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Julie Kagti

In the playground of the Snow Leopard

There is a small patch of land with a house on it, I visit so often in my mind. A crystal clear river flows below in front  and behind lies a mountain covered with tropical trees . Tucked away in the land of ethereal beauty, the Deban forest guest house situated within the Namdapha National Park, in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful and serene spots I have ever been to.

Namdapha National Park is the third largest park in India and covers a varied range of altitudes. Hence offers a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. It also prides itself for being home to the clouded leopard, the snow leopard, the leopard and the tiger. Lot of birds inhabit this sanctuary that aren’t seen elsewhere.

A map of the park

As children growing up in Digboi, Reema and I always waited impatiently for our parents friends or relatives to visit from out-of-town. Usually , as part of showing the guests around the local spots , a trip to Deban guest house was planned. One had to apply for an inner line permit to enter Arunchal Pradesh as it is a protected area and enter is restricted. We have all hung around the family telephone, waiting for it to ring and confirm the permits .
Much excitement was in the air as 4 wheel drive Willy’s MB (Jeep) were borrowed from friends living in the tea estates. A whole inventory was done of food, beverages, alcohol and clothes etc that would be required for the 2-3 day trip. Meals planned, outdoor gear cleaned and at least four times a day we kids were threatened to be left behind if  we didn’t behave ourselves.

A typical thatch and bamboo hut on stilts that you will pass by.

We would start of early in the morning, stop at Margherita club or at a friend’s tea estate bungalow for breakfast, then continue. The drive from Margherita to the park is picturesque and at any given time , you are surrounded by 50 shades of green. A friend once counted 12 different types of ferns that we had crossed growing along the side of the road. We would stop on the way at the Miao Carpet factory, an undertaking to increase the income of the Tibetan settlement relocated there since 1974. A tour of the factory always included a small demonstration and selection of a carpet or two, which would be packed and kept ready to be picked up on our return journey. This stop, sorely tested us kids who just wanted to get to the riverside.

My father would again stop at the check post to sign the required paper work, have a cup of tea and catch up on the animal sighting stories with the forest officer on duty. He always sent a car ahead that carried all the ration, the cook and his man Friday to get lunch started, with standing instructions to chill the beer in the icy cold waters of the Neo Dehing river that rapidly flows a little ahead of the guest house. Those days the guest house had four bedrooms, a dining room and a living room of sorts. A basic kitchen use to be there which our cook took over during our stay. There was no electricity and at night hurricane lamps were used. It had a wrap around veranda which was covered in mesh and about a hundred pigeons lived in the roof space below the tin sheets. Every morning one woke up to them cooing to each other in love and hate.

Once lunch was over , the grown ups would retire for a siesta. We kids would race to the beach, which consist of rocks smoothed by the river, large boulders to tiny  pebbles that felt like glass. I read once an article about an Englishman, who on retiring from an administrative post from the North east of India, took back home a truck load of these riverbed stones. He was so enamored by their shapes, textures, feel and colour. I too have a few small ones around the house and time to time, I love to rub the palm of my hand on these stones. Rubbing stones to start a fire was a favourite activity back then. Running up and down those warm rocks, we would collect anything that caught our imagination  to build whatever shape took our fancy.

After sunset a bonfire was lit, guitars came out and we kids were allowed to roast potatoes on a stick.  The sounds from the jungle  which travel far in the night, kept everyone guessing which animal it might be and how far away . There were no set bedtime on these trips, though I doubt we were awake much longer post dinner. Mornings we use to wake up early , crawl into our outdoor clothes and creep outside to go play on the machan, a platform erected on the trees. We would pretend that we had spotted a tiger or seen a herd of elephants passing by. In reality we made so much noise that no animal ever crossed our vision.

The view of the river through the mountains.

I am not sure what animals the grown ups saw , when they went on a ride or on elephant back into the jungle. Kids were never taken and this suited us fine. We had too many games to make up and play around the guest house and by the broad beach, which must surely be a playground belonging to some god. The sheer beauty of that spot is worth witnessing in one’s life time. During my last visit , which was seventeen years ago, I remember my father pointing out a form on a tree not too far from where we were standing. Soon the form lifted itself up and flew over us. It was a Great Indian Hornbill and the shadow cast by it covered us three adults standing beneath . I have never seen such a large bird before or after.

I should make a special mention of Nitai, our cook of those days. He loved cooking and gatherings bought out the best in him. Apart from the four big meals ( breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner)  he always had a snack to offer every hour or so.  Probably because Nitai  grew up on a tea estate, tea was the most important meal for him . He use to carry crisp starched tablecloths, napkins and even my mom’s silver tea set to these outings. It didn’t matter which location was choose, the riverside or the lawns, it had to be served just right with a cake and a freshly prepared savoury.

Maybe  it was those trips to Deban, were as a child I never had any anticipation of seeing a tiger or a leopard , just the thrill of the sight and sound of the forest , frolicking  in that picturesque setting that now whenever I feel the stress of urban living in my mind I visit my sanctuary, climb up to the machan or just wander by the river. One day I hope to go back , to spot the snow leopard while my children frolic in it’s playground.

During the Monsoons the sanctuary is closed and the river in spate, is like an angry monster tearing the hillside apart. Best time to visit would be between end October to Early March. Now you can book a room in the Guest house via trip advisor and lots of travel companies arrange the tour.

In this post I haven’t attempted to describe the flora or the landscape. I have downloaded via google, images that tell a far more dramatic story .

Image courtesy – Author’s own and Susan Waten. Map courtesy –

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3 Responses

  1. The second picture is an amazing sight. I wish I was living in hills with these views! That’s what you call “happy life”
    Lovely post

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