Murlen, Mizoram, January 2011

Maiden Mizo trip!

Shashank Dalvi, Atul Jain and I made a trip to Murlen National Park in E Mizoram in NE India (close to the Myanmar border) after many months of planning and research.


This part of the world is poorly birded and one of our prime targets was the the Chin Hills Wren-babbler (Spelaeornis oatesi) — a recent split from the Long-tailed Wren-babbler of South Assam Hills and Burma. E & S Mizoram is the only place this bird occurs in India as an extension of its range in Chin Hills in W Myanmar. This race has a ‘white throat and breast densely speckled with black’ compared to the Naga Wren-babbler (S chocolatinus) which has little speckling that occurs in Nagaland. We were adequately assisted by the forest dept. (by email and fax) who helped us access this remote park. Further, we got tremendous support from Sankte in Singapore (and Champai native) who helped us organize (remotely) the entire trip including transport, accommodation and delicious food! Murlen is in the Eastern edge of Mizoram and is more than a day’s journey from Aizawl (the capital and airport town — notorious for delayed and canceled flights). We traveled a full day from Aizawl to Champai (at the base of the mountain range in which Murlen National park is located). At Champai, we stayed with Sankte’s wonderful parents and family — our first taste (literally!) of great Mizo hospitality.

Murlen was a few hours uphill (and further east) of Champai, not far but totally mud roads after Vapar town. Murlen is a small beautiful village nestled in a valley amidst verdant mountains of the South Assam Hills. The range extends into Chin Hills of Myanmar. Sankte had arranged for us to stay with her cousin Munga — a hardworking farmer, devout christian and fantastic human being. We stayed with Munga for several days whose house was basically one large, clean and spacious room shared by eight family members. With us eleven plus our driver! we spread sleeping bags on the floor. The wooden walls and flooring did well to insulate us from the cold (it was January in the mountains).

Operating from Munga’s home, we covered the nearby forests and mountains including a full-day climb to Tlangsam aka Murlen peak (2000m, Mizoram’s 2nd highest after Blue Mountain) through some splendid jungle. On the way out of Murlen there were some torrential downpours that converted the roads into gravy. We faced several tricky moments with our heavy Scorpio sliding dangerously till we reached the metalled road at Vapar. Mizoram, like most of the NE has its share of significant conservation threats¬†— hunting and clean felling of forests being the obvious ones. We observed almost extremely ingenious ‘invisible’ bird trapping outside Murlen village — see the last images in the gallery.