A few kilometres from the town of Miao, the Namdapha National Park is the largest protected area in the Eastern Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspot. Amongst the biggest national parks of India, Namdapha stretches along the international border between India and Myanmar.

Spanning over varying elevations, the park harbours many natural habitats, making it one of the richest and most biodiverse parts of the subcontinent. Namdapha’s remote location, the Dapha Range (at a height of 5,000m) and the snow-fed rivers that crisscross through the area have kept it well-protected and largely unexplored. It is one of the few parks in the country that must be traversed on foot; indeed after a point, there is simply no road to drive on. For nature and wildlife enthusiasts, this is perhaps the best experience offered anywhere in the country.

Narendra Bisht
Noa-Dihing river, Namdapha NP
Noa-Dihing river, Namdapha NP

Established as part of Project Tiger in 1983, Namdapha National Park has a core area of 1808sq km and a buffer zone of 177sq km. The vegetation here changes from tropical moist forests at the lower altitude to montane forests and alpine meadows at the higher elevations. A number of rare orchid species can be found in the park, including the lady’s slipper, blue vandal, foxtail and dendrobium. The lower reaches, have a dense undergrowth, with abundant bamboo and canebrakes. With trees reaching as high as 150m, the jungle has a thick canopy. Needless to say, the forest at Namdapha is almost unnavigable and impenetrable, and hence makes quite a challenge for wildlife-watchers to spot animal or bird species. While this means that there will be no jeep safaris, nor lounging in a hammock while deer graze nearby, it certainly ensures an unparalleled nature experience.

Namdapha is home to many species of mammals, such as tiger, leopard (both clouded and snow), elephant, red panda, deer and even the endangered hoolock gibbon. The park is also home to several avian species, including white-bellied heron, snowy-throated babbler, white-winged wood duck, pied falconet, fulvettas, scimitar babblers and five species of hornbills.

Namdapha boasts a variety of butterfly species, such as the koh-i-noor, red caliph, cruiser, wizard and fluffy tit.

ORIENTATION

The entrance to Namdapha is located close to the town of Miao. After you drive past the entry gate, it’s a 22km drive to the campsite of Deban, set up by the Forest Department. It serves as the only hotel to stay in, unless you choose to camp at one of the designated campsites in the forest. Deban is the farthest motorable point as well.

Narendra Bisht
Hikers crossing the Anamika waterfall in Namdapha NP
Hikers crossing the Anamika waterfall in Namdapha NP

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Deban

Located on the northern banks of the Noa-Dihing river, Deban is an excellent base for exploring Namdapha. The site is a haven for naturalists, offering plenty of birding opportunities. Visitors be able to spot little and slaty-backed forktails, scarlet minivets, lesser and greater yellownape woodpeckers and perhaps even the red-tailed minla and collared treepie. In the area around Gibbon’s Land, 11km away, look out for the Assamese macaque. The site also offers amazing trails for trekking.

Treks

Trekking is the only way to thoroughly explore Namdapha and experience nature at its wildest.

The excitement begins early in the morning with the sound of barking deer and hoolock gibbons in the distance. The first part of the trek involves crossing the Noa-Dihing river. When the flow is less, you can simply walk on the stones and cross the river over shaky yet reliable wooden bamboo bridges, but when the water levels are high, you will need a ferry (arranged by the Forest Department) to take you across the roaring rapids. There are two ways to trek in Namdapha, depending on time and availability.

While it is possible to trek 14km to Bulbulia – the third base camp – and return to the starting point the same day, it can be extremely tiring and is only recommended if you are pressed for time. However, if you can manage a couple of nights in the jungle, you will be able to sight both birds and animals during the early hours as well as during sunset. It is simply stunning if you get to photograph them. Be careful, though.

Hoolock Gibbon
Hoolock Gibbon

The trail from the river will take you up an incline for about 300m, before you walk a short distance along a ridge to the picturesque Haldibari campsite. Set up an overnight camp and listen to the sounds of the jungle – the birds calling out to each other, the hoolock gibbons sounding off warnings and the rustle of leaves in the wind.

The next campsite, Hornbill Glade, is only 5km away, but the path that leads to it is nothing short of enchanting, with rays of sunshine beaming through the dense tree canopy. While walking down the rough path strewn with stones – and sometimes fallen trees – visitors can stop over for a break at the temporary bamboo structures made for forest guards, along the way. Although leeches are not very common during dry weather, Namdapha’s tropical forests has five species of leeches.

Tigers can be mostly spotted in the park’s core area, in the interior of the jungle, which is nowhere close to navigable. Even today, the Forest Department finds it an uphill task to set up monitoring and image-capturing devices in order to determine how many tigers there still are in the park.

So, while you may not run into a tiger during your time there, which might make you scoff, remember that you are on foot, so take due caution when visiting these areas.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

There are few staying options now in Deban. But are a few small eateries in the market where you can get by. It takes about seven hours to get from Dibrugarh to Deban, via Miao, traversing about 150km. One can book a cab (₹4,500 approx-imately for one way by a Sumo car/jeep). Buses are unreliable.

The Forest Department has a Forest Rest House (Tariff: ₹450). For reservations, contact the Field Director, Namdapha National Park, Miao (Tel: 03807-222249).

Tip Book your accommodation well in advance. It can be done over the phone or at the Namdapha Field Director’s office. Charge your devices. The camp offers two cottages, equipped with washrooms and electricity back up. The campsites designated by the Forest Department are Bulbulia, Haldibari, Hornbill, Rani Jheel and Firmbase, all of which face the Noa Dihing river and the hills.

The tourist huts in Deban, especially, enjoy a spectacular location near the river. There’s no electricity or running hot water; the camp organiser will be happy to heat water over fire, if need be. Solar lamps are provided, but you’ll also get a box of candles if you stay in the huts.

Inputs by Shreya Sarkar

FAST FACTS

When to Go November to March

Wildlife/ Forest Dept Offices

Field Director, Project Tiger, Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Miao, Changlang District, Tel: 03807-222249

District Informatics Officer, DC Office, Changlang District, Tel: 03808-222621/ 222840,

District Commissioner Office , Changlang District , Tel: 222221, STD code 03807

GETTING  THERE

State Arunachal Pradesh

Location Adjacent to the Myanmar border; 150km E of Tinsukia, 197km E of Dibrugarh

Distance 345km E of Itanagar

Route from Dibrugarh via NH52, past Tinsukia, Digboi, Margherita, Ledo and Miao

Air Nearest airport: Dibrugarh (197km/ 7hrs to Deban via Miao/ 20km/ 1hr). Connected to all the metros via Guwahati. Taxi ₹7,500 (to Deban), and ₹6,000 to Miao, but book in advance

Rail Nearest railhead: Tinsukia (150km/ 6hrs) is served by connec­tions from Delhi, Guwahati and New Jalpaiguri. Taxi ₹3,500

Road From Dibrugarh NH37 to Makum via Tinsukia; NH38 to Lekhapani via Ledo; SH to Miao; link road to Deban Bus services only up to Miao from Tinsukhia

Ferry To save time, from Tinsukia get to Wakro (100km). Catch the ferry for the 5hr journey to Deban on the Deban river