Reaching the Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh a tiger reserve that shares a 40 km international boundary with Myanmar is quite an adventure.
Reaching the Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh a tiger reserve that shares a 40 km international boundary with Myanmar is quite an adventure. The closest urban hubs are Tinsukia or Dibrugarh,in eastern Assam. Taxis seldom go to this far eastern tip of India. If you manage to get on a bus to Miao,a sub-divisional township in Changlang district,the remaining 25 km to Deban are just as difficult. One has to negotiate two rivulets that locals say gushes down during heavy rains,and the roads get slippery.
It took more than two hours,and was pitch dark when we reached Deban,the base camp in the forest. We hitched a ride from Miao with Dr M Firoz Ahmed,a conservation biologist with Aaranyak,a NGO that helped conduct the tiger census at Namdapha. Mobile and internet connectivity had already drawn a blank,but thanks to solar power,the forest rest house had its own electricity supply.
The sunrise here is almost two hours ahead of Indian Standard Time. We woke up to whistling winds that started well before sunrise. The swirling waters of the Noa-Dihing river add to the orchestra of numerous birds ringing in the air. The garden surrounding the forest rest house is strewn with leaves. Two other rivers,Namdapha and Deban,both said to be snow-fed,pass though the park to join the Noa-Dihing that finally joins the Brahmaputra in the Assam valley.
Ahmed told us that spotting a tiger is a difficult task even inside Kaziranga which has over 100 big cats,one of the largest concentrations in the country. In Namdapha,where the very existence of tigers has been in doubt for the past few years,spotting one was improbable until two cameras located about 500 metres apart recorded three photographs of the majestic animal. Not far away from where we stayed,we saw two or three pugmarks which Ahmed said,were of the common leopard.
Early morning,we trekked through the thick undergrowth of Namdapha,the lowlands being a virtual extension of the evergreen Dihing-Patkai rainforests,with Ahmed,as our guide. He often reminded us of being wary of leeches or insects that might creep up our trousers. We trekked about 14 km,under the shadow of the hollong and mekai trees,both important timber species endemic to the region.
Despite the warning,when we got back to the forest rest house,we had several red marks on our hands. It’s the damdim,an insect smaller than a mosquito. It will itch for sometime and the scar will disappear in a few days, said Dr Ahmed,advising us to use mosquito-repellants during our subsequent trips.
During our stay,Ahmed narrated his teams experience of the tiger census. We encountered several leopards as well as civet cats and marble cats, especially in the makeshift camps deep inside the reserve. But we were thrilled when one of our teams photographed pugmarks which are definitely of a female tiger not far away from where the two cameras had clicked the male tiger, he said.
Their cameras had also captured over 40 photographs of the leopard cat,the marble cat,the common leopard,and the clouded leopard. Namdapha was declared a National Park in 1983 and is the 15th tiger reserve in India that covers 1985 sq km. It’s almost double the area of Kaziranga and the largest national park in India. Incidentally,it is the only park in the world to have four feline species of the big cats.
There were a number of local people to assist the tiger census at the park. Of the 130-odd people involved,only 14 were from Aaranyak. The rest included officers,frontline staff,protection squad members,porters and also a couple of mahouts. Atom,a local youth from Miao,was the head of the strike force of 20 young men who were given guns to ward off poachers. Japong Pansa was one of the two mahouts who often led the teams clearing dense forests that had probably never seen human footsteps.
Namdapha,in the eastern Himalayas,however is not just about tigers. Thanks to its altitudinal variation ranging from 200 metres to 4571 metres (mean sea level),it is home to the snow leopards too. It is also listed by Conservation International,World Wildlife Fund and International Union for Conservation of Nature as one among the 12 biodiversity megaspots because of its location at the confluence of the Indo-Chinese realm and the Indo-Malayan bio-geographic realm.
The park has 29 species of animals and 13 species of birds listed while the Botanical Survey of India has also found a lot of rare species of flora here. Its fauna wealth includes 10 species of earthworms,five species of leeches,430 species of inspects (barring butterflies),355 species of butterflies and moths,76 species of fish,50 species of reptiles,665 species of birds,25 species of amphibians and 97 species of mammals.
But park director Jongsam is worried all is not well with Namdapha. In a letter to the state government recently,he wrote about the necessity of acquiring more manpower and funds to manage the Namdapha National Park and to protect it. What we immediately require is a regular tiger protection force, he wrote.