My Red Panda Network Eco-Trip Experience!
I was invited by Red Panda Network to go on an EcoTrip soon after I arrived in Nepal in May 2014. An opportunity to see the endangered red panda! Only a fool would say ‘No’. It didn’t even take me a minute to say ‘Yes’.
Next thing you know, I had the itinerary emailed and I was off to Ilam to start my journey to spot the cute red pandas high up in the hills. Apart from passing by Ilam, I had never really got to see the place for myself. The Red Panda Network EcoTrip provided an ample opportunity for me to browse the tea estate and also try out Ilam’s famous sukuti and tongba! I reached Ilam on May 14th and stayed at the Chiyabari Cottage. The cottage served delicious food and offered great views across Ilam and the Eastern hills. We were also located right next to the newly launched Ilam View Tower. I met Sonam Tashi Ji from Red Panda Network and we spent the evening going through the plan for the next day.
After a nice lie-in at the Chiyabari Cottage, it was time for Sonam Tashi Ji from Red Panda Network and me to head east for Dobate Village to start the RPN EcoTrip! The main mission behind this eco-trip would be to spot a red panda in its natural habitat. The “reserve” gadi came and off we were on our way to the village. An intense three-hour long bumpy ride with amazing views!
Upon reaching the village, I felt as if I had just been transported to paradise. Dobate had half a dozen houses, some better looking than others and the area wore a deserted look. As I sat comfortably at Sange dai’s house/home-stay, I peered out the window to see if I would see anyone or anything. Nothing. It was a different world here. It would rain for a while and then suddenly a spell of sunshine and next thing you know, it’s all covered in fog. Dobate was indeed magical. We went on a mini-walk in the afternoon to the nearby pokhari (lake) which was right beside our Red Panda Network Forest Guardian TENZI’s house. The pokhari (lake) is 2700m above sea level. The higher we went the better it got, the views, the area and the forest.
As a forest guardian, Tenzin’s responsibility includes visiting the forest to track red pandas, communicate with the RPN office in Ilam and Taplejung, check to see if there are any suspicious activities taking place in the forest and also track red pandas for when people like me come on an RPN EcoTrip to see the animals in their natural habitat.
We headed back to the homestay and I had tongba and thukpa during dinner time. It was delicious. Tongba was grr-eat as well. By the time I tucked myself into bed, it was nearly 11PM, cold and dark. I couldn’t wait for the next day. The real start of the red panda adventure!
A brand new day! The day we would go to spot a red panda! How Lexciting!
We learned that Tenzi had already headed into the jungle early in the morning. With Sonam Tashi Ji and Sange Dai (who also used to be a forest guardian), we also walked towards the jungle where we thought and hoped Tenzi would be. After walking for about 40 minutes or so, Sange dai decided to go deeper into the jungle to track for red pandas. That ranges from looking out for droppings, prints and just generally looking up to see if a red panda was sleeping high up on a branch. It didn’t take long before I heard Tenzi calling for Sonam Ji and me to follow him down into the jungle. Sange dai had spotted a red panda perched on a branch peacefully sleeping.
As we hurried towards the site of the red panda, I thought about how crazy this was – that it hadn’t even been a full one hour into the jungle and we had already had a red panda sighting. I was told by Tenzi and Sange dai about how the last group of EcoTrippers that came didn’t have any luck with red pandas and had to return without seeing one. They had spent three days here. I was worried that would be me as well. But I guess the day had a different plan.
At 10.25AM, I saw the red panda. It was sleeping or resting… high up on a tree. After a few minutes, the red panda slowly rose, looked around, saw us and then walked higher up the tree. From its new spot, the red panda stared at us as we stared back at it. This stare-athon went on for nearly half an hour. During that time I managed to take few videos, snap a lot of photos and also whatsapp my mum saying I had just seen a red panda. Seeing the red panda through the binoculars was amazing. So clear and close that I just wanted to reach out and touch it. Of course – I didn’t. Maybe if I was taller than the tree then I would’ve just reached down and petted the cute animal. I Joke.
Anyways. We decided to leave the red panda after our intense stare-off and head towards Kalapokhari. The area has a lake and few shops, lodges and Buddhist stupas. It was beautiful. Kalapokhari is around 3000 meters above sea level. Another village surrounded by fog and a lot of greenery. I think I forgot to add – it’s also right along the Nepal – India border. Made a wonderful photo opportunity!
We headed back to Dobate for our now – very late lunch. After the morning we had we didn’t do much. I also quickly made a change of plan and decided that it would be best for us to head back to Ilam the next day (17 May Saturday) instead of our original date of return which was 18 May Sunday. We had seen a red panda – mission accomplished.
I am so thankful to Red Panda Network for organizing this EcoTrip! More than that, to be able to visit a village like Dobate, to stay in Sange dai’s house, visit Kalapokhari and the bonus was to spot and take plenty of photos of the red panda – this is definitely an experience that I will hold onto for many years to come and I hope this is the first of many such eco-trips.
We also stopped by Ilam’s famour Maipokhari on our way back from Dobate! Ahh another place I got to visit thanks to the amazing eco-trip opportunity by Red Panda Network!
You can read more about my RPN eco-trip experience over on justlexlimbu.comFollow Lex on Twitter! Read More: A Breath of Fresh Air – Ilam Dobate – In Paradise Seeing a Red Panda! Red Panda Network EcoTrip – 10 Reasons To Go!