Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Troubled Dibru Saikhowa

Three of India’s eastern-most rivers, Siang, Dibang and Lohit, meet the mighty Brahmaputra river at a unique tri-junction near the borders of upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Located at this confluence, on an island about 12 km. from the tea town of Tinsukia, is the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Biosphere Reserve. Spread over 765 sq. km., of which 340 sq. km. form the core of this magical land, this park is a complex of wetlands, grasslands, littoral swamps and semi-evergreen forests, including the largest salix swamp forest in Northeast India.
Walking from Kundaghat to the Balijan forest check post inside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park on a wet day in April 2013, I spotted Citrine Wagtail, Sultan Tit, Common Stonechat, Indian Roller, Yellow-bellied Prinia, a silhouette of a hornbill that swooped overhead and finally a Jerdon’s Bushchat, a black and white sparrow-sized bird that had not been seen in these parts for over two years. Winter, when the many rivulets and rivers crisscrossing the park have dried up, is the only time when the trek is possible. When the rains pour down, and even for several months after that, access is by boat alone.
In the distance I heard Hoolock gibbons singing their strange songs high up in the canopy of silk cotton, Indian lilac and red cedar trees. I also saw macaques scampering along the branches of a shisham tree and followed a wild hare through my field glasses as it made its way across a clearing in the grassland. Toward the edge of the grassland, a herd of elephants had rested the night before and I could see tell-tale evidence of their fruit-feast from the Outenga (elephant-apple) tree. Around me was a virtual wonderland. I saw willow trees… the ones that make such great cricket bats and hockey sticks. Also what locals call kappofool, the gorgeous pink orchid, in full bloom that heralded the Assamese spring festival of Bihu. 
On the boat back to the mainland, Gangetic river dolphins surfaced near us as they fed from waters that also supported Spot-billed Ducks, herons and an amazing diversity of other waterfowl. In the distance, on the banks of one of the chaporis, I spotted a herd of wild buffaloes retreating into their forest.
Dibru-Saikhowa in spring teems with life of all descriptions, like a virtual showcase of the incredible biodiversity that Northeast India harbours. In my book, Dibru-Saikhowa is up there with Khongchengdzonga and Kaziranga, but as I soon discovered, there is trouble brewing in paradise.
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