The Valmiki Trail ....
20 - 23 Feb 2023
Feb 19 2023, we (Runa, Arunava(my brother) & I) set out on our exploratory drive from Kolkata. Road trips have become part & parcel of this phase of our lives, and the Maruti Brezza (Petrol 2020) is the vehicle of choice for now..... a comfortable and dependable partner.
Brezza ... all decked up
Our trips include visiting local places, culture, birding and wildlife. While wildlife and birding are priorities, we also indulge in landscapes & historical perspectives. Over time our trips have become more adventurous (at times bone-chilling) and spread over a more extended period.
Having read and heard about the terai region, the plan was to explore the wilderness along the Indo-Nepal border to Khatima (Uttarakhand) and veer off for a 10-day exclusive birding trip at Uttarakhand (Sattal – Chaukori – Munsiyari – Menali – Sattal). Afterwards, we were to head south towards Mysuru in our own zig-zag manner.
The First Destination - VTR ~ roughly 850Km from Kolkata
The exit from Kolkata on the 19th wasn't the best of the starts. A foggy day with patches of very dense fog. In addition, the Durgapur Expressway had many diversions due to repair work, making the drive vigilant and cautious. Post Burdwan, the visibility, road and traffic conditions were perfect. With a dim-toast (omelette & toast made the local way) break at Durgapur, it was relatively smooth drive until Barauni, except for a roadblock by the tribals just before Lakhisarai. That blockage added 25 Km and over an hour to our schedule driving through village tracts built for bullock carts and tractors. Feb 19th night halt was at Begusarai (also known as Barauni) at Hotel Yuvraj Deluxe.
|Screen-cam image ... foggy start on 19th - Durgapur Expressway|
Next morning, we had dense foggy patches as we started from Barauni, though not as bad as in the Kolkata - Burdwan stretch. Quite normal at that time of the year. The route took us through Samastipur, Muzzafarpur, Motihari and Bagaha giving us an essence of North Bihar.
|Paratha point ..day 2 breakfast ..at Kanti, Bihar (NH27)|
All the roads in the state of Bihar beyond NH 19 are single-carriage, (atleast on the roads that I drove). While the road conditions are good, the traffic is significantly bothersome, especially the slower vehicles - 2/3 wheelers.
VTR (27.33°N, 84.16°E) is roughly 850 Km from our home in Kolkata. A two-day drive .. (day1~507 Km- stretching almost 13hours, while day2 ~ 342 Km took us 9hours). Alternatively, few trains leaving Kolkata / Howrah can take you to Bagaha the nearest railhead to Valmiki Nagar. Gorakhpur, a major town in the state of Uttar Pradesh is about 120Km away.
We arrived at Valmiki Nagar on Feb 20, 2023, around 2.30pm, just in time for lunch at the Jungle Camp Eco Resort.
|The Jungle Camp - Eco Resort VTR, Valmiki Nagar|
|Valmiki Tifer Reserve - Valmiki Nagar|
This note, in particular, highlights the experience at the first pit stop of our jouney ~ Valmiki National Park (Valmiki Tiger Reserve - VTR).
|Glimpse of Valmiki Nagar Range|
There is little public documentation about birding at Valmiki National Park or Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR); thus, I sought the help of friends at WWF and got introduced to Shubham Gupta, a local boy who knows the place well and has similar interests. He has been working with local wildlife agencies and runs a tour company. Groomed well, Shubham could be a good naturalist.
VTR is in West Champaran District (well known for Gandhiji's Champaran Satyagraha in 1917). To the north is the Chitwan National Park of Nepal. Together, they form a large wilderness area home to various wildlife. The Himalayan Terai landscape of VTR comprises low hills with small valley plains along the rivers. Gandak and Pandai are the main rivers marking the boundary of the park and into which numerous streams and rivulets merge. The habitat includes Sal, Khair, Cane trees, amongst many others, alluvial grassland and swamps. Exceptionally rich in bio-diversity.
My initial plan was to spend 7 nights at VTR, later scaled it down to 4 due to lack of credible information. Meanwhile, with Shubham, we chalked out a plan. On the 21st & 22nd, we would explore spots around Valmiki Nagar. Thus on 21st, we did the morning safari and then headed out to Duarabari wetland; in the late afternoon we did a second safari. 22nd, was spent at Madanpur wetland and the afternoon once again at the periphery of Valmiki Nagar. On 23rd very early we left for Gobardhana Range (76 Km) and did a 2 hr safari, thereafter, we drove to Manguraha (40 Km) took the safari in the afternoon and stayed overnight. Remarkably, all the eco-resorts are very well maintained.
|Gobardhana Range - entry point ... situated 76Km from Valmiki Nagar|
|Pandai River bank - Manguaraha Range (VTR)|
Here are my observations from the trip -
a) Valmiki Nagar Range - this place has significant public presence... more of a picnic spot. Due to the presence of a few old temples, including the famous Valmiki Ashram inside the entrance of VTR, pilgrims, public parties and celebrations happen throughout the season around the Jungle Camp. Most visitors to such events go for a joyride safari in the park. This is possibly the reason why Safari inside the park is of short duration.
b) The safari durations across VTR for now is 2 hours in the morning shift and 1.5 hrs in the afternoon. This seriously needs to be evaluated for any meaningful birding / photography tourism.
c) There is only one route / track in the Valmiki Nagar range (I am told a new route will be added soon). There are two tracks each at Manguraha & Gobardhana.
d) Large mammal sighting in Valmiki Nagar is rare, a point highlighted by the guides & locals, because of the short track and duration. On safari, you do get to see the usuals i.e Spotted deer, Sambhar deer, Wild boar, Mongoose, etc. However, birding was decent and could be better!
e) Manguraha & Gobardhana ranges are far better than Valmiki Nagar. The forest eco-resorts are decent, and there is absolutely no public pressure.
f) At Gobardhana, we saw multiple fresh leopard, tiger and sloth bear pugmarks near the gate.
g) At Manguraha, at the grassland antelopes and birds were plenty.
h) Despite Gharial conservation efforts, we did not encounter a single gharial or mugger. Neither any of the cats.
i) We managed to record over 90 species of birds; among them were the Great slaty Woodpecker, Ashy-headed green Pigeon, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Himalayan Woodpecker, Scaly Thrush, etc. It was nice to sight a cute mammalian - the Great Indian Flying Squirrel.
j) Across the river on the opposite bank is Chitwan National Park. If one looks at the eBird data of Chitwan, its fantastic! And I am quite sure, most of the wildlife moves around within these contiguous parks. If only more time and better access is provided, VTR could be a phenomenal tourist attraction within India.
Few images .... regret the low quality!
My recommendation to fellow visitors would to plan a 7 day trip. Start the visit at Manguraha and spend at least 2 full days here. After that, 2 days at Gobardhana and try out the Someshwar Trek. I am told that it is a great birding trail, possibly the White-eared Night Heron was sighted in this region. Finally, 2 days at Valmiki Nagar and the wetlands around it.
VTR certainly is charming!
Is it safe? By all means ... we drove all over the West-Champaran district and across VTR. Had no problems whatsoever. The local folks were sweet and happy to share their tales, and freshly baked littis were superb!
For more details, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or contact Subham Kumar Gupta (VTR) at +918340545617.
Watch out for the next episode as we drive along the Indo - Nepal border on to Katarniaghat!