I was fortunate to be a part of a very educative experience, which got cut short midway but nonetheless proved to be more beautiful than any planned exercise.I’d been busy with some work of my own when planning for Ngengpui began and though I knew I would be travelling with the group I was not able to spend time in understanding what they were planning to do. Well turns out that the group would be part of a census excercise and would be making observations and recording signs related to some carnivores and animals they prey on along with documenting various details of vegetation.
Bungtlang village was the Beat within the sanctuary that we were headed for. Huge tall trees dotted the landscape way before the sanctuary began. Increasing in number with every bend in the road. Clusters of these loomed above us as we passed.Our first stop was the Ngengpui village and the Range Office of the sanctuary. An open space with the standard sofa’s that we’ve found in most homes and offices- including our own (I love it). Unlike many a rest house or office spaces, this one seemed very at home with its surroundings. There were trees around the campus, which did not follow any human landscaping or design dictate. Children were running about freely and friendly smiles of the people working there added to the feeling of the overall un-starched comfort.
But we had to get going as Bungtlang was our destination. About a two hour drive from Ngengpui which was equally if not more beautiful. We were in a soft top gypsy and open to the breeze and minty wisps in it. Just before we reached the sanctuary viewing point I saw a movement on a tall tree in front of our car, I thought I’d recognized it but couldn’t believe my luck so strained out of the window and over the top and watched it again as we rolled to a stop- yup sure enough it was a hornbill! Excited but embarrassed as I’m sure for our companions this was not a new sight or cause for such jubilation. We looked through the bird guide and figured out it was the Brown Hornbill.
From the sanctuary view point
Next stop was the sanctuary view point, it offered what its name seemed to promise a magnificent view of the sanctuary. A flight of stairs lead to the platform and the breeze coupled with the brilliant view ahead had us all quiet for a while. We reached Bungtlang in the evening, had a sumptuous dinner in the market and proceeded to the LADC guest house. I watched Nimesh run through with his colleague the census process made some notes on what I would find exciting and then crashed for the day.
By six the next morning we were ready and on our way to the site of the camp. We reached it in what ideally would have been a half an hour’s drive, had it not been for a tree fallen across the road. I hopped out and squatted around watching the clearing process. As there was no way that one could even nudge the tree for a millimeter , the driver of our companions dug up the path under it, repeated attempts later after increasing decreasing the depth under the fallen tree and scraping of a part of it bark we were able to move on and reach our destination. The pick up was to come back in about three days to take us all back.
Home for a night
A hut built last year was used by the department to camp at when they stayed in the forest and the same was where the six of us were housed. Beside a stream (the portion closest to the hut was now dry, awaiting the monsoons) it would be a perfect place to return to after a day of walking around. A flat piece of land with the hills slopes beginning very close at hand.
First things first- we got our meal ready and then post some discussions decided what was to be done. Walking the search line was on the agenda- which was along the stream, or rather in/on it in some cases. We walked through the stream bed looking for signs of carnivores. Squishing along the puddles and soon wading through a steadyish stream, climbing over some fallen trees we made our way.
A little ahead of us I saw jack wildly gesturing and not making a sound. He kept pointing to the ground and there by the stream was a swarm (do you use this to describe butterflies?) of butterflies, blue tones dominating. I understand it’s called mudpuddling. I could get relatively close to get some images , but yours truly was so nervous of the whole bunch taking off if alarmed much that I’m afraid nothing very impressive could be achieved.
Soon enough the sky became heavily overcast and we could hear the rumble above, we treaded on for a while but the Forester with us , considered it best that we return as it was definitely to be a storm. A tad reluctantly we made a retreat but not without the sighting of another Hornbill, which definitely helped in washing away a bit of the dismay.
It was it was one in the afternoon and in the cloud cover everything around looked like ash smeared. Getting back seemed to have been wise as the pretty soon rains and thunder lashed down. Heaven drums one of us said and mimicked what must have been the percussionist god! A side of the hut had been wall-less, and as much as it seemed practical on dry day (you could throw out kitchen trash, brush wash and spit etc) it would definitely prove to our disadvantage considering the raging showers. Soon a half wall was constructed by weaving strips of bamboo through each other. Speaking of bamboo, we had ladles, a chutney mixer and glasses all made of the same.
Dinner was done by 5 and we laid out our sleeping bags and soon the hut was transformed into a dormitory, six of us under three mosquito nets. Post midnight I woke up to the sound of grunts of disturbed sleep and thunder claps. The storm it seems was not done with. Lightning made us all look like characters straight out of a Ramsay film. Soon the rain was lashing in and we all huddled away from the open edges and doors of the hut. There was nothing much to be done other than watching the glowing embers of cigarettes smoked, the fire in the hearth was lit again as one of us was terribly cold. He huddled close to it after putting 3-4 shirts on, while we talked and there was an occasional nervous half giggle. Strangely in a similar stormy night in Saiha, I remember being scared, this time I just felt curious and found myself thinking of all that must be happening inside the forest so close at hand. Trees were falling around and in the morning we realized that the stream was in full throttle. Where a day earlier we were walking the streams bed, today we had to be conscious of our balance while crossing the energetic flow. Gushing muddy waters and drongos were our companions the next morning and we couldn’t have asked for more.
Unfortunately for the actual purpose of the visit the storm was not showing signs of being over done with. No signs would be found in these rains so we decided to pack up and leave. We started off on the road by which we had arrived and realized that the trees had fallen all around the place. Such gigantic ones too at that. Infact just above our hut there was a victim and I was just glad it didn’t come crashing down on the unsuspecting half dozen of us below.
Soon the rains began and it coincided with the first of the may short cuts(read torturously steep climb) we had to take and lasted all the way till we reached home. The comfort of the road was lost and I often found myself on fours trying to scramble up the descent, or sitting and semi sliding down a slope. An uncle accompanying us eventually took over the tri pod that I had dangling from my arm. I felt guilty but it was for the better as the tripod anyway seemed to disagree with all my strategies of maintaining a balance.
Slippery -rock n mud paths and my constant focus on the ground I was stepping on didn’t let me take a good look around. But I enjoyed the rain as I always have -+- was a little perturbed by the thunder -+- thanked god for the cheerfulness I felt despite what would have been in a usual day pretty patience testing-+- and was ready to do a dramatic falling on my knees SRK style when we finally spotted the school ground and our companions under its shed.
Our companions on the trip will possibly never get around to reading this post, but the sensitivity extended by them to us has had us in awe. On the walk back to the village, heavier bags they selected for themselves, leaving the relatively lighter ones for us who were new to the terrain. I realized later, that the uncle who grabbed the tripod off me was actually carrying in his bag bed sheets and blankets, in the rains it must have become quite a heavy bundle. He insisted on being the last in the group, so that he could be of assistance if anyone of us met with some trouble. I felt embarrassed that he had to give a helping hand to me on top of all the adjustments he was already making on this walk and hope that someday I will able to possess at least a small measure of such ready generosity towards strangers.