Dipterocarps are the ancients of Namdapha forest. The towering, hardwood trees — some taller than 20-storey buildings — are reservoirs of biodiversity, supporting countless creatures from ferns, mosses, and orchids that cling to bark and branch, to funnel spiders, rare squirrels, and endangered primates. By their muscular roots, fungi sprout and spore, termites build exquisite castles, and layer upon layer of leaf litter gently breaks down to form nutrient-rich forest soil.
Dipterocarps trace their history back millions of years, to the Gondwana supercontinent, and are integral to Asian forests such as Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh. The protected Namdapha reserve spans 1985 sq km and is part of the Eastern Himalayas Biodiversity Hotspot. It is bounded by the Himalayas in the north, the Patkai Hills in the south, and ranges in altitude from 200 m to 4,571 m.
These variations in altitude create variety of ecosystems, further boosting the diversity that thrives here. Namdapha “harbours some of the northernmost lowland tropical rainforests in the world, and extensive dipterocarp forests,” write authors Dilip Chetri and Parimal Bhattacharjee in a paper on the non-human primates of Namdapha, “accentuated as a high-priority habitat for large carnivore conservation such as tiger.”
Big cats do roam these parts, but spotting a tiger, or a leopard, or a clouded leopard — all of which allegedly inhabit this space — is unlikely due to the thick foliage. “Namdapha is not about big game like tigers and leopards,” says wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee, who has made numerous trips to the region, and captured all the images in this story. “It is about noticing the smaller creatures, that are equally fascinating. I saw so many birds, and butterflies, squirrels, and primates while trekking. There is always something to see, you just have to keep your eyes open.”