The aircraft landed on Guwahati tarmac on a glorious day, and the Tour Skippers whisked the participants at once to the most unattractive destination of the Tour – a dump.
Although on the onset this sounds unappetising, the precious opportunity it offers to photograph the endangered greater adjutant stork fills you with quite the contrary sentiment when you reach the site.
After a malodorous but winsome session, wherein they bore witness also to many a lesser adjutant stork, black kite and drongo alighting on the garbage to their utter delight, the group moved on to lunch in a much more palatable environment, albeit one that lacked any birds.
Six hours’ driving later, they had reached the first scenic destination of the Tour – the enchanting Nameri Tiger Reserve.
After checking in, there occurred a mutual introduction session. And after the proverbial ice had been broken, crushed and melted to water, Sachin and Phillip spoke about what lay in store on the Tour in general and the next day in particular. Both sounded exciting.
Next morning they headed out to keep their date with Wild Assam, and soon reached the banks of the Jia Bhoroli River. Here, they were greeted by the sight of three wreathed hornbills flying over the river – a reward for having fought off the urge to linger in bed in the pristine lap of the Nameri Eco Camp.
As they waited for the boats to arrive from the far bank, the Skippers alerted the group to two ruddy shelducks feeding – a brisk start to any day of birding anywhere in the world, and not a bad way to spend time waiting for boatmen!
Crossing over to the other side of the river, they entered Nameri Tiger Reserve, and promptly found themselves engulfed by bird songs that were conspicuously absent on the other bank. The Skippers completed the permit formalities, and the group commenced the trek.
The artistes behind the songs soon started appearing, with sultan tit, maroon oriole, scarlet minivet and red-breasted parakeet breaking cover. And as the Skipper-duo led the group to a watchtower, a Malayan giant squirrel granted its view. But there was something that lay veiled.
The characteristic guttural rumble of an elephant thundered menacingly nearby.
Sticking together, they trailed the guard to an opening, where they came upon the pachyderm grazing in an open grassland. Excitement reached a zenith as the group watched an elephant on foot, but restraint was exercised to ensure their feet were firmly grounded.
A short while later, those feet moved further down the road, and found tiger droppings from the previous night – really the next best thing to seeing the tiger itself. A rare little pied flycatcher, which likely had nothing to do with the droppings, was found a few yards ahead.
By now the participants were feeling a bit peckish from all the activity, so it was time to pause for breakfast, for which they went to another watchtower.
These watchtowers certainly seem to be serving their purpose of allowing wildlife to be watched, for as they approached the structure, the guard heard something and asked the group to freeze.
Going ahead, he found a herd of four elephants at the nearby waterhole. Excited but cautious, the group went up the tower and watched the elephants drinking right below them. And once the small herd moved on after quenching their giant thirst, the giant group proceeded to quell their small hunger.
Resuming their walk post the morning revivers, they chanced upon another Malayan giant squirrel and shortly after, one of the guides spotted an amazing-looking tokay gecko.
Having enjoyed watching a whole cornucopia of wildlife, participants couldn’t ask for more, so the Skippers called it a morning and led the group back across the river and into the camp for lunch.
The winter sun sets early in this part of the world, so there wasn’t much time to lose. The group headed out again, crossing the river for a short birding trek in pursuit of the white-winged wood duck.
Visiting a few jheels where they’re usually seen sadly did not bear fruit on this occasion but they did find other gems like:
- the scaly thrush, whose sight causes joy on a large scale;
- the snowy-browed flycatcher, which is as much fun to watch as playing in snow;
- the bronzed drongo, which makes you feel you’ve won at least a bronze medal at a bird race;
- the lesser yellow-naped woodpecker, which is no less a find than its greater cousin; and
- the black-necked stork, which causes you to stick your neck out and very rightly declare it a beauty.
Then as they were heading back to the ferry, they saw small pratincoles near the river, and were alerted to the sight of three wreathed hornbills flying right overhead, the hushed swishing of their wings a silent herald of the imminent dusk.
The day had ended as it had begun.
That night around the bonfire, the group was treated to a local tribal performance, allowing participants to ingest some lovely local culture amidst the wildlife bonanza, and add some music to all the ‘paintings’ they had seen in the great outdoors. Following a memorable performance, the Skippers prepared the participants for the next day’s rafting experience, which, they said, would be every bit as memorable.
Early next morning, they drove the group twenty kilometres to the rafting point to keep their promise, whence four participants seated themselves comfortably in each raft for a picturesque sail down the Jia Bhoroli river.
Just then the sun propped itself above the horizon and the water glistened in aureate glory. In this charged setting a steppe eagle was seen feeding on fish by the bank, and as the gold content in the light rose to a spectacle, it was the group that fed well – on the visual delicacies of ibisbills and goosanders.
Says Phillip, “The rafting experience was fantastic as it was largely smooth sailing with some rapids here and there, to lend variety to the excitement.”
This, while they were fed on a constant optical diet of white-capped redstart, little heron, little ringed plover, river and northern lapwings, and great thick-knee.
“The two-and-a-half-hour rafting experience was something everybody savoured and won’t forget in a hurry,” concludes Phillip.
Elsewhere in the concrete world away from the innocence of nature, it was a day of state-wide bundh, so the group was forced to depart behind schedule.
Relaxedly, therefore, partaking of an Assamese lunch that Phillip would later term “scrumptious”, they packed their bags and commenced their three-hour drive to Kaziranga, the land of the ‘giants of the floodplains’, where they would check in to a truly beautiful resort with oak trees on the campus and a great view stretching out beyond it all the way to perfection.
Then it was time for some serious photography learning, the good-fashioned Toehold way.
Speaking on exposure in the ChaayaChitra session, the Skippers brushed up the participants’ basics with a lucidly explanatory presentation, and then proceeded to impart handy tips on nailing exposure on the upcoming safaris.
The stage was set, and so were the cameras.