SWARNA V. AND S. RAMAKRISHNAN
Birdwatching, rafting, trekking, angling ... there is much to keep one busy at Nameri.
FROM the moment you step into Nameri you are sure to hear, "White-winged wood duck... White-winged wood duck," like an oft-repeated mantra. A pair of binoculars around your neck is enough to attract a few local lads. "Wood duck dekha?" (Did you see the wood duck?), "Kab... Kahan?" (When... where?), they ask with genuine curiosity. That is when you realise that the wood duck is not just another avian species in Nameri... but one that is truly venerated not because it is an avatar of a God; truly adored not because it has good looks; truly valued not because it brings any monetary benefit to the locals... but specially because there are only about a few hundred of them left in the entire world.
Nameri is one of the last haunts of this endangered bird. The locals and the Forest Department know that the duck is a prized possession and they protect it with an ardent passion. After half a day of hard trekking, we managed to spot and photograph eight of these ducks in a pond deep inside the evergreen jungle of Nameri. If you love true wilderness, then Nameri is just the place for you. And if you are birder, then Nameri is the Holy Grail. Nameri National Park and Tiger Reserve (200 sq. km.), an obscure, little known destination, in the northern edge of Assam was declared a National Park as late as 1998. The Jia-Bhoroli and its tributaries, which swell to dangerous levels during the torrential monsoon, drain Nameri, the third National Park in the State. The dense Pakhui Sanctuary of West Arunachal Pradesh is contiguous to this Park on its North Eastern boundary. The inaccessibility and contiguity with neighbouring forest areas have benefited the thriving wildlife in Nameri.
Our visit to this paradise was in the beginning of winter, which is the best period for birding and photography, especially to see rarities like the Ibisbill (a specialised wader of Himalayan rivers), Long-billed plover, Hornbills, White-winged wood duck and several more. We stayed at the delightful Eco-Camp, a tented camp with basic yet comfortable facilities and delightful service. The large green army tents in the camp are set on concrete platforms and have a thatched roof overhead. Single beds made of thick bamboo frames appointed with warm quilts invite you to the interior of the tent. Adjacent to the back of the tent is the changing area with a sink and a little tin door on the side takes you to the toilet (western) and shower area. The Eco-Camp was set up in 1994 by the local Forest Department (Wildlife) and The Assam (Jia-Bhoroli) Angling and Conservation Association. Like most government set-ups, though it had a fair amount of loyal clientele, this camp was run-down till the current manager Ronesh Roy took up the responsibility of the Camp's Director.
Today Ronesh, with his signature cigarette smoke trail, is a ubiquitous figure in the Camp and has turned it around to a profitable and fairly popular destination. Ronesh has very successfully involved the locals, especially the youngsters of the Mising tribe in his venture. He employs them as river guides, for housekeeping and F&B. They have also been encouraged to take up bird watching and many of them have learnt a lot from the bird books given to them by Ronesh. The Camp is well frequented by anglers from Kolkata for the waters of Jia-Bhoroli next-door are home to the endangered Golden Mahseer and the Short-gilled Mahseer.The diversity of wildlife in Nameri does not stop to amaze you. The most pleasurable part of the camp is the diversity of bird life one can watch near the camp. The myriad colours, calls, sounds and movements keep you on your toes.
Nameri is also home to some of the endangered mammals like Sloth Bear, Tiger, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Sambar, Gaur, Indian wild dog, Capped Langur and the Asiatic Elephants. We were very lucky to spot an elusive Capped Langur one morning as we just set out on a trek into the park. Its golden yellow coat shone brilliantly in the early morning sunlight.The park has a large elephant population and due to the reduction of forest cover, these pachyderms sometimes invade villages to raid crops. This human-elephant conflict is apparent even if you don't run into a herd in the Park. Every guide carries a loaded rifle when patrolling the park. Our guide fired off a blank one evening to ward off an elephant herd very close to camp! Activities at Nameri include trekking, angling during the season (October-April) and rafting on the Jia-Bhoroli. While trekking trails are not too long and are usually birding trails, rafting is very exciting and can also be very productive for the hard-core birder. There are great birding opportunities on the river as well as in the virgin evergreen jungle beyond the banks. We took a daylong rafting trip from a point about 15 km upstream to Eco-Camp. The landscape was stunning with evergreen forests on both sides and the snow-capped peaks of the Arunachal Himalayas offering a stunning backdrop. Midway through the trip we stopped at a beach and the guides made a fantastic picnic. Nameri is beyond doubt pristine and truly a virgin wilderness experience!