontinent, and we felt fortunate to enjoy it.

The check-in to Shikhar Lodge was swift, and within minutes we were in a first-floor wood-cabin suite of two carpet-floored rooms connected by a meeting hall that contained a couple of diwans and chairs.

A tea-table stood by the only window that opened to the dirt road, framed by a frilled curtain adorned with a floral print.

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1099.jpg

With the weather being unyielding, Batsa suggested we just dig our heels in for a bit and we shall see how things shape up. Accordingly we requested a round of tea, and as I walked to the end of the balcony to look at a rhododendron tree just behind the building in full bloom, I spotted a lifer: a white-collared blackbird brooding in the murky whiteness, perched perfectly for a portrait.

Gulping back my excitement, I tiptoed backwards to the room to grab my camera and lens. But as happens unfailingly in these circumstances, the bird had left the perch when I returned.

In the wild, especially in the forests of the Northeast, opportunity is a shooting star: if you’re not ready when it appears, you’re too late.

Some two hours later, after idle chats and lunch had exhausted their utility, the weather had improved not a little. But with our itchy feet, usually impervious to reason and external circumstance, pressing their demand for expression, we dressed ourselves up to the follicles and stepped out.

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1957.jpg

A Bolero inscribed with a curious piece of local wisdom outside our lodge.

To say it was frosty was to put it warmly. Visibility was perhaps 30 metres. On the ridge road the first of countless Land Rovers we were going to see stood desolate, its tailgate ajar and boxy body capping undersized tyres.

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1960.jpg

The birds remained quiet and aloof, as though complying with an imposed curfew. The ponies shrank from the cold dampness.

Walking about a bit, we found another Landie, its livery unsubtly evangelising a geopolitical demand. The ponies, having tried seeking its shelter and failed, seemed to have settled for just its company instead.

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1962.jpg

By and by, over the period of 30 minutes, we had covered as many metres, when a steadying drizzle warranted a duck for cover in the friendly neighbouring tea-shop that also served as a restaurant, bar and a social square for people to collectively do nothing, but infuse liquids of choice to keep warm and watch the rain.

Soon, we returned to our lodge and repaired to the dining hall, waiting to be served some hot soup to exorcise the cold. There was a fireplace at the end of the hall, but it was so small that only three could sit huddled around it, so while the ladies chatted away merrily at its altar, I used the wafer-thin bandwidth to familiarise myself with the calls of some of the birds I hoped to see.

Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1971.jpg

The dining hall at Shikhar Lodge

The lifers (birds I had never seen before) on my list looked like this, the number of exclamation marks being directly proportionate to the ardour with which I wanted to see them:
  • White-browed fulvetta!!!
  • Black-faced laughing thrush
  • Red-mantled rosefinch!!!
  • White-collard blackbird!
  • Fire-tailed myzornis!!!
  • Golden-breasted fulvetta!
  • Red crossbill
  • Rufous-naped tit!!!
  • Satyr tragopan!!!
  • Orange-breasted green pigeon
  • Mountain imperial pigeon!!
  • Darjeeling Woodpecker!!
  • Short-billed minivet!!
  • Black-headed shrike-babbler!!
  • White-bellied erpornis!!!
  • Rufous-breasted accentor!
  • Rosy pipit
  • White-winged grosbeak!!
  • Scarlet finch!
  • Beautiful rosefinch!
  • Dark-rumped rosefinch
  • Red-headed bullfinch
  • Red crossbill
  • Chestnut-eared bunting
  • Fulvous parrotbill!!!!!!
  • Grey-headed parrotbill!
  • Black-throated parrotbill!
  • Great parrotbill!
  • Mountain bulbul!!
  • Slaty-bellied tesia!!!
  • Stripe-throated yuhina!
  • White-naped yuhina
  • Slender-billed scimitar babbler!!
  • White-browed scimitar babbler
  • Streak-breasted scimitar babbler
  • Rufous-capped babbler
  • Rufous-throated fulvetta
  • Golden babbler!!!
  • Grey-sided laughing thrush
  • Red-billed leiothrix!!!
  • Hoary-throated barwing!!
  • Rusty-throated barwing!!
  • Blue-winged laughing thrush!!!
  • Rufous-necked laughing thrush!!
  • Goldcrest!!!
  • Rusty-flanked treecreeper
  • Sikkim treecreeper
  • Hodgson’s treecreeper
  • Ferruginous flycatcher!!
  • Pale blue flycatcher!!
  • White-gorgeted flycatcher!!
  • Taiga flycatcher!
  • Snowy-browed flycatcher
  • Sapphire flycatcher
  • Slaty-blue flycatcher
  • Slaty-backed flycatcher
  • Rufous-bellied niltava
  • White-browed shortwing
  • Rusty-bellied shortwing
  • Gould’s shortwing
  • Indian blue robin
  • Golden bush robin!!!
  • White-browed bush robin!
  • Blue-fronted robin!
  • Rufous-breasted bush robin
  • Little forktail
  • Black-backed forktail
  • Slaty-backed forktail
  • White-tailed rubythroat
  • Blue-capped redstart!!
  • White-throated redstart
  • Himalayan thrush
  • Long-billed thrush
  • Chestnut thrush
  • Black-throated thrush
  • Red-throated thrush
  • Scaly thrush
  • Purple cochoa!!
  • Scaly-breasted wren-babbler
  • Spotted nutcracker

I had put Sourabha and her friends to much torment on many a day on our WhatsApp group, by flooding it with pictures of many of these from the interwebs. So in the mist-net of my mind, I wanted to go about plucking sights of them beauties like low-hanging flowers from plants in the backyard, but having birded in the Northeast several times before (four times each in Kaziranga and Nameri Tiger Reserves, and once apiece in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and Manas Tiger Reserve), I knew better than to carry a sack of expectations, which would only serve to break my back. Instead, I had whittled the absolute must-haves to just two on either side of the rarity spectrum: the common enough white-browed fulvetta, whose cuteness had caused paralysis of mental function, and in the adoration of whom many a productive workday was lost; and the utterly outrageous Satyr tragopan, whose male was born to dominate not sight but the very psyche of man and woman.

Batsa walked in, and I discussed my wishlist, and despite the weather, his voice was encouraging. Many of these are possible, he said. It's the flowering and breeding season after all.

Only, the weather had shrunk the forest itself into a bud, vaulting all her riches in her bosom, away from the doting eye. Season’s greetings indeed!

“Tomorrow might be a better day,” I thought, as we retired for the night, optimism, after all, being the last refuge of the hopeless.

Last edited by Aditya : 25th January 2023 at 09:35. Reason: Rule #11, thanks for sharing!
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Old 24th January 2023, 12:06   #3
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Finding Our Shangri-La in Singalila

Day 2: Tumling

The first thing I did when the alarm went off was to part the curtain to take a peek outside. And a large “nothing to see here” sign met me. I couldn’t tell whether it was foggy or just dark, for the human eyes, so effective at discrimination in light, are miserably defanged in its paucity.

We’ll know soon enough, I thought, and getting ready, stepped out with my camera.

The mist and cloud lay thick and low, but I could see better than last evening. Over to the south I could see some buildings that the previous day we didn’t know existed. Beyond them, electric power poles dotted the rolling horizon, in the forbidding weather looking like gravemarkers.

Yet, it was clear that we wouldn’t see Kanchenjunga today. So I made up my mind to focus on the birding instead.

Continuing past the dining hall to the back of the lodge, where just by the fence, I had observed the previous day, the presence of flowering trees and discarded food attracted avian attendance, and on the way there, found a flock of plain mountain-finch enfoliating electric lines. One of them, when isolated, made for an evocative visual:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1403.jpg


Directly upon my arrival at the scene, I espied a blue-fronted redstart on a bush some distance away. My first thought was that Archana, who’s also an avid photographer, had said she’d join me soon but wasn’t here yet. I hoped she’d know where to come.

Soon the redstart drew closer and graced a tree not 20 feet from where I stood. The light was appalling and I was already at 5000 ISO, but thanks to the extreme lightness of the lens I was using (the Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 E PF VR), I was able to make a portrait at a yawning 1/13 s hand-held!


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1300.jpg


The next shot would turn out to be an abstract, though, as standing on mounds of soil on a slope in biting cold, my enthusiasm couldn’t fully supplant my instability:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1301.jpg


In quick succession, there appeared a couple of yellow-billed blue magpies to scavenge on the food refuse from the kitchen, struck a couple of attractive poses, posed a couple of compositional difficulties and decanted.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1386.jpg

One of the yellow-billed blue magpies that appeared.


By now I was joined by Archana, and we had two pairs of eyes to look out, which soon met with the pleasing sight of a species you will find at number 16 on the wishlist: a rufous-breasted accentor, and how!

As though in abeyance to our taste for habitat images, it perched right amid the wiry tangles of a tree full of buds. Holi had come late!


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1146.jpg

The rufous-breasted accentor that accented the scene with colour by perching propitiously.


Then from the mist emerged a quantum of energy wearing a xanthic coat. It was as though a lemon had assumed life and taken wings to bestow a blessing of freshness on a murky morning.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1317.jpg


Meanwhile on a distant tree, a thrush, which I was to later identify as the red-throated, sang away, as though trying to move the clouds away with its breath.

Just then we were joined by Batsa, and the three of us went up the concrete road towards Garibans.

On the way out of the lodge, a white-collared blackbird sat on the rise just over the rocky road, embalming the previous day’s miss that still smarted.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1359.jpg


Then we found a verditer flycatcher in a state of floral animation – so untouched it seemed by the weight of living, as though it was born a few hours before, blowing kisses to the sky in full bloom.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1397.jpg


Emerging on the concrete road, we found that the weather had cleared by degrees to reveal a precious little of the ridge road: rugged and serpentine, like a road not in reality but on a map, going to a place somewhere far away, only in the realm of imagination.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1979.jpg

The ridge road at 08:15 am.



Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-apc_0349hdr.jpg

A precious view of the somnolent valley studded with rhododendron and giant magnolia trees.


We walked as long as perhaps half distance to the Tumling checkpost, and found a couple of spotted laughingthrushes who, being shy, refrained from unfettered exposure and remained skulking on the ground amid a smattering of loose bushes, so I couldn’t manage an image worth your time.

Struck by the thought that the two ladies would’ve by now bestirred from their repose and might expect to be attended by a spot of tea and breakfast, we made for the lodge, retracing our steps with studied silence so as to stumble upon more birds. And the only reason we spotted the big flock of plain mountain-finches was because they alighted upon a tree en masse, having been displaced from their earlier perch near the Tumling Monastery by some cause or the other. In the fog, all we could burn them to was our photographic memory, but hanging around as we did with Buddhist patience, at long last we managed this portrait of one unflinching finch.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1519.jpg


Having sated our morning craving for ‘morphine’, we repaired directly for the lodge, which was now only a few metres away, where we excitedly related the morning’s findings to Sourabha and Pooja.

Life in the bird-rich mountains is not easy or leisurely, as you may be called upon to preside over a sighting even in the middle of an indisposition, which can of course be very inconvenient in an inclement chill.

This is precisely what now happened, as I was changing for breakfast, a song pressed me to inquire into its source regardless of my sartorial readiness, turning out to be a white-capped water redstart hugging the apex of a nearby roof, belting out the high notes from its pointy perch.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1605.jpg


After finally dressing myself fully and availing ourselves of some breakfast and several rounds of tea to light up the fire within, we were quite set to comb a larger area for avian delights.

Walking into the patch of secondary forest behind the lodge, we (this time all four of us) were first met by an Oriental turtle-dove flanking the steps down from the lodge, its brilliantly marked post-tympanum standing out like a tribal flag.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1616.jpg


When fully descended into the wall of the valley, we found another verditer in such verve, that it seemed to answer only to the moon’s laws of gravity.

To bear us back to earth, a Himalayan griffon soon came soaring on a thermal, its plumage outstretched as though to encompass all the ground in its sight, unaffected by a big lacuna in its right wing betraying the loss of a key feather. Then it turned around gliding straight on sans beating once, as though the wind was under the rule of its outstretched arms, the extremities of which it held like a wizard holding his oversized fingernails, or else like the spatial signature of the baton subject to a conductor’s overtures.

Turning our attention to the main road that carries on towards Garibans, we first found a couple of white-capped redstarts going on full steam at a show of song and dance to establish superiority.

Just opposite, a Thar stood completely oblivious to their combat by a rhodo tree in full bloom.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_1992.jpg


Soon after, on the ridge road, we were able to hear a stripe-throated yuhina and follow it up with the sight of a pair.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1471.jpg


A little more of the valley was now visible, as thinly composed tufts of cloud rose from the canopy like a cold steam off a culinary preparation, or else the morning breath of a giant dragon deep in the forest bosom.

As we walked contrary to our morning’s jaunt, towards Tonglu, on the first slope up from Tumling we came upon an olive-backed pipit sitting on the retaining wall. Patient stalking brought us to within satisfactory distance for an absorbing study of this richly streaked passerine, before it dove into the valley, calling time on our unscheduled meeting.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1695.jpg


Standing up, I looked back and down towards Tumling, and saw the ridge road cutting like a fragile tape placed precariously atop a cake. All the lodges could be seen straddling the western side of the road. There was no sign of Nepal or India, or any other manufactured identity: just Nature, mixing and melting into herself, unknowing where she starts and ends, and from where to where is her eternal journey, a circle in the forming, full but never complete.

It is normally the function of borders to divide; but this was one that united.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-apc_0364hdr.jpg

Looking back at the road running over the Singalila Ridge that forms the border between India and Nepal. All the lodges visible to the left are in Nepal.


Continuing higher, we negotiated the crest of the hillock above Tumling, to be greeted by – hold your breath now – sunshine! And such sunshine as to prompt a disarming of the thick jackets.

Just there to our left was a magnificent Rhododendron arboreum in full bloom, its mop of trusses aflame with pink, marked by the sky’s play of light like a celestial underline. We bowed in adoration and made this image of it with Tumling in the background. The scene glistened with high exoticism.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_2034.jpg


This festival of colour was to linger yet, as at the next bend, we pried out a bar-winged siva (now called chestnut-tailed minla) frolicking among a bouquet of pink bedecking a network of lichen-draped branches.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc1715.jpg


A little higher, on the Nepalese side too, the rolling grasslands looked utterly charming, like the undulations of a magic carpet ride:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-apc_0370hdr.jpg

Rolling subalpine meadows on the Nepalese side


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_2051.jpg

Subalpine meadows studded with rhodo trees on the Indian side



Soon a rufous-vented tit emerged out of the woodwork, unambiguously showing its eponymous vent:


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Moving on, at the next bend, where the road curved left and a patch of forest created an awning to eclipse the road in shade, we found a male Himalayan bluetail gracing a culvert, its shoulder and eyebrow daubs of brilliant blue, like an artist’s signature, conspicuous even in the mellow light.

Tiptoeing carefully we approached closer, to find the female as well, completing the couple.


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The female Himalayan bluetail


Every so often they’d leap off the culvert or the branch on which they sat, forage for grub on the road, and fly back to the perch.

Just when we thought we were having enough fun watching them, a rufous-gorgeted flycatcher appeared on a beautiful brown lichen-covered branch. There was something utterly amusing in how, with a prominent white stripe across its forehead, a faint saffron line on its gorget, and a pious, serious look, it appeared to have just returned from its weekly visit to the temple!


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It is truly hard to describe the pleasure of walking a protected Himalayan mountain road, sparse in traffic and rich in bird life, scouring tree after tree, never knowing what species you’ll encounter at the next bend. And it is just this pleasure we now enjoyed as we slowly made our way to Tonglu.


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Looking back at a road sign between Tumling and Tonglu



At the Tonglu Trekker’s Hut junction, the lake, which on the right day reflects the great snow-capped peaks in its still water, was festooned with noisy tourists and picnickers. However, on the rise the Trekker’s Hut stood in quiet majesty.


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I didn’t need to imagine how good the view from this hut is when the weather is clear, for I had seen enough pictures of it. All we could do was sigh wistfully and continue to Tonglu Proper, where we found another vintage Land Rover on the ready to climb up the treacherous slopes to Sandakphu.

Wearing a spartan livery on a naked body of sheet metal that you could see having been beaten into shape by hand, and a curious combination of Brazilian, English and French flags, a padlock on the grille, lovely forest-green accents and loud yellow steel wheels were its other prominent attributes.


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Walking past this lovable jalopy, we entered the campus of a roofless stone building – whether en route to construction or destruction, I couldn’t tell, but in any case it was fenced for good measure. Then we settled upon a comforting homestay, painted red-and-maroon, and asked for a round of tea and some biscuits.


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Pretty teapots at the homestay in Tonglu


The weather grew foggier in direct proportion to the time we spent imbibing the garam chai so our bodies reached thermostasis at a lower-than-desired temperature, and the walk back to Tumling was fairly uneventful. The very rhodo tree we had photographed just a couple of hours before had lost its background, replaced instead with a posse of gypsy mist and clouds swirling in the blustering wind.

In the afternoon we walked up to the Tumling check post, a kilometre or so from Shikhar Lodge, in appalling conditions. Visibility was down to about 20 metres. Looking for birds was pretty-much pointless, so we didn’t even try, instead getting close to a couple of rhodo trees in spectacular full bloom.

When we’re too busy to proverbially smell the flowers, Nature devises funny ways to impose it.

When we retired that night, I put together strands of fraying hope to make a rope yet thick enough to carry my dreams.The foggiest and rainiest of evenings, I thought to myself, are followed by the brightest of mornings, so we might yet awake to a resplendent day.

Little did I know that just as the absence of misery doesn’t necessarily translate to happiness, the mere lack of mist and rain means not a clear day.

Last edited by BackstraightBoy : 24th January 2023 at 23:11.
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Old 24th January 2023, 13:02   #4
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Finding Our Shangri-La in Singalila

Day 3: Tumling to Kalipokhri (3186 m) via Garibans (2621 m)

From the depths of my beddings I forced away the hot-water pack that had kept me warm and cosy all night, and extricated myself out of bed. Bleary-eyed, I parted the curtains anxiously, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. The vehicles and other inanimate objects outside the window were in clear view. Encouraged but still apprehensive, for the mists of the mind are harder to clear than those on the ground, I craned my neck and turned my attention to the sky. A faint blush of colour peeked back at me like the light at the end of a tunnel.

Nearly blinded from joy, I readied myself at a terrific pace, also awakening the ladies so we could set out together. Finally, the morning had arrived, after all, when I’d see the Kanchenjunga range!

The whole world seemed now to hold its breath for its maiden view of the sun in several days. But first there were to be some invocative performances.

Sooner than the strike of a matchstick to light a stove burner, we were out on the ridge road, by the rhodo tree right at the junction. The sky was mostly clear, with the few fraying tufts of clouds about to dissipate as well, but in my mind it was clean as a new slate!


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View eastward on the ridge road, moments before a much-awaited sunrise


Excitedly I walked a little further up, past the Tumling Monastery. I was quite ready to see the Sleeping Buddha, but he wasn’t ready for me. There was no sign of him anywhere on the horizon.

I cleared my eyes and pointed my binoculars. I looked left and looked right. Then I looked at Batsa. He shrugged.

I was about to be seized by despair when a persistent call issued from the rhodo tree a few yards away. Conducting ourselves to it, we found an olive-backed pipit, singing to his heart’s content, his feathers dishevelled and bristled up in the chill. Framing him through the gaps in the pre-bloom buds I managed a couple of blue-hour images that I was pleased with.


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Not far away, a green-backed tit sat beautifully out in the open, as though egging the sun on to come melt its egg yolk-coloured breast, amid a flourish of rhodo flowers.


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As I was espying a common stonechat skulking in the shadows, I noticed attention being lavished upon a dry tree by half-a-dozen photographers. Commuting the short distance to the spot, I found to my glee not one but two fire-tailed myzornises flexing their show muscles to one and all from their high perch. Climbing onto a propitiously placed mound of earth, I was able to neutralise the angle to some degree and obtain acceptable portraits. For a species that I wasn’t even hoping for at this altitude (2970 m), the duo gave us a full nine minutes, an event a birder is bound to consider a luxury anywhere.


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Meanwhile, the event for which we were actually hoping had indeed taken place – a glorious and golden sunrise that dispelled all the murk and gloom of the previous two days. The touch of the sun’s rays on the cheek, which we had so craved, was now more soothing than the touch of silk, and the sight of their aureate threads, sweeter than that of a stack of gold bars. A fire had been lit in the heart and its light dispelled the mind of all its ills and flooded it with rushes of pleasure.

There was still no sign of the highest mountain partly in India, but never mind, I thought, it’s still early, both in the day and on the trip.

In these supersaturated environs just then we noticed, a few degrees to the right of the hill behind which the sun was mounting his advance, a bunch of yellow-billed blue magpies, perhaps the same ones I had seen under entirely different light conditions the previous morning as you might recall, on their usual morning routine, but this time, perched on open stumps of a fence before flying across our line of view towards where we had seen the myzornises.

A couple of them took off leaving me a bystander, just like the GoAir flight in Bengaluru recently, but unlike the hapless passengers of that trigger-happy flight, I had a third and fourth chance, so that eventually I managed to get on the plane of bird-in-flight shots, make it stick and cut the mustard to produce for my posterity a quantity of welcome backlit images of the magpies on the wing:


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This was then a glimpse of how utterly glorious and magnificent Himalayan mornings are especially when the sun has a say in the matters.


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Energised by this beatification, we carried on towards the Tumling checkpost with what felt like a new heart driving a new pair of legs. The valley to our right, studded with rhododendrons and magnolias, looked magnificent caressed by the virginal light.

Soon we found a black-faced laughingthrush foraging in the leaf litter, but it momentarily assumed higher ground, when I snapped up this portrait:


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At the next curve, a hoary-throated barwing, was in a catatonic calling-frenzy. What invisible intruder he had seen, we couldn’t tell, but he seemed determined to banish him to eternal exile with his vehement protestation. All this fuss was a blessing for us, though, as we watched him for several minutes on end, although pictures in the clear were hard to come by, courtesy of the nature of the substrate he had occupied.


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A short distance on, beyond a pink rhodo tree in full bloom (which is an asinine marker, because that descriptor could be used for virtually every other tree in Singalila at the time), the buildings around the Tumling checkpost came into view. How I had thirsted for such visibility!

But when we reached the watchtower just shy of the checkpost and shed several layers of woollens in abeyance to the quickly-soaring sun, the dispiriting realisation, the rise of which was hitherto checked by the avian activity, returned to haunt me: there had still been no sign whatsoever of the Sleeping Buddha.

I looked at the scene, and it was quite astonishing. The weather seemed ‘clear’, I thought I could see the horizon for kilometres on end, and there was no fog, mist or cloud for now. And yet, the horizon was empty of the monolith that crowns it.

It was like the world’s third-highest mountain had been abducted overnight.


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'Immaculately' clear weather, but where's Kanchenjunga?


It was then that I realised that clarity was not a binary concept. Nor was it objective. And the measurement of it wasn’t even reliable or straightforward.

When our ability to see through the haze is limited, we in our infinite innocence assume the haze to be the clarity we seek. In near-sight, everything appears clear. It is only when there is a greater purpose; a more distant goal that demands a more incisive clarity, that we awake to our folly, the shortfall becomes evident, and a veil is lifted off our illusions.

We started the walk back to Tumling as these thoughts filled my mind and I marvelled at the maya of it all. It may have been spring in Singalila, but my mind was in the height of winter.

Once again it was the birds that broke my brooding, as first a spotted nutcracker, large as a crow, flew across the field of view, refusing pictures.

Then we found a verditer flycatcher perched beautifully.


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A chestnut-bellied nuthatch made an appearance. Soon, a number of red-throated thrushes came into view, and I fell to stalking them, belly-to-ground, elbowing my way closer, staying as low to the ground as possible. One allowed me as far as to get this crummy shot, but would tolerate me no closer.


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I didn’t concern myself unduly over all the dew I had soaked in in the process, for after all, the sun was high and handsome this morning so I was sure the clothes would dry soon.

Apparently I was yet to learn my lesson, for this too, turned out to be in the realms of maya, as before our very eyes, a swarm of clouds commenced its journey from an unseen source in the valley, onwards and upwards towards us. It came from the west at the rate of knots, and even as I was still hoping that it was a passing nuisance, it had enveloped us and sealed itself, addressing the package to postbox number nothing.


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The clouds building up. Moments later they enveloped us – and everything in sight – with staggering completeness.


But spoilsport clouds or not, there was no getting away from one thing: the sheer bliss of walking through the silence of the Himalayan mountains, surrounded by the fullness and balance of life and the sense of wellness brought about by the senses pampered by purity.

Then all too soon, it was time to check out of Shikhar Lodge. Finishing our breakfast, we packed our bags and were at the gate for the customary group picture by 10:10 a.m., for our transfer to Kalipokhri.


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A vintage Landie at the Tumling check post en route to Kalipokhri


Soon we had completed the entry formalities at the Tumling check post, and for some distance, we decided to get off our vehicle and walk, looking carefully for birds on a beautiful stretch of road:


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A vintage Landie between Tumling and Garibans


This now was red panda territory.

The forests here were chiefly oak, magnolia, maple, sorbus, rhododendrons and bamboo, and as we hopped back onto the Bolero and gently descended into Garibans over seven kilometres, the mixed broadleaf and subalpine coniferous forests of Tumling gave way to the uniform magnificence of evergreen oak forests in dense cohesion, to the degree that when the GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration)-operated Garibans Trekkers Hut came into view, I let out a gasp and quite swooned in delight.

Scarcely could a better example be summoned from the powers of imagination to illustrate the idea of a ‘house in the hills’ than this piece of fairytalery. Tucked into the lap of a hill packed densely with quintessential Eastern Himalayan verdure, it stood like a giant enticing fruit in a cloud forest.


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That we’d be taking a break here was the best thing I had heard all morning and made my heart do a little jig, so we shuffled off the vehicle and walked the little path that leads up to it, flanked by firs and bamboos, looking up at the conifers arranged like spectators watching on from the tiered levels of an amphitheatre.

My heart ached from the beauty, and as the kitchen staff made tea, we had already slaked our thirst from the well of bliss.

Meanwhile, Batsa conducted us to one side of the dining hall entrance, where leftovers are offered to attract birds, and instructed us to wedge ourselves in a natural bunker formed by the precincts of the lower cottage.

Doing as advised, we were soon visited by a yellow-billed blue magpie, but the cream of the treat followed a few moments later, in the way of a pair of spotted laughingthrushes!

Having seen the species a couple of days before but not having been able to photograph it, I now let it rip and made a few low-angle portraits, using the foreground blur to impart abstraction.


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All too soon, after sipping our tea while sheltering from the drizzle, it was time for us to depart this paradisiacal place. I dearly wished we’d had the chance to spend more time here as I reluctantly sat back in the vehicle.

Prior to our departure I made a parting panorama of the surrounding forest, which looked decidedly enchanted:


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Little did I know that the wish would come true in the most unexpected of ways, but even then would slip away from our grasp before we had made so much as a fist of it.

Continuing our journey to Kalipokhri, our next stop on the way was at Kaiyakata, where a little dwelling called Habre’s Nest (Habre is red panda in Nepalese) is one of the places in which you can anchor yourself while browsing for the firefox.


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A vintage Landie en route from Garibans to Kaiyakata


Walking to the back of the lodge via a cowshed, we at once noticed a Himalayan thrush warming a log on the ground. Conveniently enough there was a flight of stairs leading down to the vicinity of it. As I slipped down with all the quiet deftness I could muster and managed a couple of mug shots of it, I noticed quite to my delight another individual, perched even more prettily, amid a litter of fallen rhododendrons making a mosaic of pink and green!


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This led to Sourabha later writing this beautiful poem, the 62nd in what we call ‘101 Poems’, a poetry series on Himalayan birds by the wife:

the log pulsated with wait
and then, a thrush’s touch
its soft weight
the contained thrill of it all
if all of Earth was once nothing more than a swirl of dust
how much and how long has it awaited this stillness
speckled by rhodo
this log, the thrush, the grass
consecrated by this one moment, scripting a story
this same mote of dust also put this heart in your ribcage
this tremble of soft meat beneath a hard shell


— Sourabha Rao

Once the bird had flown, and I mean not just allegorically, I awoke to the realisation that the tree under which I stood was a perfect location to record our first Padayaatre video of the trip!

So I beckoned to Sourabha to hasten her transfer to my current location, and that having been done, we proceeded to record Nimma Daarige Bakulavittu by Anand Rigvedi:





We had resumed our journey for a brief while when Batsa brought us to a halt. He had seen a flock of the famously, impossibly adorable black-throated parrotbills. Fortunately, the sudden stoppage did not spook away the birds, and with a little patience and a little fieldcraft, we were able to catch up to them as they hustled through the bamboos, busying themselves with the primary task of feeding their tiny bodies.


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Not far away, atop the crown of a broad-leafed tree sat an ashy-throated warbler briefly, its throat hoary with pollen, even as a fire-tailed sunbird hovered nearby.

We didn’t stop again until we reached the rim of the Kalipokhri, a small lake strung with prayer flags, and then drove past a monastic road leading to an archway, by forbidding cottages to reach the small settlement, and pulled up in front of Pandim Lodge, a two-toned building painted cyan with brown square windows at the ground level, and indigo with white rectangular-long windows on the first floor. The most adorable pomeranian I had ever seen adorned the short trio of steps leading to the entrance.


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The sacred Kalipokhri lake


Bundling ourselves into the lodgings, we realised that the rooms were on the first floor and the ground floor was composed mostly of the kitchen adjacent, via a food-cum-bar counter, to a cosy-little restaurant furnished with wooden tables and benches, copper jugs and ashtrays, a boiler and fireplace, and a cuddly kitten – a welcome bundle of warmth in the frost.


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The pleasant dining hall of Pandim Lodge


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There wasn't a window of opportunity. This window was our only opportunity!



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Sourabha with the kitten. And a mocktail.


Batsa told me that he knew of a stretch of ridge road frequented by Satyr tragopans, and the plan for the next morning would be to drive there first thing to scour for them.

By duskfall the dining hall just below our rooms became bustling with business as a large group seemed to have checked in. Repairing to it for dinner we found a band of trekkers, comprising women, men as well as folks gravitating towards elderliness, keeping the hall warm with their energy and spirits.

Exchanging notes, experiences and pleasantries, we coalesced with the group, and spent the rest of the evening leading up to dinner karaoking and dancing to Hindi songs with them. In that little hut the bonhomie between strangers reminded us again of the commonality of our shared differences, and the simple pleasures, as Matthew McConnaughey’s son recently pointed out with such charming pithiness when he was asked what he’d like to do in life. “Meeting new people and doing cool things,” was his response.

Last edited by vb-san : 25th January 2023 at 07:45. Reason: Removed a photo (and related reference) that is not aligned to Team BHP policies. Great travelogue, and thank you for sharing!
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Old 24th January 2023, 13:46   #5
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Finding Our Shangri-La in Singalila

Day 4: Kalipokhri to Sandakphu (3636m)

As per the plan, we embarked the Bolero a few minutes after the appointed time (for Pooja reported being slightly under the weather) and began our descent back towards Kaiyakata to reach the said haunt.

It was still dark when we set sail. A few miles into the valley, it lightened up by degrees, revealing at first a white-browed rosefinch, and soon after, a warbler of some spec gracing a rhodo tree. Farther in the cleft of the valley, a magnolia stood in suspended animation in peak blossom, frozen, as it were, at the moment of explosion into full bloom. It was now bright enough to see that it was yet another morning of unclear weather. In the backdrop the hills were not black but white in silhouette, and the greens were a faded wash. It was like we were viewing the whole landscape through a layer of frosted glass.

There is consensus among travellers that travel makes them more knowledgeable, empathetic, tolerant and richer for experience and memories. I will add a fifth benefit when you undertake a trip through Nature: humility.

While on one hand the myriad life forms, with the diversity of their existence and behaviour, illustrate the magnitude of the unknown, the peripherals, like the weather, hold a mirror to your insignificance in the scheme of things until you realise that while you may be peripheral to the universe, you’re dang central to the lesson in progress: we may have succeeded in manipulating Nature to render our surroundings more suited to our habitation and the pursuit of our chosen vocations, we may have neutralised cold with centralised heating, heat with air-conditioning, and storms with robust shelters, but manifesting what we want in Nature without manipulating it remains beyond our ability.

These thoughts were interrupted with a jolt as Batsa shouted ‘Tragopan!’ The remotest parts of my brain, including the contemplative part as well as the various levels of my conscious mind, were all on like a light as Martin braked to stop dead in our tracks. A female Satyr tragopan darted across the road into the forested hill on the right, leaving me with eight blurry frames.


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The least blurry of the eight frames I managed of the female Satyr tragopan before she disappeared.


Exchanging triumphant looks and exclamations of glee in hushed voices, we rolled down the slope without rousing the engine to see if the male would appear in tow, for it is him we wanted to see with the most ardour, his wild colouration being the motivator of such apparently brazen sexism. It wasn’t to be.

April was when female Satyrs, having mated already, attended to their nesting needs, so males didn’t have an incentive to throw caution to the wind and suffer that horror of horrors for them – a public appearance – in the pursuit of passing on their genes.

Deciding to drive on a bit further before tracing our way back up by foot, we resumed to find a stripe-throated yuhina and then a fire-tailed sunbird. And then the bird I had been dreaming of.

Having spotted the white-browed fulvetta on a bush to our left, we got off the car to get close to it, and it stayed, and stayed, giving us ample opportunity to partake of that which we sought to savour: adorable looks packed in a bundle of explosive energy.

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Matching the spring colour of the leaves of its substrate, its orange, brown and white feathers made merry tandav over our visual receptors.

This sensory overload was to be closely followed by an encounter with a particularly cooperative bar-throated siva (chestnut-tailed minla), replete with an immaculate coiffure and hoary throat.

More of a diva than a siva, it showed itself off in no fewer than three angles and moved on only after being convinced that we did solemnly acknowledge that it looked dapper in all of them.


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It was about now that all heaven broke loose, and a flurry of avian activity was unleashed in our immediate neighbourhood.

The first to appear on this episode of ‘Good morning, Singalila’ was a rufous-gorgeted flycatcher. This was followed close on its metatarsus by a certain rufous-winged fulvetta:


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A rufous-vented tit then crowned the apex of a rhodo bush, while a green-tailed sunbird enlivened a dead tree. Then, a white-browed fulvetta with its lips sealed, for in its beak was contained the precious courier of nest material.


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The gentle family and romantic comedy sections having been completed, the drama segment rolled, as a Darjeeling woodpecker landed on a tall dry tree and pecked away with winsome vigour but a rival soon arrived. After a sortie in a flash, one of them prevailed while the other retreated to unseen skies.


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Soon after, a hoary-throated barwing answered its roll call. Striking some handsome poses as a part of its first act, feigning innocence of its charm as it perched disingenuously. And as if to oversee all the fair conduct of all these proceedings and to call time on them with a sprinkling of invisible flowers from high up the air was a Himalayan griffon.

With more than half the distance back to Kalipokhri already traversed, we decided to continue walking the rest of the way. By and by we reached the crest of the road that overlooked the valley from which we had seen the female Satyr surprise our bleary eyes earlier in the morning. Moved by the beauty of the place, we sat down, our legs dangling over the cuboid rocks of the cliff.

Within seconds, we heard it: the unmistakable childlike wail of the male Satyr, issuing from the navel of the forest, relayed through its network of branches into the theatre of time.

When one hears the presence of that for which one yearns, the intensification of the desire to meet it with the eyes is matched with the satisfaction of gaining cognisance of its presence. It is more than a solace; a sort of surrogate fulfilment; a teasing assurance.

Now, you can cry and bemoan the distance that separates you from the object of your pursuit, or exult at the bridging of it through the cord of sound. All physical contact, at the end, is sensory, and isn’t there as deep a contact when the air, disturbed by the vibrations of a bird’s vocals, conducts the waves to your ears, as when the photons that were incident on your object slam your pupils?

In that moment I realised that understanding this – not as a consolatory apologetic trope and a ‘loser’s excuse’, but as an existential truth – was at the centre of contentment beyond petty gratification.

---

When after breakfast later that morning, our driver was late, we asked this part-time pigeon if he’d take up a flash assignment on a fiver, and he agreed on the condition that he’d drive facing backwards, for that’s how he was comfortable and even obtained his licence. We were at first apprehensive, but having no choice, consented, but a few seconds into the agreement we ran into a hitch: no matter which way he sat on the steering, he couldn’t get it to turn, because he was used to a set of automated instruments and this vehicle was too retro, or so he said, and eventually we figured out that at this rate the vehicle wouldn’t take off, but after a brief while the freelance driver sure did, leaving us to walk all the way!


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At the distinctly Wuthering Heights-esque cottage, we hung around until an ‘England Rover’ completed the Gothic scene, moments after meeting ‘Sandakphu Sherpa’.


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Reaching the Kalipokhri lake we found the conditions less forbidding than the previous afternoon, but still there was only precious little time to record another Padayaatre video before the prowling wind came round to conceal the colourful flags fluttering under its charge with shrouds of white over the ripples in the water that touched the eyes like wrinkles on the face of an old person touch the lips.





But soon after, with the mist thickening to theatrical levels, we found ourselves in a bowl of not soup but yoghurt, and with the danger of not being able to see our own palm held to our face, we slowly retraced our steps to retreat to the relatively warm confines of Pandim Lodge to pack our bags for our final ascent to peak Singalila.

At checkout we were seen off by the kitten from the previous day being very toasty, and the canine letting his fur flag in the breeze.


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Hurtling up towards Sandakphu was like flying through a thick mass of clouds after landing. The marginal visibility of the road ahead was terrifying in its seductive peril, fully benefactorous of the feeling of not knowing where we’re going.

When after the ascent we reached the premises of Sherpa Chalet, enthusiastically described by S as “[the] best possible accommodation in Sandakphu with attached toilet and mountain view,” orientation was absent.

We were in a desert of mist.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-sherpachalet.jpg

Sherpa Chalet. Picture by Sourabha.


Thoughts of the Sleeping Buddha had themselves fallen asleep, long since buried under several sheets of deviant destiny – a phenomenon that nary a human can escape despite their most earnest pinings. Desolation haunted the mind. The spring of the step was frozen by the peak winter of circumstance. Hope as a string stood frayed by the weight of the dead stones it pieced together, the resulting jigsaw cutting through the dreams into shards of disappointment which now stabbed the heart with their biting edge.

Alas, philosophy and foresight are luxuries of the successful. The purveyors of loss are condemned to sweeping their feelings off the floor to pick up the pieces of their dreams, and glue them back with the adhesive of retrospect. Shouldhaves and couldhaves add the requisite salt, but the dish is cold and bitter. Hindsight is an uncomfortable chair in which to sit.

To face the internal rant and rhetoric of a smarter course of action is to no avail. If only I knew then what I do now – not to visit the Eastern Himalaya in April expectant of mountain views! The naivete of which such an undertaking smacked smote my face through the woollen buff. The follies of ignorance are hard to bear when a waft of knowledge illuminates its stench.

But if it’s true that anything of value is to be earned, earning implies a price in the way of effort, of travail, of overcoming, of penance. This was the penance the Sleeping Buddha demanded of us now. If desire cannot be dropped altogether, as the Buddha would espouse, its object at the very least must be dangled at a height that asks of the pursuer a rigorous pursuit in the process of which he is transformed.

A dog may not be transformed so when a bone is dangled out of reach, but a man can change and tire of his troubles, and ergo, begin to look at it as inconsequential to his happiness. What is spirituality if not the alchemy of adversity into freedom?

Pooja looked foul with the times. Moods swung. Eyes escaped contact. Outside, the wind howled with pain as we set out for a short walk after lunch. I aimlessly made for a footpath to look for birds, meeting at its end instead the futility of litter and human refuse. I stood in the direction of the Kanchenjunga from the entrance of Sherpa Chalet, and drew its silhouette in the air. Its shape became a rock in the heart chafing its walls, lending it heavy.

We tried valiantly to be game, but were trounced by the rules of the sport.

It’s just that success is intolerant of effort in isolation. Mere desire is no move for the pagan god of success. To only try, with no matter how pure a will, is ill-enough. One must do what works instead. It is a concerted, visionary, planned and consequential effort success demands, and even then she may elude devotion unless it is married with its fair beau, dumb luck.

All sorts of pictures of Sandakphu graced the walls of the dining hall of the Sherpa Chalet as we sat down to get through the evening, ensheathed from head to toe. There was a picture of a group of cyclists with the Kanchenjunga in the background; an annotated infographic detailing all the peaks in the range; a stunning picture of a Land Rover parked in picturesque elegance before the great mountain. All around, reminders of what we were missing ricocheted off our minds like visual echoes.

When the means at our regular disposal exhaust their utility or produce the sour fruit of failure, we seek the deployment of a miracle in the dispatch of our grants, and it is this which we now sought to dispel the gloom in that little restaurant as, too full from the evening snacks, we skipped supper. With Pooja having retired an hour before citing indisposition, and Archana and Sourabha absorbed in a cerebral intercourse, I found my state of consciousness entirely superfluous, and accordingly retreated to the room endeavouring to extinguish it for the day.

There, under several layers of blankets hugging the hot-water pack while still in the outdoor down jacket, the vigorous activity of shivering to the one-degree cold ensured I was out like a light.

Last edited by BackstraightBoy : 24th January 2023 at 16:03.
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Old 24th January 2023, 14:00   #6
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Finding Our Shangri-La in Singalila

Day 5: Sandakphu to Siliguri. Wait, where?

The road doesn’t go where man wants it to; man goes where the road takes him, and sometimes it’s not where he wishes to delve. And this is especially true in the Himalayan realms.

Elsewhere it might be true that “man proposes; god disposes”, but here in the Himalaya it’s very much “man proposes; mountain disposes”. Gods don’t just reside in the mountains here. The gods are the mountains.

It was yet another apology for a morning when I awoke at 4:15. A roving whiteout. But when crazed with desperate hope, man thinks he can dig a pit with a spoon, if not his fingernails. After all, just the way if you go west enough you reach the east, in a circular world in which we live, surely, the extreme end of failure, hopelessness and despondency must lead to success, favour and happiness?

A turnaround is what I sought then, but a precipitate descent was what was in order, which I didn’t know yet.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_2497.jpg

The weather that morning


With customary optimism and the blissful absence of any idea of the plan of action, I appeared outside the lodge, having got ready, at the pre-sunrise hour. The lodge staff seemed to have long forgotten the concept of sunrises, as the restaurant stayed stone-dead. And closed. I knocked once or twice, my gloves muffling the bangs. What I sought was a cup of coffee or tea to warm the cockles of my heart. I peered through the mirror-glass windows. But no soul stirred. Even Batsa had decidedly quit the idea of flying against the wind, swimming against the tide, and driving into a brick-wall repeatedly; and had taken a more rational course of action: staying in bed.

Sourabha, Archana and Pooja joined me in the portico to receive the bad news in good spirit. Except, Pooja was unamused. A bad mood first thing in the morning, no matter how dire a predicament in which one is mired, is unusual, so I looked at her. Her face was pale, and from the corner of my eye, thought I, the lips…what, bluish? But I dared not ask her about it. What if it were a lip colour? The stunning diversity of fashion and all. I kept my speculations to myself, thinking perhaps what plagued her was merely a lack of sleep. How wrong I was, was to be revealed in double-quick time.

It’s 5:23 a.m. and 3 degrees, and because we’re in the east, it’s already light. I look to my right, and what’s this? – I can see the sun – faint, orange, lukewarm. The clouds above it part, and it’s bright enough that I can see a discarded water-closet and other ‘hindware’ underneath a cluster of pine trees. Clear weather is coming. My heart leaps!


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Just before the weather cleared.


I turn to the restaurant but there’s still no-one in sight, so I look to the west, where, on the crest atop the path that leads up from our lodge is another, Sunrise Hotel, aptly named. I remember the trek group telling us yesterday in Kalipokhri that this is where they’d be staying.

Gathering the ladies, I scurry up the path to its entrance. The lobby is abuzz with activity. It's only 6 a.m., but peppy Hindi music plays in the background on full blast, as the staff hustles to keep up with the guests’ requests. But there are only a few guests downstairs. Most of them are on the viewing deck, where right now the weather has lifted the curtains from upon the view for a few precious instants.

We’re in full flight headed for the staircase that leads up to the viewing deck, when I’m caught mid-stride by a staff member. “Where are you going? This is for guests only,” he says. “Get the manager’s permission to go up.”

I rush back to the lobby and ask for the manager. He takes a full three minutes to turn up, which feels more like three hours. I say to him, “We’re from Sherpa Chalet and want to go up to the viewing deck. May we, please?”

“Not for free,” he says. “It’ll cost you a few bucks.”

Cash! Who has the cash? We all check our pockets. None of us has brought a dime!

“Good sir, do you accept UPI payments?”

“No, that’s a negative.”

“We haven’t any cash on us and by the time we fetch it from our lodge, the view will be gone.”

“Well, tough luck then.”

“But, sir…”

Just then a lodge guest chimes in. “What’s all this then? Do you need cash?”

I say yes. He pulls out a 200-rupee note and hands it to the manager. I can’t thank him enough. “Righto, off you go,” says the manager.

“Thank you so much! I’ll return your money pronto,” I say to the guest. He nods cordially.

We start up the stairs but Pooja isn’t up to it. I’ll stay here, she says.

“What is it?” we ask. She can barely talk.

I ask Sourabha and Archana to go on ahead and I’ll join them soon.

We seat Pooja at a table and get her some hot water. A staff member turns up. Says garlic soup will be better and runs back to the kitchen to get some cooked.

There’s a doctor among the guests. They call for him.

Doctor appears and asks for the symptoms. Pooja has difficulty breathing, a throbbing headache, fatigue. “By word,” he says. “Fetch the oximeter!”

The oximeter is brought and put to use. It shows 45.

Forty-effing-five. I gulp. The garlic soup arrives.

Doctor pulls me aside. Says “She has AMS. Here, have her take these tablets,” and carries on.

Pooja eats the soup. I give her the tablet and instruct her to take it right after eating. I tell her I’ll quickly go up for a view and return in a minute.

I’m about to depart when a young man asks to speak to me and draws me aside. He introduces himself as an experienced trek leader, having seen numerous cases of acute mountain sickness, and volunteers his warning: “Trust me, an SPO2 reading of 45 is shocking. You ought to take her down immediately.”

“But we have another night here.”

“No way. That’ll be suicidal. Let alone a day; you don’t have an hour to waste.”

“But the doctor said it’d be fine with these tablets…”

“With all due respect, doctors know little about AMS,” says he. “In the mountains it’s the mountaineers you must listen to. It’d have been a different matter had she been on blood thinners in advance. It’s too late now. These tablets will do no good. You’ve got to lose altitude and lose it quickly. That’s the only way.”

“I see,” I say shell-shocked.

“Do the right thing before it’s too late,” he cautions ominously.

I walk up the stairs in a daze, forget to take even one picture of the view, and tell Sourabha and Archana we have to check out and decant immediately to a lower elevation. Concerned over Pooja’s condition, they comply by descending immediately to ground level, where Batsa has finally appeared. We take his help to return the money we owed the samaritan immediately, and then ask the manager what we owe for the soup. To my utter amazement, he refuses to accept payment for it!

Thanking his gesture profusely, I discuss options with Batsa. Will descending to Kalipokhri be enough? No; probably not. Tumling is higher than Garibans, so that’s no good either. Garibans. We should go to Garibans (2621 m).

This sounded like the perfect option. It would mean a loss of more than a thousand metres, which wasn’t insignificant. Remember how badly I wanted to stay a night there?

Little did I know that just when the road seemed to be going where we wanted, for once, there was to be an unseen hairpin in it to throw us off the circuit altogether.

Calls were made, and to our delight, two rooms were indeed available at the GTA Trekkers Hut! Although we wouldn’t be refunded the room charges at Sherpa Chalet, I was happy that we would be able to bird around the verdant forests of Garibans, which seemed a far better bet in the weather that would no doubt return to the unhelpful status quo very soon.

In less than half an hour, we were back out of the lodge, with our bags, and by then, Martin had been summoned. We bundled ourselves into the Bolero and commenced our descent forthwith.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-img_2502.jpg

A panorama I snapped up quickly with my phone from the balcony of Sherpa Chalet before we evacuated.


The drive down was something of a revelation. It was the clearest morning we had seen yet on the trip, and no, there was no Sleeping Buddha lining the horizon, but we could see everything in our immediate vicinity we had missed last evening. As we passed by one precipitous hairpin after another, and from one sheer-drop corner to the next, it was exhilaratingly terrifying to realise how close we were to the void while driving in the whiteout.

Asking Martin to stop by one of those turns, we got out to soak in the views drenched in mountain-silence for just a minute.

It will take something more than language to describe the beauty we now witnessed, even in these conditions held back by the haze. Reminder after reminder flooded my elevated emotions of what it is about the mountains in general and the king of the mountains, the Himalaya, the third pole, in particular, that is so mesmerising.

What is it that compels us to undertake these parlous journeys to the parapetless roof of the world, putting ourselves through risk of sickness and injury? Here lay the answer, unutterable, inarticulable. A favourite word from Sanskrit came to mind: achintya (a loose translation being ‘that which cannot be contemplated’). This could only be experienced, not even recalled to the present with its memory later. Speaking of it would cause it to cease, and taking pictures and videos was far, far from an effective tactic. It was there that moment, but the moment itself was slipping away.

It’s funny: when we live intensely, time becomes compressed, and the more you enjoy time, the faster it decays, and one is left to choose between prolonged misery and fleeting bliss. And there hangs the ultimate question: is joy more important or longevity? The Himalaya doesn’t let you choose, just as an electric current doesn’t ask you if it can pass through you. It just flows and shocks. You can insulate yourself for protection from it, but what is the use of such longevity that is not truncated by the joy of burning up fast?

Somewhere before Kaiyakata an unusual bird made an appearance: a black redstart.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc3655.jpg


We then drove ceaselessly, for our focus now wasn’t on finding birds but reaching Garibans as quickly as possible to get relief for Pooja from the depredations of altitude that had beset her. We drove past our Pandim Lodge in Kalipokhri, now bathed in sun. We drove past Habre’s Nest where just the previous day we had enjoyed the sight of a Himalayan thrush under a rhodo tree, and after 90 minutes since we left Sandakphu, pulled into Garibans.

By now the clouds had caught up with us as the glorious sun that blessed us with his touch in the upper reaches had now gone cold with the drop in altitude.

Having a spot of breakfast and admitting Pooja to her room for a badly-needed rest, we set ourselves to birding.

The whole campus resonated to the calls of spotted laughingthrushes and white-browed fulvettas from the understorey, two of my favourite birds on the trip. Occasionally yellow-billed blue magpies called from the forest slopes. We were in avian heaven.

The first bird we found on the walk was a Whistler’s warbler, an incredibly exciting lifer. Differentiated from the grey-crowned warbler, to which it is almost identical, by its dark charcoal-grey, rather than black, head stripes and more pronounced yellow wingbar.


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Soon, another terrific catch: a lemon-rumped warbler, differentiated from the ashy-throated, which as you may recall we had seen earlier, by the white belly rather than yellow.


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We then took our front seats at the feeding station and soon enough, had a spotted laughingthrush attending to the offered meal on the ready, and this time I was able to make some nice closeups.


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Another individual sat evocatively on a low branch in a tree nearby, awaiting its turn.


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In the depression below us, we found what looked like a female dark-breasted rosefinch, although I’m not certain on this count, decorating a pine:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc3778.jpg


Moving a little lower, we were first treated to a member of the stunning species called the red-billed leiothrix. Flitting about as it was in a mossy tangle of dense bushes, the resulting images were certainly no patch on the immaculate portraits that are possible from a hide in Uttarakhand’s Sattal, but that sort of canned photography gives me infinitely less pleasure than thus finding a bird on our own without tricking it with what is effectively a bait.


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Then, venturing to the area behind the feeding station, we walked past a cowshed to be greeted by a wonderful session watching a green-tailed sunbird, who showed off his colours from many a self-flattering angle:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-gtsunbirdcollage.jpg


Next, we espied movement in the bamboo, and upon investigation, found it to be an incredibly adorable golden-breasted fulvetta:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc3894.jpg


Then the green-tailed sunbird, yet unfinished, put in another token appearance, this time the turmeric yellow of his belly deeper with a saffron blush, and the metallic teal of the crown above the rusty mantle shimmering like the shallow sea off a Mauritian beach.


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc3916.jpg


Continuing deeper on that path, we came upon a rocky wall that was overrun with moss, leaf litter and little flowering plants, attended by a bird that enjoys looking for grub in just this habitat, a rufous-breasted accentor.


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What we thought was a passing flirtation turned out to be a rendezvous several minutes long, as it went about its business unfazed by our presence, which, to be fair, we let it hardly feel, by being extremely quiet and limiting movements to very slow and gradual ones. Eventually the accentor ended up quite close to us before we decided to move on:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc3983.jpg


Walking to the end of the path, where our footsteps were ensconced by giant ferns, I spotted a male chestnut-bellied rock thrush perched fairly in the open on a dry tree surrounded by bamboo. Slow and silent walking (some would call this stalking!) allowed us to get as close as this to make a portrait of reasonable appeal:


Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park-_dsc4019.jpg


Little did I know then that this was the last new species of which I’d get a picture on the trip.

Turning around we completed the walk back to the trekkers hut, and at once checked on Pooja. We had hoped that the rest might’ve done her some good, and even thought, in our naive optimism, that she’d rise and enjoy a spot of birding after lunch, at least on the premises of our lodgings. But what we found when we knocked on her door was that she was nearly unable to even walk up to it and let us in, which was alarming. Speaking to her, it was clear that her condition even after more than two hours of being at the lower altitude of Garibans had virtually no improvement, and having no oximeter with us, we were unable to put a number to how scarce her blood oxygen was.

There was only one thing to it: we had to take her further down to Manebhanjan to get her oxygenated.

When one’s destiny is staring one in one’s face, if one is the kind that does not let go of a rope for one’s own good, one hangs on to it with stupid adamance, and the result is more trouble, fuss and inconvenience to all concerned.

This is precisely what now happened, as I thought we’d come back after consulting the doctor in Manebhanjan and getting Pooja oxygenated, to spend the night in Garibans and enjoy another birding session, hopefully in clearer weather, the next morning, which would also be the last.

Accordingly, I instructed Martin not to load any of our bags (which, by the way, still lay in a packed state since we had fallen to birding as soon as reaching Garibans). Wasting no more time, we had a quick spot of lunch and drove to Manebhanjan in good time, via Tumling, Tonglu, Meghma and Chitrey, along the way informing the guard at the Tumling checkpoint that we would return in a bit.

The doctor’s clinic in Manebhanjan was in a recess off a road choked with parked vehicles. Navigating between an Alto and a Scorpio we reached the entrance to his door, took off our shoes as indicated, and entered. The clinic had a small reception hall, and beyond it, veiled by a door curtain, an equally small consultation room with a bed that doubled up as a dentist’s chair.

The doctor was a young chap with long hair tied into a bun. He wore casual clothes and looked like a student working out his assignment time. Stocks of medicine lay stacked in unruly heaps and bundles on one side. On the other, there was a washbasin browned from use.

Filled in on the situation, the first thing he did was check Pooja’s SPO2, and just then, our fate was sealed. It had barely risen, up to only 55. The doctor did a double-take at this, and rather incredulously, took a second reading, which turned out to be the same. Perhaps never having seen such a low reading in his short career so far, he regarded Pooja with a look that betrayed a concerned amazement.

After checking her other vitals, his instructions were succinct and clear: get her oxygenated immediately. And don’t even think about taking her back up to a higher altitude for at least a day.

My heart sank as the full import of this pronouncement was metabolised by my system. There being no oxygen tanks here, Pooja had to be taken to a hospital in Simana, over an hour away. This meant our time in Garibans was over already, as there’d be no way we could leave Pooja to recuperate in town while we headed back to Garibans. But that’s where our luggage lay.

“I told you to take your luggage already when we descended,” said Martin in a nudgy chide. I could hardly blame him for doing an ‘I told you so’.

Samson was called to fetch his Scorpio, and after a quick consultation, we decided that the girls would take Pooja to the hospital, while I would have to go to Garibans with Martin to retrieve the luggage. After regrouping, we’d spend the night in Siliguri.

On our way back up, the heavens, which had been threatening even as we were on our way down from Garibans, erupted fully now, so that we were climbing the twisties of Tonglu and Tumling in a torrential downpour.

It was nearly dark when we went past the Tumling check post, and as we approached one of those bridges en route to Garibans, Martin came to a sudden stop and at the exact same moment I saw it: a male Satyr tragopan stood by the roadside on our left at the base of the hill, half a second before he was about to disappear!

Still pouring precipitately, there was no light or let to take a picture, and nor would the crimson pheasant hang out his magnificent plumes for long enough for me to suit myself getting my camera in order. Accordingly, he made for it just a second after the sight, leaving a permanent impression on my eyes of his dotted red-breast and black-and-blue face as he glared back at us nonplussed, his cover blown by the rain that had contrived to conceal the sound of our vehicle from his sensitive ears.

I looked at Martin elatedly, and said it was too bad the ladies missed it. “At least and at last you got him; a pittance for your troubles,” said Martin.

“Too late to be disappointed,” I joked.

---

It was still pouring hail when we picked up the luggage from Garibans, paid the administrator a pro-rata fee for our use of the rooms, and commenced the long drive back in darkness.

Regrouping somewhere between Manebhanjan and Simana after Pooja had been oxygenated, we bade goodbye to Martin and I tucked into the Scorpio to descend further into Siliguri, which, at a little over 100 m, would be the ideal place for Pooja to recover.

When I put my head to the pillow that night, exhausted, I reflected on the turn of events. Had we got that which we came for? Mostly, no. The failure to spot even so much as a silver thread of the Sleeping Buddha’s magnificent form smarted like an open wound. But in the wreckage of its futile pursuit, as if carried on one of the snow plumes from the Kumbhakarna, at the head of the Buddha, I found something far more valuable: a gleaming lesson.

That it is for us to dream, hope, ask and seek, but it’s also on us to sever ourselves from the result of it all. If we can do that, we realise something fundamental to our happiness:

The reward is not in the result, but in the freedom from it.

A favourite song by Sir Mark Knopfler began playing in my mind:

Tonight your beauty burns into my memory
The wheel of heaven turns above us endlessly
This is all the heaven we got, right here where we are
In our Shangri-La
In our Shangri-La


I wondered when I'd be able to return to beautiful Singalila. But before I could venture an answer, I fell asleep right there – in our Shangri-La.

Last edited by BackstraightBoy : 24th January 2023 at 16:45.
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Old 25th January 2023, 07:20   #7
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!

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Old 25th January 2023, 08:28   #8
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

Wow! What an awesome read! I was happy to see your travelogue first thing in the morning, and read it in one go. Fantastic write up and great photographs! I knew you were a great photographer, but now I now you are a fantastic writer too, BackstraightBoy!

Thank you for writing this and for sharing the photographs! This is an inspirational travelogue for sure.

P.S. Very nice poetry too. Loved the poems!

Last edited by Dr.AD : 25th January 2023 at 08:36. Reason: Added P.S.
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Old 25th January 2023, 11:09   #9
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

Lovely travelogue with some amazing photos, Santosh. Looking forward to more from you in the future.
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Old 25th January 2023, 11:53   #10
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Re: Finding Our Shangri-La in Singalila

Quote:
Originally Posted by BackstraightBoy View Post
The lifers (birds I had never seen before) on my list looked like this, the number of exclamation marks being directly proportionate to the ardour with which I wanted to see them:
That's an impressive list of lifers for one visit, poora paisa vasool.
Equally impressive photographs and narration. Thanks for sharing.
By the Way, how do you ID the birds? I use the book 'Birds of Indian Subcontinent', Merlin App and google lens.
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Old 25th January 2023, 13:36   #11
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

What a great travelogue and equally lovely photographs.
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Old 25th January 2023, 13:46   #12
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

Wow, what an excellent writeup, read in a long time on TBHP. Seems you picked up from where your Asmatic Ertiga story stopped . And what a beautiful feat achieved in photography be it landscape or birding. Its a different kind of Singalila trip than what we see from most BHPians who are mostly focused on conquering the offroading challenge in reaching the Sandakphu top. Yours focus on the nature and its beings all around this place, soaking them at leisure, like a poet. Thoroughly enjoyed the narration and visuals, many thanks for penning down. Rated this 5 stars and eagerly waiting for your next trip.

Last edited by haisaikat : 25th January 2023 at 13:48.
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Old 25th January 2023, 14:49   #13
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

An amazing write-up and excellent narration, equally great pictures! Thanks for those birding pictures interlaced with beautiful poems! I think I spent my afternoon doing the best - reading through the log!
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Old 25th January 2023, 17:54   #14
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

That is one amazing thread with a jaw dropping list of lifers (which most of us birders can only dream of esp in one single trip) and an equally amazing write-up. You sure have a flair for writing.

Finished the thread in one single read.
Hope to do this trip sometime in the near future. Thanks for sharing
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Old 25th January 2023, 18:45   #15
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Re: Finding our Shangri-La in Singalila | Birds, Land Rovers & Singalila National Park

Excellent thread, Santosh! Brilliant photographs and the story telling is awesome as always!
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