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21 January 2007 @ 05:29 pm
Blue Mountain National Park, Mizoram  
My feet struggle to find a good hold. Inches away is a cliff, several hundred meters deep. The scenery is breath-taking but I can't get any closer. My heart races. Somewhere along the slopes in the distance could be wild goat, the Goral. My eyes scan the slopes, with my mind trying hard to crack the camouflage puzzle. The cool wind slices through the many layers of wool. I'm dizzy, and with fatigue catching up, I cannot continue. Not with heavy camera gear on my back. I see no Goral. Maybe I'll see a clouded leopard instead? And before I pass out with foolish anticipation, I sit for a breather. It's now quiet, with only my panting breaking the delightful midday silence. There's a speckle on the blue sky and it's getting bigger. An eagle is soaring and it's moving towards me. Quickly. And then it dives and disappears into the forest below.





Travel

At a little over two hundred and thirty kilometers from Aizawl, the distance does not seem much on paper, or even for those used to driving on the highways in the plains. In remote mountains, it's a different story, where it means a dawn to dusk drive and we drove nearly the length of the state of Mizoram. There's no better way to see life than on the road and while we drove past towns and villages and forests, it gave us the opportunity to see everyday life in rural Mizoram. It's a place of mountains and forests, of tin houses, wooden vehicles, coloured hair and English pop music. People seem to be content and happy and gregarious. I heard it was not always like this and there were insurgency problems in the past, but it surely looks very peaceful now. The roads are narrow and even though they are well maintained it's not wise to drive too quickly. The main highway ended a little before sunset and we arrived at a bridge-less river. Here, a ferry service from the Border Roads Organisation was to help us cross the water and we were just in time for one of it's last trips for the day. The Chhimtuipui river forms the international boundary between India and Myanmar in some places, but this part of the river was completely in Indian territory and beyond the river were the mud roads - the last stretch towards our destination for the day - Sangau. We quickly realized the remoteness of the region - roads hardly used, no villages, no people and endless expanse of forests on either side of the road.




Sangau

Sangau is a remote town close to the India-Myanmar border. It has a military base and a Burmese supermarket! Well, not exactly a supermarket, but there are a lot of shops selling the latest in fashion imported from the neighbouring country - shirts with Ozzy and Beckham and Kurt Cobain, and Adidas shoes and caps of English Football clubs among other things!

The forest rest house at Sangau is situated on top of a small hill and it's in a fairly good shape given the remoteness of the place. We arrived at Sangau hours after dusk. Tired and hungry after the day long drive, we walked into the rest house and met the waiting forest range officer and his subordinates. He was an old grey-haired man and knew a bit of English. We were talking about things to do for the next few days in the nearby Phwangpui, or Blue Mountain, when he told us that food was almost ready.

"We are preparing good Chicken for you" he said with a smile.

Oops. We were all vegetarians and we immediately told him about it. There was a look of disbelief on the faces of the locals in the room, "Are there such people who are vegetarians?" seemed to be their question, while one of them ran towards the kitchen to change the food menu.

"You ask us any food, but not vegetarian food please. It is very difficult for vegetables here." one of them said.

Well, we knew this and we were prepared. We pulled out a bag of vegetables and gave it to the cook. Life is difficult in these places, and we surely did not want to trouble them more with our food preferences. We had a quiet dinner and spoke to the locals about wildlife in the place. It didn't seem like there were too many mammals, but they all agreed that there were lots of birds. So, looking forward for the days ahead on the peak, we retired for the day.




Drive to Blue Mountain

Sangau to Farpak rest house inside the Blue Mountain National park is just 14 kilometers. That's two hours drive. That is if the car is good enough for the road! I've never been in a car that was being driven so carefully and so slowly. The meandering roads were wet and slippery and some places so steep the car would just not go with us inside it. If there was a good natural test track for an off-roader - this was it. The sun was now up and the birds calling and it was time for us to get on to the road and take the walk. We let the car go on and with our camera and recording gear, started the steep ascent. Several hours later, I managed to reach the resthouse. By now, the three of us had separated and the previous day's travel and the morning walk took it's toll on my body and I just didn't feel like doing anything else that day. I was feeling sick and there's hasn't been a better time I felt so good while being sick! With the cool breeze over my head and the sunlight on my face, I slept and woke up in the evening, completely recharged and ready for adventure!



In Blue Mountain

The beauty of this place is the range of habitats - from evergreen sholas to grasslands. And with no other people in the entire park, life is good for watching wildlife. Watch you may, but photography turned out to be a dull affair. The forests were dark and the birds being major skulkers, you can hear them and see them in the bushes all the time but can't get a focus on them. And even if the focus happens by fluke, there's not enough light to make a picture - not without an artificial light source and that's one thing I hate to use. The bird list was long and lifers were many, but photographs few. No complaints as there's always next time for photographs, isn't it? :)

The days were spent walking around the Farpak rest house, which is a beautiful place. One afternoon, I was just got out of the resthouse with the camera around my neck and was looking for birds to pop out from the trees around. It was strangely quiet and I sat on the stairs in front of the rest house. Minutes passed with nothing happening when our cook walked in towards the rest house from the road on the opposite side and for some reason I looked up. Surprise. And shock! A mighty peregrine falcon was sitting out in the open on the top of the tree right in front of me and was looking at me! And as soon as I looked, it flew without giving a second thought. For five minutes she was there, looking at me and I had no clue. I had been an idiot for I will never get a better chance to shoot a Peregrine from so close. Among others species we missed out on were the rare and beautiful Blyth's Tragopan, the Mountain Bamboo partridge and the Maroon Oriole. All of them being the classic case of they spotting us first in the game of hide and seek!

There's a path from the Farpak rest house through an evergreen patch of forest which is dark and even spooky, for there's no light there even at noon! And this path leads to a patch of dry grassland. If you're not scared of heights, this path continues along the edge of the grassland all the way to the peak of Blue Mountain - the highest point in Mizoram. It was quiet with not much activity, except for two courting Honey Buzzards in the skies above, but it looked like a predator highway at night. We saw scat at several points and our guide told us it belonged to the Marbled cat. He could be right, but I believe it could be the more commoner Leopard cat.



The return drama

The drive back to Aizawl was an eventful one. We saw many birds and even got some great photographs and all the while we were getting delayed. We nearly paid the price for that when we got to the ferry to cross the river. The boat was not in service!They had been having problems with the dynamo and the batteries had died. While the people were optimistic of getting the boat up and running in three to four hours, we were worried because even after we crossed the river, there were at least eight hours ahead of us and the sun was rapidly moving down. After a wait that seemed never-ending, we finally heard the boat's engine roar and we were all set to move.


Blue Mountain National park is a good place for birds. And the three days we spent there were surely not enough to do justice to the place. Next time, it's going to be a week or two, maybe.




All along the way from Aizawl to Sangu, the views were like this one




Crossing the Chhimtuipui river




The road to Sangau is muddy and has temporary bridges like this one




Feral Animals? No sign of humans on the road though.




A bridge for humans across the Chhimtuipui river




The same bridge




The Border Roads Organisation's Ferry service to cross the river




Dusty roads along the river's edge




Shops in Sangau




Clothes - straight from Burma!




Kids playing on the streets




The Sangau Forest Rest house.




A super-large Praying Mantis watches us




Distances from place to place in Blue Mountain. Some of them are accessible only on foot.




The rest house at Farpak




Simple but good food. Our diet for seven days in Mizoram!




Sunrise at Blue Mountain. Click here for a larger image.




Night at Blue Mountain. Clear skies and thousands of stars. Click here for a larger image to count the stars!!




Art of keeping warm in a cold place in a remote place




The grassland around Farpak. The peak can be seen in the distance and the evergreen patch of forest in-between.




The Chin Hills, of which Blue Mountain National park is a part of.




We decide to walk instead of risking it in the car on narrow slippery roads! That's my friend Sudhir with his bazooka-class lens. Sudhir is an awesome wildlife photographer and you can see all his work on his website - The Jungle Look




Pratap Singh recording bird calls. An ace birdwatcher and an excellent source of information for India's Natural History and forests, it was a great honour to travel with him.




And that's me.




Rare birds like this Shrike-babbler pop up suddenly and disappear. And it's nearly impossible to have the right settings all the time. This was a mistake - ISO 1600 and not using spot-metering. :(




But then, there's always something good when birding. This is a streak-throated Yuhina in a flowering tree




A really tiny squirrel - the Little Striped Squirrel




A beautiful and rare Grey Sibia




Grey-hooded Warbler




An Oriental Honey Buzzard




The beautiful Golden-Fronted Barbet




A female Bunting along the foothills of Blue Mountain




A bunch of kids we met while walking down from Farpak to Sangau




The forest guard at Blue Mountain National park.




Time stands still for this old truck




Our bird guide




On the return journey, the ferry had broken down and while everyone was anxious, this kid was praying for the boat to start working soon. Maybe her prayers worked!






For Sudhir's version of the trip and better photographs, here's a link to his report


 
 
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
IdahoSwedeidahoswede on January 21st, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
You've been absent for awhile, but it was worth the wait for you to start posting again. Thank you!
ZuZusuzan_s on January 21st, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
Great, great photos. I love the one with the solitary walker on the bridge across the river.
Shivakumarshivakumar_l on January 21st, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
Super trip report -- very detailed indeed.
Nice to see those *non wildlife* sort of images from you.
Wish to visit this place at-least once in near future.
depontideponti on January 21st, 2007 07:53 pm (UTC)
WOW Yathin. You delayed me by twenty minutes because I just could not stop looking. The bridge photos...and the portraits, esp of the guards...wonderful.

thank you.
eh_donia: meeh_donia on January 22nd, 2007 12:37 am (UTC)
lovely pics. i loved the pic of the sky. wish i had a good camera to be able to take some myself... and ive seen some great skies recently! but they are intact in my mind so no loss there.
keep posting!
Premnath Kudvapremkudva on January 22nd, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot dude:-)
sandeepdeepsan on January 22nd, 2007 06:07 am (UTC)
Feral Animals, Sunrise at Blue Mountain, Time stands still for this old truck : beautiful!
sakthiyuvarajasakthiyuvaraj on January 22nd, 2007 08:31 am (UTC)
Awesome write up
Enjoyed reading it.
kejnkejn on January 22nd, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC)
i love how all birds seem to pose for you with the most interesting backgrounds - often flowers, leaves or branches that compliment their feathers beautifully. :-)

the picture of sudhir walking on the slippery path reminds me of a mountain trail i walked on the island of madeira, a trail bending just like that with lush greenery all around. only i had a "levada", a little water ditch, running along the path. nice to relive old memories through someone else's new. :-)

also, i was telling my mother today about your pictures and how the faces of the people you photographed seem to have this aura of natural beauty and kindness. i think they do, anyway.
(Anonymous) on January 26th, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
Beautiful
Great report, beautiful pictures....makes me feel homesick..

Though I am from Mizoram, I have never been to Phawngpui..planned to but never been there yet. I hope you find it interesting and had fun.
manuelkima on January 30th, 2007 03:58 am (UTC)
Well Captured!
My family hails from a small village by the Blue Mountain. Its called S. Vanlaiphai and its been ages since I've been there. This brings back a lot of childhood memories. To sum up what you have captured both in words and photographs "awesome."
Yathinyathin on February 20th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Well Captured!
Thanks - you folks do live in a beautiful place. :)
(Anonymous) on June 12th, 2007 09:31 am (UTC)
A treat
Yathin its clement here,
The pics on this page is an absolute treat. The colors are just gorgeous. A very high standard work for a trip report. Every one should adopt to pics. like these.

Congrats once again.
Clement
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )