Monday, December 12, 2011

black necked cranes

It came to light last week that the endangered black necked cranes had made their annual migration flight to Bhutan and were in Trashiyangste and Phobjikha. Since we are a mere 3-hour drive from Trashi Yangste and the post exam schedule has so far consisted of arriving at school and doing whatever small tasks are left for 30 minutes or so and then sitting in the sun or simply amusing ourselves until it is deemed appropriate to slip away, this news set us to thinking that we should make an effort to go and see the cranes.

We envisioned that this last week of school would be the best time but of course the few promotion meetings, farewell celebrations and staff meetings left for us to attend all fell in such a way that it was impossible to get 2 consecutive days to go. When Ian discovered this on Friday he set to getting the required paperwork for road permits and permission for park entrance into the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary immediately. At his principal's suggestion our best option would be Saturday and Sunday. I was sure that the formalities could not be completed in the 4 or 5 hours available that morning but to my amazement Ian got his paperwork sorted and his ever helpful principal called around to ensure that we would be allowed through the Chazam Immigration Post and permitted to enter the park. About mid morning he arrived at my school and I had already organised to acquire a copy of the school letter head. With his documents in hand and his principal's prior approval, I had the relatively easy task of duplicating using my school's letter head and getting my principal's signature. Just before lunch it was all done and we called the Drukyul Express taxi driver who was keen to take us and happy to depart at 7am the following morning.

I can honestly say that it is the most efficient processing for official documentation we have experienced in all our time here, simply because we produced it all, for ourselves nonetheless that seemed like a very good omen.

By 6.45 am the next morning we were walking up the hill to the main street to meet up with the taxi. The driver had already called and had assured us that he was ready to go and was washing his car. We were keen to get off early as he had also explained that the usual road block, just outside Trashigang on the road to Chazam Bridge, where the road is being widened, was likely and that getting through before 8 am was our best bet. The rat trap with an ensconced rat trapped inside it that he discreetly slid under the driver's seat was somewhat disconcerting, but I chose not to think about it.

Smooth sailing all the way through the road works and petrol station and well before our appointed time, we were standing at the immigration window hoping that the usually officious officer wasn't going to reject our documents on some technicality. Unusually he was very pleasant and even volunteered that while he couldn't actually rubber stamp our park permits, we should be fine. While we were listening to him hoping he would give us the nod, we heard a pretty authentic call of "G'day" from behind us and discovered the 2 BCF teachers from Wamrong, Maureen and John, in a vehicle also hoping to get through Chazam with their 2 recently arrived visiting guests. We all stood around chatting and catching up on the latest end of year goings on at our various schools and we were very happy to discover that 2 more BCFers were already at the hotel that we were planning to stay in, having arrived the previous night from a regional Tsechu. Despite not being our preferred date for this trip, it seemed to turning out extremely well and rewarding our flexibility and efficiency at getting it organised. Soon enough we were all on our way again. By far the most pleasant immigration experience we have had at that check point.

The drive to Trashi Yangste is the usual treacherous winding roads with steep drops into ravines threatening, and seeming more and more likely as the number of landslides and washed away sections of the road increases but it goes through several very different vegetation zones and at exactly the point when I was thinking it was about here that we saw langurs last time we were on this road, we spotted them again. One was close enough to almost touch sitting in a tree at the roadside and watching me as closely as I was watching him, as I quietly got my camera out. I got a couple of very back lit shots and we had the joy of watching them swing in loping, balletic movements from tree to tree to what they obviously considered a safe distance from dangers such as us.  

We made one brief stop before our final destination and this was when the rat was removed from under the driver's seat and allowed to scamper up the cliff face and into the undergrowth. "Catch and release" being the most compassionate form of Buddhist pest control.

In no time we were checked into the Karma Ling Hotel and had ascertained that Lisa, Scott and their guest JJ were indeed also staying there and were off hiking at that point in time. We happily organized to meet up for dinner and then headed off to track down the main attraction. Our driver had enquired if we had a ride to the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and he was happy to continue with us and even return the next day to collect us- all for an appropriate fee of course. This is more initiative than we usually experience and we willingly agreed to him driving us. He took off up the dirt track that is commonly called a farm road here and we were glad that we were in a Bolero 4-wheel drive not a minivan or a compact car that also operate as taxis.

Before we reached the park we saw a flock of cranes grazing in the recently harvested paddy fields but we continued on hopeful of seeing more. Even with their beaks firming planted in the ground foraging, they are majestic birds and it was a delight to see them in such a large flock.

Into the park and past the unmanned checkpoint we went. Just near the entrance there was an impromptu Kuru (Bhutanese darts) game being played and on the sand flats near the river another single bird was strutting about. We approached cautiously but it didn't seem intimidated and didn't take to the sky but we were not able to get very close. Next we spotted a pair in the fields not too faraway but all the locals our driver questioned claimed the largest flock was the group that we had already spotted on the way into the park, so around we turned.

I assumed that we would remain on the cliff top looking down at them but the driver had no hesitation in opening the gate, crossing in front of the house, that was obviously the landowner's quarters and clambering down the cliff face get a closer look, so we followed suit. We got close enough to distinguish the youngsters with the brown and beige markings and the females with no crowns from the red crowned males and watched in awe as they foraged in the paddies and preened and aired their wings. Randomly grouping and regrouping and seeming to me at least, to be copying each other’s behaviour. Their gait reminded me of the emus I have often observed in Australia loping and awkward but when Ian accidentally startled them they gracefully took flight and made the most amazing cawing sounds. 

We were close enough to hear the beating of their wings overhead and thrilled to see them circling and flying in formation. Even the driver had his mobile phone out and was taking photos. A magical experience and one I will long remember. 


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