LATPANCHAR – A BIRD WATCHER’S PARADISE
01/04 : Howrah (1800 hrs)
02/04 : NJP (0600 hrs) > Kalijhora (on the way to Kalimpong, after Coronation bridge) > Lat-panchar (approx 2 hrs from NJP) (By shared vehicle – Rs 2400) - Sleep at Lat-panchar
03/04 : Latpanchar > Sandakphu (Trekking 12 Km) - sleep at Lat-panchar
04/04 : Latpanchar > NJP (0930 hrs) > Kolkata Station (2030 Hrs)
We reached NJP at 0600 hrs by train. Mr Padam Gurung, owner of the most famous home stay of Latpanchar (https://www.latpancharhomestayhornbillnest.com ) , sent an SUV to pick us from NJP station and we left for Latpanchar without much ado.
Our driver Nani (+91 94758 32880) is more than a driver – he is a very good birding guide of Lat-panchar and a very good human being - we did not face any issues with him, normally one would associate with drivers in India. He can arrange visiting other places with his SUV. We had breakfast at Kalijhora and reached Latpanchar at 0930 hrs. We saw a scarlet Minivet on the way to Latpanchar.
Alternately one take a shared Taxi (SUV) going to Gangtok/Kalimpong and get down at Kalijhora which is only 45 minutes journey from NJP and just 5 minutes from Sevoke/Coronation bridge. Your home stay will send an SUV to pick you up from Kalijhora for Rs 1,000 ,and drop you at Latpanchar - 13 kms (1 hour journey). This is what Mr Gurung told me, if you are a solo traveler. Local people from Latpanchar go to Siliguri for shopping and when they come back , they pick up passengers from Mittal bus stand of Siliguri, between 1400-1430 hrs for Rs 150-180, to take you to Latpanchar. From Latpanchar, similarly a shuttle goes to Siliguri between 8-830 AM in the morning.
Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary (MWLS) is a well known name for the birders around Bengal and in India as well. The very elusive and endangered Rufous Necked Hornbill has made this place more famous - the MWLS falls under Darjeeling Wildlife Division, West Bengal. It is found only in North East of India.
Latpanchar falls under Kurseong sub-district ( and Darjeeling district). Latpanchar is a small hamlet on the outskirts of the MWLS. Despite the fact that it offers stunning view of Kanchenjunga from Ahal Dara (near Latpanchar), wide range of birds and Cinchona plantation, it is not much frequented by the tourists and that made our stay more enjoyable. The weather was pleasant. The height of Latpanchar is 4500 ft. We were pleasantly surprised by the tranquility of the place, away from the hustle and bustle of city life – yet less than 2 hours from Siliguri (44 Km from NJP). There is close to 1400 acres of cinchona plantation in this area. It is used for extracting chemicals to cure malaria and others. British officers used to look after Cinchona plantation.
The morning safari starts at 0600 hrs and is over at 0900 hrs. The location of the home stay is very good with a wonderful balcony overlooking the hills. If you are a lazy bone, you can spend the whole day sitting there.
Since we had some time before evening safari at 1400 hours, Tutu da and I walked around this charming village. I saw some other nice home stays – Gurung homestay / Broadbill Home stay – 9475 171 657 , 9531 746 206 , 9474 687 532 , Latpanchar homestay (http://latpancharhomestay.com/ ) – 83500 67716 , 9475 254 923, 8512 988 297 , 9475 6561 491 and a very speical home stay - Kripa homestay – 94346 86721 , 94759 51961, 933822 04754 (http://latpancharkripahomestay.com/ )
and one more at http://kharkhahomestay.in/ . It is one of the cleanest villages I have seen in Darjeeling.
We had our lunch at 1330 hrs. The food served in the home stay was simple and delicious.
Rates for Home stay
In all the home stays, the rates and food are generally standardized – Rs 1200 per person, per day (Rs 1100 if there are more than 3 people, in our Home stay); egg curry in the lunch and chicken curry in the dinner. I have seen it everywhere in Darjeeling district.
We left for evening safari at 1400 hours. It lasts till 1630 hours.
Rates for SUV
The guide charge for half day safari is Rs 500 and for full day it is Rs 1000. Since Nani is a driver cum guide, we did not hire any guide, but we paid him tips for his value added service. There are fixed rate for various routes.
For going to “Nursery” zone, you have to pay Rs 500. But for Tangsing (?) and “Frogmouth” zone you have to pay Rs 800. To go to Ahal Dara you have to pay Rs 600 (where Padam Gurung has a homestay @ Rs 1350 per person per day) and for Mahananda wild life sanctuary you have to pay Rs 600.
There is a scope for night safari between 1800-200 hrs, for that you have to pay Rs 500. So the rates are more or less standardized.
Today we went to the Nursery side of the forest.
We saw the following birds :Greater yellow-naped woodpecker
White Browed Schimitar Babbler
The elusive Red Headed Trogon
We could not take a picture of Sultan Tit – although our guide showed it to us.
We went down through a jungle trail. It was nature at its best. But the trail did not pay rich dividends in terms of sightings ; we did not see any interesting birds.
We came back by 1700 to the home stay. In the home stay we saw the nest of Barn swallow and met some guests from Delhi , who had come all the way for birding in Latpanchar.
For dinner we had chicken rice.
The valley far down and the breath taking mountain range were slowly waking up from its deep slumber and we could hear excited calls of birds from all around. We left our home stay at around 0600 hours. Today again we went to Nursery and Tangsing ? . We saw Green Mount Home stay completely at the lap of nature – it is in the middle of nowhere. (https://www.facebook.com/Green-Mount-Home-Stay-1913106645661244/?ref=page_interna%20l ) It seems quite stunning – 76022 3638 and 9735 023 024.
We saw the following birds :
Scarlet minivet at the very beginning.
Long tailed Broadbill
Grey necked Bunting ??
Red vented bulbul
Then we went back to our home stay to have our breakfast of Luchi and alur dom.
Post breakfast we started our journey (not evening safari) to the place where Hornbill has made a nest. We went downhill through the Cinchona plantation. The setting is quite stunning. The roads are not metallic, but it was not a bumpy ride. Then we started trekking through the jungle trail, further down, to reach the hideout from where the Hornbill nest was clearly visible. It was really a very fascinating jungle trek. Around 10 odd bird enthusiasts were sitting anxiously to get a glimpse of this Jewel of Latpanchar.
However we did not see any Hornbill after waiting for at least half an hour, along with others.
We were told, yesterday people saw the mating of Hornbill.
source : http://orientalbirdimages.org/search.php?Bird_ID=342&Bird_Image_ID=93886
Mohua and Gobindo did not go down. We were told there are elephants on this side of the mountain.
Then we went to see the near extinct Frogmouth. It was a difficult jungle trek downhill.
Anindya, after taking a huge risk (by climbing a small mound to reach the eye level with Frogmouth), took some nice pictures of Frogmouth.
Pic courtesy - Anindya Basu
Then we came back to our home stay to have lunch. After lunch we again went to Nursery zone and we saw the following birds :
Common green magpie - pic courtesy - Anindya Basu
Orange bellied Himalayan squirrel
Long tailed BroadbillSlaty backed Forktail
We did not go to the Hornbill nesting area (for the last time), since it was getting dark. Nani said it is not safe, since it is a haven for elephants. Instead we decided to go to Ahal Dara from where there is a wonderful view of Kanchenjunga. Since it was misty, we did not see any mountain range. But the place itself is stunning and one can stay in a home stay at the top (there is a tea garden at the top), one of which is owned by Padam Gurung. We had Momo at Ahal-dara.
We did not go to Bagora, which is a new hotspot for birding. Two other places worth exploring from Latpanchar for birding are Jhalong and Kolakham - according to our seniormost group member, Mr Lahiri (88 yrs old). He did not accompany us in this tour, although this tour was his brainchild. This tour is dedicated to him.
Anyway we came back to our homestay and chatted with some other boarders and then had dinner.
While we were returning to Siliguri (we have a train to catch at NJP at 9.30 am), we saw Niltava and Green Magpie. But I could not take any picture of Niltava.Niltava - source : wikipedia.org
Some of the beautiful birds which we did not see were :
Bronze DrongoGreat Barbet Source : https://ebird.org
Grey backed shrikeOrange bellied Leafbird : Source : orientalbirdimages.org
Green tailed Sunbird
Emerald cuckoo : Source : https://ebird.org
White capped water redstart
Streaked spider hunter
Greyheaded canary flycatcher
Long tailed shrike
Himalayan Griffon Vulture