SUBJECT :Nestled in the lap of beautiful Himalayas lies the pristine forest of Taalkharka at Rongli subdivision, East Sikkim. The Taalkharka village boasts of tropical and temperate forest full of life. 

The Ward’s Trogon clicked by Kusal Gurung at the Forest near Taalkharaka

Gangtok, May 19, 2018: Nestled in the lap of beautiful Himalayas lies the pristine forest of Taalkharka at Rongli subdivision, East Sikkim. The Taalkharka village boasts of tropical and temperate forest full of life. Connected by a rusty road few kilometers ahead of Rongli, it takes a 50 – minute drive to reach this beautiful place, a paradise for birdwatchers and nature lover.

It was my long desire to visit this place for bird watching owing its proximity to Bhutan Himalayas and had hopes of finding birds that are hard to find in other parts of Sikkim. I was however skeptical to visit this place due to the eminent danger of the Himalaya Black Bear, but now with an imported Bear Repellent spray and a team of eight enthusiasts, I was confident enough to scout the area.

The only bird in my mind was the Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes wardi), a rare bird which had not been photo documented in Sikkim Himalayas. Even the maestro Dr.Salim Ali, the Bird Man of India and the author of “Birds of Sikkim”, the only book on birds of Sikkim, has not documented this elusive bird in his famous book “Birds of Sikkim”.

The Ward’s Trogon is a species of bird in the family Trogonidae. Its range includes the North- Eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent stretching eastwards to Southeast Asia. The team comprised of myself, Prem k.Chettri, Ranjiv Gurung, Asesh Chettri, Sandeep Pradhan and local guides Sukman Gurung, Amber Gurung and Rajen Rai.

As the walk was a tough and a long one, we did occasionally stop to catch a breath and revive ourselves photographing the common birds Viz., Green Tailed Sunbird, Yellow Browed Tit, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Yellow Cheeked Tit, Sapphire Flycatcher, Black throated Sunbird, Black throated Parrotbill etc.

However, luck took a U- turn in the afternoon while photographing the tiny Black Throated Parrotbill.

Prem exclaimed “Red Panda”!!! Though Bulbuley has many captive Red Pandas but finding this shy and elusive animal in the wild is magical. We watched and photographed it to our hearts content and left the area as it decided to take a nap in the high orchid covered branches of a katus (Castanopsis sp.) tree. A few meters downhill, I heard a peculiar sound above the bamboo thickets and we all halted to have a look.

Rajen Rai, the local guide, exclaimed in a subdued tone, the bird!! The bird!!! Oh! My God!!!! He nearly fainted in excitement; he was literally out of breath. As I could not see the bird, I was not convinced though. It was Prem again who spotted the bird in a distance and he confirmed in his tone, “100%!!!”

As we were a huge group, I advised them to stay put and moved alone to a suitable location nearby. After a 20 minutes wait, luck turned on my side and the bird which looked no less than a heavenly beauty came and perched on a branch few meters below from me. Oh the sight was heavenly!!!!! As I fired off my shutter, a deep sense of joy overwhelmed me of spotting and photo documenting the rare and elusive Ward’s Trogon” in our beautiful state.

The presence of the vulnerable gems like the Red Panda, Ward’s Trogon, Yellow Rumped Honeyguide, signifies the undisturbed ecology of the place. Taalkharka area provides natural habitats for the declining population of the threatened fauna and the area could serve as a good income generating sources for the local people to support their livelihood in the Sikkim Himalayas in a sustainable way.

The Himalayas host a variety of unique species; however, the diversity and ecology is yet to be explored. Further, the enthusiasm of the villagers to learn and protect their beautiful flora and fauna is a bright indicator for the development of Eco- Tourism in Taalkharka. Every villager we met was very positive about catering to nature lover tourists and their positivity will go a long way in making Taalkharka a birding hotspot in the days to come.

We thank Damber Singh Gurung and his family for their wonderful hospitality and the warm Taalkharka villager’s who greeted us with a warm cup of tea and the best curd I had ever had.

Source: Sikkim Express