Pangot is a small village located in Kosiyakutoli tehsil of Nainital district in Uttarakhand on the way to Kilbury wildlife sanctuary. It is rarely visited by general tourist but is very popular with wildlife and birding enthusiasts. The village itself is popular scenic destination for breathtaking views and for the variety of birds found around this region. Situated at a height of 6510 feet, the temperature remains cool all year around and even cooler during the winter months.
We visited Pangot in November 2020 for a short duration of 2 days, it was an ideal time to visit, weather-vise. It was cold but not freezing.
We stayed at Jungle Lore Birding Lodge. When we arrived, we could hear peaceful sounds of birds and the views were spectacular as we could see the beautiful valley and surrounding mountain range. My first impression was never to leave this place.
As we approached the entrance to the place, we saw many Streaked Laughing Thrush, Grey backed Shrike and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.
The Jungle lore birding lodge, nestled in the laps of nature, is extremely warm and welcoming. Our host/caretaker, Bhuvan and the chef were very welcoming. We were introduced to our bird guide Mahesh Rajpoot for the trip. We quickly checked in to our rooms and took a tour around the property. It was a bit after lunch time when we arrived and we were all hungry from the 3 hour journey from Jim Corbett. The chef had prepared a simple yet delicious spread of mouth watering dishes and I’m not exaggerating!
Soon after lunch, Mahesh took us to their in-house bird hide where we waited for a while patiently. We saw more than fifty White Throated Laughing Thrushes not more than 20 feet away from us. It was an amazing moment as this was the first time I had been to a hide.
After spending a decent amount of time there, we decided to check out some other parts of the lodge. Another hide, a bit above where we were was more in the open, and gave us a chance to see Oriental White Eyes and Black Chinned Babblers playing in the small pond of water. We tried to get as many photos of these birds as quickly as possible as the sun was setting fast. This moment was simply beautiful.
The sun had set and it was time for dinner. As we feasted on delicious food, our guide Mahesh decided on keeping a look out for nocturnal birds like the Nightjars and Owls. Later, after dinner – we followed him on the torch lit road on the outskirts of the village. We hopped to spot an Oriental Scops Owl, but the darkness and silence was overwhelming and slowly hope was being replaced by fear of the unknown. We thought it was near to impossible to spot anything here.
We reached the end of the road and stood silently as Mahesh tried to listen to the sounds of the Owl calling from far away. After a few minutes he heard the sound too, but very faint and distant. The only way we could see this bird was by calling it closer to us, so we did. As the owl came closer, we could hear it clearly responding to the calls.
With his keen sense of hearing, Mahesh spotted it right above us on a branch. He asked us to get ready with our cameras as he would point the torch at the direction of the bird just for a moment so we could get a shot, yet not to blind it. He flashed the torch light and there it was. We saw it!
Capturing this tiny little owl on camera had its own challenges. Firstly we had to point our cameras vertically up, which was a strain on our neck and back as we didn’t carry a tripod (duh!). Secondly, focusing on this tiny bird alongside leaves of a similar size needs patience. Thirdly, we got a very small amount of time to get our camera settings right, focusing on the subject and capturing it (lucky for us, it did not move) within the time the torch light was on. But in spite of all the challenges, the experience and the joy that came with it was totally worth it.
Next morning, we were up early as we were filled with hope for many interesting bird sightings like the Hill Partridge, the Koklass Pheasant, and the Cheer Pheasant.
Although roads are fine in the sanctuary, its recommended to take a local taxi to drive you in. Jungle lore had arranged a taxi beforehand for us and all of us left in the wee hours for our birding adventure!
We were taken to different spots and had to really wait patiently and quietly to hear these birds. The taxi driver would drop us at ccertain points and we would do birding on foot for a while, just to be picked again by him some distance away.
Luck was running low most of the morning when it came to seeing some new birds or pheasants. But we saw a lot of small birds like the Black Lored Tit, Black Throated Tit, Green Backed Tit and Oriental White Eyes.
Along the trail, we also spotted many kinds of woodpeckers like the Himalayan, Brown Fronted and the Rufous Bellied too.
We had reached the top of the hill and from here we could see such amazing views of the mountain range and the valley below. It was a perfect time for a tea break and some snacking.
Returning back to Jungle Lore, we did stop at a few points to try our luck spotting the Cheer Pheasant, as we couldn’t see it early in the morning. No luck this time as well. But we did see some new birds we had not seen before like the beautiful Mistle Thrush.
This region is also home to many birds of prey like the Himalayan Vulture, Steppe Eagles, Himalayan Buzzards, Brown Wood Owls and many others.
Morning seemed slow and after lunch Mahesh suggested we go downhill to the village for some bush birds.
On our way, we stopped at a point where we saw a huge Brown Wood Owl roosting up in a thicket of creepers and tree leaves a bit off the road. Mahesh informed us that this was it’s usual roosting spot. It was certainly a good one, as it was practically impossible to get my eye (and lens) focused enough to spot it’s beautiful feather design while it slept peacefully behind the dense leaves.
On reaching the lower grounds near the village we saw some other usual lower Himalayan birds like the Red Billed Blue Magpie, Himalayan Bulbul, Black Headed Jays, White Throated Laughing Thrush , White Capped Redstart and many more.
We also saw a new bird especially found only here, the Golden Bush Robin (female).
The sun had set and we decided to come back to the Brown Wood Owl spot, hoping to get a better view. And yes we did. The owl moved from its original branch and landed on an open branch. It was almost dark so Mahesh had to point his torch towards the owl position so we could photograph it. It was one of the highlight moment of this trip!
With this we had completed our day’s birding at Pangot. It was time for us to get back to our stay at Jungle Lore, enjoy a lovely meal and relax.
Next day was bright and clear and we were as usual full of hope to spot the celebrities of the sanctuary – Koklass and Cheer Pheasants. We were not so successful the day before and had our fingers (and toes!) crossed for this day.
This time we left half an hour earlier to reach their usual spots sooner. We waited patiently as our guide mimicked the call of the Koklass Pheasant. Pressure was high and even a simple rustle of the moving leaves added to the anxiety of the climax.
This time around we all were extremely silent. Even a slight footstep sound or a rub against a dry leaf would alarm these ground birds. We could hear it approaching closer, climbing up towards the road. We knew it would run across the road any minute. We were ready with our cameras. It came out in the sunlight just for a brief moment and disappeared on the other side. We did manage to get a few shots in action.
We were thankful to Mahesh, for showing us so many birds around the place.
I am not sure if I was comfortable birdwatching from a vehicle at Pangot, as the birds here are very shy (I guess due to hunting). The view from the vehicle is restrictive, the sound from it is a negative factor and getting off and on the vehicle created a big distraction in my opinion. That was the only set back of this trip. On the hind-side, the sanctuary and noted birding spots are a bit far and the terrain needs a four wheel drive.
In any case, I love nature, and being here on the hills of Pangot and walking along the different trails alongside rivers and small villages was exactly the kind of vacation Varnica and I love the most. This will surely be one of the most memorable trips we have ever taken.
I hope Pangot has now made it to your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!’
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Also please check our the list of birds we spotted on this trip on my eBird page