Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mae Hong Son - The Land of Three Mists

After a very exciting 6 weeks in India it was time to move on.  On March 12 we flew from New Delhi to Bangkok, Thailand where we spent the night.  The next morning we flew via Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand where we would spend the next week.  Our base was the Fern Resort 7 km outside of town.  Here we quickly made new friends including the giant Tokay Geckos that visited our bungalow at night.

Tokay Gecko

The resort is right next to Mae Surin National Park and we took a walk along the Mae Sakud Nature Trail to explore a piece of the Park.  During this time of year it is very hot and dry.  The temperature soared to over 100 degrees and most of the trees had lost their leaves.  There were many fires burning in the forest and even along our path in the forest.  We later learned that the locals set fire to the forest understory for two reasons:  One, it clears the forest floor of the dry leaves that crunch underfoot allowing for better hunting;  two, it promotes the growth of a particular mushroom that fetches a hefty price.  We climbed up to a viewpoint where we couldn't see much because of all the haze and smoke before heading back to the resort.
 
Mae Surin National Park

We met our local guide, Ball, the following morning for a day tour north of Mae Hong Son.  First on our agenda was a 2-hour bamboo raft ride on the Pai River.  We had never been on a bamboo raft before but them seemed very stable even when negotiating the tiny rapids along our way.

Heading for a Rapid on the Pai River

Next up was a visit to the Chinese Village of Bak Thai near the border with Myanmar.  The Kuomintang in Burma (KMT) Chinese Nationalist fighters fled here from Yunnan province in 1949 after their defeat to the Communists in the Chinese Civil War.  In the past this town was notorious for growing opium and smuggling it to Burma.  The King of Thailand visited here and convinced the locals to convert from growing poppies and selling opium to tourism.  

Bak Thai Village
 
We later visited a Hmong and Shan village, a sustainable agricultural project supported by the Royal Family, a waterfall and an abysmal zoo before returning to the resort.  Apparently this "zoo" is another one of the Royal Family's projects.  If so it is failing miserably and needs to be shut down or vastly improved.

The following day we drove for about 2 hours north of town to visit Thom Lod Cave near Soppong.  A short walk brought us to the entrance where we boarded a bamboo raft.  We had purchased food to feed the fish and now I could see why there were loads of them waiting for a hand out.  Ball threw them some food and a feeding frenzy ensued.  

Fish in Thom Lod Cave

We had to take a guide with a lantern - a good thing as it supports the local economy and protects the cave.  We stopped at the first big chamber more than 50 meters high where giant limestone pillars are formed when stalagmites and stalactites merge.  

Pillar in Thom Lod Cave
 
We crossed the Nam Lang river on a bamboo bridge and climbed 90 stairs to the second or Doll Chamber.  There was a faint painting of a deer on a rock supposedly 2-3000 years old.  The limestone formations here resembled dolls hence the name.  

Limestone Formations in "Doll Chamber"

One formation looked like a flying saucer and another resembled a crocodile.  

Limestone Crocodile

We climbed back down and boarded a different bamboo raft and continued to the third chamber while feeding the fish along the way.  This chamber is near the exit and thousands of swifts were flying around.  The stench from their guano was quite overpowering.  We had to climb stairs again and the railings were covered in guano.  In this chamber were broken teak wood coffins made by the Lawa people thousands of years ago.

Teak Wood Coffins

After lunch we visited the Black Lahu village of Jabo.  This village is part of a community based tourism project.  Locals are encouraged to open their homes to tourists for a minimal cost to share their culture.  When we arrived the place seemed deserted.  The lady of the house, Nagor, appeared and took us upstairs to her living room to show us some of the clothes she had made.  She is a very talented seamstress and had been selected to go to Chiang Mai to teach her sewing methods at the museum.  She was very proud and rightfully so.  

Nagor Displays her Handiwork

Her husband, Jaha, repaired and played the local gourd mouth organ called a norjurlae or simply naw.   He was the only man in this area who knows how to repair these instruments.  People from other villages bring their naw to him for repair.  The naw is made from gourds and bamboo.  In each bamboo tube there is a reed also made of bamboo.  There are different types of naw for love songs, dancing, funerals, etc.  Jaha played us several songs.
The next morning we met Ball for our final tour.  It started with an elephant ride on 38-year old Maeka.  We traveled along the road before veering off and heading along a stream.  Maeka kept wanting to graze which was OK with us.  At one point our mahout got off to take photos of us and it was a little scary being on an elephant with no mahout.  

Going Solo on Maeka

He went ahead and coaxed Maeka along but she was more interested in eating.  We returned to the mounting platform where Ball was waiting with sugarcane to feed Maeka.  


Peggy & Maeka

A group of locals pulled up in a pickup truck.  They wanted to see Maeka and a few brave souls got on her back.  Others weren't so sure and kept their distance.  The head guy wanted his photo taken with Marc and Maeka.  

The Locals Meet Maeka

We drove to the Karyn village of Huay Sue Tao.  I had mixed feelings about visiting the Karyn (also known as the Padaung) woman as it perpetuates the archaic custom of wearing heavy brass coils around their necks, compressing their rib cages and giving them the appearance of having very long necks.  They mainly do it now for the tourists.  But without our money how would they make a living?  Would I visit if they didn't wear brass coils?  

Karyn Matriarch

To get a better idea of how the woman were faring we visited a row of stalls that had been set up by them to sell their handicrafts.  We stopped at the first stall where a young mother was weaving.  I bought a scarf from her.

Karyn Woman Weaving

I ended up buying 4 more scarves including one from another young mother at the end of the street. She had her 2 children with her.  Her 5-year girl was precious and it was heartbreaking to see she was already wearing brass neck coils.  Clearly her mother was using her to attract business and it was working.  Ball noticed that her coils were cut so that they could be easily removed unlike the traditional ones that are one piece.  That made me feel a little better.  I will not include a picture of her as I feel it will add to her exploitation.   I asked the little girl's mother where her husband was and through Ball she said she was divorced and raising the kids on her own.  This may explain why she was using daughter to help earn money for the family.  Very sad I thought.

Single Mom Weaves to Support her Family

We talked to another young woman who spoke good English.  She gave the impression that life in Mae Hong Son had improved over the years and that even though most Karyn people are refugees from Myanmar they now have more freedom to move around Thailand  and to possibly get better jobs.  Returning to Myanmar didn't seem like a desired option.  We didn't have to pay admission to visit this village and I hope that all the money we spent will stay with the women and not go to some Thai middleman who is exploiting them.

Karyn Woman

We returned to the car and drove to a temple on Kong Mu Hill overlooking Mae Hong Son.  Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (also  known as Wat Phai Doi) is a Shan-style temple.  There were 2 pagodas here built in the Burmese style.  The large pagoda was built in 1860 to house the remains of Monks brought from Myanmar.  The small pagoda was built in 1875 by Phraya Sihanat Racha, the first ruler of Mae Hong Son. 

Pagodas of Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu

We drove to Jong Kham Lake in the center of Mae Hong Son where 2 more temples were located. The first was Wat Jong Kham or Chong Kham.  Wat Chong Kham was originally built in 1827 by Tai Yai (Shan) artisans during the rule of Phraya Singharat Racha, the first governor of Mae Hong Son. The second temple was Wat Jong Klang or Chong Klang.  Construction of Wat Chong Klang was carried out from 1867-71 as an offering to Burmese monks who were visiting Mae Hong Son for the funeral of an important abbot.  Wat Jong Klang has the prominent white and gold chedi.  

Wats Jong Kham and Klang

The curiosity of Wat Jong Klang is probably the wicker Buddha sitting in its viharn or wiharn (assembly hall).  The eyes were quite creepy.  

Wicker Buddha

An opportunistic cat took advantage of a glass of water left as an offering (Cat in the Wat).  Cute!  


Cat in the Wat

We drove back to the resort and said our final goodbye to Ball.  I noticed that Lidia who works at the front desk was making a shirt in the traditional White Karen (the ethnic group she belongs to) style. She saw me admiring it and said she would have it completed for me by the time we left.  

Lidia Sewing

I also ended up buying a shirt (modeled below) made by Auria who works in the kitchen.  It will be a nice way remember the wonderful woman who work at Fern Resort!

Nuria, Peggy & Auria

On our last night at the resort, we went into town for dinner.  After dinner we walked to the center of town to photograph Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang reflected in Jong Kham Lake!  

Wats Jong Kham and Klang at Night

What a beautiful end to our visit to Mae Hong Song.  Thanks to the wonderful staff at Fern Resort and to our guide Ball for sharing their wonderful home with us and teaching us about the many ethnic groups that make northern Thailand so vibrant!
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

Here is a map of our route:

 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cagey Cats in Eagle's Nest!

Greetings Everyone,
It would be hard to top our experience in Pakke National Park but we, along with trip leader Avijit Sarkhel, were going to give it our best in Eagle's Nest Wildlife Sanctury.  Nestled at the base of the Himalayas in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, Eagle's Nest is a paradise for bird and wildlife lovers.  From the town of Bhalukpong we drove for about 3 hours to Lama Camp located near the entrance to the Sanctuary.  The weather gods were not being kind, shrouding the surrounding hills and forests in clouds and rain.  We sought refuge in our tent until the weather cleared in the late afternoon allowing us to do our first walk.  We spotted a troop of endangered Arunachal Macaques in a tree near the road.  They are native to Arunachal Pradesh and have recently been found in Bhutan. Described as a new species in 2004, it is the first macaque species to be discovered since 1903.  They scampered down and disappeared into the forest.

Arunachal Macaques
As the light faded we pulled out our headlamps to look for nocturnal animals.  We spotted the eye shine of what was most likely a flying squirrel but it was too far away to make out the species.  The following morning broke clear and sunny.  We did a bit of birding before driving to Bomphu Camp to drop off our bags.  

Fire-tailed Myzornis

Darjeeling Woodpecker

We would be staying at Bomphu Camp in a few nights.  

Tents at Bomphu Camp
Our focus shifted to moving to a temporary camp that had been set up for us in the forest above Lama Camp.  We set off late in the afternoon for the 1-hour climb to camp.  We arrived in near darkness but could see that a rather elaborate camp had been set up complete with sleeping tents, toilet tent, dining area and kitchen.  

Peggy at "High Camp"

We had a cook, Gomphu and his helper, Tashi,  to prepare meals for us.


Dining Area & Kitchen at "High Camp"

The next morning we set off early to explore the area above camp.  A good trail continued along the ridge to a saddle with views of the surrounding ridges.  Amazingly these trails have been created by wild Asian Elephants.  Fortunately the elephants are lower down this time of year but will soon be migrating to higher elevations as Spring arrives.  The area was surprisingly open due to a fire that occurred here 13 years ago.

View from "The Saddle" 

 
We spotted a few birds on the way back to camp but did not see any mammals.  We returned to camp where the rain kept us inside until about 3:00 in the afternoon.  We hiked to a small pond below camp then climbed back up to "The Saddle".  Avi began climbing a ridge to the north of "The Saddle" and we followed.  On top the views were obscured by clouds and we could see the weather building to the south and made a hasty retreat back to camp.  We arrived just in time as the skies opened up.  We sat around the camp fire under a large tarp as the guys made us rotis and Avi read us an amazing survival story about an American trapper named Hugh Glass.

Cooking Rotis Over the Camp Fire

The next morning the skies had once again cleared and we climbed to our favorite saddle.  Our local guide Khandu paused to listen.  He had heard an animal walking in the forest about 300 feet below. He scanned with his binoculars and spotted a male Himalayan Serow frozen below.  The Himalayan Serow is native to the Himalayas and is classified as near threatened by the IUCN due to hunting and habitat loss.  We watched him for about 30 minutes before he disappeared into the forest.


Himalayan Serow

We climbed to the top of "Avi's Ridge" and the elephant trails to the adjoining ridges beckoned us on.  We followed them over a few more ridges before it was time to head back.

Avi & Khandu on the High Ridges


We returned to camp, packed up and hiked back down to the road.  Konwar and "Gypsy" who were with us in Pakke we waiting to take us to Bomphu Camp for the next 3 nights.  We settled into our new tent and shifted our focus to searching for some of Eagle's Nest elusive lesser cats.  

Marc in Bomphu Camp Tent

To see them we would have to become nocturnal and move around after dark in "Gypsy".   After dinner we did our first night drive.  Right off the bat we saw a Northern Red Muntjac near camp.  We sighted our first Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel and Marc got some great photos.  


Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel

Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrels are one of the largest flying squirrels and have a very narrow range restricted to Central Nepal,  Bhutan,Sikkim and western Arunchel Pradesh in India.  We were fortunate to see 3 of these near threatened rodents on tonight's drive.

Finally, we got our first glimpse of a cat!  I thought it was a hare.  Avi and Khandu said it was a cat but weren't sure which one.  It was small and had no spots so maybe a young Golden Cat?  Later Avi thought it may have been a Jungle Cat.  On the way back we saw a similar cat in the same general location.  We got a slightly better view but still couldn't tell for certain what kind of cat it was or if it was the same cat.  We got back to camp around 11:30 and turned in as quietly as possible.

The following morning we went for a walk in the forest.  It was beautiful but difficult to spot birds and animals.  Marc managed to get a photo of two Himalayan Striped Squirrels high up in a tree about 50 meters away.

Kissing Himalayan Striped Squirrels

 
After lunch we took a drive down the road for the first time.  Finally we got a good look at an Orange-bellied Squirrel licking sap off a tree.

Orange-bellied Squirrel

It started to rain hard so we were forced to return to camp.  After dinner we embarked on our second night drive around 7:30.  We headed up the road toward Lama Camp.  Finally, we got a decent glimpse of a Leopard Cat crossing the road!   I could even make out its spots.  It was too quick for Marc to get a photo.  Not more than one km up the road Avi and Khandu spot a Golden Cat!  We completely missed it.  We saw another 3 Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrels but we didn't stop to photograph them.  We returned to camp happy that we finally got a confirmed sighting of a Leopard Cat. 


On our 3rd and final night drive, I was keen to get a better look at one of the lesser cats.  We left around 7:00 and headed up the road.  Another giant flying squirrel was spotted.  I thought "oh just another Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel" but Avi noticed it looked different.  I too noticed it had a grey head.  Avi thought that it was a Grey-headed Flying Squirrel which to his knowledge had never been reported from Eagle's Nest before!  Very exciting.  The guys took many photos.  

Grey-headed Flying Squirrel


Later we saw a Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel which clearly looked different.  

Bhutan Giant (left) and Grey-headed (right) Flying Squirrels

We flushed a bird up from the road.  At first I thought it was a nightjar but it turned out to be an Eurasian Woodcock, a rare find in Eagle's Nest.  It was stunned by the light and sat motionless on the road allowing for good photos and a proper id.  It soon flew off.

Eurasian Woodcock

On the return drive we stopped to check out some eye shine which at first we thought was a cat.  It turned out to be a very friendly Northern red Muntjac.

Northern Red Muntjac

 
We got back to camp around 10:30 and went in search of the Mountain Scops Owl that calls constantly.  We didn't find it.  All was quiet in camp and we turned in for a few hours of sleep.

We got up at 2:30 AM to go in search of cats one final time.  This time we went down the road.  At first it was very quiet.  We saw a golden-colored toad in the road but little else.  

Golden-colored Toad

Suddenly Avi spotted eye shine near the base of a tree.  We saw the eye shine but didn't see that it was a Golden Cat that had just climbed down the tree.  Avi saw it but we somehow missed it.  It was getting light when Khandu shouts "cat!".  Avi had just sat down and Marc was looking at his camera.  I was standing and looking at the road but missed seeing a Marbled Cat cross!  This was maddening.  Somehow the cagey cats had managed to elude us.  They were certainly around and we vowed to return and outwit these crafty cats!

Before leaving India one final surprise awaited us.  We were preparing to leave Nameri Eco Camp when Avi comes running madly back to his tent.  "Hornbills in the open!"  he breathlessly shouts.  We grab our bins and cameras and rush up to the car park where a pair of Giant Hornbills are sitting regally in a fig tree.  Marc had already put his big lens away and frantically swapped lenses to get a photo.

Pair of Giant Hornbills

The birds flew off or so we thought but when we walked around to the back of the tree we could see that the female had gone into a nest cavity.  The male returned to feed the female regurgitated figs. She was in the process of sealing the hole with a plaster made mainly of  feces.  She will remain enclosed in the nest, raising their brood and relying on the male to bring her food. Incredible!

Male Giant hornbill Feeding the Female (in the nest hole)

Thanks to our wonderful trip leaded Avijit Sarkhel for an amazing 6 weeks in India!  We saw so many amazing birds and animals in pristine settings.  India has so much to offer so we'll be back!
We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc

Map of Eagle's Nest:





      India Mammal List: January 30 - March 12, 2016

 No. Species Scientific Name Notes
  1Golden Jackal Canis aureus        Kolkata
  2Fishing Cat Prionailurus  viverrinus       Kolkata
  3Rhesus Macaque Macaca mulatta Singalila, Nameri 
  4Assam Macaque Macaca assamenisis   Singalila, Nameri
  5Himalayan Yellow-throated Marten Martes flavigula  Singalila, Pakke 
  6Red Panda Ailurus fulgens Singalila 
  7Hoary-bellied Squirrel Callosciurus  pygerythrus  Singalila, Nameri
  8Northern Red Muntjac Muntiacus vaginalis  Pakke, Eaglesnest 
  9Blue Sheep (Bharal) Pseudois nayaur Leh, Hemis
 10Large-eared Pika Ochotona macrotis  Hemis, Ulley
 11Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus filchneri Hemis
 12Snow Leopard Panthera uncia Hemis
 13Ladakh Urial Ovis orientalis vignei  Ulley
 14Asiactic Ibex Capra sibirica  Ulley
 15Stone Marten  Martes foina Hemis 
 16Red Fox Vulpes vulpes  Ulley
 17Capped Langur Trachypithecus  pileatus Nameri, Pakke
 18Pygmy Hog Porcula salvania  Nameri (captive)
 19Indian Elephant Elephas maximus indicus  Pakke
 20Sambar Deer Rusa unicolor  Pakke
 21Black Giant Squirrel  Ratufa bicolor  Pakke
 22Large Indian Civet Viverra zibetha  Pakke
 23Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus  hermaphroditus  Pakke
 24Hog Deer Axis porcinus  Pakke
 25Wild Boar Sus scrofa  Pakke
 26Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel Dremomys lokriah  Eaglenest
 27Malayan Porcupine  Hystrix brachyura Pakke
 28Bat Sp.? Pakke, Eaglenest
 29Gaur Bos gaurus Pakke
 30Binturong Arctictis binturong Pakke
 31Unidentifiable Rodent Sp.? Pakke
 32Bengal Slow Loris Nycticebus  bengalensis Pakke
 33Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla Pakke
 34Leopard Cat Prionailurus  bengalensis  Pakke, Eaglenest
 35Leopard Panthera pardus  Pakke
 36Arunachal Macaque Macaca munzala Eaglenest
 37Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel  Petaurista nobilis  Eaglenest
 38Indian Field Mouse Sp.? Eaglenest
 39Himalayan Serrow Capricornis thar  Eaglenest
 40Himalayan Striped Squirrel Tamiops mcclellandii  Eaglenest
 41Grey-headed Flying Squirrel Petaurista caniceps  Eaglenest 

Monday, March 14, 2016

On Patrol in Pakke

Greetings Everyone,
From the snowy mountains of Ladakh our travels have brought us to the lush forests of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India.  Most tourists don't venture here.  In fact our trip leader, Avijit Sarkhel, had to get special permission to bring foreigners into Pakke National Park.  We weren't sure what to expect as there is little to no tourist infrastructure in this park.  Avi had to arrange for a driver, Konwar to bring his open jeep from Kaziranga National Park, about a 3-hour drive away.  We stopped at the park headquarters in the village of Seijosa where the Nykhum Festival had just taken place.  An old man was wearing a traditional Hornbill headdress and we stopped to take his photo.

Nyishi Man with Traditional Hornbill Headdress

At the entrance to the park we picked up Ohey, our local guide and two forest guards, Laguna and Rasambarah who would accompany us during our stay in the park.  We all piled into the Gypsy along with our bags for the drive into the core of the park.

Piled into the Gypsy (photo taken by Avijit Sarkhel)


We passed a very comfortable rest house at Upper Dekorai, about 20 km in, but were told that we wouldn't be staying here.  "Oh well, too bad" I thought as we continued our drive into the park.  We drove through forests and crossed dry river beds before reaching Tarzan Anti-poaching Camp.  To our surprise a small herd of wild Asian Elephants were hanging out there.  They were underneath the camp which is built on concrete stilts and were in the process of doing some damage.

Naughty Elephants at Tarzan Camp



Fortunately they moved off at our approach.

Off You Go!


By the time we arrived at our destination, Nameri East Anti-poaching Camp, it was dark.  Yes, we were going to stay with the forest guards at an anti-poaching camp, possibly the first foreign tourists to do so.  There were two buildings built on concrete pillars to keep us safe from the elephants.  We were to stay in the smaller building in a room where all our food supplies had been stored.  The guys had to move the supplies out and a second wooden bed platform in.  We had sleeping bags but no mattresses or pillows.  We would have to manage with a thin foam pad as a mattress and spare clothes as a pillow.

Marc in our Cozy Room
There was no electricity and dinner was being prepared by the forest guards over a wood fire.  We were served a simple but delicious fare of rice, dahl and curried vegetables.

Typical Meal

 
The next morning we headed out on foot to explore the area beyond camp.  Not far along the road we encountered a herd of wild elephants on the road. We backtracked and Laguna and Rasambarah readied their rifles as a precaution.  Nothing gets the heart pumping like encountering wild Asian Elephants while on foot!  We gave them a wide berth and they moved off into the forest.


Elephants on the Road!
We were on the road by 3:30 AM the next morning to look for nocturnal mammals.  We saw Barking and Hog Deer but no felines.  The road ended at the Nameri River.  On the other side was the town of Bhalukpong.  The guys took a dugout canoe across the river to get more petrol and fresh vegetables.  On our drive back to Nameri East we encountered a troop of Capped Langurs crossing the road.  They were not happy that we had split their group and screamed at us.  We moved on and the troop reunited.

Capped Langur

 
At night Pakke becomes a different world as a whole host of nocturnal creatures become active.  We were given permission to move around after dark, something which isn't usually allowed in Indian National Parks.  On our first night drive we encountered a Large Indian Civet and a Malayan Porcupine.

Large Indian Civet


Malayan Porcupine

 
We headed out at 4:15 the next morning to explore a new road.  It was pretty sketchy and led to a very steep pitch.  We had to turn around because "Gypsy" couldn't make it.  We drove back to the river crossing and started walking.  Just then, the forest guards pointed out a Northern Red Muntjac behind us.  

Northern Red Muntjac

 
We walked out to the main river channel where we spotted a lone elephant in the distance.  Marc, Avi, Laguna, Rasambarah and I decided to walk back to camp.  Our route took us along a side river channel into the forest.  The elephants had created some nice trails for us to explore. There were several mixed flocks of birds including minivets, broadbills and a Sultan Tit.

Sultan Tit




As we approached the road Laguna paused to listen.  He had detected an ominous sound in the forest.  About 50 feet away he saw a lone elephant feeding.  We backtracked and waited.  Had he detected us?  If he had he gave no alarm calls.  He moved off slightly and we quickly passed with hearts racing.  We reached a dry river bed where a second Northern Red Muntjac spotted us and moved nimbly off through the rocks.  We reached the road and breathed a sigh of relief.  At least here it was more open and you could see elephants.  We returned to camp around 8:00 where Ramu was preparing breakfast.

Ramu Preparing Breakfast

After resting during the day we headed out around 4:00 for our second night drive.  Just as soon as it got dark the action started.  We spotted a Common Palm Civet posing nicely in a tree above us.

Common Palm Civet

Laguna spotted what he thought was a Slow Loris.  When we stopped to take a closer look, Avi thought it was another Common Palm Civet but something didn't look quite right.  After careful inspection after the arboreal creature moved into a better position, Avi could make out it was a Binturong!   It is uncommon in much of its range, and is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to its declining population  (30% over the last three decades).  The Binturong is the only Old World mammal and one of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail (the other is the kinkajou).

Binturong!

On our epic night drive we also saw Sambar and Northern Red Muntjac, Wild Boar, Elephants, Gaur or Indian Bison and Avi spotted the eye shine of a tiger some distance away!

Gaur

We didn't return to camp until 11:15 and had a very late dinner of noodles.  It had been a very long but exhilarating day!

The next morning we headed out at 6:30 for Upper Dekorai Camp.  We saw some beautiful Scarlet Minivets along the way.


Scarlet Minivet

At Upper Dekorai, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were swooping along the cliffs high above the river.


Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters


We kept talking about moving to this more comfortable camp but Nameri East had become our home and the forest guards and mahouts our family.  Back at camp I sat on a bench overlooking the floodplain of the river.   I could see a herd of elephants approaching, first 6, then 2 more and finally 2 more for a total of 10!  


Herd of Wild Asian Elephants Approach

They were here for the salt.  At one time there was a natural salt lick here but now Dharmasour, the head mahout, threw supplemental salt down to them.  Everyone from camp was out to see the elephants.  It was thrilling to watch wild Asian elephants at such a close distance but we were 40 feet above them and perfectly safe.  After about 30 minutes they disappeared back into the forest.

Watching the Elephants!


Elephants at the Salt Lick

Our late afternoon game drive was cut short by thunderstorms.  We returned sullenly back to camp where Konwar made us French fries to cheer us up.    What a scene! The guys were huddled around the fire in our cozy camp protected from the storm.

Cozy Campfire
Fortunately, the storms cleared and we were able to do a night drive.  The recent rain turned out to be a gift as it brought out some new mammals.  As were we turning around in a dry river bed, I spotted a Chinese Pangolin scurrying across the rocks!  Sadly, pangolins are the most heavily poached mammal in this area, so seeing one in the wild was a rare privilege.  I hope that humans will smarten up and stop hunting these amazing creatures before it's too late.

Chinese Pangolin!

The night also yielded Slow Loris, Sambar and Hog Deer, Common Palm Civet, Large Indian Civet, Malayan Porcupine and Himalayan Yellow-throated Marten.  What a night!

The plan was to leave Nameri East the following morning but we couldn't bring ourselves to leave this magical place so opted to stay one more night.  Yippee!


Nameri East Anti-Poaching Camp



In addition to seeing Pakke's amazing wildlife, spending time with the forest guards and mahouts was a real treat.  We got a full appreciation of the hard work they do to protect the park while living in very basic conditions.  Most of the patrols are done on foot but some are done on elephant back.  I wanted to pet Vijoya one of the camp elephants but was told by Amir her assistant mahout that she was too unpredictable and had killed 3 of her previous mahouts.  Yikes!

Amir with Vijoya
I will also miss the 3 camp cats, Gundha, Meow and Meekour.  They scurried around underfoot never allowing us to pet them.  Living in the jungle had made them semi-wild.


Gundha, King of the "Camp Cats"


Our last night and early morning drives did not yield any new mammals but we got better views of some we had already seen.  After spending 6 nights here, it was time to leave Nameri East.  We said our final goodbyes and thanked the team for a once in a lifetime experience to spend nearly a week at an anti-poaching camp in Pakke National Park!


Our Team at Nameri East (photo taken by Avijit Sarkhel)

We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc


Map of Pakke National Park and our location at Nameri East Camp: