The thought of being inside Mouling National Park in a days time lightened the heavy load I was carrying. Some of the folks smiled wondering why I was more interested in the GPS unit I was carrying than to unload the bags while we rest at a place called Yabo Roglé after a steep uphill climb. The luggage the eight of us were carrying felt like an overkill; 20 kg rice, 8 sleeping bags, 2 tents, 10 kg potatoes, 2 kg dal, the works. Earlier, we dealt with a porters’ paradox, the more porters one hires, the more rations need to be carried to feed them, and therefore more porters to carry the extra weight. Four folks from the Bomdo village we decided was optimum.
Shivaji, a friend from G B Pant Institute, Itanagar, had made a surprise visit to the Bomdo village with a couple of his friends. His plan was an ambitious one, in three days he wanted to visit the Mouling National Park, document as much biodiversity as we could and return. After few discussions with the locals, we settled for 4 nights and 5 days to just about scrape the boundary of the park, to see the elusive 3,000 msl Mouling peak from a days’ walk away and return to the Bomdo village. The trek began at 5 in the morning with a little apprehension because it had rained continuously the previous three days. In about an hour, we passed a secondary forest patch that was cultivated 100 years ago. This was the farthest point on that route I had gone from the village, so the real trek started for me from there on.
We had a happy crowd with us, now and then we checked the fish-traps laid by someone else to look for an easy catch for a meal. In a while, we reached the Eggong camp in the Sidi river where an earlier team of Pawar and Birand had camped for a couple days. Their report is a useful one that I still use to orient myself in the landscape. After crossing the river followed by a steep climb, we reached a place we decided to camp. One of us had discovered a trickle of spring water that flowed according to him ‘thicker than pee’! The evening ended with the alarm calls of barking deer and orange-bellied himalayan squirrel and the next morning began with the melodious calls of rufous throated partridge and collared owlet. The only sound that was out of tune and note were the calls of the beautiful sibia. The bird was for some reason constantly aggravated and would call tirelessly almost through the day.
The next morning we walked along a Quercus dominated patch and after less than an hour walk, my friend Sunggar casually mentioned to us that we were now at the boundary of the park. We quickly marked the point on a GPS unit and I was elated. I had waited more than two years for this and here I was inside the park, the park that for a long time felt too far. We trudged along to get a view of the Mouling peak and passed Rhododendron patches along the ridge on the Dicheng mountain. After a couple hours, we were honoured to see the 3064 msl Ganging-Mouling peak, one that even few locals have ever scaled. Apparently, in the Bomdo village, there is only one man who has ever been to the top and I had spent an evening with him; he told me it had stunted trees, perhaps Rhododendrons, lot of wind and that there was even a lake on top.
The next day, while the rest of us did vegetation plots close to our camp, two of us planned to walk to a lake at the top of the Dicheng mountain, about 2,800 msl, but at 2,600 m we encountered snow and later on snowfall. It was quite a contrast to see snow accumulated below Quercus, Castanopsis and Rhododendron species in a sub-tropical forest. As it is, it was my first time touching and walking on snow and watching snow fall like pieces of cotton on moss and litter laden forest ground made the experience even more ethereal.
That evening over a warm fire we heard an interesting folktale about the white-crowned forktail, locally called ‘Paré’. The forktail apparently never gets married and folks in the village who aren’t not married at the right age are referred to as Paré mamang. I was wondering if this had anything to do with the fact that males and females of the species look alike. Whats funny is the explanation of why the forktail sleeps with one of its foot pointed upwards. The bird believes, according to local myth, that the sky may fall on its head anytime and if it does it would hold it up there with its foot! Another interesting tale is of the tail of the rufous-throated partridge, locally called Tangkum, that it has apparently lost all its tail feathers when it had to pay fine to folks in the forest for calling in high pitch at the wrong place! The longer version of this story is available here.
Besides having interesting explanations regarding bird behaviour and looks, the Adis use common sense in naming birds; most of the birds are given names according to their calls; all warblers are called ‘Micchirbi’, ‘Choopir’ is the large hawk cuckoo, ‘Dunkur purdung’ is the spotted wren babbler, ‘Chanchi’ is the yellow-bellied fantail, ‘Pechirr’ is the beautiful sibia, ‘Chakkar’ is the fire-breasted flowerpecker, ‘Poko porok’ is the white-crested laughing thrush and the list goes on. I have paid attention to the calls of these birds and they do call out their Adi names!
The next day on our way back tothe Eggong river, we passed a place named decades ago as Torney liné kissat, where a large rock (Torney) and a large tree (kissat) appeared to be discussing life in the forest! Later, we camped in a beautiful location along the Eggong riverbank. On the way we saw a rat, locally called ‘bunko’ trapped in a snare set by a local.
After three days of a dull weather, the next morning began with a bright sun and within a few hours we reached the village. The next time, perhaps this December, I promised myself, will scale the Mouling peak.