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May offered an exciting and eventful trip that was worth experiencing multiple times. With a busy schedule of assignments outside of the Kathmandu Valley and varying elevations ranging from 3800m to 109 m, it provided a captivating visual treat.
Working as a Wilderness First Responder for The Himalayan Medics and heading a medic team for the Enduro Ratnange race, I traveled to Phaplu, a 270km 10-hour drive from Kathmandu.
Ratnange Danda, a hill situated on the eastern side of the Phaplu airport in the Everest region, had a peak elevation of 3293 meters, offering breathtaking views of the mountains to the north. The mystical forest was densely covered with Rhododendrons and Pine trees that seemed to stretch toward the sky.
These trees were adorned with lichens and moss, creating a picturesque scene. The forest floor, characteristic of a temperate forest, was layered with undecomposed leaf litter, decomposed organic matter, and humus.
During the initial days, we experienced some rainfall while setting up for the event. As I walked through the forest, I noticed how quickly the rain was absorbed by the forest floor. Fortunately, the temperature hadn’t risen significantly, so leeches hadn’t become a nuisance yet. The foggy forest, combined with the towering pines, brought about a sense of tranquility, accompanied by the distant melody of Rufous Sibia’s song.
Woodear Mushrooms could be seen in old tree stumps as well as small mushrooms scattered in various places amidst the moss. The forest floor was also littered with small cones from the Himalayan Hemlock trees.
During the race, participants were competing on six out of the thirteen mountain biking trails at Ratnange Danda. Despite the light rain, the practice run proceeded smoothly, with only a few minor injuries after the run that were promptly attended to.
As I waited along the trail for the riders to pass, I noticed a Yellow-throated Marten traversing the mossy vegetation and effortlessly scaling the pine trees in search of food. The inquisitive Marten glanced at me from a distance before resuming its search, maneuvering through the trees. Although I regretted not having a long lens with me, the vivid mental image of this encounter remains strong.
The weather during the two race days was favorable, and the race itself proceeded without any incidents or injuries. Following my responsibilities as a first responder, I decided to extend my stay by an additional day to independently explore the surrounding area. Considering it was a month when Black Bears typically wander through the forest, I proceeded with caution as I ventured through the woods, documenting the diverse flora and fauna present in this location.
As I sat beneath a tree with Angeri shrub nearby with its flowers in full bloom, I observed the lively movement of birds amidst the surrounding trees and shrubs. A group of Blue-winged Minlas caught my attention as they searched for food near a Rhododendron tree, while a flock of White-browed Fulvettas gracefully navigated around a pine tree.
The gentle summer breeze provided a refreshing relief, as the sun radiated its full intensity overhead. The forest was alive with a symphony of diverse bird songs, creating a delightful cacophony that filled the atmosphere.
It feels like a very short visit as I say farewell to this magnificent place. I plan to return to Phaplu with the sole purpose of capturing and documenting its mesmerizing natural beauty.
It was back in 2018 that I had last traveled to Dhangadi and it was more of a transit from a trip to the far west. This time it was work, an assignment focused on documenting interviews. As with many other places Dhangadi has also witnessed significant urban development, with ongoing construction projects and the emergence of new urban settlements.
Exploring the rural areas of Dhangadi allowed me to realize that I had only scratched the surface of the Terai region. It was eye-opening to learn about the prevalent human-wildlife conflicts in areas connecting community forests with national parks and the Chure Hills.
Additionally, a new thing I was able to witness was the issue of people leaving their homes in hilly areas and forcibly occupying public lands which posed further challenges that needed to be addressed. Cities like Dhangadi are experiencing mass migration, particularly from the hills, and it is crucial to plan the rapid urban expansion carefully, taking into consideration the region’s natural diversity and avoiding the mistakes made in Kathmandu with its natural resources.
While moving around I saw that the dominant tree species is the Sal tree, and was able to witness the enchanting sight of the forest floor covered with its winged fruits, whirling as they fell.
One of the highlights of my journey was the road trip from Dhangadi to Thakurdawara near Bardiya National Park. This allowed me to experience the route in daylight for the first time.
We made a stop midway at Ghodaghodi Lake, a Ramsar site known for its beautiful oxbow lakes and ponds. It serves as a crucial wildlife corridor between the Terai and the Siwalik Hills. Although tight in schedule I had the pleasure of observing various bird species such as Lesser Whistling-ducks and Eurasian Coots amidst the blooming lotus flowers on the lake.
Returning to Thakurduwara after a couple of years brought back fond memories, as the place remained largely unchanged. The canal running alongside our hotel was also full to its capacity with water. As the day’s work concluded, I walked around the place to document the birds. A male Asian Paradise-Flycatcher gracefully flew near the Tharu Home Resort where we were accommodated.
I spotted Green Bee-eaters perched on the wire fence surrounding Bardiya National Park. Chestnut-tailed Starlings elegantly moved from one tree to another, while Plain Martins darted through the air in pursuit of insects. A Purple Sunbird found its perch on a nearby tree, and while up in the sky an Asian Openbill gracefully was returning to its nest as the sun began to set. The night also had its charm as I could hear a couple of Nightjars call from a nearby tree adding to the already enchanting ambiance.
Before returning to Kathmandu the following day, we embarked on a brief safari early in the morning in Bardiya National Park with my favorite guide, Anu Ram Chaudhari. We journeyed through grasslands and Sal forests, bathed in the soft morning light. Indian Pittas foraged on the forest floor, while Asian Paradise-Flycatchers and White-rumped Shamas diligently searched for food and returned to their nests. A Crested Serpent Eagle made a silent swoop from a branch, gracefully gliding to another tree in the distance.
A sense of serenity prevails in the forest with the number of activities you get to see around you. In the distance, a pair of wild boars crossed the road and disappeared into the thicket.
As our jeep ventured through the forest fire trails and approached the grassland, we came across a herd of resting Swamp Deer at the edge of a burned-out tree line. Rhesus Macaques were seen scavenging for food among the remnants of the forest floor.
It was both intriguing and concerning to witness a forest fire within the national park without any supervision. Due to the limited visibility caused by the smoke, and the need for some shade from what felt like 30°C temperature, we proceeded to a machan (tower) for a quick breakfast.
In the grassland, Plain Martins gracefully soared through the air, while in the distance, our guide noticed a Lesser Adjutant. A Prinia perched on stalks of tall grasses added to the picturesque scene while a Eurasian Collared Dove nearby was singing koo-KOO-kook.As we made our way back through another grassland, Anu spotted something in the far distance. Roughly 170 meters away, at the river’s edge, we caught sight of a Tiger. It strolled toward the grass on the opposite side of the Girwa River.
While returning back I got to see a solitary Golden Jackal leisurely walking along the fire road, Emerald Doves searching for food near the edge of the fire trail, and a group of Terai Grey Langurs taking a rest on a cluster of Sal trees. Among the Langurs, there was a mother with a recently born baby, and upon careful observation, it appeared that the baby was sporting an adorable smile.
The trip to the Terai region was highly productive, as all assignments were successfully documented. Additionally, the brief excursion to Bardiya National Park served as a bonus to the overall experience.
Following my exploration of the area in April, it was time to shift gears and begin preparations for The Freedom Project race in Dolakha. Taking on the role of a consultant, I returned to Dolakha to collaborate with the organizing team.
We returned to the trails that began at Kalinchowk Temple (3732m) and ended at Nagdaha (916m). As mentioned in my previous account of “What I Saw – April,” the transformation in the landscape and biodiversity was remarkable. Walking along the old trails brought back the peaceful atmosphere I had experienced earlier.
The weather had changed. It now rained intermittently, and we hoped that the rain would cease at least a couple of days before the race. Nonetheless, we had to prepare and clean the trail as part of our preparations. At higher altitudes, clouds would pass over the temple and Kuri village, with sunlight playing hide and seek.
Down at the hiking trail within the Rhododendron forest, various birds could be found. A Pipit was perched atop a pine tree, while a Fire-tailed Sunbird swiftly flew by. The stunning bird appeared even more captivating as the fog highlighted the vibrant color contrast against the backdrop.
The grass in the pastureland swayed in the wind while Domestic Yaks grazed busily. As we descended toward the Epic trail, things started to change.
The winds carried clouds along, accompanied by some rain. Thunder could be heard in the distance as we hurried to secure the race tape in place. Amidst this symphony of sounds, the harmonious melodies of Spotted Nutcrackers, Great Barbets, and Warblers filled the air, while a Yellow-bellied Fantail gracefully danced from one tree to another.
The forest floor was scattered with Cobra Lilies and various plants belonging to the Rosaceae family, creating a captivating tapestry of flora.
Continuing further along the path to Nag Daha, I had the pleasure of observing a Spangled Drongo grooming itself on a branch. The Mauwa flowers, which I had seen in April, now appeared dry and their seeds had already scattered. During my walk down this area, there is a particular tree where I make a point of pausing and admiring it. This tree captures my attention with its sprawling branches, adorned by flourishing epiphytes that are in glorious full bloom.
Completing the tasks in Nag Daha, I discovered the presence of wild turmeric plants growing. The deep pink hues of the flowers stood out in striking contrast against the backdrop of fallen, dry pine leaves on the ground.
It was a great relief to have experienced a smooth race. This race had a unique relay format, requiring each team to include at least one female rider. One of those races that I wish I had raced if not for the consultant role.
The diverse terrain of Dolakha offered an exciting challenge, and I look forward to returning in the future to document the wildlife found in the area apart from the usual biking trip.
Below are some of the species of flora and fauna that I was able to spot in May.
White-throated Laughingthrush, Rufous Sibia, Blue-winged Minla, White-collared Blackbird, Grey Bushchat, Green-tailed Sunbird, White-browed Fulvetta, Indian Pitta, Great Tit (♀ ), Himalayan Goldenback (♀ ), White-rumped Shama, Asian Paradise – Flycatcher (♂ ♀), Plain Prinia, Lesser Whistling-duck, Eurasian Coot, Green Bee-eater, Purple Sunbird (♂), Plain Martin, Asian Openbill, Chestnut-tailed Starling (♂), Oriental Turtle Dove, Crested Serpent Eagle, Lesser Adjutant, Emerald Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Spangled Drongo, etc.
Swamp Deer, Golden Jackel, Terai Grey Langur, Spotted Deer, Wild Boar, Rhesus Macaque, Yellow-throated Marten.
Primula, Mauwa (Engelhardtia spicata), Mango tree, Sal (Shorea Robusta), Simal Tree (Bombax ceiba), Rhododendron Trees, Aiselu (Rubus ellipticus), Chutro (Berberis asiatica), Walnut Tree, Chilaune (Schima wallichii), Angeri (Lyonia ovalifolia), Wild turmeric (Curcuma aromatica), Cobra Lily, etc.
Ajay Narsingh Rana
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