The myth of the ‘Last Wilderness’
Namdapha National Park is the largest ‘protected’ area in the Eastern Himalaya and is located in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. It is also the largest national park in India in terms of area (1985 sq. kms) and is recognized as one of the richest areas in biodiversity in India. Namdapha is under serious threat and faces several serious conservation issues. Outside of ‘mainstream’ India, the park is completely out of the radar of the government and the local forest department. The virgin forest cover of this nature reserve has been considerably reduced, degraded and fragmented by clearfelling for human settlements (mainly Lisus). Hunting and poaching of rare and endangered fauna (there is hardly anything left of common fauna), uncontrolled fishing in the river, shifting agriculture and massive uncontrolled extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are some of the issues seriously threatening the park. There are many Lisu settlements inside the park (all illegal) and more are coming. The situation is completely out of hand and requires serious and immediate interventions to protect what’s left of India’s largest ‘protected’ area.
Shashank Dalvi and I made a week’s trip to Namdapha in February to try and get some specialities before the rains. It was my maiden trip to the park and Shashank’s third. Namdapha is all hiking and the last a jeep can take you (currently) is Deban which is kind of the ‘base camp’ as well as the administrative headquarters to the park.
Our logistics was organized by Phupla Singpo (based in Miao about 25 kms before Deban) who helps birders with porters, guides and cooks. Birding was challenging and photography even more so. It also rained heavily a couple of days keeping us inside tents most of the time. We still managed to see most of the rarities and photograph some of them.
On our way back from Namdapha, we stopped for a day at Digboi — the oil producing town in eastern Assam, India’s (Asia’s) first active oil field and now a refining centre. The Indian Oil Corporation has actively protected this large patch of lowland evergreen forests that surrounds the complex of old derricks and drilling platforms. Digboi is home to many rarities like Chestnut-backed Laughing-thrushes and White-winged Wood Ducks. We nailed the former minutes after entering the park though I couldn’t manage a single frame of the super skulkers.