It is quite obvious that when you stay at a place it is quite easy for you to ignore the beautiful places around you. In my case, I was born and brought up in a remote corner of Assam in Margherita. My father (a mining engineer) and my mother (a doctor) had spent their life working in the remote coalfields of North Eastern Coalfields Ltd. at Baragolai, Ledo, Tipong and Margherita across their life. I spent my childhood in Baragolai and Tipong areas until the time I decided to move out of Assam to pursue my higher studies. But across the years I stayed in Assam I never realized how beautiful my State was when it comes to the bounties of Nature. The years I spent away working for huge corporates in urban concrete jungles that I realized how much I missed Assam. The beautiful rivers, the majestic mountains, the lush valleys, warm hearted people, fresh air, the diverse flora and fauna of the National Parks, the fresh sight of tea gardens in the morning, the delicious cuisine, all add up to one beautiful word “Assam”. You wouldn’t believe when I said that across the 25 years of my life while I travelled across India visiting each and every State I had never stepped foot inside the Kaziranga National Park – the most visited tourist destination in Assam. Neither did I go to Majuli Island, although I had visited Shillong a couple of times, I never ventured ahead to see Cherrapunji, nor Mawlynnong nor the majestic places of Arunachal Pradesh. It was only after returning back to Assam leaving my corporate life behind that I started exploring these amazing places that people from across the World come here to explore.
But it would be fine to say that I did not explore these places of interest during the early years in Assam as these places were far away from the place I resided and going here would need a planned tour with my family. What surprised me more about the heights of my stupidity is that I stayed very close to one of the most amazing natural forests in the World – the only rainforest in India and even though I went over many a times to a place called as Miao for picnic outings with my family and friends, I never once stepped foot into the majestic forests of the ‘Namdapha National Park’ – India’s third largest National Park in terms of area (almost covering around 2000 sq km) an having among the richest biodiversities in the World! From the place I visited over 20 times at Miao, the Namdapha National Park is just a few kilometers away. In one of these picnic expeditions I even stayed with my family at the Deban Forest Rest House, but then again failed to visit the interiors of the Namdapha National Park. Well, ignorance is always a bliss as this place viz. the Namdapha National Park happened to fall in the last of my list of places to visit in Arunachal Pradesh after covering the more touristy destinations of Tawang, Bomdila, Ziro Valley, Mechuka, Pasighat, Roing, Mayodia, Namsai, Tezu, Walong, Pangsau Pass to name a few. It was in November 2017 that few of us decided to embark on a planned journey to Namdapha National Park. We had our permits for Arunachal Pradesh ready an took my friends SUV – a Mahindra Bolero and headed on our journey to Namdapha from Margherita in Assam. Before we continue to narrate about our journey we provide you a brief about the Namdapha National Park and what makes this amazing rainforest so special!
About Namdapha National Park (a Short Note)
Identified as one of the largest protected areas in India, Namdapha National Park is located in the Changlang district of the State of Arunachal Pradesh in the far east corner of the country acting as a natural boundary between India and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Namdapha National Park is filled with dense evergreen rainforests and is recognized as the top biodiversity hotspots in the World and is home to the Big four (4) Cat species – the Tigers, Leopards, Clouded Leopards and the Snow Leopards. The river Nao Dehing cuts through the area of the Namdapha National Park and Tiger Reserve and is one of the cleanest rivers in India with waters clearer than the Umngot River at Dawki in Meghalaya. The towering Patkai Mountain range and the Mishmi Hills surround the area of the Namdapha National Park. The easiest way to access the entrance of the Namdapha National Park is to arrive at eh Dibrugarh Airport in Assam or the Ledo Railway Station and then hire a car to undertake your journey to Miao/Deban. Namdapha National Park covers an area of around 2000 sq km and is located at an altitude of 200 to 4500 m above the mean sea level. The higher elevations of the Namdapha National Park stays covered with snow around most of the times during the year and is visibly seen if there is no cloud cover. The entire area of the Namdapha National Park is covered with primary growth of evergreen forests, tropical moist forest, alpine meadows along with the growth of extensive bamboo forests. Namdapha National Park receives an annual rainfall of around 1400 mm to 2500 mm which is drained by the Nao Dihing river. It is interesting to note that the Namdapha National Park even receives rainfall in the month of December as well giving it the unique identification of being a rainforest in its true sense.
Namdapha as a true biodiversity hotspot was discovered in 1947 by the forest advisor to the Governor of Assam. Namdapha National Park’s rich biodiversity shot into prominence during the World War II as the evergreen forests were noticed by the Allied army members who flew across this route to supply resources to Kunming in China but due to various unknown reasons crashed into the surrounding areas called as the ‘Hump’ and the Lake of no return. The soldiers would often stray away from their path to reach the dense forest reserves of Namdapha National Park where they would seek refuge. The construction of the historic Stilwell Road from Ledo to Kunming in China by the American Army under the guidance of Vinegar Joe Stilwell also mentioned about the vast natural beauty of the Namdapha National Park and Tiger Reserve.
As per the Assam Forest Act, the area under the Namdapha National Park was ideally a Reserve Forest until 1891. Further, Namdapha Reserve Forest was declared as a Wildlife Sanctuary in the year 1972. Namdapha Wildlife Sanctuary was declared as the Namdapha National Park in the year 1983. Namdapha National Park was declared as a Project Tiger Reserve in the year 1983.
What has helped preserve the biodiversity of Namdapha National Park is its inaccessibility. The Namdapha National Park has not been much commercialized thereby tourists visiting the National Park a handful and proper tracks for the movement of visitors has not been developed that helps Namdapha to maintain its natural terrain and preserve its biosphere and habitat along with the varied flora and fauna. Namdapha National Park has a vast diverse floral wealth rich in many rare and endangered species that are not to be found anywhere in the World. Certain species of flora like Larix, Amatotaxus and Cephalotaxus and also the Sumatran Pine and Fir are to be found nowhere in India. The Namdapha National Park also boasts of rich faunal wealth. In addition to being home to the Big 4 Cat Species viz. the Tigers, Leopards, Clouded Leopards and Snow Leopards other dominant fauna species found at the Namdapha National Park are Elephants, Red Panda, Hoolock Gibbons, Wolves, Asiatic Wild Buffaloes, Capped Langurs, Assamese Macaques, Slow Loris, Dholes, Musk Deers, Deers, Red Fox, Flying Squirrel, Pig Tailed Macaques, Stumped Tailed Macaques, Indian Bison, etc. The bird diversities are huge here at the Namdapha National Park with over 500 species to be found. Some of the popular bird life found at Namdapha National Park are the Indian Hornbills, Giant Hornbills, Rufous Necked Hornbills, Peafowls, White Winged Wood Duck, Forest Eagle, Snow Throated Babblers, etc.
Our journey to Namdapha National Park ~
We started our journey to Namdapha National Park from Margherita at around 6.30 AM. We had already applied and received our permit to travel to Arunachal Pradesh from the office of the Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) at Margherita. Since we were four of us (Myself, my younger brother and his two friends) and all of us were residents from localities around Margherita, planning our trip to Namdapha National Park wasn’t much challenging. Since my brother and his friends got together after some years they wanted the trip to be a little more exciting and challenging. And since we had our permits ready we also decided to visit the Pangsau Pass and the Lake of no return at Myanmar on this journey itself. Our accomodation at Miao was already booked at the Namdapha Jungle Camp and the owner of the resort Mr. Singpho had informed us to reach Miao well before sundown. We ensured to carry along eatables with us as we were sure finding shops in the middle of rainforest would sure be a challenge and with the trek schedule we had in place it would surely be a wise decision to carry at least a few packets of biscuits, energy bars and boxes of bottled water along with us. After all our things were packed we left Margherita. Our journey started and after sometime we reached Ledo. Ledo is the easternmost railway station of India and a small town with a local market. At Ledo there is the Ledo Club which was once the office of the first Governor General of Independent India – Lord Mountbatten. Today the Ledo Club serves as a recreational club for the officers of North Eastern Coalfields (NECF). We crossed Ledo to reach Tirap. Tirap is the open cast mining area operating under NECF and has huge reserves of coal that is excavated with huge excavators and brought down from the mountains to be transported by means of heavy load capacity tippers. From Tirap, the coal is transported to various parts of India mostly to the brick kilns in Punjab, Tea factories in Assam and Thermal Power Plants across India. We halted a while here to admire the beauty of tea gardens of the Ledo Tea Estate.
After Tirap our journey continued into Lekhapani – an Indian Army Cantonment and the place from where the Stilwell Road starts. We halted for a while at the Stilwell Zero Point Park and paid our tributes to the brave soldiers who had laid down their lives during the construction of this mammoth project almost 80 years ago under some of the harshest and treacherous working conditions imaginable. Then we headed off to Jagun. It was around 8 AM in the morning and we decided to grab some breakfast here. In these parts of the country rice is a staple diet and asking for something else to eat apart from sweets is a tough task to find. So we decided to enjoy a simple breakfast of little rice, dal and sabji along with a cup of black tea that was served to us and we continued int Jairampur. We were halted at the Jairampur Checkpost where our permit documents were validated and after a short while we crossed Assam into the State of Arunachal Pradesh. We continued of our way to reach the Jairampur World War II Cemetery and Botanical Garden. This World War II Cemetery was not under the Commonwealth War Graves Mission and this was evidently noticed as there was no proper maintenance here like the other war cemeteries at Digboi, Guwahati, Kohima and Imphal. This is the only war cemetery in India which has the burials of soldiers from the Chinese Army who died during the course of the Burma Campaign of World War II. After paying our respects we headed on to Nampong town.
Nampong is a small town in the easternmost corner of India and is popularly known as the host to the Pangsau Pass Winter Festival held every year in the month of January. A festival that celebrated the congregation of the various tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. It was the 10th of the month and we were aware that the International Border opens up on this day along with the 20th and 30th of every month for Indian Nationals to be able to go across the International border to head into the Republic of the Union of Myanmar from the Pangsau Pass. The valid documentary evidence we needed to go into Myanmar was an approval from the Office of the SDO at Nampong that would be verified by Army officials of Myanmar at the International Border Checkpost of India and Myanmar and we would cross to reach Myanmar and come back. The process was quite quick and easy and we paid nominal government fees to the officials who handed us the permit. We reached an Indian Army check post at Nampong where the officials verified our documents and permitted us to travel to the Pangsau Pass. The Pangsau Pass is at the border of India and Myanmar and here we were greeted with a board that said “Welcome to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar”. There was a local market being constructed that would be used to strengthen the trade ties between the two countries. We stopped a while to explore the construction area.
However, we ran into a roadblock as the road ahead was not at all motorable due to the recent rains and there was no way any vehicle would have passed that muddy lane without getting its tyres stuck. We waited for a while and as they day “When there is will, there is a way” we were offered lifts on certain ATBs used by the people of Myanmar to cross thee muddy road patches. They offered to give the four of us a ride on two motorbikes with a nominal amount of 200 for a one way ride on each bike. We accepted the offer and off we were to Myanmar to sight the famed ‘Lake of No Return’ and the Pangsau Pass market. These helpful guys dropped us at the Checkpost where the soldiers of the Myanmar Army were stationed to verify our documents. They greeted us with a warm smile welcoming us to their country and in a few minutes we were offered token cards to cross the border and reach Myanmar. And all this along the Historic Stilwell Road. We were overjoyed to reach an International Country without any hassle and of course without requiring our passport. As we were on a tight schedule to reach Miao before sundown along a road that had more number of potholes than tar we decided to be quick on our visit to the Myanmar market.
We went and explored the Pangsau Pass market where there were several small business men and women selling goods. Most of their goods were locally made and some we guess were imported from China. The best goods we found were the traditional knives and daggers better known as Khukris in the local language which were all hand made and exquisite. It was interesting to see that wine bars were open here early in the morning and people could be seen gulping down beer as early as 9.30 AM in the morning. We decided to give it a try and were seen gulping down a can of Myanmar Beer in the morning too. We were running out of time and so we decided to sight the Lake of No Return and head back to India. The same guys who brought us here offered us a life back at the same price to the place where we started after returning our token back to the officials of Myanmar. We reached back around 10.30 and we started our journey back to Jairampur to head back to Jagun in Assam and continue to Miao.
Until now our journey was great as the road conditions were quite good. It was after we crossed Jagun to head towards Miao that the real challenge started. The road was not at all in a good condition and this was supposed to be a National Highway. The condition was really deplorable and thankfully we had brought along an SUV on our journey. Though there were smaller cars plying along the road, the journey would have surely been a nightmare for the driver as well as the passengers. There were a few good patches along the way but most of the times we were greeted with huge potholes. Along our way we were often passed by huge tankers which were carrying I guess crude oil to the oil refineries at Digboi as we were told that there were oil well in the area of Kharsang that operated under Oil India Ltd. I guessed that the heavy weight of these oil tankers must have caused more damage to the already broken roads here along with the heavy rainfall across the year that this area is often prone to. There were signs of road constructions along the way and this was really needed considering that this was the only way to reach one of the amazing wildlife destination of India. Although there was news of a proper road construction being approved in this area to allow faster mobilization of Indian troops were to be heard and also to allow people of Vijaynagar to have proper access road to Miao was in the picture, the project we think was delayed due to unknown reasons and we had to manage to travel along this road itself. Although the distance from Jagun to Miao is hardly a total of around 40 – 50 kilometers its takes much more time to cover this distance.
We reached Kharsang at around 2 PM. Kharsang is the midway between Jagun and Miao. Kharsang is a small township area with a local market and many churches around for a small place. In a small town itself there are around 7 churches which gives a fair idea that majority of the people here practice Christianity as their faith. Kharsang’s prime importance is that it is an area filled with tea gardens and natural resources like oil and coal. Oil India Limited has its operations at Kharsang and a fair amount of crude oil is extracted from the grounds of Kharsang and transported to the Oil refinery at Digboi. The people of Kharsang mostly belong to the Tangsa tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The Tangsas also inhabit a major portion of Myanmar. Kharsang has a huge potential for tourism in the area as the entire area is surrounded by lush greenery, the Patkai mountain range and the pleasant Nao Dihing river flowing across the town.
Before reaching Kharsang we were stopped at the check gate of Arunachal Pradesh where we had to validate our ILPs before travelling. The officials posted here were quite friendly and upon knowing that we were travelling from Margherita we were allowed to cross the gate without much of scrutiny as many people keep travelling between the borders here. An entry with our names, vehicle number and ID card details was done in their log books for reference. Even though we were let off without much hassle an ILP to cross this checkpost is very mandatory and all visitors are requested to have it handy at all times on their visit to Arunachal Pradesh across this tourist circuit of Miao and Namdapha National Park. After admiring the natural beauty of Kharsang for a short time we decided to stop for lunch. A sumptuous meal of rice, dal, sabji and chicken was served to us and after finishing our meal we continued on our journey to Miao. It was already 3.30 PM and we had to make our journey to Miao quick before sundown so we decided to skip our visit to the Tibet handicraft showroom at this leg of our journey and planned to visit here during our return. The roads were again a challenge so we continued slowly on our drive to Miao. It took us another hours time to reach the Namdapha Jungle Camp at Miao.
The Namdapha Jungle Camp is located on a sprawling green campus and has 3 nice traditional bamboo, wood and thatch cottages. The owner of the Namdapha Jungle Camp Mr. Phupla Singpho – a Singpho tribe person who has been a pioneer in promoting tourism across the Namdapha National Park and after years of dedicated promotion and guiding visitors from across the World, he has been successful in putting Namdapha Namdapha National Park on the tourist track map of the World. An able guide and bird lover, he has guided many visitors on birding and wildlife treks into the dense forest reserves of Namdapha National Park and now has entrusted this work to local villagers of Miao and Namdapha National Park who he has trained personally and this has created a new source of revenue for these people who earn money acting as porters and guide who take you into an amazing camping trip into the forests of Namdapha National Park. We took our luggage and stocked them into the cottages we were alloted at the Namdapha Jungle Camp. After taking a short time to refresh ourselves after the long and hectic drive. A little later we were served with a cup of tea and were briefed about then next few days of jungle trekking and camping inside the area of the Namdapha National Park.