This part of India, which sits way out east of the rest of the country in the Himalayas, and long known to hold an elite selection of rare and local bird species, was long forgotten, indeed forbidden to visit for foreign tourists until the early 2000s. Since that time, birders have been visiting with zeal, at the superb birding within plentiful habitat that is packed with some of the most wanted birds in all of Asia. This has led to two particular significant events; the discovery of the extremely local Bugun Liocichla, completely new to science in 2006, and the rediscovery of a “lost bird”, the Mishmi (Rusty-throated) Wren-Babbler, lost to science since its discovery as a specimen in 1947, until the first field sightings in 2004 and regularly since then. The main tour gives a reasonable chance at finding the Liocichla, still only known from a tiny area in the vast Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, while the extension yet further east allows a good chance at finding the latter species, which is now known from a number of spots albeit within a very narrow band of elevation in the pristine Himalayan forests of the Mishmi Hills.
The list of very highly sought after Asian birds on this trip is simply mouthwatering, and too many to list here, but includes Beautiful Nuthatch, Ward’s Trogon, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Sikkim (Blackish-breasted) and Cachar (Chevron-breasted) Wedge-billed Wren-Babblers, Himalayan Cutia, White-breasted and Pale-billed (Black-browed) Parrotbills, Slender-billed and Red-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Collared Treepie, Green and Purple Cochoas, and a swathe of laughingthrushes, including Scaly, Blue-winged, and Bhutan Laughingthrushes, and the delectable Red-faced Liocichla. The latter are just the forest birds on offer in the Himalayan foothills in Eaglenest and Dirang on the main tour, and in the revered Mishmi Hills on the extension. Both the main tour and extension also dip into grasslands, where many species are in sharp decline and highly threatened. This tour arguably offers the best chance at finding birds like Bengal Florican, Black-breasted Parrotbill, and Jerdon’s Babbler, not to mention the critically endangered Greater Adjutant, which is easy to find in the plains of Assam.
Then tour is also underappreciated for the mammals that are on offer too, with more than twenty species not out of the realms of possibility; Kaziranga alone offers 10+ mammal days, with plentiful rhinos, elephants, deer and buffalo to observe and photograph. It would be a travesty not to mention to pristine nature of the habitat in places like the massive protected area of Eaglenest, which make for some of the most fantastic and heart-warming sceneries on any Asian tour. While this tour is indeed “off the beaten track”, and the remoteness of the region for the most part requires the traveler to be adventurous with regards to accommodations, and so spend some nights under canvas for example, these camps (while not luxurious like an African tented camp) are well organized and specifically cater for birders, and in Eaglenest are located in some of the most impressive tracts of forests in all of the Himalayas. Simply put, this tour is about seeing very special birds in very special places, which have only become possible to visit in just over a decade or so.
Day 1: Arrival in Guwahati. After taking a morning flight into this large city in Assam, you will be met at the airport, and head out to the local Guwahati City Dump! Although that may not sound exciting, this is the single best site in the world for the critically endangered Greater Adjutant, and we may well see hundreds of them during a few hours there. Time permitting, we will also briefly check the nearby Deepor Beel, a wetland that can hold common waterbirds, like Cotton Pygmy-Geese, Lesser Whistling-Ducks, Asian Openbills, Pheasant and Bronze-tailed Jacanas, breeding plumage Spotted Redshanks, Glossy Ibises, and Indian Pond-herons, as well as a specialty, Bengal Bushlark in nearby areas too. There is always a chance of a surprise here too, like Pied Harrier or Rufescent Prinia, recorded on recent tours there. A single night will be spent in a city hotel in Guwahati.
Day 2: To Kaziranga. With the Greater Adjutants “in the bag” from the day before, we will head directly for one of India’s most revered wildlife parks, Kaziranga, a Mecca for both mammal watchers and birders. We will arrive at our Kaziranga resort by lunchtime, and have time to have a brief spell of optional birding on the grounds of our hotel, which may hold Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Red-breasted Parakeet, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker or Buff-chested Babbler, among others.
In the afternoon, we will take a game drive into the Western Ranges, where it will become immediately clear why this park is so revered. Typically, here we saw herds of Indian (Asian) Elephants, and good numbers of Indian (Greater) One-horned Rhinoceros, in addition to Hog and Swamp Deer (the latter a local species, for which Kaziranga is famous). Tigers also occur in the park, although this is very rarely seen on bird tours, and should not be expected unless we are extremely fortunate. While the Indian megafauna will be the most conspicuous of the animals, we will also be on the lookout for birds, like Pallas’s Fish-Eagle, and three grassland specialists, Swamp Francolin, Slender-billed and Chestnut-capped Babblers. The very rare and declining Finn’s (Yellow) Weaver is also possible, and if there are recent sightings, we shall target that too, but it should not be an expected species. In addition to these marquee birds we will also be keen in trying to find Gray-headed Fish-Eagle, Greater and Lesser Adjutants, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Green-billed Malkoha, Thick-billed Warbler, and “Indochinese” Roller, a species that is due to be split as a separate species from Indian Roller in late 2018/early 2019. We will spend two nights in a resort just outside the park (there are no accommodations inside).
At night, for those who wish to do so, we can search for Asian Barred Owlet and Large-tailed Nightjar, in addition to scarcer species like Collared Scops-Owl and Oriental Scops-Owl that require more patience and luck to find.
Days 3: Kaziranga. With a single full day at our disposal, we will start early, before the park opens and bird near a tea estate hoping for the rare Blue-naped Pitta and striking Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, which both require some luck to see.
Inside the park, we will be on the lookout for Indian Spot-billed Duck, Black-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Spot-billed Pelican, Slender-billed Vulture, Himalayan Griffon, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Great Hornbill, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Brown Fish-Owl (there are sometimes roosts/nests known of, though not always), Spotted Owlet, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, Abbot’s and Puff-throated Babblers, Chestnut-tailed Starling, and White-rumped Shama. This night will again be spent in the same resort just outside the national park.
Day 4: To Dirang (Mandala Road). The morning will be spent traveling to Dirang, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas in the underpopulated state of Arunachal Pradesh. In the afternoon, we hope to arrive in time to bird the famous Mandala Road for the first time, home to a dizzy variety of Himalayan birds. We will try and make a significant dent in the long list of birds we are seeking from the Himalayan forests, like specialties such as Beautiful Sibia and Black-throated Prinia, as well as Collared Owlet, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Chestnut-tailed Minla (Siva), Spot-winged Grosbeak, among others. The first of three nights will be spent in the best hotel in town, a simple lodging that does at least have private bathrooms, hot water, and excellent local food.
Day 5: Sela Pass. On this day we will reach the highest point of the tour (4170m/13,700ft), and are also most susceptible to poor weather conditions in doing so (i.e. snow, rain and even sleet). The reason for doing this though is some exceptional birds like the bright purple Grandala, scarce Solitary Snipe, dazzling Fire-tailed Sunbird, and phenomenal Fire-tailed Myzornis all being on the cards, along with other much sought after species, like Himalayan Monal, Snow Partridge, Snow Pigeon, Golden Bush-Robin, Alpine Thrush, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Alpine Accentor, Collared Grosbeak and Rosy Pipit. After a full day in this area, we will go back downhill to Dirang for another night.
Day 6: Dirang (Mandala Road). We will return to the extraordinary diversity of the Mandala Road, but this time have a full day to explore the forests, which range from around 1650m/4400ft at the bottom end to around 3000m/9850ft at the top end of the road. Black-tailed Crake, Hume’s Bush Warbler, Ludlow’s (Brown-throated) Fulvetta, Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher, Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, Rufous-vented Yuhina, and Blanford’s Rosefinch are all specialties, which we will preoccupy ourselves with finding, but other birds may include Himalayan Buzzard, Himalayan Cuckoo, Yellow-billed (Gold-billed) Blue Magpie, Eurasian Nutcracker, Streak-throated Yuhina, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Gray-crested and Black-browed Tits, Gray-sided and Russet Bush Warblers, Black-faced Warbler, the rare Himalayan Forest Thrush, Spotted Laughingthrush, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, and Russet Sparrow. At the end of the day, we will return to Dirang for a final night. Either in the late afternoon on this day, or the next morning (depending on local weather conditions at that time), we shall also drop into the Sangti Valley, to look for Brown Dipper and Long-billed Plover, a recently discovered breeding species in the area.
Day 7: To Eaglenest (Lama Camp). On this day we will either visit Sangti Valley early in the morning, or if we have managed to squeeze that in the day before, we shall head directly to Eaglenest. The sanctuary of Eaglenest is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the tour, and where the Lion’s share of Himalayan specialties are found. We will start with a one-night stay at Lama Camp, the higher (at 2500m/8200ft) and one of two semi-permanent camps we will be using in the area. This camp shares a lot of species with the other camp we shall be utilizing, but is particularly noted for holding the largest number of Bugun Liocichlas in the area (which is not many at all), a very local species only described in 2006. This, will undoubtedly be our key target species for our first afternoon and the following morning too, if needed. Other key species in this area include Bhutan and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, and Spotted Elachura. Some of the more regular species in the area include Red-tailed and Blue-winged Minlas, Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, Great Barbet, Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler, while both Pygmy Cupwing, and Gray-bellied Tesia are more regularly heard but far from regularly seen. At dusk, we can also look for Gray Nightjar, right around the camp.
Day 8: Eaglenest (Lama Camp to Bompu Camp). Depending on how we have gotten on the afternoon before at Lama Camp, we will either continue our search for Bugun Liocichla around there, or if we have already seen that species, we will continue on to Bompu Camp, situated at a lower elevation (1950m/6400ft). As we travel between the two sites we will cross over Eaglenest Pass (2800m/9190ft), a place we shall stop (weather permitting) to look for Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, Brown Parrotbill, Ludlow’s (Brown-throated) Fulvetta, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler and White-browed Shortwing. In the afternoon, we shall start birding near Bompu Camp, a premier site for one of the toughest specialties on the tour, Blackish-breasted (Sikkim Wedge-billed) Wren-Babbler. Other possible birds in that area include Black-throated Parrotbill, Purple and Green Cochoas, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Orange-bellied Leafbird, and Chestnut-headed Tesia, among many others. We will spend three nights at Bompu Camp; if it clear on this night, or on one of the other nights, we will go in search of Mountain Scops-Owl nearby.
Days 9-11: Eaglenest (Sessni, Khelong and Bompu). We will have three full days to explore this incredibly rich section of the Himalayas, which not only boasts high species diversity, but also a long list of specialty birds very hard/impossible away from the pristine forests of Eaglenest. The reason why Bompu is such a good base is that it sits at a crossroads, where it is possible to go uphill for higher elevation species above the camp up to the pass if needed, but also it is possible to access two other key areas lower down Sessni, not far below Bompu, and all the way down to Khelong at just 800m/2625ft, both sites which do not have camps of their own.
At Bompu and above there, species like Ward’s Trogon, Blyth’s Tragopan, Hill Partridge, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Broad-billed Warbler, Sikkim Treecreeper, and the shockingly red Scarlet Finch can all be found, but require some work to see.
Below Bompu in the Sessni area the list of specialties is very impressive, and includes many A-list celebrity Himalayan birds, like Rufous-necked Hornbill, Beautiful Nuthatch, Long-tailed Broadbill, Himalayan Cutia, Long-billed and Eyebrowed Wren-Babblers, White-breasted Parrotbill, Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Red-faced Liocichla, Rufous-backed Sibia, White-naped Yuhina, Green and Purple Cochoas, Sultan Tit and Spotted Elachura! Other more widespread species include Kalij Pheasant, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Verditer, Pygmy and Pale Blue Flycatchers, Lesser Shortwing, Small Niltava, Gray-sided Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Mesia, Yellow-throated and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Long-tailed Sibia, Whiskered Yuhina, Striated Bulbul, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Chestnut-crowned and Whistler’s Warblers.
Further down in the foothills at Khelong the habitat changes markedly, becoming noticeably more humid and the forest has large stands of native giant bamboo, which are home to some really highly desired species, like Pale-headed Woodpecker, White-browed Piculet, Large Blue Flycatcher, Rufous-faced and Yellow-vented Warblers, Pale-billed (Black-browed) Parrotbill, Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler, White-hooded Babbler, and White-throated Bulbul. Wreathed Hornbill also occurs, along with Gray Treepie and Buff-breasted Babbler.
All these three nights will be spent at Bompu Camp, a semi-permanent camp erected for the birding season each year, and that caters specifically to the needs of birders (e.g. early breakfasts, packed breakfasts, hot water etc. are all provided when needed).
Day 12: Eaglenest to Guwahati. Another morning will be spent at Eaglenest, working either Bompu or Lama areas, (the latter is on the way out of the sanctuary). This gives us further time, if needed for some high elevation species, or some Lama birds too if needed (e.g. Bugun Liocichla). There is also another chance to visit the Eaglenest Pass area on this day, which holds a nice assortment of high elevation birds. In the afternoon, we will make the long return journey to Assam and Guwahati and a return to civilization, before flying out the next day, or starting the extension that covers the forests of the Mishmi Hills and the grasslands of the India states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Day 13: Departure from Guwahati/START EXTENSION. On this morning, if you are not joining the extension you will be transferred to Guwahati airport to take flights back to Delhi and internationally, whenever you need it.
Extension: Forests of the Mishmi Hills and Grasslands of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh
Day 1 (Day 13 of the main tour): Guwahati to Dibrugarh; Digboi and Soraipong Forest Reserve. Following a short morning flight (1 hour) out of Guwahati to Dibrugarh, we shall drive to the first birding site of the extension, Digboi, the “Oil City of Assam”. This site, consisting of scrubby hillsides and forest patches, may be far from pristine, but it is home to some rare endemics of the region, namely the very local Chestnut-backed Laughingthrush, and the more conspicuous Collared Treepie, for which this is the very best site of the tour. Other birds that might be seen there include Jerdon’s Baza and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. If flight times allow, then the plan for the afternoon is to visit a more heavily forested reserve in the Digboi area, Soraipong, which is home to the very shy endemic White-cheeked Partridge, in addition to Blue-throated Blue-Flycatcher, Violet Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, and a series of pigeons, including Wedge-tailed and Pin-tailed Green Pigeons, and rarely, Ashy-headed Green Pigeon and Pied Falconet too. Among the long list of supporting cast include Black-backed Forktail, Hooded Pitta, Lineated Barbet, Hodgson’s (Whistling) Hawk-Cuckoo, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Red-headed Trogon, Rufous and Gray-headed Woodpeckers, Lesser Yellownape, Scarlet Minivet, Chestnut-bellied and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, White-crested, Lesser Necklaced and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes (sometimes all three in one flock together!), Large Woodshrike, Blue-winged and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Common Hill Myna and Black-throated Sunbird. In the late afternoon we shall drive to the city of Tinsukia for two nights, the most modern hotel of the entire tour, and that which offers arguably the very best food of the tour, with the fluffy nan breads being a regular tour favorite.
Day 2: Jeypore Forest Reserve. This reserve, an hour’s drive from the city of Tinsukia is one of Assam’s hidden gems; often devoid of people, but with great forests and excellent birding, which is largely done by walking a flat forest road for the most part, making it readily accessible. O top of that it has some key regional specialties on offer. Our principal targets here will be the endemic Rufous-throated Fulvetta for which this offers the only chance of the entire tour; other specialties we will be hoping for include Crow-billed Drongo, Gray Peacock-Pheasant (a shy bird that is more frequently seen here than most other sites that it occurs, although still not guaranteed of course!). The notoriously shy White-cheeked Partridge also occurs, and this is arguably the best site to try and see one anywhere, even if considerable luck is still needed to see this extraordinarily furtive bird. Another species, which initially appears easier than it, as it is fairly widespread, is (Austen’s) Brown Hornbill, which is perhaps easier here than anywhere else in the world, with regular sightings on site. Other target species include Silver-breasted Broadbill, White-crowned Forktail, Black-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, Speckled Piculet, Sultan Tit, White-bellied Erpornis, and White-browed and Large Scimitar-Babblers. At the end of the day we will return to Tinsukia for a second night in our business hotel.
Day 3: Maguri Grasslands to Roing (Mishmi area). In the morning we shall change tack, for much of the tour we will have been in Himalayan and foothill forests, though today will largely focus around grassland species, and some very rare and local ones at that. Our first site of the day, under an hours’ drive from our hotel will be Maguri Grasslands, where we will scour the extensive grasslands for the shy Marsh Babbler, the scarce and local Jerdon’s Babbler, and if we are very fortunate the Bristled Grassbird or Blunt-winged Warbler, both of which were recorded at this site in 2018 (the grassbird was newly discovered at this site in that year). Other back up birds in this area include Yellow, Cinnamon and Black Bitterns, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Watercock, and Bengal Bushlark. After much of the morning in this area, and taking lunch enroute, we shall drive out of Assam and back into Arunachal Pradesh, to near the town of Roing for the night, at the base of the Mishmi Hills. In the afternoon we shall visit another very special area of grassland situated in the Dibang Valley at the base of the thickly forested Mishmi Hills, clearly visible in the near distance above. Our clear target at this site will be the critically endangered Bengal Florican, of which about 4 pairs are known in this area. After we have searched for that species, we shall drive up into the foothills and wait for darkness to descend on us. We will try for Hodgson’s Frogmouth, which while not guaranteed is best looked for at this site, where there are several known territories to choose from.
Day 4: Roing to Mishmi Hills. This will be a day of contrasts, as we begin within grasslands near Roing, and then end up by staying way up in the forests of the Himalayas near Mayodia in the extremely scenic Mishmi Hills. The start of the day will involve a search for the unreliable and nomadic Black-breasted Parrotbill, which has been seen reliably at this site in recent years. The site also holds Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Marsh Babbler and Jerdon’s Babbler, should we need second chances at the latter two species too. Singing male Chinese Rubythroats will also be a dazzling target bird at this site, a sight to behold all of their own. Rufous-necked Laughingthrush also occurs there too. After just a few hours on site, we will set our sights on the forested hills above, our home for the next few days. Our chief avian objective on the way up, will be to try and find the bird that largely put these hills on the map, the extremely local Mishmi (Rusty-throated) Wren-Babbler, for which this is the only site in the world. The bird was discovered in as a specimen in 1947, but was not seen again following that until 2004! Another bird that we shall seek on our upward journey to our accommodation near Mayodia Pass is the striking Chevron-breasted (Cachar Wedge-billed) Wren-Babbler, often one of the most wanted birds of the tour. We should reach our basic accommodation (a decaying old government building now only used by birders) by lunchtime, giving us a full afternoon to explore the area, weather permitting (this is one of the wettest areas in the world!). In the evening we will go out in search of the scarce Himalayan (Chinese Tawny) Owl, for which this is the best site on the tour. We will spend two nights in basic accommodation, right within the beautiful forest, and close to some extremely rare birds.
Day 5: Mishmi Hills. These wonderfully rich forested hills are, like Eaglenest, home to some very special birds. There is overlap with Eaglenest, for sure, but many of these birds are rare and local and require many days in an area to find them. This is particularly true of both of these areas, where wet weather regularly affects what can be seen in a short period, as heavy rains are possible at any time. For this reason, considerable time is built in to both of these sites to try and maximize the number of rare species recorded. The birding though is physically easy at both Eaglenest and Mishmi Hills, as it is almost entirely done from a good dirt road, used by few other vehicles, and mainly just birders! Road drives in this area can produce Blyth’s Tragopan, and so during our early mornings (on this day and the next) will be on the lookout for this extreme rarity, which is globally threatened. Up at the pass species like Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, and Slender-billed and Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babblers occur, along with Crimson-breasted and Gray-headed Woodpeckers, Scaly-breasted Cupwing, Manipur (Streak-throated), Ludlow’s and Golden-breasted Fulvettas, Black-throated Parrotbill, and Gold-naped Finch. Some of the rarities shared with Eaglenest that may get seen here and not there (as time and luck is required), include Beautiful Nuthatch, Ward’s Trogon, and cochoas too. The roadside birding might also lead to forktails in this season as Spotted, Slaty-backed, and Little Forktails all occur at the various rivulets and Himalayan streams crisscrossing the scenic mountains on site.
Day 6: Mishmi Hills to Tinsukia. On this day we have two options; to continue birding in the forested hills, or head straight back down to one of the grassland areas in the nearby plains below, depending on what we are looking for still. At the end of the day we will return to the comfort of a city hotel in Tinsukia, one of the largest cities in the region, and one that will again provide us with hot running water and full time electricity after several days of bucket showers and limited electricity, this will be most welcome! A single night will be spent in Tinsukia.
Day 7: Maguri Grasslands to Dibrugarh/DEPARTURE. After a final, few hours searching for grassland species either on foot or by boat (depending on what we are looking for and local conditions at the time; we will transfer to the airport at Dibrugarh, to take a flight to Delhi airport (arriving in the afternoon), where the tour ends in readiness for international flights out in the evening. As mentioned before Maguri is an important site for rare grassland birds like Marsh and Jerdon’s Babblers, Paddyfield Warbler, and the extremely rare Blunt-winged Warbler and Bristled Grassbird, which are easily missed and so several visits there can be very worthwhile. There is also the chance of Brown-cheeked Rail and Baillon’s Crake at this site too, if boats are available to check these areas of the site during our visit on this day or the previous visit earlier on the extension.
CLIMATE: This part of India is incredibly rich in birds, but is also one of the wettest areas, where rain will be expected on a number of the days. This can be very heavy and even prolonged at times. The tour is timed for before the wettest time of year, when some areas become inaccessible, but even at this time the weather is notoriously unpredictable and wet is the norm.
Eaglenest, Dirang, and especially the Mishmi Hills are typically the wettest areas of the tour. During our day at very high elevation at Sela Pass (near Dirang), snow is often encountered, and this can be thigh-deep during some tours. In the lowlands of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh (e.g. Kaziranga, Roing, Digboi, Jeypore, Soraipong, and Maguri), it is hot and humid, but with rain still possible at any time. The range of elevations, and therefore climates, means that warm weather clothing, wet weather gear, and cold weather clothing are all required, including rubber boots.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate to difficult, a fair amount of walking is required. Most of this walking is on a good dirt road in Eaglenest (and Mishmi Hills on the extension), although some short walking on trails will be required on some day in Eaglenest. This will involve walks of under 5km/3miles while on trails, and they are not technically difficult, even though there may be some very short, steep sections (a walking pole is recommended for those who need it on this tour, but will only be required on a handful of occasions generally).
As dawn is at around 4-4:30am at this time of year, very early starts (i.e. 3.30am-4:30am) are necessary on many days of the tour, in order to reach sites at a good time for bird activity. This is also very important as the mornings are often the driest parts of the day, and with the chance that some/all of the afternoons can become rain affected, it is best to maximize time in the field during the dryer morning hours. In addition to the day’s birding, there will some excursions for nightbirds (e.g. around the camp at Kaziranga, at Eaglenest for Mountain Scops-Owl, and on the extension at Mishmi Hills for Hodgson’s Frogmouth and Himalayan Owl), although in general, these are optional and not everyone is expected to take these.
Altitudes from 40m/130ft (e.g. Kaziranga) to 4170m/13,680ft ft (i.e. Sela Pass) are covered on this tour, and so gear for all conditions is required on both the main tour and extension. The highest elevation site where we stay at is on the extension at Mishmi Hills, where we stay just below Mayodia Pass, at around 2700m/8860ft for two nights.
ACCOMMODATION: Those signing up for this amazing birding tour, which offers some of the rarest Himalayan birds, should do so with their eyes open; this is a remote part of India, and the standards of accommodations therefore much lower than on many Tropical Birding standard tours. Even business hotels in this region (e.g. Tinsukia), do not stand up to business hotels in other similar sized cities in the world, as tourism is still a very limited resource in the region, and so these cater largely for Indian visitors, who are generally do not expect as much out of accommodations as a western tourist might. A good example of this is the lack of Internet throughout much of the tour, almost nowhere offers reliable Internet other than Guwahati for two nights on the main tour, and Tinsukia for three nights on the extension (and even in these places it can be unavailable for hours at a time). The best way, therefore, to connect with Internet more widely is to get a local sim card on arrival in Delhi, and insert this to an unblocked phone brought in from home. This then allows communication at many more places through a phone signal, including in parts of Eaglenest). Another example of a challenge that this tour raises is that none of the places stayed at have a machine wash and dry service, only hand and hang dry, and therefore it is best to bring plentiful clothing, and not expect a quick turnaround time with laundry
To expand on this further:
On the main tour:
In Guwahati (2 nights), we will be staying at one of the best hotels in the city, but this probably equates to a three-star hotel by other standards, but does have hot water, full-time electricity, en-suite facilities, Internet (patchy at times), and a good restaurant with excellent India food.
In Kaziranga (2 nights), we will be staying in a comfortable (though not fancy) resort with simple wooden cabins that have en-suite facilities, hot water, electricity, and an excellent restaurant.
In Dirang (3 nights), we will be staying the best hotel in this tiny town; it does have electricity and hot water, but the hotel is old and run down, and power outages, while generally short (10mins or less), are frequent in the town as a whole. The hotel has no Internet, although this can be accessed by using a local sim card and a mobile/cell signal here.
At Eaglenest (5 nights), we will be using two semi-permanent camps, both of which provide walk-in tents with cot beds and bedding, hot cooked food, buckets with hot water for showering each day, and shared western toilets. There are common toilet blocks shared by visiting birding groups, with toilets and shower rooms at each camp. Electricity on these nights is confined to around 2-3 hours a night through a generator, switched on during the evenings for charging gear. As this area can be damp and cool at night (especially at Lama Camp and on the extension at Mishmi Hills), we recommend bring a sleeping bag from home too. There is no Internet here unless you have a local sim, which provides Internet access in some areas only.
PLEASE NOTE. Staying at these camps is the only way to bird in Eaglenest, and this is what all birding groups do.
On the extension:
In Tinsukia (3 nights), we will be staying at arguably the best hotel of the entire tour, with a business hotel with hot water, time electricity and Internet (sometimes available, sometimes not for long periods either way!). They also have an excellent restaurant.
In Roing (1 night), we will be staying in a simple hotel in this small town near the base of the Mishmi Hills. The rooms are small, but do have air conditioning in this humid location, running hot water, full time electricity, and en-suite bathrooms, but no Internet. There is also decent Indian food at the hotel restaurant.
In Mishmi Hills (2 nights), we will be staying in the most basic accommodation of either the main tour or extension. The camping at Eaglenest is actually quite comfortable (relative to this), as the camps are well organized. At Mishmi Hills, we will be staying in a damp, old, concrete former government building that fell into decades of disrepair until birders returned to the area in the mid 2000s. While there are large rooms, beds, en-suite bathrooms, and bedding provided, it is the highest site stayed at of the tour at around 2700m/8860ft ft, and so is cold and the accommodation can only be considered basic and no more. There is hot water provided for showering using a bucket in the evenings, and hot food is available for meals. Electricity is provided by generator for a maximum of two hours per night for charging gear.
PLEASE NOTE. Staying at this building (the best of three in the area) is the only way to stay and bird extensively in the Mishmi Hills, and is what all birding groups do also.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, with a focus on getting as many birds as possible. On all Tropical Birding tours, it is typical that a few people also have cameras, and such birders are very welcome on this tour (the guide will be carrying a camera throughout too). There are excellent photo opps. at Kaziranga in particular where rhinos, elephants, buffalo, hornbills and other birds like storks and waterbirds are often photographable. For the rest of the tour the photography is more difficult, within the forests especially, although there are still opportunities as the birds are often called in close, even if the dark environment provides a challenge to get a sharp shot! There are opportunities though to photograph some little photographed and rare species by joining this tour.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. For citizens of most countries, it is necessary to apply for an online visa in advance of the tour, which allows a 30-day visit. This is both easy, quick and straightforward. However, as we will be visiting a rarely visited border region when in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, we also need special access permits to these areas; this will be organized by the Tropical Birding office, and is pretty straightforward with just an extra form or two needed (provided by our office). PLEASE NOTE: BEFORE APPLYING FOR AN ONLINE INDIAN VISA PLEASE CONSULT WITH THE TROPICAL BIRDING OFFICE BEFORE DOING SO, AS YOU WILL REQUIRE A LITTLE EXTRA PAPERWORK TO ENSURE THIS IS A FLAWLESS PROCESS.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 12 (on main tour only); if joining the extension, accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 18; meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 13 (main tour only) or through to lunch on day 19 if also joining the extension; 2 domestic flights for the extension only (Guwahati-Dibrugarh on day 1 of the extension and Dibrugarh-Delhi on the final afternoon of the extension, i.e. day 19); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the evening of day 12 (on the main tour), through to afternoon of day 7 on the extension, if joining that too; one arrival and departure airport transfer per person from and too Guwahati respectively (if only joining the main tour); for those joining the extension the tour finishes with a flight to Delhi, where the tour ends at the airport; three game drives by jeep in Kaziranga (one on the afternoon of day 2 of the main tour, and 2 jeep drives the following day there too); entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the TROPICAL BIRDING tour leader; tips for optional luggage porters in any hotels used (it is easier for the participants to pay them directly when they get their bags in their rooms); international flights; visa fees (payable online before entering India); snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.