Bhutan – Regular Tourist Circuit

The first detailed post on the places that we visited during our two week trip to Bhutan in May, 2013. This one will be on the three cities of Bhutan that is on the itinerary of most of the tourists who visit Bhutan. The regular circuit of Thimphu, Punakha and Paro in Western Bhutan! Paro has the only international airport in Bhutan and the mystical Tiger’s Nest is close to Paro. Thimphu is the current capital of the country. Punakha is the old capital and also the cultural capital for the country. Also being next to each other, they naturally form the regular tourist circuit.


Thimphu, the largest city is the capital of Bhutan. It became the capital only about 50 years back and is therefore a relatively new city. The city lies next to the Wang Chhu aka Thimphu Chhu river.

Peaceful Resort

As the name suggests this resort is tucked away in the peaceful residential area of Motithang away from the hustle and bustle of Thimphu town centre. We stayed here for two nights. We had our room on the topmost floor of the two storeyed building which was ideal for me especially to scan the surrounding area for birds :) And we were not disappointed since the area around had a reasonable avian activity as I have mentioned in my birding diary post.

The staff at the dining area were pleasant and the food was pretty good. We decided to try the Ema Datshi here. Ema Datshi is a staple dish of the Bhutanese made using cheese and plenty of green or red chillies which makes it extremely spicy. Since we were in Bhutan we wanted to try this dish. When the dish finally arrived, we realized that it was way too spicy for us. We ended up hardly eating any of it and leaving the bowl almost untouched!

Ema Datshi

Ema Datshi

Tashichho Dzong

Taschichho Dzong is a Buddhist monastery as well as a fortress which is located near the river bank. It also houses government offices. The head Lama of Bhutan spends his summer here. On our first day in Bhutan we went to the Dzong around 5 in the evening to watch the flag lowering ceremony which happens on a daily basis signalling the end of the working day.

This particular day was special as the head Lama was arriving with his cavalcade from Punakha for his summer sojourn. The whole place wore a festive air and the monks were busy with their preparations to welcome the Lama.

All set to receive the Lama

Lot of people had gathered to witness the arrival of the Lama and seek his blessings. We walked around the beautiful courtyard inside the dzong for a while. The whole path leading to the entrance of the dzong had been dotted with colourful prayer flags which were fluttering in the wind adding to the beauty of the place.

Outside Trashicho Dzong

Flags signify prayers

When the Lama arrived a set of monks standing atop the roof of the dzong played the dungchen. Dancers dressed up in traditional costumes were also part of the procession. To our pleasant surprise we saw the King and Queen receive the Lama before they retreated back to their palace which is located right behind the dzong.

The wait of the monks

The dzong looks spectacular when it is lit up in the night. Photographing the lit up dzongs of Bhutan became a mini project once Nagesh started with this dzong!

Trashicho Dzong at night

Takin Reserve

The national animal of Bhutan is the Takin. It looks like a hybrid of a Yak, Goat and a Horse. It is endangered and found in the wild only in remote regions of Northern Bhutan. However there is an enclosed area for Takins which were initially captured with the intent of housing them in a zoo. As the zoo never materialized and the freed Takins began to wander aimlessly around the town, they were housed in an exclusive reserve.

Takin – the national animal of Bhutan

As per local belief, Drukpa Kunley who was popularly known as the divine madman was asked by the villagers to perform a miracle. He asked them to get him a cow as well as a goat to eat before he could perform a miracle. The villagers did so. He devoured the cow and goat and all that remained were bones. To the utter astonishment of the villagers who had gathered, he attached the head of the Goat to the skeleton of the Cow. He then clapped his hands and the skeleton was covered by a body. The animal jumped up and ran to a nearby meadow for feeding. Thus the Takin was created!

Kuensel Phodrang

A gigantic 169 feet long statue of Gautama Buddha is being constructed on a hillock on the outskirts of Thimphu amidst the ruins of the Kuensel Phodrang palace. This statue called as the Buddha Dordenma, made of Bronze and gilded with Gold, looms over the city of Thimphu. It will be one of the largest Buddha statues in the world upon completion. The statue stands upon a platform, the inside of which will be used as a meditation hall.

Kuensel Phodrang


Punakha is the old capital of Bhutan. It is still the religious capital and home to the Lama through most of the year. More on this below as part of the Punakha Dzong. First let me cover the route from Thimphu to Punakha!

108 Chortens

The Dochula pass lies between the districts of Thimphu and Punakha. On our way to Punakha we visited the 108 chortens built on this pass. The chortens were commissioned by the Queen Mother as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the conflicts that raged with the militant outfits.

108 Chortens at Dochula Pass

On a clear day this place offers an unobstructed 360 degrees panoramic view of the Himalayas. But we were there on a foggy day making it impossible to see the valley below let alone the Himalayas! However this lent a magical look to the place and it looked like a setting out of a fairytale :) The place looked so colourful despite the fog. Clearly this place was one of the highlights of our trip!

108 Chortens at Dochula Pass – another view

We felt completely at peace walking around the chortens surrounded by lush green grass dotted with flowering plants. We saw a monk meditating here and he seemed to be oblivious to everything going on around him.

Monk at Dochula Pass

Royal Botanical Garden

The Royal Botanical Garden spread over 12,000 acres of land is located at Lamperi on the way to Punakha past the Dochula pass. The park has a Rhododendron Garden, visitor information centre, a lake and several trails. We went here for birdwatching. It turned out to be the weekend during which the Rhododendron festival was going on.

Bhutanese women in a traditional dress singing a song

The place was pretty crowded. Lot of families had come for their Sunday picnic. There were cultural performances by the local women and school children.

Bhutanese Folk Dance

We saw Yaks grazing around the lake. Some nomadic shelters had been put up to showcase how they lived in various regions. We met Mr Wangchuk Phuntscho who works in the forest department and he was glad to take us around to try and watch some birds. Though we did not see too many on that day due to the crowd, we had seen enough to determine that this place deserved a second visit on our way back.

Meri Puensum Resort

We had chosen Meri Puensum Resort for our stay in Punakha. We spent three nights here. The resort is located on a hillock in Woolakha area. The view from our room which was close to the edge of the property was very nice. The fields dotted with homes was a beautiful sight. We could do quite a bit of balcony birding. Food was pretty decent. The only disappointment was the way too greasy Aloo Parathas that we got for breakfast early morning at 5 when we wanted to go to Jigme Dorji National Park for birdwatching. We realized that it was better to stick to continental breakfast.

View from our room at Meri Puensum Resort

Meri Puensum Resort

Punakha Dzong

The Punakha Dzong aka Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong is one of the most picturesque places in Bhutan. It literally translates to the palace of great happiness or bliss. It was constructed by the Zhabdrung in the seventeenth century. The dzong was the administrative centre and seat of the government until the capital was shifted to Thimphu in mid nineteenth century. Today it serves as the winter seat of the Lama and the Punakha district administration. It houses the relics of Zhabdrung. It is an important place for the royal family and most of the important functions take place here. The notable amongst them being the coronation of the king and the weddings in the royal family. The current king and queen got married here in 2011 and that was an event which the whole country celebrated.

The dzong lies next to the confluence of the Mo Chhu (Mother river) and Po Chhu (Father river) under a hill shaped like an Elephant’s head.

Punakha Dzong at the confluence of Mo Chhu and Po Chhu

The approach to the dzong is  through a beautiful covered wooden bridge built in the traditional style. The Jacaranda tree lined path in front of the dzong enhances the beauty of the place during the blooming season.

Punakha Dzong at sunrise

It is a delight to watch and photograph the dzong at different times of the day with the light varying and making it look different. The picture above was just after sunrise. The next pic in the evening light and the one after at night. The dzong looks stunning when it it is lit in the night.

Punakha Dzong in the evening

Lit-up Punakha Dzong at night

The view from within the dzong at the entrance is fantastic and can only be described as fit for kings!

Outside view from Punakha Dzong

The dzong is possibly the most regal dzong in Bhutan and the insides of the dzong reflect the same.

A monk looks out

Bodhi tree within Punakha dzong

Khamsum Yuley Namgyel Chorten

The Khamsum Yuley Namgyel Chorten is a beautiful temple commissioned by the Queen Mother before the coronation of her son as king. It is located on a hill in the countryside and about half an hour away from the town.

Khamsum Yuley Namgyel Chorten

The chorten can be reached by crossing the bridge across the river, a walk through the fields and a hike up the hill.

Mo Chhu snakes along

The walk takes around 1 hour. It is more than worthwhile spending that time and effort for the superb views of the surrounding countryside that can be seen through the walk.

Lush green countryside

Chimi Lhakhang

An important figure who played a role in the Bhutanese history has been Drukpa Kunley popularly known as the Divine Madman. He was a popular poet and a teacher of Buddhism in his own eccentric ways thereby earning the above title. There is a strange monastery dedicated to him near Lobesa village in Punakha district which is called Chimi Lhakhang aka the temple of fertility. The strange custom here is to bless visitors with a wooden phallus. It is a belief that praying here has caused childless women to have babies and mothers with newborn babies come here to give offerings and choose a name for the babies.

Chimi Lakhang – Temple of fertility

Monks, a dog and a Jacaranda tree

The temple can be reached by a short walk through the village and fields. The monks were practicing the playing of Dungchen, a traditional Bhutanese trumpet, and our guide joined in!

Playing the Dungchen


The last of the three cities on the regular tourist circuit of Bhutan is Paro. In addition to being the gateway into Bhutan, Paro is a beautiful valley as well. And given the presence of Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery here, Paro is also the “face” of Bhutan for most people outside Bhutan.

Metta Resort

We spent the last three nights of our trip at Metta Resort in Paro. Located away from the hubbub of the town centre, it was a good place to relax and end our two week journey. The food was excellent and the room was cozy. The culinary highlight was ginger cake prepared by the owner of the resort. She mentioned that it was an Indonesian recipe and one of her specialties. The garden was filled with beautiful flowers and the views of the surrounding hills was nice.

Fluttering flags at Metta Resort

Paro Dzong

Paro Dzong aka Rinpung Dzong houses the administrative offices as well as the monastic body of the Paro district. The word Rinpung literally translates to heaps of jewels. The dzong and its jewels were however burnt in a fire in early 1900s. The dzong was then rebuilt. It is located next to the Paro Chhu river and can be approached via a traditional wooden bridge. As some construction work was going on when we went, we had to enter the dzong from the rear. This dzong can be seen as one lands in Paro airport! On the hill above the dzong stands an ancient watchtower called Ta Dzong which is being used as the National Museum of Bhutan currently.

Paro Dzong

Landing in Paro

As mentioned in my introduction post on Bhutan, we had taken the Druk Air flight from Delhi to Paro. The highlight of the flight was fantastic views of Mt Everest and some of the other peaks of Eastern Himalayas.

Mt Everest

Mt Everest

Our first glimpse of Bhutan from high above was the heavenly sight of mist parting up to reveal what seemed like an endless cover of Pine trees! The landing itself was one hell of an experience with the plane gliding through the valley and doing some last minute turns to land on the runway which we couldn’t see :) All the passengers started clapping out loud once we had landed!

Taktsang Monastery

The “face” of Bhutan for many. If you have to choose one view that defines Bhutan, many would choose the view of the Taktsang hanging at the cliff’s edge as that. The Taktsang Monastery is popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The name comes from the Bhutanese belief that Guru Rinpoche rode a flying tigress and landed at this place on the cliffs on his way to slay demons from Tibet. Given the importance Guru Rinpoche has for Buddhism, in Bhutan and in general, this monastery is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The Bhutanese believe that their sins will be washed away if they hike up to the monastery and pray. A popular offering is butter and people carry a large load of it on their backs up the hill to the monastery and offer the same. The monastery has had it’s share of fires and has been reconstructed each time.

Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest

The monastery is closed during lunch time and therefore it is advisable one leaves early enough in the morning to ensure that one can reach the monastery well before lunch. The monastery can be reached by a moderately difficult trek which took us about two hours one way. Frankly, we weren’t in the best of shape, so I suppose it can be done in lesser as well. Walking sticks can be obtained for a small fee at the bottom of the trail.

Start of the hike to Taktsang

There are also pony rides available. The pony will take you only on the upward journey till the point where steps begin. Midway on the trek there is a cafe where you can rest and enjoy a cup of tea watching the monastery from much closer. Through the first half of the trek the monastery is never visible and it comes into view just a little before reaching the cafe.

Us at half-way point

Just when you think you’ve reached the monastery at about the end of the trek, you turn a corner and realize that you have a set steps which lead you way down below the monastery before you can climb another set of steps leading up into the monastery. Many a tourist feels like giving up when they see this. So it helps to know about this beforehand!

Us overlooking Taktsang just before the last set of steps

While getting into the monastery one needs to leave all belongings including shoes and jackets outside. Given the Buddhist traditions, no leather items can be worn inside. For the ladies climbing, given that you will end up leaving your jacket outside, it is advisable that you wear full sleeved clothing with a collar or a shawl to ensure you cover your neck as a respect to the Buddhist traditions. This is an expectation when visiting most of the Dzongs as well in Bhutan. I was carrying a fleece jacket in my backpack during the climb for this very purpose. It also helped in the climb down as the weather had turned colder by then.

In Short

This was our trip in what is the regular tourist circuit of Bhutan. As is our wont, even in these places we covered some places which are generally not the typical tourist haunts. That said, there is so much to Bhutan when you go beyond the normal. It is nothing short of “falling off the map” and therein lies the real Bhutan. More on those in the upcoming post.

This post took a while putting together and the next may take longer as we will probably be taking a little bit of a break from the blog. Hope to see you guys on the other side of the break. Thanks for reading!

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Bhutan Birding Diaries – Part IV

The final post from the Bhutan birding diaries. The list of birds, as you will read below, just got better!! In my previous post I’d mentioned about the return journey to Paro from Jakar. We would be breaking the journey at Phobjikha valley which is famous as one of the sites where the endangered Black-necked Cranes migrate every year during winter from high altitude regions of Tibet. But the Cranes would have left already by this time of the year.

Yotong La

This time around when we reached the Yotong La Pass the weather was clear. We saw lots of Rhododendron trees in bloom. A Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush could be seen high atop a tree. Suddenly a pair of Spotted Nutcrackers descended on a bare tree stump a little above eye level. Finally we managed to get a good look at these birds which are usually way too high up the pine trees.

Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush

Spotted Nutcracker


As we reached Trongsa in time for an early lunch, we saw the Grey Bushchat male at its usual spot on a bush next to the road.

After lunch, Tshering asked the car to be stopped at Ngala Community Forest area somewhere between Trongsa town and Chendebji. We walked around for a while and had quite a few sightings. We saw Black-winged Cuckooshrike (lifer), White-throated Fantail, Whiskered Yuhina, Rufous Sibia, Grey-winged Blackbird and Green-tailed Sunbird.

ID help needed

White-throated Fantail

Whiskered Yuhina

Rufous Sibia

Grey-winged Blackbird

Green-tailed Sunbird

We then proceeded to Gangtey where we would be staying overnight at the Dewachen Resort. We decided to leave very early next morning to go to Old Trongsa Road to try our luck with Pheasants. We could then drive back to Paro.

Old Trongsa Road

This road is no longer in use and some sections of it have got blocked by boulders making it not motorable and therefore ideal for birdwatching without any disturbances. We saw a few Yaks grazing around. We saw a Himalayan Monal climb up the slopes far away. Wondering if we were late for the pheasants, we continued down the road. A lifer soon appeared in the form of a Rufous-vented Tit.

Rufous-vented Tit

As we walked further along the road, Tshering suddenly asked us to stop. In excited and hushed tones he said “Satyr Tragopan”!! I couldn’t believe what I was about to see. A gorgeous Satyr Tragopan walked out majestically from behind the bushes and crossed the road right in front of us. We felt blessed to have been able to see this bird which is one of the rare species seen in Bhutan. The red colour was mesmerizing to say the least!

Satyr Tragopan

The next lifer was a Stripe-throated Yuhina. Within 5 minutes we saw a Tragopan again. This time it was atop a bush and incessantly calling out. It then made its way down the slope. Our day was already made with sightings of two Tragopans within half an hour :)

Stripe-throated Yuhina

Satyr Tragopan

There were plenty of small birds along the road. We did not spend much time as we were feeling tired and hungry. We had not carried breakfast with us due to the early start. Some lifers that we saw on our way back to the car were Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Spotted Laughingthrush, White-winged Grosbeak and Black-faced Laughingthrush.

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

Spotted Laughingthrush

White-winged Grosbeak

Black-faced Laughingthrush

We then went to Kuenphen Restaurant at Nobding in Wangdue Phodrang district and had a hearty breakfast. We decided to stop again at Lamperi as we were doing good on time. We were in luck as Ishay’s guru, Dorjee, had come that day. We went for a walk along with him and spotted the Green-tailed Sunbird. He showed us a Large Hawk-Cuckoo (lifer) and we realized that we had been mistaking it for the Common Hawk-Cuckoo aka the Brainfever bird throughout our trip whenever we heard its persistent calls.

Green-tailed Sunbird

Large Hawk Cuckoo

I suddenly spotted a mass of bright red which I immediately recognized as the Scarlet Finch (lifer again!). The others were walking ahead of me. Nagesh realized that I’d seen something and stepped back just in time to see it before it flew off. We managed to get only a blurred pic. We called out to the others and waited for a while at the same spot to see if the bird would come back. But it seemed to have gone down the hill and did not return. We then spent time discussing about the birds that we’d seen and photographed. Dorjee went through our checklist and helped us identify some of the birds that we had not been able to till then. After lunch we bid our farewell to Ishay and Dorjee and were on our way to Metta Resort in Paro where we would be spending our last 3 nights in Bhutan.

Chele La

We started off early from our resort around 5 AM. It was a foggy morning and the weather was perfect for the Pheasants which reside around the Chele La pass. Chele La is the highest motorable road in Bhutan at an altitude of 3988 mts above sea level. The road connects Paro valley with the Haa Valley.

We saw quite a few Kalij Pheasants as we began our ascent up the road to Chele La. We finally managed to get a good glimpse of these beautiful birds and some nice pictures as well. They had eluded us on previous occasions.

Kalij Pheasant

After a while we saw a lone Blood Pheasant (lifer) cross the road far ahead of us. It was shortly followed by a Himalayan Monal which was crossing the road majestically. It realized the presence of our car and rushed down the slopes of the hill within the split of a second resulting in one blurred picture.


We decided to stop the car and walk for a while as we did not want to disturb the pheasants. We saw Black-faced Laughingthrush and Coal Tit (lifer) before stumbling on a pair of Blood Pheasants which were scanning the road carefully before crossing. We let them feed happily while we got our share of pictures! As we went ahead we saw a scene which will remain etched in our memories forever. A flock of around 10-15 Blood Pheasants were descending down the slopes of the hill towards where we were headed with the males ahead followed by the females. The mist added a magical touch to this amazing moment.

Black-faced Laughingthrush

Coal Tit

Blood Pheasant

Blood Pheasant

We drove till the highest point on this road. It was pretty cold. We had some hot tea and breakfast that Tshering had got for us. On a clear day Mt.Jomolhari can be seen from Chele La. Since it was foggy we could barely see even the Haa Valley. But then the weather had been very favourable for Pheasants. So we had no qualms about not being able to see the Himalayas!

After waiting for a while for the fog to clear we realized that the weather wasn’t going to change much soon. So we started on our way back earlier than planned. Most of the stretches on the way back were devoid of any activity. We managed to see few more lifers like Whistler’s Warbler and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. Nagesh spotted an excellently camouflaged Hodgson’s Treecreeper.

Green-crowned Warbler

Blyth's Leaf Warbler

Hodgson's Treecreeper

We were back in Paro for an early lunch. In the evening we went to the Rinpung Dzong and near the bridge over Paro river leading to the Dzong, we sighted a Plumbeous Water Redstart. This was the last bird that we photographed on this wonderful trip. We spent the rest of the time going around Paro and hiking to the Tiger Nest monastery. It had been a wonderful experience to see so many new species of birds. We would love to return back to this wonderful country some day and continue into the Eastern  and Southern parts which are supposed to be even better in terms of birding.

Plumbeous Water Redstart

The complete list of birds from our Bhutan trip is up on Thanks for reading!

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Bhutan Birding Diaries – Part III

The birding diaries continue on. Taking up from where I left off in my previous post, the highlight of this post is the birding heaven in Central Bhutan which will always remain memorable. I am talking about Trongsa and its surroundings.


We reached Trongsa just before sunset. We were going to be there for 2 nights and had booked a room at Yangkhil resort. As we walked around exploring the resort we saw a couple of Yellow-billed Blue Magpies flitting around. The Blue Whistling Thrush and the Russet Sparrows were all over the place. Our guide Tshering told us that he would take us out early next morning for birdwatching to Trongsa tower. We had an early dinner and retired for the night completely unaware of what the next morning would bring us!

It was a misty morning the next day. We saw a Grey Bushchat high atop a pole near the prayer wheels in the resort. Nagesh fished out an Oriental White-eye and got some nice pictures of it against the flowers of the Bottlebrush tree where it seemed to be residing.

Oriental White-eye

Our driver Yenten dropped us at Trongsa tower which was opposite the Trongsa Dzong. It has been converted to a museum housing artifacts belonging to the royal family as well as the Bhutanese culture. As we got in through the door next to the road, there were a series of steps that led to the tower. The place seemed to be teeming with birds. We were completely lost as to which bird to watch!! It was as though we had stepped into a birding heaven if there is one!!!

The Green-backed Tit which was completely fearless and coming very close to us. Given how common this bird had got to us and all the other wonderful birds here, we ended up ignoring it at most times. First up were Verditer Flycatcher, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (lifer), Eurasian Jay, White-throated Fantail, White-tailed Nuthatch and Striated Laughingthrush. All of these in a matter of few minutes.

Verditer Flycatcher

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

White-throated Fantail

White-tailed Nuthatch

Striated Laughingthrush

Then came the icing on the cake. A cute little bird high on our wish list which we had missed on our trip to Saattal last year. We were awestruck by the sudden appearance of the Red-billed Leiothrix!

Red-billed Leiothrix

The next set of birds included Ashy Drongo, Greenish Warbler and Blue-capped Rock Thrush (both male and female).

Greenish Warbler

As we reached the end of the stairs we noticed a flock of birds high atop a tree. We identified them as Spot-winged Grosbeaks (lifer) later. While flipping through the pages of the Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent book by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp, I would inadvertently land up on the last set of pages containing illustrations of the colourful Grosbeaks and Finches wondering when I would get a chance to see them. Finally I saw a Grosbeak! Another moment for us to cherish therefore :)

Spot-winged Grosbeak (male)

Spot-winged Grosbeak (female)

As we were feeling hungry we started walking back as it was time for breakfast too. The Green-backed Tit decided to seek our attention. We saw the grisly side of this beautiful little bird. It grabbed a moth, tore apart its wings and then gobbled up the poor victim in a matter of seconds.

Green-backed Tit

This was followed by a good sighting of the Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush which we had seen earlier in Lamperi. We also got a glimpse of a yellow coloured small bird which we figured out to be the Golden-spectacled Warbler (lifer) later.

We had been wondering about the absence of other species of Tits except the Green-backed Tits since they are generally found in mixed flocks. As we were about to get into the car we noticed a different looking tiny little bird on a tree nearby. It turned out to be a Black-throated Bushtit (lifer).

Black-throated Bushtit

In the afternoon we went to see the Trongsa Dzong which is the largest dzong in Bhutan. As we were getting out of the car, I spotted a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker on a tree nearby. Nagesh started taking pictures of it and a small crowd of local people came to watch the woodpecker and us trying to photograph it. The locals were very happy to get a close up glimpse of the bird’s photos on the camera.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker

After the enriching experience in the morning I wanted to go back to the tower in the evening. We decided to go there. It proved to be disappointing with hardly any activity compared to the morning. We managed to see Ashy Drongo, Blue Whistling Thrush, Greenish Warbler, Rufous Sibia and a pair of Long-tailed Minivets.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Long-tailed Minivet (male)

Long-tailed Minivet (female)

We decided to go on a walk along the road behind the tower. We managed to see a Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Rufous Sibia and Black Bulbul at close quarters. As we were walking back towards the town a female Grey Bushchat posed for us on an electric wire next to the road.

Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon

Rufous Sibia

Black Bulbul

Grey Bushchat (female)

Next morning we would be heading to our next destination Jakar in Bumthang valley. Before leaving Trongsa we could not resist heading back to the tower. This particular morning was very foggy with visibility being pretty low. As we were walking around I sighted the Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler and was busy observing it gorging on some insects in the undergrowth. In the meantime Tshering and Nagesh had climbed up the stairs and reached the top when they caught a glimpse of a female Kalij Pheasant! But it rushed off down the slopes of the nearby hillock.

The number of birds seen were few compared to the previous morning. We saw Grey Treepie, White-tailed Nuthatch, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Grey-hooded Warbler, Eurasian Jay, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous-capped Babbler (lifer), Whiskered Yuhina, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush and Spot-winged Grosbeak.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush (female)

Eurasian Jay

Rufous-capped Babbler

Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush

Yotong La

In order to go from Trongsa district to Bumthang district we need to cross the Yotong La pass. As it was a foggy day interspersed with rain during the first half of the drive we could not see much of the acclaimed beauty of this route. We got to see only a Grey Bushchat on the outskirts of Trongsa before visibility reduced greatly.

Grey Bushchat (male)

As we neared Yotong La, Tshering asked Yenten to stop the car as the area around the road was frequented by Pheasants and the weather was ideal for them to venture out. I decided not to head out in the cold and stayed back in the car with Yenten. Nagesh and Tshering went around inside the forest. Unfortunately they did not see anything save a Spotted Nutcracker far away. The only consolation was that Nagesh managed to get a good picture of a beautiful Rhododendron tree in full bloom.


The weather had cleared by the time we reached Bumthang valley. The place looked stunning and we began to appreciate the fact that it called Switzerland of the East. I had read that the Black-billed Magpie and the Choughs are found here. We stopped to take pictures of mustard fields in full bloom against lush green slopes and blue skies. Suddenly I saw a Black-billed Magpie posing brilliantly atop the fence of the mustard field. Excitedly I pointed it out to Nagesh and he got some fantastic shots of it!! It seemed like this beautiful bird had come to welcome us to its land :)

Black-billed Magpie

As we drove past Chhumey village famous for its weavers, Tshering pointed out a couple of Red-billed Choughs. They look just like crows till you get closer and realize that their beaks are bright red in colour.

We would be staying at the Swiss Guest House in Jakar for 2 nights. We reached there in the afternoon and decided not to venture out anywhere that evening. A walk amidst the Apple trees in the property with the resident dogs accompanying us ensured that no bird came close to us :)

While having breakfast next day I saw a small bird resembling a sparrow on the grass patch next to the window. A picture of the same revealed it to be what we think is the Plain Mountain Finch. Other resident birds that we saw from our room were the Greenish Warbler and a pair of Oriental Turtle Doves. Red-billed Choughs visited the grounds quite often.

Plain Mountain Finch

Red-billed Chough

We saw plenty of Eurasian Tree Sparrows when we visited the Kurjey Lhakhang and Jambey Lhakhang in Jakar. A pair of Black-billed Magpies were also seen near Kurjey Lhakhang.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

A walk near the older rooms of the guest house revealed the presence of a Speckled Wood Pigeon which seemed to be roosting in the nearby thicket. By far Jakar had been the coldest place in our trip. Next morning would be our last here before we would start our journey back to Paro. We were a little disappointed that we had not made any progress with respect to bird sightings.

Speckled Wood Pigeon

After our last breakfast here I suggested why not go back to the place where we’d seen the Pigeon the evening before. The sun had finally decided to come out and it was a bright day. As we headed to this spot, a riot of colours passed overhead! It turned out to be the gorgeous Mrs.Gould’s Sunbird (lifer). We were mesmerized by its colours. Then came another big surprise. A bush nearby had more than 10 Red-billed Leiothrixes in it! Unbelievable luck when it was time for us to leave.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird

Red-billed Leiothrix

I guess this post is pretty long. What remains from our Bhutan trip, is the return journey to Paro spread over 2 days. That deserves a separate writeup I think! Till then…

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Bhutan Birding Diaries – Part II

The second post from the birding diaries from an awesome trip to Druk Yul aka the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Continuing from where I left off in my previous post, the next place on the itinerary was Punakha.


We stayed at the Meri Puensum resort in Punakha for three nights. The weather here was warmer compared to Thimphu. The balcony of our room faced the fields behind the resort and was a good place for birdwatching. We were woken up in the mornings by the Ashy Drongoes, Oriental Magpie Robins, Common Mynas, Eurasian Tree Sparrows and Red-vented Bulbuls.

Ashy Drongo profiled

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

We hiked up to the Khamsum Yuley Namgyel Chorten near Punakha on our first morning. The trail passed through lush green fields and then gradually wound up its way along the hill. On the way up we saw a Grey Treepie high up a pine tree. Colourful butterflies flitted across. We saw Long-tailed Minivets and Large-billed Crows near the Chorten.

Butterfly - different colors

Underscored with Red

It started raining by the time we went inside the chorten and came out. We had to wait for a while for the rain to subside. I noticed a bird the size of a Dove come and perch on an electric wire a slight distance away. An inspection of the bird through the binoculars revealed it to be a Common Kestrel. It was too far for the camera though!

As we descended down the hill after the rain stopped, we saw Russet Sparrows and Long-tailed Minivets flitting around the trail. The unusual thing about Minivets which are commonly seen in pairs was that there were three of them this time together. Two females and a male! We also saw the Blue-capped Rock Thrush male in its natural habitat. We had seen it earlier this year in our umpteen trips to Nandi Hills when it migrated for the winter. It seemed so tiny in its natural habitat amidst the huge pine trees and could be easily missed!

Russet Sparrow (female)

Long-tailed Minivet (male)

We went back to the resort post lunch to take a snooze.  As we were watching the fields from the balcony of our room, we suddenly spotted a movement on the ground in the neighbouring field. We could not identify the bird. Realizing that this was a lifer we rushed out near the compound wall of the resort with the camera. The bird was oblivious of our presence and busy foraging for insects in the mud. The size of the bird and the shape of the beak gave it the appearance of a Scimitar Babbler. When we returned to the room we poured over the book and were happy to identify the bird as a Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler. Scimitar Babblers are generally shy and very elusive.

Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler

In the evening we went for a walk up the hill where our resort was located with our guide Tshering. On the way we saw some Red-vented Bulbuls and Oriental Magpie Robins.

Red-vented Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul (juvenile)

Oriental Magpie Robin

We started hearing a loud screeching sound from a tree nearby. Tshering said that it must be a woodpecker and started looking for it. After a while we managed to locate the bird and it turned out to be a Rufous Woodpecker. Another lifer and a gorgeous one at that! It led us on a wild goose chase as it flitted from one tree to another. At one point of time we realized that there were a pair of them and they had gone higher up the slopes of the hillock that we were walking on. We let Nagesh walk ahead and try approaching the woodpeckers. Both me and Tshering contented ourselves watching them through the binoculars while Nagesh crept closer to them stealthily. They were busy gorging themselves on a termite nest on a bush which was at eye level. We stood admiring them until they called it a day and flew off as it began to get dark :)

Rufous Woodpecker (male)

Rufous Woodpecker (female)

The next morning saw us up and going well before sunrise to the Punakha Dzong. The dzong is located next to the confluence of the Mo Chhu (Mother river) and Po Chhu (Father river). As Nagesh was taking pictures of the dzong from across the road I spotted a couple of River Lapwings for the first time on the other bank of the river. They looked so elegant. Sadly these birds are today endangered due to loss of habitat. Also saw some Oriental White-eyes in a bush nearby.

We then went to the Jigme Dorji National Park. On the way we saw Grey-hooded Warbler and Spotted Dove. As we entered the national park limits Nagesh spotted some movements and got off the car to figure out what bird it was. He thought that it looked like some Trogon from far but the bird literally vanished before he could get a second look. Instead he got record shots of a Maroon Oriole (lifer) and Golden-throated Barbet (another lifer).

Grey-hooded Warbler

Tshering suggested a walk next to the river to try to spot some kingfishers. Unfortunately bird activity seemed very drab here due to the sound of the trucks which are continuously plying here to carry sand off for constructing dams! We managed to see a few River Lapwings, a solitary Slaty-backed Forktail on the other side of the river, a Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (lifer again) which was way too high up a tree and a Plumbeous Water Redstart which seemed to be nesting on a tree near the river bank.

River Lapwing

After spending some time near the river we decided to head back to Punakha dzong and stop en-route the place where we had earlier seen the Oriole and the Barbet. We saw a Grey Treepie and the Maroon Oriole again. Tshering was walking ahead of us. He excitedly waved that there was an Eagle ahead. We rushed towards where he was and saw that it was an Eagle indeed looking very similar to the Changeable Hawk-Eagle. It was being chased around by a bold Ashy Drongo. We later found out with the help of the book that it was a Mountain Hawk-Eagle (a lifer again)!

Grey Treepie

Maroon Oriole

Mountain Hawk-Eagle

As we were on our way again we saw the Golden-throated Barbet up close. I was mesmerized by the colours of this gorgeous bird. Two shades of Green, Blue, Red, Golden, White and Black all put together! A pair of Minivets which looked smaller than the Long-tailed Minivets were flitting further away from where the Barbet was. We didn’t pay much attention to them and took just a couple of pictures of them as we were focussing on the Barbet. We realized that they were Grey-chinned Minivets (lifer) later when we saw the pictures and used the book to identify them. We never saw these birds anywhere during the remainder of our trip. There were a couple of Rhesus Macaques atop the trees.

Golden-throated Barbet

Grey-chinned Minivet


On our way from Punakha to Trongsa we went to the village of Lobesa to visit Chimi Lakhang aka Fertility temple aka the Divine Madman monastery. In order to visit this Lakhang one needs to walk a short distance through the village past fields. On our way back to the car from the Lakhang we spotted a Common Hoopoe posing for us against the backdrop of the lush green slopes. I saw a brown bird of a similar size as a Dove land in the fields as we were walking. The binoculars revealed it to be a Common Kestrel. It gave Nagesh enough time to take a few pictures before it flew off. We had never managed to get pictures of this bird before! So we were overjoyed. We saw quite a few Common Mynas in the pools of water amidst the fields.

Common Hoopoe

Common Kestrel

Punakha to Pele La

The road from Punakha to Pele La en-route Trongsa was rich with respect to bird life. We saw Verditer Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush female (we had missed getting a good picture of this when we visited Binayak last year due to the fog), Plumbeous Water Redstart and the White-capped Redstart. The White-capped Water Redstarts were wary of our presence and giving Nagesh a hard time as they made him run to and fro while he tried to take pictures of them.

Verditer Flycatcher

Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush

Plumbeous Water Redstart (male)

White-capped Redstart

The White-collared Blackbirds and the Blue Whistling Thrushes were seen aplenty after a brief absence when we were in Punakha.

As we approached the Pele La pass we sighted the Yellow-billed Blue Magpie for the first time. The Magpie posed brilliantly atop a tree stump for the camera! The graceful flight of the beautiful Magpies never ceases to amaze us. They have been blessed with amazing plumes.

Yellow-billed Blue Magpie (on a stump)

Pele La Pass

The Pele La pass separates the districts of Punakha and Trongsa. It was shrouded in mist when we reached there in the afternoon. Just outside a village near the pass we saw a Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon who chose to ignore us and posed brilliantly. It gave us enough time to go very close to it.

Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon

It was way too cold for my liking and I chose to remain inside the car while Nagesh and Tshering walked around looking for birds. They saw Brown Parrotbill and the Grey Bushchat male.

Brown Parrotbill

Grey Bushchat (male)

It was late afternoon when we reached Chendebji Chorten in Trongsa district. We sighted a Plumbeous Water Redstart female hopping from rock to rock along the stream that flows next to the Chorten.

Plumbeous Water Redstart (female)

As we approached Trongsa we stopped at a view-point from where the Trongsa dzong can be seen in all its splendour. We heard and later saw a Great Barbet screeching loudly sitting high up a tree far away. Green-backed Tits could be seen in trees near the view-point. Little did we know what a treasure trove Trongsa was going to prove. But more on that later in the next post!

PS – The complete list of birds we encountered in Bhutan is available on

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Bhutan Birding Diaries – Part I

A memorable two week long trip, in the second week of May 2013, to the land of the thunder dragon. There was a surprise awaiting us at every turn literally. Some days it just rained birds! There were lifers as well as better sightings of birds that we’d just got a glimpse of last year during the trip to Kumaon. Two new things that we tried during this trip related to birding were my new binoculars (thanks to Nagesh who just went ahead and bought them though I was skeptical about using them) and carrying a checklist of the 600+ birds found in Bhutan. It was a daily ritual at the end of the day to tick off species seen during the day.

As usual I’d done quite a bit of reading on the birds found in the places where we’d be going to and scoured through lot of birding trip reports. We hadn’t booked a professional birding guide. Partly because topnotch birding guides are pretty expensive and we wanted to do more than just birding on the trip. We had however requested for a guide who could do a bit of both and weren’t disappointed. Our guide Tshering Chojur had a fair idea about birds and providence (luck?) also played an important role for us. Now let me start from the beginning of the trip.


Our first halt was at Thimphu for two nights. We were staying at Peaceful Resort which is tucked away in a residential area called Motithang away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. We had got rooms on the top floor and our balcony gave a good view of the neighbouring trees. As soon as we went to the balcony we saw quite a few Russet Sparrows (see pic) in the trees and rooftops around. We saw them from up close for the first time as against the sightings high up the trees in Gagar near Mukteshwar in our trip there last year.

Russet Sparrow (male)

A pair of Common Hoopoes were busy foraging in the mud in the courtyard of a house nearby. One thing that we observed was that the Hoopoes here seemed to be lighter in colour compared to the ones that we get to see in South India. Not sure if this is the case in Northern India as well as we have not seen the Hoopoes on any of our trips there. Oriental Turtle Doves (see pic) and Long-tailed Minivets seemed to be roosting in the trees behind the resort as they kept flitting up and down at regular intervals.

Common Hoopoe

Oriental Turtle Dove

On our first evening in Thimphu we went to the Tashichho Dzong. As we were waiting for the ceremonious lowering of the national flag for the day, we heard the haunting whistling tune of the Blue Whistling Thrush (see pic). Lo and behold the beautiful bird came into view hopping all over the lawn. This was our second encounter with this beauty the first being during our trip to Kumaon last year. Thereafter we saw these lovely songbirds at nearly every place we visited in Bhutan!

Blue Whistling Thrush (with feed)

A White Wagtail was also present on the other side of the lawn and we had to be content watching it through the binoculars. As we were walking towards the Dzong a surprise awaited us amongst the lovely Rose bushes. A beautiful bird was busy foraging there. I excitedly pointed it out to Nagesh and said that it might be a Pied Myna. As soon as I said that, it hit me that the bird was not a Myna but the White-collared Blackbird. Thanks to Indian Birds group on Facebook where I had seen pictures of this beautiful bird, I could recognize it despite the initial confusion :) The disappointing thing however was that we had left the birding lens back in the car and the lens on the camera was meant for shooting buildings. This meant no pictures  of the bird :( As were leaving the Dzong we saw some Black Bulbuls fly into a tree nearby. This experience of not having the lens on us also ensured that thereafter we carried both lenses everywhere we went in Bhutan! Given that Nagesh was traveling with both the D600 and the D300S bodies it also meant he didn’t need to swap lenses much too.

We went for an early morning walk the next day on the road leading to the resort in both directions as suggested by Tshering. The road was rife with the sounds of birds making it sound very promising. And we were not disappointed at all! As we rounded a bend a Green-backed Tit (see pic) was hopping over a fence nearby and posed for us beautifully. We had missed getting pictures of this lovely little bird during the trip to Saattal and Pangot last year. It felt great to watch the bird from close quarters.

Green-backed Tit

As we walked further down the road I saw some movements in the undergrowth on the side of the road. It turned out to be the gorgeous White-collared Blackbird (see pic) male which we had missed photographing the previous day. My joy knew no bounds as the bird was busy foraging oblivious of our presence. This was the second lifer amongst Blackbirds out of the three found in the Indian Subcontinent that we had been fortunate in seeing this year.  After a while we saw the female (see pic) too nearby.

White-collared Blackbird (male) with feed

White-collared Blackbird (Female)

Other sightings here included a Grey-backed Shrike (another lifer) which we mistook for the Long-tailed Shrike initially and the Black Bulbul (see pic). The Bulbul did not seem to be bothered of our presence and posed for us. A Rufous Sibia could be seen flitting across a compound wall. It seemed to be nesting in a tree inside the compound.

Black Bulbul

Later that morning we went to Jigme Dorji National Park near Tango Monastery. This is completely off the tourist circuit and we had the place to ourselves! Lush green fields, the river flowing nearby with a wooden bridge across it dotted with colorful prayer flags, the Tango monastery perched up high in the hill next to the river were what we got to see here.

Tango monastery

Bridge over Thimphu Chhu

Walking on the rocks next to the river we followed the movements of the lovely  Plumbeous Water Redstarts (see pics). Tshering was telling me that the White-capped Redstart is even more beautiful and we managed to sight one after a while! Another lifer!

Plumbeous Water Redstart (male)

Plumbeous Water Redstart (female)

The next surprise came in the form of a flock of White-throated Laughingthrushes (see pic) who seemed to have descended upon us seemingly out of nowhere and we were at a loss trying to decide which bird to watch! Lifer again!

White-throated Laughingthrush

As we walked on a trail in the national park we spotted a pair of Long-tailed Minivets (see pics) and a lone Dark-sided Flycatcher (see pic) perched up high and busy feeding on insects. Russet Sparrows were all over the place. As the clouds looked ominous we had to cut short our walk here and be on our way back.

Long-tailed Minivet (Female)

Long-tailed Minivet (Male)

Dark-sided Flycatcher

On our walk near the resort the next morning we saw a lone White-throated Laughingthrush which seemed to have got separated from the rest of the flock and was giving loud distress calls.

Dochu La Pass

The Dochu La Pass was shrouded in fog and looked enchanting. A Grey-backed Shrike (see pic) posed for us beautifully near the 108 Chortens.

Grey-backed Shrike

We saw what seemed to be a Lammergeier soaring high above but it was way too far to get a better look. Some Eagle also seemed to be flying around but it was too far again to identify. We saw a Spotted Nutcracker for the first time perched up high on a pine tree. Since light was pretty bad and we had to crane our necks to see this bird we could not not get any pictures. Tshering assured us that we would see this bird during the remainder of our trip.

Royal Botanical Garden, Lamperi

A hidden gem of a place for birdwatching is the Royal Botanical Garden at Lamperi near Dochu La Pass. On our way to Punakha from Thimphu we spent a couple of hours here. The Rhododendron festival was taking place and it was a Sunday resulting in large crowds of locals. Lots of families were picnicking around the place and the birds seemed to have gone away deeper into the forest.

We saw a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and a Darjeeling Woodpecker (Lifer) (see pic) high up on one of the trees near the lake. As we were having lunch outside the canteen, Nagesh saw a Common Rosefinch (Lifer) high up the tree. A Green-backed Tit (see pic) seemed very adventurous and did not mind the crowd. It came out and posed brilliantly :)

Darjeeling Woodpecker

Green-backed Tit

After lunch our guide Tshering introduced us to Wangchuk Phuntscho who works in the forest department. He was more than happy to take us around on a walk to try and spot birds. He was lamenting the fact that the crowd were enjoying playing games and taking boat rides in the lake instead of participating in a birdwatching walk that he had planned in the day’s itinerary. Sadly no one had registered for the walk and he was very happy to meet us who were delighted at the opportunity!

As we walked along a trail away from the crowd we spotted a Grey-winged Blackbird (see pics) from close quarters. Whoa! We had managed to see all the three Blackbirds found in the Indian Subcontinent for the first time this year!! Maybe this is the year of the Blackbird for us :D The best thing about this Blackbird is the heart shaped pattern formed by the grey feathers, visible when one is watching the bird from behind it. Its way too beautiful.

Grey-winged Blackbird (male)

Grey-winged Blackbird (female)

Then came the momentary glimpse of a Green-tailed Sunbird (lifer). On walking further up the trail, we came across the colourful Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush (lifer) (see pic) and a Rufous Sibia (see pic).

Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush

Rufous Sibia

A Speckled Wood Pigeon and a Barred Cuckoo-Dove followed soon. Both lifers! (see pics)

Speckled Wood Pigeon

Barred Cuckoo Dove

Wangchuk was talking about Parrotbills and how many think they are Grosbeaks. And right on cue, we spotted a Brown Parrotbill (see pic) amongst the bushes. Lifer again!

Brown Parrotbill

So many lifers in such a short span of time! We decided to come back here on our return to Paro which would be a week later. We had befriended Ishey who runs the canteen here and is an avid birdwatcher himself. Both he and Wangchuk suggested that we come back during our return trip as the place would be devoid of people and the birds would be back.

More of that return trip to Lamperi and all the fabulous birding we did in Bhutan in my upcoming posts! Stay tuned!

PS – The complete list of birds we encountered in Bhutan is available on

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Bhutan, Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon

Nestled among the mountains of the mighty Himalayas. Mystical to many. You could, or atleast Pico Iyer did, call it “off the map”. Till a few years ago, this was the land of the unknown. Even now much of the country remains close to that. Bhutan or as the Bhutanese call it, Druk Yul, had been a “to do” for quite many years now.

Taktsang aka Tiger's Nest

We had a wonderful two week long holiday in this “Land of the Thunder Dragon”. That is what “Druk Yul” translates to. To say that this was possibly one of the most special places we’ve ever been to would be an understatement!

Bhutan isn’t exactly “foreign” to us Indians. The Indian Army protects Bhutan’s borders with China and also trains the Royal Bhutan Army. Even then very few venture out to Bhutan. Many of those who do, stick to the standard “tourist” circuit in the western part of Bhutan, namely ParoThimphuPunakha. Our trip had this of course. But we went beyond, into central Bhutan. We landed in Paro, spent few days in Thimphu. Moved to Punakha for a few more. Then on to Trongsa for a couple more. Followed by the enchanting Bumthang and then the super special Phobjika valley before ending back in Paro. Unfortunately we could not include the eastern, and supposedly lovelier, parts of Bhutan. That remains for the next trip!

Bhutan for many is about Buddhism. For some others it is the bird life of the Eastern Himalayas in this unspoilt ecology. Some more come for the mystical festivals and rituals. Landscape lovers rejoice too. Bhutan is all this and so much more. This is an attempt to capture the gist of the Bhutan we saw. Hopefully I will do justice to it. This will be followed by more posts on pointed areas of interest. Throughout these posts I will be referring to “history” because the Bhutanese believe so. However many of these could well be called “mythology” I suppose. The lines between the two blur easily! I suppose not just in Bhutan when it comes down to religion!

Kuensel Phodrang

Bhutan has managed to retain its own unique identity as a result of centuries of isolation from the world. Hard to imagine that there was no television or internet until a few years back!! Until the seventeenth century it was a land divided into multiple warring fiefdoms. The entire land was unified by a Lama called Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who had fled from the neighbouring country of Tibet. The language spoken is Dzongkha and there are various dialects of it across the country.

Buddhism was introduced in Bhutan sometime in the seventh century. It is believed that the Buddhist saint Padma Sambhava popularly known as Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan in the eighth century. Buddhism is the predominant, and also state, religion in Bhutan. Religion plays a very important role in everyday life here. The omnipresent prayer wheels, fluttering prayer flags with the prayers written on them, monasteries clinging to the hillsides, robed monks walking around and Chortens (Stupas) at every other corner are testimony to this fact.

A gathering of monks

Bhutan has moved to a Constitutional Monarchy in the recent past. The second election ever was about to take place when we were leaving. The King remains head of the state. The current king Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk is the fifth king. The Wangchuk dynasty has ruled since the early 20th century.

There is a Dzong or a fortress at a strategic position in every significant place which serves like a district administration office in addition to housing monasteries and temples. The tsechus or festivals are held in the courtyards of the dzongs. In olden times these served as the defensive military checkposts and the warrior monks used to guard them. The buildings within the dzongs, and in fact all conventional Bhutanese buildings, are built out of wood. Nails and the likes are not used. The usage of wood makes them susceptible to fire. The usage of butter lamps within them for religious purposes have aided this too. Most have already faced the consequences and have had multiple fires through their history. Many have been razed to the ground by fire and have been rebuilt multiple times too!

Punakha Dzong at night

Dzongs of Bhutan

The Tashichho Dzong in the capital city of Thimphu is the seat of the government. The royal palace and the parliament are located next to it. It also serves as the summer residence of the head Lama.

Trashicho Dzong

The picturesque Punakha Dzong located in the old capital of Punakha city was where the administrative centre and seat of the government was till Thimphu became the capital. Punakha dzong is still the winter residence of the central monastic body and the Lama resides here during winter. It is an important place for the royal family. Important events like coronation of the king and the royal wedding took place here. The dzong houses important relics and remains of the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

Punakha Dzong (eXplored!)

The largest dzong is the Choetse Dzong located in Trongsa in central Bhutan and an important one from administration point of view. The King gets his crown only if he has worked as the district administrator of Trongsa district. The third king did not get his crown as the second king passed away at an early age and the prince had to be coronated at a young age.

Trongsa Dzong

People and Culture of Bhutan

The temples are very colourful inside. The lamps are lit with butter and incense sticks are burnt giving a distinct fragrance. Most of the temples that we visited had huge idols of Buddha, Zhabdrung and Guru Rinpoche. The walls are normally covered with beautiful Thangka paintings. The offerings to the god are in the form of food like packets of biscuits, snacks etc. The beautiful and colourful ritual cakes kept near the altar are unbelievably carved out of butter entirely!

Khamsum Yuley Namgyel Chorten

An important figure who played a role in the Bhutanese history has been Drukpa Kunley popularly known as the Divine Madman. He was a popular poet and a teacher of Buddhism in his own eccentric ways thereby earning the above title. There is a strange monastery dedicated to him near Lobesa village in Punakha district which is also called the temple of fertility. The strange custom here is to bless visitors with a wooden phallus. Most of the houses in the countryside have a wooden phallus hung from their roof or a painting of the phallus on the outer walls. It is a belief that praying here has caused childless women to have babies and mothers with newborn babies come here to give offerings and choose a name for the babies.

Divine Madman Village

Almost all people are dressed in their traditional attire most of the time. The men wear a gho which is a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a belt called kera. The women wear a kira which is an ankle length dress accompanied by a long sleeved blouse. Both men and women wear scarves and the colour of these indicate their social status. The Bhutanese law has made it mandatory for the government employees to wear the traditional dress for work as well as other citizens while visiting government offices and other public places.

Entrance to Punakha Dzong

The dances of Bhutan are a topic by themselves! There is a lot of Tibetan influence in the dances. A visit during the festival season, October – November, will allow one to enjoy the festivals in each of the many districts. These are called tsechus and mostly held in and around the Dzong of the district. The one festival we were lucky to witness was the Rhododendron festival at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Lamperi. School kids from nearby villages put on a great show for us!

Kids dance at the Rhododendron festival

Most of the houses are built in traditional style using ample amount of wood which is found in abundance here. The outer walls have beautiful paintings of the lucky signs that the Bhutanese believe in like the conch shell, dragon, tiger etc. In some places, like Bumthang, there is a mandate that no building may be constructed in modern style.

A typical Bhutanese house in Thimphu

The monks form a sizeable portion of the people. Our guide Tshering told us that at-least one person from a family becomes a monk at a young age either by personal choice or by the choice of the parents. These monks study for around 10-15 years. They are trained in the religious scripts, meditation and traditional music.

Monks, a dog and a Jacaranda tree

The Lama is revered and people come from all over to seek his blessings. On the day that we landed in Bhutan the Lama was moving from Punakha to Thimphu to spend his summer. The roads were blocked as people were lined all along the way waiting for the Lama to arrive.

The wait of the monks

The staple food is rice accompanied by Ema Datshi which is a dish made using lots of spicy red/green chillies, onions and cheese. There are variations to Ema Datshi like the Kewa Datshi where the main ingredient is Potato and Shemu Datshi where Mushroom is used.

Ema Datshi

Bhutan – Nature at her bountiful best

Bhutan is landlocked between India, Nepal and China. The landscape is dotted with hills, valleys with the rivers snaking through them around the hills, dense forests and mountain passes making it a dream come true for all nature lovers. It is a place where dreams come true for landscape photographers!

Mo Chhu River snakes along

The valleys are fertile and there are lush green fields all around. Step cultivation is widely practiced in the hills. Rhododendrons bloom in the forests during spring and we were lucky to see quite a few varieties. Mt Gangkar Puensum which is a strong contender for the highest unclimbed mountain in the world lies in Bhutan. The highest peak is Mt. Jomolhari.

Lush Green Valley under stormy skies

The various districts of Bhutan are separated by high altitude mountain passes which you need to go through to get from one district to the next. These passes in being high up in the mountains provide for fantastic views of the valleys on either side & the mighty Himalayas on clear days. One thing common in all the passes when we went there was that they were shrouded in fog! That added a surreal and mystical touch to them! In Bhutanese culture these passes are revered and there are typically chortens and tons of prayer flags which adorn these passes. The grandest is probably the Dochu La Pass between Thimphu & Punakha districts. At Dochu La, one will find the fantastic 108 Chortens which was commissioned by the Queen Mother in memory of everyone who lost their lives in the conflicts that raged with militant outfits.

108 Chortens at Dochula Pass

Around 600 species of birds can be found in the country. The birding hotspots are more towards the central and eastern parts of Bhutan. We had our fill of around 90 species of birds through our trip. The prize sightings for us were the pheasants of the hills and we were lucky to see all 4 found in this country! Add to that some long awaited ‘wishlist’ birds and you know why this place will always remain memorable for us!

Red-billed Leiothrix

Spot-winged Grosbeak (male)

How to get there

By Air

Druk Air is the only choice to fly into Bhutan and the only international airport is at Paro in Western Bhutan. The airline operates flights to Paro from various places like Delhi, Kolkata, Kathmandu, Mumbai (still not operational), Dhaka and Bangkok. We flew to Paro from Delhi. This choice of ours was driven mainly by the phenomenal views of the Himalayas one is treated to enroute on this flight. Mt Everest, Mt Kanchenjunga, Mt Makalu to name just a few!

If you take this flight, try to ensure that you take seats on the left hand side on the flight from Delhi to Paro and on the right for the return flight. The views are better in the flight from Delhi to Paro as the flight is early in the morning. The return flight is at mid-day and the fog, at least in summer, tends to have taken over by then.

The below pic is of Mt Everest (obviously the highest mountain top in the pic!) as the plane was flying by.

Mt Everest

By Land

From India, one can enter Bhutan on land at Phuntsholing or Samdrup Jongkhar. Indian vehicles are allowed into Bhutan based on permits and we did see many from the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal and Assam within Bhutan.

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Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, Lakkavalli

Another post on one of the forests of Karnataka. This time its Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary at Lakkavalli near Shimoga. We spent 3 days there in September of 2010. This sanctuary is a Tiger Reserve and the forest is very dense.


We started early in the morning around 6.30 AM. The traffic was heavy due to it being the start of a long weekend. It was a struggle to get some breakfast at the crowded Kamat Upahar near Dobbaspet on Tumkur Road. It took us almost 5 hours to drive down to Lakkavalli. We had booked a cottage at River Tern Lodge, a Jungle Lodges resort. Lakkavalli is the place where a dam has been built across the Bhadra river. The last stretch of the drive gave us a glimpse of the river and it looked so serene.

River Tern Lodge

This beautiful property is spread across the main land and an island in the Bhadra reservoir. There is a wooden bridge connecting the island to the main land. We were put up in one of the newer cottages on the island which had a fantastic view of the dam and the reservoir. The cottage was also very good. Jungle Lodges has never disappointed us! The whole area was lush green as it was the end of monsoon. This also meant that the reservoir was brimming with water!

River Tern Lodge

The resort itself had some interesting flora and fauna. Butterflies of various varieties could be seen all over. I’ll let the pictures do the further talking.

Orange Butterfly


Some of the birds that we spotted in the resort were Common Iora, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Crimson-backed Sunbird and Puff-throated Babbler.

Common Iora (female) with feed | Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary

Crimson-backed Sunbird

Puff-throated Babbler

Bhadra Safari

When we went for lunch on the first day we were informed that the sanctuary was closed due to pathways being unfit for even the safari jeeps to go due to the recent heavy rains. It was disappointing. Only boat safaris would be possible. The other option was to go to the Tyavarekoppa Lion and Tiger safari.

We went on the boat safari on both evenings that we were there as well as the morning on the day we left. The first evening was drab with respect to sightings. The only sightings were of Little Cormorants, Brahminy Kite, Indian Peafowl and White-throated Kingfisher. We spent time enjoying the serene vistas instead. The forest was lush green and a solitary male Chital added the attraction to the frame.

Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary

Little Cormorant

The second safari was a tad better as we spotted the majestic Osprey, a group of Ashy Woodswallows huddled together on a bare branched tree and a herd of Chital sauntering on the banks of the river in addition to what we had sighted in the previous safari. The morning safari did not change the situation much. The above usual suspects were joined by White-browed Wagtail, Greater Coucals and Spot-billed Ducks.


Osprey about to take off

Osprey taking off

Ashy Woodswallows

Ashy Woodswallow


Pied Wagtail | Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary

Spot-billed Duck

Tyavarekoppa Tiger and Lion Safari

Since the sanctuary was closed for jeep safari we opted to go to Tyavarekoppa which is similar to Bannerghatta National Park in Bangalore. We were taken on a bus to watch the Tigers and Lions. It was intimidating to watch the tiger moving around marking its territory.

Royal Bengal Tiger | Tavarekoppa Tiger and Lion Safari

Royal Bengal Tiger | Tavarekoppa Tiger and Lion Safari

Apart from the cats we saw a few varieties of deer, geese and crocodiles in enclosures. A huge group of guys were pestering the crocodiles to no end and pelting stones at them which made us feel very bad. What a pity that these animals have to bear such a nuisance!


On the way back to Bangalore we took a small deviation off the highway after Tarikere to head to the village of Amruthapura. We had heard about the Amruteshvara temple that was built in the twelfth century by the Hoysalas in this village. This is not such a well known temple as compared to Belur or Halebidu. But the grandeur of the temple is no less. We were impressed with the marvels of architecture here. We took a guide and went around the temple. This was helpful as we could understand the sculptures from epics on the walls.

Amrutheswara Temple, Amruthapura

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A post on a long weekend trip to the land of Coffee. Located amidst lush green hills is the district of Chikmagalur (which literally translates to the younger daughter’s town) in Karnataka. We spent 3 wonderful days here in december of 2012.


We started from home around 6.15 AM and reached Tumkur road by 7 AM. The route that we took was Bangalore-Chennarayapatna-Hassan-Belur-Chikmagalur-Joldal-Jakkanahalli. The traffic was moderate and we decided to stop for breakfast near Adichunchanagiri. It was a foggy morning and we managed to reach Hotel Mayura for breakfast by 8 AM. After a sumptuous breakfast we were back on our way. We decided to visit the Hoysala temples at Halebidu and Doddagaddavalli. By the time we were done with going to these places it was 1 PM. We then started for Chikmagalur and reached our destination around 2.30 PM.

The lonely cart

Cattle Traffic


Halebidu was the capital city of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled the Malnad region during the 12th century. It was called Dwarasamudra in those days. Halebidu translates to the city of ruins and gets its name due to the destruction of this city by the Bahamani Kings who ruled North Karnataka. Halebidu is popular for the Hoysaleswara Temple which is a brilliant masterpiece of Hoysala architecture. The temple was built-in honour of the popular King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala dynasty. Close to 200 years were spent in building this majestic temple and it was not completed despite this much time. The details carved in stone are mind-blowing to say the least. Hiring a guide here is an ABSOLUTE MUST!

Halebidu Temple Complex

The temple complex has two shrines. Hoysaleswara dedicated to the King and Shantaleswara dedicated to the Queen Shantala. The sculptures have amazingly been carved on the soapstone after placing it. The outer walls have eight levels of friezes. The lowest frieze has marching elephants which symbolize strength and act like a stable foundation. This is followed by Lions that stand for courage and bravery. Then come the ornamental flowering creepers, Horse riders depicting speed, another set of flowering creepers, figurines from the Hindu epics, the mythical beast Makara and Swans. The Makara is a mythical animal that possesses extraordinary characteristics of a set of animals. Trumpet of an Elephant, Feet of a Lion, Eyes of a Monkey, Ears of a Pig, Mouth of a Crocodile and the Tail of a Peacock.

Friezes of Halebid temple

There are two Nandi statues carved out of monolithic stones on one side of the temple complex. Observing the statue of a dancer lady we can come to know the dressing style of those days! Every detail has been depicted beautifully. The skilled artisans get full marks for their astonishing work. Sadly we can no longer claim that we are as talented though we have sophisticated technology at our disposal.

Immortalised in stone


This is a small village off the HassanBelur highway. The twelfth century Lakshmi Devi temple which is an example of early Hoysala architecture is located here. A lake at the rear end of the temple adds to its beauty. It is quite different from the popular Hoysala temples like Belur and Halebidu. The temple was constructed by a merchant. There are small shrines at the corners of the temple complex. The temple was closed when we were here. We walked around the temple and bid adieu to this hidden gem of a place.

Lakshmi Devi Temple at Doddagaddavalli

Woodway Homestay

We had booked our stay at Woodway Homestay at Jakkanahalli which is a village beyond Chikmagalur town. The homestay belongs to a family of Planters and is located in a Coffee estate. The location is awesome with a beautiful view of the hills. The house was constructed by the British and now it has been renovated and additional rooms have been added to the original property. There are 6 rooms and each one of them have been furnished tastefully. Family photographs adorn the walls of the common area.

Woodway Homestay

Woodway Foyer

Woodway Living Room

The owners live in another of their estates nearby. Our host Shreedev Hulikere made sure that we were comfortable staying there. He spent some time chatting with all guests and suggesting what places could be visited etc. The food was excellent too. Authentic Malnad cuisine! Piping hot Akki/Ragi rotti, Kori Rotti, Neer Dosa, a gravy of ground Colocasia leaves and Kadubu were some of the culinary delights that we munched on :) Not to forget the cups of heady Coffee that we savored multiple times a day. A bonfire would be lit every evening and we would sit around it savouring some hot Pakodas and Coffee.

We walked around the estate looking for birds. Sightings included Malabar Parakeet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, White-cheeked Barbet, Scarlet Minivet, Common Tailorbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, White-browed Wagtail, Rufous Babbler and Blyth’s Reed Warbler. The prized sighting was of an Indian Pitta which was walking around the Coffee bushes early in the morning.

Rufous Babbler

Indian Pitta

Coffee Estate Walk

No trip to Chikmagalur can be complete without a walk in a coffee estate! Shreedev took us on a walk around the estate and explained quite a bit about Coffee. Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia by a Shepherd who saw that his goats were getting high on the Coffee beans. He took the beans to a monastery. The monks there started brewing Coffee and consuming it as it would help them stay awake for longer. Coffee then gradually spread to the Arabs who wanted to monopolize the Coffee trade. A Sufi saint Baba Budan stole some coffee beans from the Arabs and smuggled it to India in the 17th century. He planted Coffee on a hill in Chikmagalur. The hill got its name as Baba Budangiri due to this. The Britishers realized that Coffee trade was quite lucrative and the climate in this region was conducive to the growth of Coffee. Coffee estates sprang up everywhere in this region. The local people got a chance to own some of these estates much later. Shreedev’s family has been into Coffee for four generations now.

The two main species of Coffee plants are Arabica and Robusta. The estate had Arabica species which needs a lot of care. The lifetime of a plant is typically 40 years if it is tended to properly. It was harvesting time when we were here. Most of the berries looked ripe. While plucking a berry the node that attached it to the main stem should not be cut lest it hamper next year’s crop. Due to the unduly terrain it is difficult to automate harvesting making it a tough job for the laborers who work here. We realized that running a Coffee estate is not as easy and romantic as it seems to be at first sight.

We visited the Chinnenahalli estate where Shreedev stays and got to know how the Coffee beans are processed and made into the powder we love. The making of coffee is a very difficult process. Of this process we witnessed the ripe beans (see below) being segregated by weight and size and then being dried in the premises. This drying process takes many days for each lot only after which they can be passed on to be roasted and powdered. Through this process spanning multiple days, there are multiple pitfalls and nuances to take care of! Not for those who want to be in this for the fun of it!!

Coffee Berries

Kavi Kallu Matha

We wanted to avoid crowds and therefore decided to skip a visit to Mullayanagiri which is the highest peak in Karnataka. Instead we visited the lesser known hill called Kavi Kallu Matha. We went on a jeep arranged by Shreedev. The views of the surrounding lush green carpeted hills from atop were lovely. We took a brief walk and saw plenty of birds.

Kavikallu Matha


We went on a jeep safari on one of the evenings to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary from Muthodi which is an hour away from Woodway. I spotted a Malabar Grey Hornbill as we were waiting for our jeep before the safari. The forest was very dense and the foliage prevented us from getting any views beyond it. The sightings included Malabar Trogon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Mongoose, Sambar deer, Plum-headed Parakeet, Chital and Barking Deer. The safari itself is nothing much to write home about. Too many people and unorganized handling of the crowd given the very few vehicles available and the lack of naturalists. One would be better served going over to the other points in Bhadra WLS if safaris are to be done.


We went to Belavadi to visit the Veera Narayana temple built by the Hoysalas on our way back home. This temple was built by the Hoysala king Veera Ballala II. The temple has a hall with a hundred pillars. There are three shrines within the temple. The central shrine is dedicated to Veera Narayana. The second shrine is for Yoga Narasimha while the third is for Lord Venugopala whose idol is very ornate. This is considered to be the most beautiful idol of Lord Krishna. The temple is operational and the priest explained briefly about the architecture and history of the temple. This temple is a good example of Hoysala architecture.

Veera Narayana Temple at Belavadi

We stopped by a lake near Belavadi to watch aquatic birds. A juvenile Brahminy Kite posed for us on a dead stump in the water. Other birds that we sighted included Painted Stork, Common Sandpiper and Purple Heron.

Brahminy Kite (Juvenile)

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Birds of Nandi Hills

A place which I have begun to love quite a bit and started  spending few hours at almost every other weekend this year. The charm of this place for me lies in its unique avifauna. At a stone’s throw near Bangalore this is a convenient place for those who are interested in bird watching/photography. I am talking about Nandi Hills or Nandidurg as it was called during the days of the Raj. Some of the birds found here are endemic to Western Ghats with the exception of this place. Though it is just 60 kms from Bangalore, the terrain is quite different. The elevation of Nandi Hills is 1478 m which makes it around 500 m higher than that of  Bangalore. A winding road with 40 curves leads you atop the hill where the vehicles can be parked and one can walk around. There are many trails and we are still in the process of exploring them. We have been seeing some new species or the other on each visit to Nandi Hills. At times we have not seen/heard any birds for a while and the situation changes all of a sudden with the birds giving us an appearance when we are on the verge of giving up.

Asian Paradise Flycatcher
The Asian Paradise Flycatcher is one of the most beautiful birds found in India with the males of the species having long plumes. It is usually found in  forests and other well wooded areas. It had eluded us on a few occasions before we started visiting Nandi Hills for birdwatching. On every visit to Nandi Hills we have seen one of either White Morph Male or Rufous Morph Male or the female. The body of the bird is small compared to its tail. The eye has a blue ring around it and there is a small blue patch below the eye. The Paradise Flycatchers used to be classified with other flycatchers in the old world flycatcher family of Muscicapidae. Now they are placed in the Monarchidae family along-with the Monarch Flycatchers. We saw this beautiful bird following a group of Tawny-bellied Babblers who were foraging for insects and feeding on the insects that they found.

Rufous-morph male
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
White-morph male
Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher
The male of the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher is a brightly coloured bird (Striking Blue with a dash of Orange/Yellow). I had seen the female of this species which is of a duller hue compared to the male only once before on a trip to Masinagudi.  The male is a songster and we have been entertained by these tiny birds during multiple visits with their sweet tune. We have seen the male on almost every visit.

Male front view
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Male rear view
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher
This small bird is a migrant and was a lifer for us. Both male and female have greyish-brown upper parts and white underparts. The distinction being the Reddish throat on the male. Most of our sightings were of the female. We got to see a first winter male with the red throat just about there and a brief glimpse of an adult male before it flew away. Hopefully next winter we’ll get better glimpses of the male.

Red-breasted Flycatcher
First winter male
Red-breasted Flycatcher

Blue-capped Rock Thrush
The Blue-capped Rock Thrush is another bird which we have managed to see on almost every other visit. Both the male and the female birds have posed for us! These birds freeze when they sense human presence nearby. The female especially gets camouflaged as she is Brown in colour with scales on the underparts and blends well with the branches of the trees. The male is a bright blue with an orange belly and white spot on the wings. The male also has a slightly varying blue color and that is the reason it is called the Blue-capped Rock Thrush. On one occasion the grounds around the parking lot were wet due to a drizzle on the previous day. The Thrush was on a hunting spree and gobbling up termites. When we tried to get nearer to it the Thrush posed for us  like a proud hunter with the hapless termite at its feet.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush (Female)
Blue-capped Rock Thrush
Male as the proud hunter
Blue-capped Rock Thrush as the Proud Hunter

Malabar Whistling Thrush
This majestic bird which can be mistaken for a Crow due to its coloration and size when seen from far had eluded us for a long time. On many occasions before during trips to Kabini, Masinagudi and so on, we had woken up to the whistling sound made by this bird which is also called the Whistling Schoolboy! An elusive bird, this is endemic to Western Ghats. In the last few visits here we have managed to see this bird from close quarters regularly. Not sure if this is a migrant or a resident here. It is predominantly dark blue in colour interspersed with black. But the blue colour stands out only if one sees it nearby and the light is good. When you do get a closeup view of the bird, the iridescent blue patterns on the chest stand out.

Malabar Whistling Thrush

Pied Thrush
An elegant bird which has been a lifer for us. What grace in its movement! This lovely bird migrates from the Himalayas every year during winter and returns back on the onset of summer. The Pied Thrush is not what you’d call common in Nandi Hills and we’ve seen many wanting to sight this lovely bird. The fact that the bird is very secretive only makes this more difficult. We were fortunate enough to have a good glimpse of the bird once. We saw only the male. The body of the male is covered in a combination of black and white. Like with most birds, the coloration of the male is the reason behind the common name of the bird.

Pied Thrush

Orange-headed Thrush
The Orange-headed Thrush also comes under Zoothera Thrushes.  This bird has orange head and underparts while the mantle is bluish grey in case of males. A good friend calls it as the “Ninja” Thrush due to the stripes near the eye. This bird is capable of creating quite a rustling sound as it forages for insects in the dense undergrowth. This would be one way of catching on to its presence. But then the rustling could well be a snake. So… :)

Orange-headed Thrush

Eurasian Blackbird
Another lifer for us has been the Eurasian Blackbird or the Indian Blackbird which is classified under Zoothera Thrushes. The bird is black all over with an orange beak and an orange circle around the eye on the male. The female is duller on the orange. From a distance, one could easily mistake it for a Myna and the absence of the yellow of the Myna is what will make one look again to be certain! Our first sighting of the male of this species was when it was foraging on the ground oblivious of our presence. We got a brief glimpse of what we thought was either a female or a juvenile. This bird is a migrant. There is a reasonably popular nursery rhyme featuring the blackbird, also quoted in Agatha Christie‘s novel “A Pocket Full of Rye”.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie!
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?

Eurasian Blackbird

Indian Blue Robin
Another migrant which was also a lifer for us. The male has dark blue upper parts and orange underparts with a white supercilium. These birds breed in the Himalayas and winter down south. These are very unlike the more regularly seen Indian Robins. Both in terms of colour and also the way they look. The Indian Robins tend to have their tail up and about as they go around which wasn’t visible in these birds. In fact I felt the Indian Blue Robins were more similar to Thrushes in their behavior.

Indian Blue Robin

Oriental Magpie Robin
The Oriental Magpie Robin is a songster. We have sighted both the male and the female on most of our visits. They typically flit around branches of trees. The male is predominantly black with a white underparts and a white streak across the wings while the female is grey instead of the black. You can notice this difference in the pictures below. They have a reasonably long tail which is held upright when they move about foraging on the ground or perch. This is the national bird of Bangladesh.

Oriental Magpie Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin

Olive-backed Pipit
The Olive-backed Pipits can be seen all over the place. They keep foraging in groups on the grass. You can stumble upon them all of a sudden as they blend inconspicuously with the ground. I am told, some of them could also be the Tree Pipits but we haven’t conclusively identified a Tree Pipit till date on Nandi Hills. It does not help that the distinguishing factor is minor differences in patterns on the back and the degree of streaking on the underbelly! :|

Olive-backed Pipit

Ashy Drongo
You will find many an Ashy Drongo on Nandi Hills. This bird is the joker in the pack given the antics that they are up to and is an excellent imitator of other birds. Given this imitation behavior, many a time they can put you off the track while looking for birds. With the onset of summer, a good experience was to watch these birds flitting across a pond drinking water.

Ashy Drongo

Oriental White-eye
These tiny little fur-balls as we like to call them are one of our favourites. They get their name due to the prominent white circle around their eyes. They are yellow in colour with white underparts and super cute in appearance. The Oriental White-eyes are also one of the tiniest birds in the Indian subcontinent and difficult to photograph given how active they are. The size of the bird, or rather the lack of it, may not be completely evident by the first pic below. So adding the next one to just show the actual size of the bird.

The small size of the bird may not be evident here
Oriental White-eye
This pic shows up the size
Oriental White-eye

The Shikra is one of the smallest raptors found around here. It had been eluding us for a while. We managed to watch a juvenile from pretty close quarters here during a couple of our visits. On one occasion, we were chasing a Blyth’s Reed Warbler among the pots in the orchard and I happened to look up and noticed the juvenile Shikra perched right above us and keeping an eye on us! On another day as we were shooting a greenish warbler, the bird flew past us onto a tree far away. May be it was a little tired, but it allowed us time to walk all the way there and get a good glimpse of it before taking off.

The stare of the Shikra
Side on

Tawny-bellied Babbler
These tiny Babblers  are coloured orange and brown and super cute to look at. They keep moving around in groups and can be pretty noisy. They frequent the bushes around Nehru Nilaya a lot, especially the area around the water tank at the back of Nehru Nilaya. Again another bird, which unlike its cousins the other babblers, is quite small. The second pic below should again show off the size.

The small size of the bird may not be evident here
Tawny-bellied Babbler
This pic shows up the size
Tawny-bellied Babbler

Puff-throated Babbler
The Puff-throated Babbler aka Spotted Babbler can be seen foraging in low undergrowth. They can be very difficult to spot in those areas. They also frequent lawns in the garden area and in the thick grass are nearly invisible as they forage for insects. On one rare occasion, on an early summer morning, we had the fortune to watch some of these bathing at a spot where water was leaking from a pipe.

Foraging in the grass
Puff-throated Babbler
Bathing at a leaky tap during summer
Puff-throated Babbler

Tickell’s Leaf Warbler
A colourful Phylloscopus Warbler this one! We could not identify this one on our first visit here. The greenish brown and yellow hues on this bird made us feel curious to figure out which bird this was. It has a prominent supercilium. During some of our subsequent visits we saw some worn birds where the colours were much paler. They breed in the Himalayas and come down south for winter.

Tickell's Leaf Warbler
Worn Plumage
Tickell's Leaf Warbler

Greenish Warbler
Another Phylloscopus Warbler which breeds in the Himalayas and winters in the South. This one is greyish green above with off white underparts. Like any other Warbler it is difficult to photograph this too as it is very active and keeps flitting from branch to branch making it hard to keep up with it.

Greenish Warbler

Tytler’s Leaf Warbler
I would consider ourselves very fortunate to have seen this tiny beautiful bird which is near threatened due to loss of its natural habitat. It breeds in the Himalayas and winters down South. We had an opportunity to go around this place with Vinay Das, a seasoned birdwatcher from Bangalore and it was on this visit that we saw this bird. It was oblivious to our presence and gave us enough time to watch it clearly. Vinay mentioned that he had always seen this bird during winter here. He identified it based on the dark & longish bill, supercilium and dark legs.

Tytler's Leaf Warbler

Blyth’s Reed Warbler
The Blyth’s Reed Warbler comes under the Acrocephalus Warblers. It is slightly bigger than all the other Warblers that we saw here. It is found in bushes and rarely comes out in the open. It is heard more often than seen. However it chose to become oblivious of the presence of people and kept foraging in the open for almost half an hour during one of our visits. It was a joy for us to watch this beauty out in the clear for such a long time. It has Olive-brown upper parts  and pale underparts. The call of this bird is an intoxicating “tchuck tchuck”.

Blyth's Reed Warbler

White-cheeked Barbet
The White-cheeked Barbet is an elusive bird heard more often than seen. It is excellently camouflaged in the tree cover due to its green body and streaks of brown and white on the head. Its call is an intoxicating “Kotroo Kotroo”. These birds use their bill to make holes in the tree bark where they nest. They start breeding during onset of summer. We sighted these birds on quite a few of our visits here. A White-cheeked Barbet perched on a Jacaranda tree (lavender coloured flowers) in full bloom is definitely a sight to behold!

White-cheeked Barbet

Ashy Prinia
The Ashy Prinia is a small bird found in most of the places in India. It has Greyish upper parts due to which it gets its name and rufous underparts. Another striking feature is its red eyes. It holds its tail upright most of the time. It can be seen mostly around bushes and scrubs. I always call it the machine gun bird due to its incessant calls which sound like a machine gun being fired :)

Ashy Prinia

Common Tailorbird
The Common Tailorbird is another tiny bird which is super cute in appearance. It has a rufous crown and olive-green upper parts. We have been seeing this one on most of our visits. This particular day as we were contemplating whether we would have any sightings as there were quite a few photographers around, a tailorbird came nearby and posed for us. This moment will always remain in our memories.

Common Tailorbird

Grey-bellied Cuckoo
There haven’t been too many recorded instances of the Grey-bellied Cuckoo from Nandi Hills. We were lucky to sight a couple of them and photograph this one. This bird too like the other cuckoos (and koels) is a brood parasite. However, unlike their more common cousins the Koels or the Common Hawk-Cuckoos (“brain fever” bird), whenever we’ve seen these birds they’ve been quiet and kept to themselves.

Grey-bellied Cuckoo

Common Hoopoe
Technically speaking this is not from the Nandi Hills but from the vicinity. We saw these wonderful insectivorous birds at the Bhoganandeeshwara Temple in the village of Nandi at the foothill of Nandi Hills. The striking feature of these colorful birds has to be the crown they sport. Aristophanes called it the “King of Birds” in his ancient Greek comedy “The Birds”. Possibly due to the crown too! It is also the state bird of the state of Punjab in India and the national bird of Israel.

Common Hoopoe

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A post on a short duration road trip that we did in April of 2012. We had planned a last-minute getaway in Auroville near Pondicherry and had to go to Chennai later for a friend’s wedding.

On a Friday evening we started from Bangalore around 5 PM. Our overnight halt was at Ramana Residency Hotel in Thiruvannamalai which we reached around 9 PM. After a sumptuous breakfast at Hotel Kanna the next morning we started towards Auroville around 10 AM. The road was excellent. On the way we stopped to watch the Gingee fort which has been a witness to many bloody battles. Today the ruins are surrounded by lush green fields. A Black Drongo arrived on the scene promptly and posed for us. We managed to reach Auroville around 12 PM.

Red yesterday, Green today. Gingee for you.

Black Drongo

Auroville Township

Auroville is an experimental township located a little north of Pondicherry. Auroville’s intent is to have people from multiple cultures, nationalities and sensibilities live together in harmony and peace without being affected by religion, politics and the likes. Auroville is governed by the Auroville Foundation. This foundation, and not individuals, owns the properties in the township. More details on Auroville can be read on the wikipedia. The roads within Auroville are private and in many parts are not paved dirt roads. Cycling is a common mode of transport within the township.

Roads within Auroville

Visitor Center is the nerve center of this township and any visitor will begin from here. If you want to stay at Auroville, there are a set of guesthouses, of different budgets. You will find the guesthouses listed at We chose the Afsanah Guest house based on our preference and availability.

Afsaneh Guest House
The place looked promising in the pictures online and it lived up to our expectations. The architect Poppo has designed the whole place marvelously! The whole setting blends well with the surrounding. The elegant Japanese cottages were a delight with lots of space. The decor was impressive. Another highlight of the architecture is the impressive Lotus pond next to the dining area. The only thing that we didn’t like here was the bland food that we had here for our breakfast.

By the wayside

Afsanah in Auroville -The perfect getaway

Japanese cottage - Afsanah Guest House

Battered and Weary

Water Lily

Camouflaged frog

Afsanah Guest House premises

Dining Hall - Afsanah Guest House

We had a good time watching birds from the terrace atop the dining area. An early morning walk within the property yielded sightings of a few birds. The sightings included Black Drongo, Yellow-billed Babbler, Rufous Treepie, Loten’s Sunbird, Jungle Crow, Greater Coucal, Common Iora and White-browed Bulbul. We need to head back here someday and spend more time.

Loten's Sunbird

Greater Coucal

Jungle Babbler

Matri Mandir

The Matri Mandir which translates to the temple of the mother is dedicated to the mother of the Aurobindo Ashram. It is located in a huge open space and can be seen from the highway itself at certain points. It looks like a massive golf ball that is golden in colour. There is an inner chamber for meditation where entry is restricted. Visitors can walk around the garden but it was closed when we went. We had to be content gazing at it from outside the fence.

Matri Mandir

On the day of our arrival here we headed to the Visitor’s Center for our lunch. The restaurant here serves some awesome European food! The desserts were a delight too. For dinner we headed to Roma’s Kitchen but decided to stop at Tanto’s Pizzeria on the way instead. Our choice proved to be right as the Pizzas were delicious. The desserts were also good here.

ECR drive
We started from Auroville around 12 PM and took the East Coast Road (ECR) to head to Chennai. The road was good and scenic as a result of which our drive was pleasant. We saw the Bay of Bengal at regular intervals when there were no obstructions. Other notable views were that of the Salt Pans and Backwaters. This road passes through Alamparai Fort and Mahabalipuram. We did not stop anywhere as we had to reach Chennai by evening. Need to head back here some day was the thought in our minds throughout this trip.

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.


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