Wednesday, 22 January 2014

No one shall be a judge in his own case

Sattal Trip 2014 

Blue-Fronted RedStart
On the insistence of my brother, foremost disciple and field Assistant, Shri Ramashish Roy, I had to reluctantly agree to lead a birding trip to Pangot, one more time, from 10th to 14th January 2014.  Experts say, that my knowledge on the avi-fauna of Pangot and particularly the Sattal area is phenomenal. Therefore, of late, the number of such requests from members of my large fan following has increased to unmanageable limits. Will have do something about it soon.
My cousin, field Assistant
and foremost disciple
Shri Ramashish Roy

For my international followers, let me inform that ' Pangot' ( 2000 mtrs) in Uttarakhand, India, is one of the world's top birding sites and is primarily famous for the globally threatened 'Cheer pheasant' which is found in this region. Pangot is also home to two other beautiful pheasants the Koklas  and the Kalij( bothvery easily sighted) besides a number of other species. Nearest railhead to Pangot is Kathgodam which is 300 kms from Delhi. Remaining 50 kms have to be covered by road which is always in good shape. We had booked our stay at Kafal House which is one of the best options in Pangot.Kafal House is an ideal place for not only a bird lover but for any person looking for an escape from the humdrum of city life. 

Green tailed sun bird
While agreeing to lead the trip,I placed two  conditions which were readily accepted. It is the third condition, much later foisted on me, which is the prime reason of writing this article. Let me explain all these conditions one by one.

The first two conditions were:-

  1. that my contribution of the capital in this trip would be Rs.2500/- (roughly 40 US$) and no more(repeat 'no more'); and
  2. that Miss Xeno Canto, would also travel with me and would share the same room.
Without the condition no.(2) i.e. without Miss Canto, my girl friend from Spain, I never undertake to lead any mission. (readers desires  to know more about Miss Canto, they may read my famous and internationally acclaimed Article 'Miss Xeno Canto and I alone in Sattal;postID=8480603175250599909;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=link).

Coming to the issue of imposing the condition no (1), which, those who know me, I am sure must be finding most un-sandeepmukherjee-like , I may hasten to add, was included, only because of the financial circumstances, I had enmeshed myself in. Only a few days back, I had purchased a nikon D-800  and  was not in a position to undertake a trip even upto Patel Chowk, let alone Pangot, at least for another six months. Since my disciple agreed to both the said conditions, I on my part assured him that I will leave no stone unturned in leading him upto at least one specimen each of  the following :-(i) Green tailed Sunbird (GBS), (ii) Siberian Ruby throat(SBRT) (iii) Golden Bush Robin (GBR) which has not been in his kitty so far, despite assisting me in most of my previous expeditions. 

Later, and much later, but a day or two before our departure, the disciple, to bind his master on the above assurance (leading him to the three species), SMSed  and insisted on including the said ' verbal assurance' into a formal condition in the agreement. This condition, which, let us call condition no (3) was, that in case I am able to successfully lead him to these species, he will not insist on the Rs.2500/- as well. I agreed.

This article, purport to seek a decision of the reader on the question as to whether the condition no(3) has been fulfilled or not. Being a firm believer in the lofty principles of Natural Justice, one of which is that  ' NO ONE SHALL BE JUDGE IN HIS OWN CASE',  I  endeavor 
to place the facts before you and lead evidence which is as under:-


On Saturday the 10th January at 5.15 AM, we started from C.R.Park for the Anand Vihar railway station ( 20 km away) to catch the Shatabdi to Kathgodam. The beginning itself could have been disastrous, because my favourite disciple kept on sleeping right upto 4.55 AM. Normally such casual demonstration of punctuality on the part of a budding photographer who has been so fortunate to be under the tutelage of such a renowned teacher as I, is unpardonable. However, the  extenuating circumstances, which dilutes the culpability of the accused is that he had returned from the international airport, only three hours ago, after bidding adieu to our favorite Mili (Mallika Dasgupta), who was leaving us for good to join her newly acquired husband in Chicago. 

Just to inform the reader that I too, was at the airport with my disciple and had returned with him at 2 AM. Although, I also got to sleep for only two hours, I woke up at around 4 AM as a strict disciplinarian and was ready by 4.45 waiting at the gate to be picked by the cab we had hired. Since Ramashish did not call me even upto 4.45, I called him up to inquire whether the cab is coming to pick me as decided the previous night. He informed very nonchalantly that he had actually slept through two alarms and had got up only a minute ago. Thankfully, despite his delayed awakening, he managed to get ready in the next 15 minutes and we left C.R.Park just in time to successfully board the train. The train left on time and despite a dense fog throughout the first 100 kilometers, the driver kept a good speed and crossed all the milestones as per schedule.

Minor set back-Snowfall in Pangot

When we were crossing Moradabad, Raju, the proprietor of Kafal house called from Pangot to inform that it had been snowing there since last night and the road to Pangot beyond kilbury is no longer motorable. It was a bit of a setback. But such minor setbacks hardly affects a true leader.

With Pangot out of bounds, I had to decide an alternative night halt. After considering various options, I decided Sattal KMVN as the next best destination. A few phone calls later and with the help of my dear friend Shri Atul Joshi of Haldwani, a room in the KMNV Guest House, Sattal was booked. ( The  mobile calls costed me around hundred rupees and which I think ought to be deducted from Rs.2500 yet to be paid in case the verdict goes against me). 

Blue fronted
Despite the bad weather, we reached Kathgodam on time at 1200 hours and proceeded to Sattal by a by road in the car of our old and trusted guide Shri Harish. On reaching Sattal, although a very good room was immediately allotted by the manager, we were told that no lunch could be provided, as they had no other guest in the hotel and hence no vegetables were purchased in advance. It was a blessing in disguise for we immediately went out for birding after quickly finishing the egg-sandwiches which Rumpa (my sister-in-law) packed for us for the journey.  Within half-an-hour of reaching the Sattal Park I was able to sight Yellow bellied Fantail, blue winged siva, Chestnut bellied rock thrush and few more species. We searched for more species and were able to spot a few Blue-winged-Sivas, Himalayan Flame Backs etc.
sattal KMVN-
this is the best room
By 4.30 pm the light was so bad that we tentatively decided to call it a day. Just as we were leaving, came flying a Brown fish owl from the north end and vanished inside the jungle to the south. I followed the owl and found it perched on bough of a big tree just adjacent to the lake. (see below). 
Brown fish owl
Despite the poor light and distance, I managed a very decent shot (Thanks to my new camera which could capture the owl despite the distance of 30-35 feet and that too in such overcast conditions). Since my disciple was some distance away, I called him at the top of my voice to come quickly and capture this majestic bird but he was busy shooting something else and did not respond (I think when you possess a 500 mm lens you are content clicking common house sparrows too). All the shouting had disturbed the wise owl and he(or could be she) went deeper into the forest.Fortunately, the Brown-Fish Owl was not part of the deal else my case would have weakened further. The day-one was satisfactory and we came back to tour room happy and content. Our room had a  balcony facing the Sattal Lake. Since the month of January is the leanest season for the hills, we were the only guest in the hotel and the rest of evening was spent sitting in the balcony, under the star studded sky with myriad and mysterious sounds coming from the adjoining forest acting as the background music. It was an unforgettable experience.
the steps going up to the
main road from the Sattal park

Next morn, our target was to get the Golden Bush Robin which I had shot few months back in Sattal.Although we spent three hours in Sattal, we could not get it despite a thorough seach of the area. Finally when it was almost 10 AM, and no trace of GBR was found, we gave up. During our morning visit, we also met the great wild life photographer Shri Kalyan Singh Sajwan who shared many of his interesting experiences with us. After Mr.Sajwan left, we hung around for half-an-hour more and came tantalisingly close to sighting a scaly-breasted Wren Babbler. At least one was foraging inside the thick bushes in front of us. Though we could hear its call incessantly, yet we could not see it even for a second. In all it was a disappointing morning.

In the evening, we went to Chafi (चाफी) another good birding spot (20 km from Sattal). At Chafi we got good closuep shots of the yellow bellied fantail, forktail and also a crested kingfisher. I also saw a Kalij (male)at Chafi but could not shoot it.

We decided to return from Chafi at around 4.30 pm. Since it was tea-time, we stopped, 3-4 km before Sattal at a shop for a tea break. We found that the tea-wala had maggi noodles also. Immediately we ordered noodles and while the noodle and tea was getting prepared, I started exploring the area. Just adjoining the tea shop, I spotted the beautiful blue fronted red start (BFRS) and we got to click it from within 5 feet. We returned in the evening and were very happy about the collection of the day. A celebration was due with the famous Mr.Johnny Walker.

 The Siberian Ruby Throat

siberian ruby throat
On 13th Morn, news came that the road to Pangot has re-opened. We immediately packed our luggage and started  for Pangot. Immediately after we left Sattal, we spotted three yellow-throated Martins in the dense forest. We watched them till they vanished deep inside the forest. After ten minutes we started again. As we were passing by the tea-shop, were we had halted for tea yesterday, my instincts told me to try our luck here again for at least ten minutes. On getting down at the location, I surveyed the area again and decided to trek a little up from the main road into an abandoned field, which we had ignored yesterday. The field was covered with small thorny bushes and movement of birds in the bushes  attracted my attention in the first place. After spending few minutes here, I decided to  go further up. There was a small village of 8-10 houses. Presence of people and farm animals attracts many species of birds and therefore, I decided to enter the village. As I was slowly approaching the village, my acute vision spotted a bird not detected by me before. Blood red spot near the throat was conspicuous. It was foraging on the ground. Oh my god!!!. Was it the Siberian Ruby Throat?. I tiptoed towards the bird and was overjoyed to find that it was a Siberian-Ruby Throat. Instinctively I grabbed my camera to click but before taking even a single shot myself, I again displayed the qualities of a true Teacher. I called my disciple to come quickly and capture the bird first. Only after ensuring that the disciple had the bird in his kitty, I took few memorable shots of the bird (see above). After spending 30 minutes here, we resumed our journey for Pangot and reached at 1 PM. On our way we stopped at Kilbury, in search of the elusive Grossbeak without success. A few stretches  beyond Kilbury, had enough snow on the road to give us few anxious moments. 

Arrival at Pangot on 13th January 2014

Finally when we arrived in Pangot, it was clear sky and we were very happy to have finally reached with half-day of birding still left. Just like Tirthan in Himachal, we have so many times visited this place, that it is a second home to both of us. Raju provided us the best cottage in Kafal House. We finished our lunch quickly and started our expedition for the green tailed sunbird (GTSB). But by now, the conditions had again turned most unsuitable for photography. The sky was overcast and to compound the matters further, very thick fog had started engulfing the entire area. Puran-ji, our guide was with us for this expedition. He stopped us at a particular place and informed that we may be able to find the sunbird here. We waited  for 10-15 minutes at that spot and were gradually losing hope of finding the GTSB. I was becoming restless because in another hour or so, after sun is behind the mountains, it would be almost impossible to shoot. Therefore, I ventured a little deeper into the forest alone to try my luck. My disciple was rooted at the same spot with Puran and convinced that he would get the GTSB there.

As I walked further away from Puran and Ramashish, I thought I heard very faint feeding calls of the GTSB. I increased my pace to the source of the call. On reaching near a bush, I found a resplendent male, flitting from flower to flower. As it so happens so often, that when you are face-to-face with the bird of your dream, you are bewitched by its beauty and it takes some time to come your senses. The GTSB was now in front of me at a distance of 5 feet. I somehow managed to grab my camera and clicked left-right and center for the next two minutes as the bird went from flower to flower. God knows how many clicks I must have shot. After the bird flew away, I reviewed the photos on my camera screen, and for the first time realised, that the camera was worth every rupee I had spent on it. Even at a high ISO of 6400, the grains where almost non-existent, the colours truly captured and the details overwhelmingly impressive. The photographs were of such quality that my joy knew no bounds. It took me some time to realise that these were my perhaps the best I have ever taken in my long and illustrious career. So many times I have been to Pangot but never ever we clicked a GTSB from so close and with such clarity. By now, I found myself, involuntarily shouting and dancing like a junglee. I am sure, if the scene could be recorded on a video, even Late Shammi Kapoor would have been jealous of me. I was calling Ramashish, who was some 50 years away from me, to come and see my photographs of the GTSB. He and Puran were now running towards me because they had realised that I had hit the jackpot. Ramashish was of course a tad disappointed not to have shot the bird. Sensing his disappointment, my leadership qualities came again to the fore.I had to again spot the bird in the wilderness (of course with a little help from my friend Miss Xeno Canto of spain!).We did it with some difficulty but we succeeded at the end and Ramashish also could get some outstanding images. You may get to see his images soon, after he gets permission from me to arrange a photo exhibition which he is planning for last few years. 
greentailed sunbird

Bidding Adieu to Pangot

On 14th we had a train to catch from Kathgodam at 3.30 pm. Therefore, we went again to look for the Cheer pheasant very early in the morning. Although we could not sight the cheer, we got a good shot at two Koklas pheasants which of course were spotted by me. After completing our birding upto 11 AM we came back to Kafal house and left for Kathgodam at 12 pm. On our way we stopped at the dumping ground near Bhimtal and shot 'Steppe Eagles" who are winter visitors in this area. We reached Delhi by train at 9.30 p,m and were back in C.R.Park by 10.15 p.m.

Should I pay the full amout of Rs.2500/-?

I hope, I have placed before you all the facts germane to the issue to enable you to take a decision. Please take your decision without favour or fear. Please remember that you too, in some point of your life, must have fallen into such financial crisis and would know how much Rs.2500/- would mean in such situation.To sum up my arguments, I will only say that  having shown all the birds I promised (except Golden Bush Robin) to Shri Ramashish, whether it would be justified as per the terms and conditions, to pay any money??? If at all something is due then how much. Please decide.

black lored tit

Striated Laughing Thrush
 chewing paan

yellow bellied fantail

Chestnut bellied rock thrush

chestnut headed laughing thrush

common stonechat

siberian Ruby Throat
Rufous Sibia eating berries