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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Chp 850. Dampa Tiger Reserve - How To Get There.

I went to Dampa Tiger Reserve last week, and it was one of the most exciting experiences I've had in a long time.

Dampa Tiger Reserve is the largest protected area in Mizoram, stretching across more than 500 sq kms of hills, ravines, forests, and it is a natural home to many rare animals and birds you won't easily find elsewhere.

In this series of blog updates, I will write about my experiences there, starting with the most important question of all – How do I reach Dampa Tiger Reserve?

First of all, do know that Dampa Tiger Reserve is a protected area, so you can't just randomly go there! If you do, you will be shot to death until you are dead. :D :P

Just kidding. But yes, you need a special permission to enter the Reserve. You must apply for a permit from the Chief Wildlife Warden, Forest Department of Mizoram. To apply for this permit, you'll have to go to the Office of Chief Conservator of Forests, Tuikhuahtlang, Aizawl, or the DCF (Wildlife) Office at New Capital Complex, Aizawl.

Keep in mind that your application can be rejected as well. If your request for a permit is granted, you will be put in contact with different forest officials regarding your accommodation and other details.
If you go to Dampa Tiger Reserve without a permit, you will be penalized as per the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

I was fortunate enough to accompany Lalani to the Tiger Reserve, so I didn't require any permit because Lalani and her team already had permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to carry out their research at the Reserve.

So what are the things to take on a trip to Dampa Tiger Reserve? Since we were going to do a lot of trekking across the thick overgrown forests and valleys, I packed a lot of energy drinks, ORS and emergency Cup O'Noodles. Medicines are crucial too, and you must take at least a strip of painkillers and antibiotics, as well as meds for loose motion, cold and stomach-ache.

I was informed that mosquito repellents weren't required because of the current season, but if you are visiting the place during the monsoons, make sure you pack a tube of Odomos and some GoodKnight mats.

Apart from those, pack the usual survival gears like power-bank, torchlight, matchbox, mini water filter (very easy to catch typhoid), pocket knife etc., along with utilities to minimize your pollution footprint like biodegradable garbage bags and paper plates.

Also make sure you don't wear any bright coloured clothes because you may end up startling the untouched wildlife and disrupting their normal routine. Bright colours also bring unwanted attention from insects and predators. The ideal colours to wear are black, dark green, dark brown and khaki. I packed my camouflaged suit for the trip, but I couldn't find it anywhere in my bag. Badumtsss. :P

So, coming to the topic of this post, how do you get to Dampa Tiger Reserve, considering you have all the required papers and permits from the Warden (as well as ILP for outsiders, m-pass for CoVid-19 etc.)?

Well, my first advice would be - DO NOT LOOK IT UP ON GOOGLE MAP. Because if you enter "Dampa Tiger Reserve" on Google Map and plot a route from Aizawl, you will get a completely different location! Maybe this will be corrected in the future, but right now, as of 28th Feb 2021, this is what you'll get on Google Map search.

The above location is technically correct, but that is not the Dampa Tiger Reserve you want to visit.

Let me explain.

Since Dampa Tiger Reserve spans across more than 500 sq kms, there are two different Range Offices, known as IB. IB stands for "Inspection Bungalow" and this terminology is a remnant from the colonial British Raj days. IB is basically a guesthouse where visiting officials as well as VIP dignitaries and tourists can stay for a few nights. The one that you see in the map above, is the Phuldungsei IB, but the actual Dampa Tiger Reserve you want to go to, is the Teirei IB, as shown in the map below.

At Phuldungsei IB, there is really nothing much to do or see compared to Teirei IB. The place doesn't have a hostel or dormitory for tourists to stay, it only has accommodation for officials and VIPs. In addition to that, if you are a tourist, you WILL need to hire a guide from among the WLG (Wild Life Guards) because you're not allowed to enter the forests without one, as per the rules, and it is easier to hire such guides from Teirei IB.

I don't know why Google Map shows Phuldungsei IB instead of Teirei IB. Even all the photos of Dampa Tiger Reserve people post online as well as the famous gate pictures are all from Teirei IB, not Phuldungsei IB. Anyway, I've already submitted an edit to the location on Google Map and let's see if Google approves my suggestion or not.

Coming back to this post, yes, to visit Dampa Tiger Reserve, the location you need to go to is Teirei IB.

From Aizawl, travel towards Lengpui airport and then take the left diversion towards Lengte. Keep on travelling until you reach Rawpuichhip.

Rawpuichhip is like the main hub of eatery for passersby, because the next nearest location where you can find food (like the town of Mamit, or West Phaileng in our case) is a couple of hours away and all the restaurants will be closed by the time you reach there if you start your journey in the afternoon.

That small stretch of road is lined with different roadside eateries, and apparently it is one of the main sources of income for the good people of Rawpuichhip village, numbering around 1500 as of 2011 census.

We went to "El Bee Hotel" initially, but they only had proper "meals" in their menu, and since it was still too early for us to eat that kind of food, we went to the neighbouring eatery called "Gospeli Restaurant" that served only snacks, and we ordered chow and sanpiau.

I wrote a blog post about ""Hotel-cum-Restaurant" in Mizoram last year and mentioned that according to many Mizo travellers, a "Hotel" is a highway eatery that serves meals, while a "Restaurant" is a place that serves snacks. You can see that this practice is still being followed at Rawpuichhip.

After our quick but delicious snacks, we freshened up. There is a toilet below Gospeli Restaurant, in case that information is helpful to you.

As the sun was starting to set, we continued with our journey.

Lalani fell asleep almost immediately after a fulfilling plate of chow and sanpiau. :D

This is the route from Rawpuichhip to our next destination - Dapchhuah bridge. The travel duration in the map below says 30 minutes, which is wrong. You'll take around an hour to reach the place.

It was dark by the time we reached Dapchhuah bridge. On Google Map, it is specifically listed as "Dapchhuah Bridge (New)" and this is because it is indeed a newly constructed bridge. You can see the dilapidated structures of the previous old bridge a few meters away.

Dapchhuah is apparently known for its vegetable and freshwater produce markets. We stopped there to buy vegetables to take with us to Teirei IB.

You'll need to do the same too if you are planning to stay at Teirei IB because there aren't any proper markets at Teirei village and you'll only get basic food items like rice, dal and potato at the IB kitchen. You can buy such items from West Phaileng too, but in our case, we bought them from Dapchhuah since it was already dark.

From Dapchhuah bridge, continue going on a very dusty and under-construction road, until you reach a fork. Going straight will take you to Mamit district HQ, so you'll need to take the other road heading upwards to go to West Phaileng.

From there onwards, the road condition is super terrible! Potholes everywhere, you'll move at tortoise speed for around 25 kms. It takes around 2 hours to reach West Phaileng if you are driving in the dark.

Finally we reached West Phaileng at around 7:30 PM.

Fun Fact - East Phaileng is a completely different and unrelated village that lies 180+ kms away from West Phaileng (Yeah that's the type of question a first-time traveller like me asked that day). At the main junction of West Phaileng, there was one shop still open, where we had coffee to revitalize ourselves.

Two quick night-photos of West Phaileng from where we had coffee. The population of West Phaileng is around 4000 as of 2011 census.

From West Phaileng, there are two routes you can take to reach Teirei IB. If you continue going on that same terrible road, you can reach Teirei IB in around 1.5 hours.

Or you can take an even more terrible road and reach the place in an hour. I was like, "Are you serious? There's a road even worse than this one?" :D

Since it was very late and the cook at Teirei IB was still waiting for us to serve dinner, we felt extremely guilty and decided to take the shorter but rougher route. We proceeded from West Phaileng to this mission school known as "Salem Boarding", run by Mizoram Synod.

At Salem Boarding, there is a road sign that says "Teirei Road" pointing towards your left. Take that road.

I really recommend you don't take this route when you visit Teirei IB because the precariously steep and bumpy road is not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. We were keeping our fingers crossed the entire time that we don't meet any other vehicle. :D

Also, yeah, once you take that left from the sign that says "Teirei Road" at Salem Boarding, you will be off the map! Google Map suggests you take the right and go all the way round, so instead, you will be travelling on a blank area on your GPS map, which I have roughly marked in red below.

But yes, it was much quicker and soon we rejoined the blue road at Chikhatlang, and from there it was a few minutes' drive to reach Teirei IB. Hello Dampa Tiger Reserve! We entered the gate and proceeded to our lodging.

Lalani met all the officials quickly and we immediately entered the kitchen and sat down for dinner. We thanked the cook and assistants profusely for staying up that late waiting for us to arrive. Yummy dinner!

After a much enriching dinner, we sat down with the forest guards by the campfire and Lalani discussed with them about the next day's program. Her students and research assistants (who were already staying at the Reserve) too joined us by the campfire.

Overall it was a new experience for me to travel like that, and soon it was time to call it a night as we were all exhausted from the jerky and jarring journey. We also had a very busy schedule the next day so we really needed to take rest.

I hope this post on how to reach Dampa Tiger Reserve was useful to you.

If you're travelling on your own vehicle, make sure you fill up your fuel tank in Aizawl, because there isn't a single petrol/diesel pump along the way. There is one at Mamit district HQ, but that is a completely different direction as you can see from the map earlier above.

And if you don't have your own vehicle, you can hire one from a commercial agency like "TBC Car Rental" for example, where for a Bolero they charge ₹ 30 per kilometre and ₹ 1200 per overnight stay, and for a more comfortable Scorpio, they charge ₹ 35 per kilometre and ₹ 1800 per overnight stay (the rates are as of 28th Feb, 2021, because it will be different if you stumble across this blog update years later).

Lalani hired a private Scorpio that she had regularly used for her earlier fieldwork, and because of that our rate was a bit cheaper, coming at ₹ 25 per kilometre and ₹ 1000 per overnight stay.

However, our driver admitted that it was impossible to compete in that rate with other drivers of India because in Mizoram we drive on bad roads at 1st and 2nd gear most of the time, hence consuming a lot more fuel, whereas in the plains, they can drive at top gear covering double the distance in half the time. True indeed.

Chhana from "TBC Car Rental" told me that the rental rates are negotiable if you call him up at +918974626947 and mention that you stumbled across his car rental agency through my blog update. :)

So that is it. How to reach Dampa Tiger Reserve, the correct one. :)

In my next updates, I will write about the facilities at Teirei IB as well as some of the conservation work Lalani and her team did at the location, so stay tuned for my next update. Until then, take care everyone.



Unknown said...

Lalani tan chuan i biangsum lang seih a in nuih vel khi tawrh ava har dawn thin em, kawngtluan khian a zauthau ru viau lo ang tih tunge sawi thei🤭🤭

jithjith said...

Amazing man. Thanks for the detailed plan.
I was wondering if we could call you to get more specifics on the permit and the trek inside the Mamit reserve.

I am from Chennai and currently in Aizwal for 2 days and looking to reach Mamit and see its beauty for myself asap
I can be reached at 9940664491.