It was a cold winter morning. From a patch of grass close by, a black-breasted parrotbill started its typical “twoo…twoo…twoo” call as we took a bite of our peanut butter sandwiches. To the north, the Abor Hills stood mighty, the vestiges of snowfall apparent at the tops. Keeping our ears alert, we heard the serenade of the yellow-bellied prinia, the honking of ruddy shelducks flying by, and the possible melody of the swamp grass babbler not too far away. The gurgling waters of the Siang river flowed next to us. A cool breeze was blowing, creating a sweet rustling sound as it swept through the tall grass. It was for this tapestry of acoustic diversity that we had come to the D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary and its beautiful grassland areas in eastern Arunachal Pradesh.
D’Ering or Daying Ering Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary gets its name from Daying Ering, who was a politician from Arunachal Pradesh and the head of the Ering Commission. This 190-sq-km park is situated between the Siang and Sibya rivers, east of Pasighat town. The rivers, through their meandering courses, create several large and small islands or chaporis that form the sanctuary. While flying into Dibrugarh, one can get a good view of these chaporis from the sky. Eighty per cent of the sanctuary comprises alluvial wet grassland, while the remaining consists of woodland and waterbodies. The sanctuary is divided into three ranges namely Borguli, Anchalghat, and Namsing. Borguli and Anchalghat are the major entry points to the sanctuary.
D’Ering is probably one of India’s best riverine grasslands. The variety of grass types interspersed with deciduous forests amounts to a high diversity of species. Perhaps some of the most interesting finds here are the grassland birds. Although the grassland patches are dense and at times inaccessible, one can go about birdwatching fairly easily if acquainted with birdcalls. Apart from a good population of species like the black-breasted parrotbill, Jerdon’s babbler, chestnut-capped babbler, yellow-bellied prinia, Indian grassbird one is also very likely to hear and see the elusive swamp grass babbler and marsh babbler. The grasslands are also great for the swamp francolin. The Anchalghat range, characterised by shorter grasslands, is perhaps one of the world’s best sites for the critically endangered Bengal florican. Other birds of interest include pied harriers, hen harriers, greater thick-knees, Himalayan rubythroats, bright-headed cisticolas, graceful prinias, chestnut-crowned warblers, and cinereous vultures.
Among other wildlife, perhaps the most ubiquitous residents of the national park include Asian elephants and Asiatic buffaloes. While the buffaloes are usually seen in the grasslands, the elephants are present both in the grasslands and the surrounding forest patches. Also present are hog deer, jackal, wild boar, rhesus macaques, common leopard, leopard cat, fishing cat, Indian porcupine, sambar, and barking deer. Additionally, there is a good chance of spotting Ganges river dolphins in the river.
One of the best seasons to explore D’Ering is undoubtedly the winter when the river is shallow and the weather pleasant. It’s also the time when the number of migratory birds in the river is high.
The breeding season (March-May) is another good time to visit. This is when the birds are very vocal. However, come April, the region receives incessant rainfall. Plan a few extra days if you are visiting the park at this time of year in case there are rainy days where you can’t head out. After May, the park remains off bounds as the river swells up and floods the surrounding villages and park.
The nearest airport to D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary is in Dibrugarh, from where the park is around 125 km. Pasighat town serves as the entry point for the sanctuary and is also the place to stay. Pasighat also has an airport that operates seasonally (but flying into Dibrugarh is the safer and more reliable option). Alternatively, take a train to Dibrugarh. Direct flights/trains connect Dibrugarh with Guwahati and Delhi. A one-way taxi to Pasighat costs Rs4,500-5,000. To enter Pasighat, one also needs to procure an inner line permit (for east Siang district) which you can apply for online.
Unlike other sanctuaries, D’Ering’s infrastructure for tourism is only just beginning to take shape. The forest department is enthusiastically making efforts to encourage people to visit the park. To travel around the park, the best option is to base at Pasighat. Once you obtain the necessary permits to enter the park from the DFO’s office, you can enter the park either from Borguli or Anchalghat (also called Jheepghat). The DFO’s office also facilitates hiring a boat and staying near the river Once you obtain a permit to enter the park, an armed guard accompanies you for safety from elephants and buffaloes.
Several hotels and camps are available at Pasighat, including Hotel Paane, Hotel East, The Serene Abode, which are all basic hotels with several room options (prices range from Rs 1,800-3,000). Donyi Hango camp is on the riverbank, a little distance away from Pasighat (approximately Rs 4,000-5,000).
This national park faces several conservation and management challenges. Pressure on the grasslands comes from habitat conversion, grazing, and inundation by flooding or dam construction upstream. Invasive plant species also require active management to maintain these grasslands. As Dr Asad Rahmani notes in his BNHS report, there are almost no comprehensive research studies on D’Ering Wildlife Sanctuary, barring a few surveys on birds and other taxa. There is a need for more researchers to engage in this area and study multiple ecological and social aspects and the forest department is very supportive of the same. The forest management faces a major financial crunch, and most officers are underequipped to monitor and safeguard the park due to lack of access to equipment (binoculars, raingear etc.) as well as more permanent structures like watchtowers and forest outposts. Still, we received ample help and kindness from the forest department while conducting our study of grassland birds.