Bird watching in Sikkim and West Bengal

Best Time: October-May

Outline Itinerary:
Day 01: Delhi
Day 02: Delhi – Lava
Day 03-04: Lava
Day 05: Lava-Neora Valley National Park- Kalimpong
Day 06: Kalimpong – Pelling
Day 07: Pelling – Pamayangtse – Sangacholing
Day 08: Pelling- Khichepheri Lake
Day 09: Khichepheri Lake- Yuksom
Day 10: Yuksom – Ravangla
Day 11: Ravangla-Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 12: Ravbangla-Darjeeling
Day 13: Darjeeling-Garibas
Day 14: Garibas-Sandakphu
Day 15: Sandakphu-Garibas
Day16: Garibas-Darjeeling
Day17: Darjeeling-Bagdogra-Delhi
Day 18: Delhi departure

The Trip

Sikkim – the land of rhododendron covered mountians, where orchids bloom in profusion with a backdrop of the highest snow covered peaks in the world, where the Khangchendzonga towers up under the deepest blue skies and Buddhist monasteries and prayer flags make for the most incredible landscapes is also one of the richest states in biodiversity.

4000 species of plants with over 400 orchids, 30 species of rhododendron, over 700 species of butterfly, the Clouded Leopard, Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear, Musk Deer, Flying Squirrel, Serow and Thar are found in Sikkim. It is a paradise for bird watchers with 729 recorded species including 27 globally threatened species.

The journey begins in West Bengal. West Bengal is the land of the poet Rabindra Nath Tagore, the capital Kolkatta or Calcutta is steeped in history and has featured in books, movies, poems and songs for centuries. The state is as famous for its tea as it is for the mangrove forests in the Gangetic Delta and the man-eating tigers of the Sunderbans. The culture of West Bengal is incredibly rich and food a treat for the palate.

About 19% of the state is covered in forests, with 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 national parks. Indian Elephant, Indian Rhinoceros, Tigers, Leopards, Red Panda, Crocodiles, and the Gangetic Dolphin are some of the mammal species found in the state. 940 bird species have been recorded in West Bengal with 51 globally threatened species.

You visit Lava and the Neora Valley National Park, an area of 88 km2 and is one of the richest biological zones in NorthEast India. The Park is home to the Red Panda and has virgin natural forests, dense bamboo groves and Rhododendron trees. Before you embark on your visit to Neora Valley you reach the small hamlet of Lava. This is a picturesque small village with a charming Buddhist monastery.

From Neora Valley National Park you travel to Kalimpong. Kalimpong was an important centre for trading with Tibet. The city has strong Nepali and Tibetan influences. The climate is moderate and offers an ideal growing environment for plants making it a centre for floriculture.

From Kalimpong you travel to Pelling in West Sikkim. Pelling offers incredible views of Khangchendzonga (the 3rd highest peak in the world) and you use this as a base to visit Pemayangtse which is important for birding as well as the fact that it is where one of the most important gompas in Sikkim is located. Poised above the River Rangit, Pemayantse (the perfect sublime lotus) belongs to the Nyingmapa sect.

From Pelling you journey on to Sanga Choeling where there is one of the oldest Monasteries in Sikkim said to be established in the 17th Century. The forested slopes on the Sanga Cheoling Ridge are excellent for bird watching.

The next day you travel to Khichepheri Lake which is considered a holy lake. The region is crisscrossed with streams and waterfalls, gorges and rich forest which is rich in bird species. From here to travel to Yuksom.

Yuksom is a historical town in the Geyzing district of Sikkim. It used to be an old capital of the kingdom of Sikkim and has a royal palace complex called the Tashi Tenka which belonged to the Chogyal Kings. The forests around Yuksom constitute a hotspot for birding.

From Yuksom, you travel to the foot of the snow capped Mt. Narsing to a small township called Ravangla. Ravangla is a favoured stop for birding especially in the nearby Damtang forest and the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary. Ravangla has scrub forest which attracts a rich variety of Himalayan Birds and the rare Satyr Tragopan can occasionally be heard or seen here.

From Ravangla you travel onwards to Darjeeling where you will saty overnight and visit the zoo to the see the endangered snow leopard. Darjeeling is used as a stop over on the way to Garibas which is the entry point for the Singalila National Park. Famous for its breeding program of the Red Pandas and has over 120 species of birds, with some of the most exotic species found here.

From Garibas you travel to Sandakphu which is the highest peak in the state of West Bengal. You trek around the area looking for birds from a list of 160 species.

From here you return to Darjeeling and begin your journey homewards.

Note: Most of the walking in this itinerary will be along gently sloping roads, tracks and trails with a 4WD as back up.  Accommodation ranges from good to basic, but this will allow you into some lovely habitats where it is possible to see some of the specialty species associated with higher altitude areas in the North East of India.

Detailled Itinerary

Day 01: Delhi
Arrive in Delhi. Spend the afternoon exploring Sultanpur or Okhla wetlands near Delhi. Night at Hotel

Day 02: Delhi – Lava
Go to Forest Wildlife Office for Neora entry permit You’ll be taken to catch an internal flight from Delhi to Bagdogra, You transfer to Lava (5 hours). Lava can be very cold, even in late March (min-0oC)

Day 03-04: Lava
Bird along an isolated forest trail for 05-06 hr. Cover the Algarah Road from the 4 km marker to the 6 km marker (away from Lava). You also cover the Pipeline trail and look for species including Raschet Forest. Nepal Cutia, Black headed Shrike Babbler. Keep look out for Pale caped Woodpecker (Bamboo birds) Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Golden breasted Fulvetta along with Pygmy Wren-babbler, Scaly breasted wren=babbler, Long billed Wren-babbler, and Rufous throated wren-babbler. You also visit Tiffindara peak. Overnight in Lava in Resort.

Day 05: Lava-Neora-Kalimpong
Drive from Lava to Upper Neora for Satyr Tragopan and Blue fronted and White tailed Robin. Green, Purple Cochao, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Broad-billed Warbler, Blue-fronted Robin, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler,Striated and Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Scarlet Finch Blue-winged Laughing thrush, Cutia, Sapphire Flycatcher Ashy Wood Pigeon, Maroon-backed Accentors, Hodgson’s Redstart. Driving past Lava we will bird in the remote Rushet Reserve Forest. Later we continue birding on the drive up to 2400m along the forest road to the fringes of the Neora National Park. Back to Kalimpong for overnight stay

Day 06: Kalimpong-Pelling
Morning drive to Pelling in 04 hrs. Check in at the hotel. Evening visit the forest area for birding. Overnight in Hotel.
The western towns of Pelling and Pemayangtse present breathtaking views of the beautiful Singalila range. Pelling is on the state highway connecting Gangtok and Yoksum and rests at the foot of snow capped Mt. Kanchenjunga (28156 ft). The important Pemayangtse monastery is a few kilometers from Pelling and is situated on a hilltop (7000 feet) which is covered by moist temperate Oak forests decorated with moss and lichens. The places to bird are 1) Around the Pemayangtse monastery. A path goes round the monastery through dense forest. 2) The area around the Sanga Chelling Monastery is very good with a mix of scrub and dense forests. 3) Rabdanste – Drive up to Hotel Mount Pandim, their is a circural trail at the gate, great for skulkers

Day 07: Pamayangtse -Sangacholing
Today we will visit hot spots around Pamayangtse Monastery, and on Sangacholing Ridge. Overnight in Hotel.
Pelling and Pemayangtse are well wooded and the moist forests hold Maroon-backed and Rufous-breasted Accentors, Green-tailed Sunbirds, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers, Blue-fronted Redstarts, Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers, Scarlet and Long-tailed Minivets, Coal, Green-backed and Black-throated Tits, various Yuhinas, Fulvettas, Shrike Babblers, Scimitar Babblers, Laughingthrushes and Babblers. Overhead, migrating Steppe Eagles, Greater Spotted Eagles and Oriental Honey Buzzards add to the list

Day 08: Pelling-Khichepheri -Yuksom (West Sikkim)
Drive 24 km for birding walk in areas around the holy Khicherheri Lake. The Lake which is at an altitude of 6000 feet is located off the road connecting Pelling with Yoksum. This high altitude waterbody is surrounded by dense forests. Return to Yuksom. Birds to look out for include the Bay Woodpecker, migrant ducks and occasionally some rare species such as Black necked Grebe, Baer’s Pochard or Greater Sccaup. Other birds spotted have been Speckled wood pigeon, Emerald Cuckoo, Blue winged and Scaly Laughing Thrushes; White napped Yuhina. Overnight in Hotel

Day 09: Yuksom
Birding around Yuksom Forest. Some of the birds one can find here see Mountain Hawk Eagle, Crimson breasted Woodpecker, Maroon Oriole, Short-billed and Grey chinned Minivets, Himalayan Bulbul, Red -tailed Minla, White-naped Yuhina, various Thrushes, Grey winged Blackbird, various Tits, White tailed Nuthatch, and various sunbirds, and various bush chats. Overnight in Hotel.

Day 10: Yuksom to Ravangla (South Sikkim)
Morning birding around Yuksom. After lunch, birding drive 03 hrs to Ravangla. Overnight at Ravangla in Home Stay. Between Tendong (8500 ft) and Maenam (10600 ft) peaks lies the sleepy hamlet of Ravangla (7000 ft) in South Sikkim.
Ravangla itself has scrub forest which attracts a rich variety of Himalayan birds. Verditer Flycatchers, Blue-fronted Redstarts, Grey Bushchats, Dark-throated Thrush, Blue-whistling Thrush, Green-backed Tit and White- browed Fantails. The forests around Ravangla resound with the unmistakable calls of Laughingthrushes, Babblers, Cuckoos and Hill Partridge. The rare Satyr Tragopan makes Maenam a home and the lucky can hear its breeding call from the higher reaches of Ravangla.

Day 11: Ravbangla-Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary-Ravbangla
Full day birding & trekking at Maenam wildlife Sanctuary (especially for Satyr Tragopan and Vivid Neeltava,Red faced Liochichlia, short billed and Grey Chinned Minivets). Overnight at Home Stay.

Day 12: Ravbangla -Darjeeling, 2143 m (West Bengal)
Rangit Valley till Teesta Bazar. Thereafter we climb through scenic tea gardens to the Darjeeling Ridge. We visit Tiger Hill to try and spot the Goulds Short Wing and then go on to the Zoo to see Snow Leopards. Overnight in Hotel

Day 13: Darjeeling to Garibas 1800m.
Area covers the Singalila Ridge and is characterized by bamboo, oak and rhododendron forests interspersed with numerous mountain streams and rugged mountains. The area is suitable for trekking and is on the Sandakphu trek route. Overnight stay in log hut (it has 3 rooms) which is basic (no shower, but you would be supplied with hot water in a bucket).

Day 14: Garibas to Sandakphu.
Overnight at Sandakphu. It is a place for difficult and hard to find birds. The checklist for the area contains 160 records and a recent survey in April came up with 120+ species. Here Blood Pheasants and Satyr Tragopans vie for attention with Brown and Fulvous Parrotbills, Rufous-fronted Tits share the rhododendron forest with Fire-tailed Myzornis and Golden-breasted Fulvettas – in a word Singalila is ultimate in exotics and must be on every birders trip list.  Look for White front Redstart. Parrotbills – Black throated and Brown and Greater and Lesser Rufous Headed Parrotbills – all parrotbills are dwarf bamboo birds. Fire tailed Myzonris and Coal Tit. Overnight stay in DGHC loghut which is basic (again now shower, but you would be supplied with hot water in a bucket).

Day 15: Sandakphu to Garibas.
Try and walk down entirely – great walk. Continue exploring with your guide and have your final stay in a DGHC log hut.

Day 16:  Garibas to Darjeeling.
From here it is back to Darjeeling for an overnight stay in Hotel

Day 17: Darjeeling-Bagdogra-Delhi
You pass Mahananda forest – Kalijora Forest Rest House. Drive to Bagdogra in 03 hrs to board your flight to Delhi.  You will be met at the airport and transferred to your Hotel for the night.

Day 18: Delhi
You will be transferred to the airport to catch your international flight back.