If you’ve never heard of Pangot, it means, quite simply, that you are not a birder. It’s one of the prime spots in Kumaon for bird watching, where regular sightings of the notoriously shy chir pheasant take place. In addition, Pangot has two added attractions: you’ll find more types of birds here than in any other biotope in Kumaon – warblers, thrushes, raptors, tits woodpeckers, pheasants, flycatchers, chats, parakeets, owls and nuthatchers. This means that in a group of, say, eight birders, there is a higher chance of everyone seeing birds of their particular interest than almost anywhere else. The second huge advantage of Pangot is that barely four kilometers down the hill at Baggar, the forests of oak, rhododendron and pine give way to forests of pine and fruit trees, so you get two biotopes in virtually the same location.
The third advantage of Pangot is that even if you’re not a birder, but want a quiet environment for a couple of days, you’ve got hills, countryside and plenty of solitude, because besides bird-watching, there’s not a whole lot to do. What you’ll find at Jungle Lore is four cottages cut into the hillside, hardly any locals – the village of Pangot has about 100 inhabitants – plenty of bird life, and views of a valley and hills all around. The cottages are built of stone and blend perfectly in their surroundings. In fact, Mohit Aggarwal, whose brainchild Jungle Lore is, could have built a couple more cottages and installed TVs in each of them, but the rustic charm of the place would have been lost forever. Aggarwal is a birder, who has turned his hobby into his livelihood.
There are two naturalists at Jungle Lore and shelves full of books about birds as well as a range of other subjects. The food is simple Indian home-style, with all three meals being included in the daily tariff of Rs 3,000 per couple (or Rs 2,000 per individual in a double room). Beer and cold drinks are extra. Every effort is made to cater to birders. Those who elect to wake up at 3 am to go off in search of the elusive chir pheasant will get a flask of tea or coffee, toast and a packet of sandwiches, along with the services of a naturalist. For those who want to walk to Baggar, a picnic lunch is sent along, together with a taxi to pick them up for the steeply uphill journey back to Pangot. Aggarwal never misses a trick: even the taxis his lodge hires are inured to the peculiar demands of birders: no shopping thank you very much, and please drive slowly and be prepared to stop whenever we hear a bird that we want to see.
It does help to be a birder if Pangot is on your itinerary, but it’s not absolutely essential. You do have to like silence and nature walks, though at a pinch, even that’s not necessary – Naini Tal is just half an hour’s drive away, along a jungle road, so there is the option of spending the night in Pangot and most of the day in Naini Tal, but it would defeat the purpose of a quiet, relaxing holiday.
Just in case you’re wondering about birding, here are some pointers: it isn’t necessary to be knowledgeable about birds beforehand. The naturalists – Lokesh and Hari Lama – will have you enthralled in no time. Neither do you need any special equipment: the staff at Jungle Lore and all the birder guests carry copies of their bible with them: The Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Richard Grimmett and Tim Inskipp. It’s not a book for light reading: each type of bird is described alongside somewhat clinical pictures, and is an invaluable guide for the specialist only.
Forget about binoculars too: those that you have are probably of no use for birding. What the staff have are top-of-the-line 8×42 Swarovski or Leica binoculars that cost upwards of Rs 50,000. One look through them, though, and you’re hooked for life, because the magnification is eight times, and you can see individual feathers of tiny nuthatches that are 100 metres away. It’s the ‘up close and personal’ interface with these tiny yet fascinating creatures of the wild that is so exhilarating that most first timers become instant converts.
In fact, the great thing about birding is that you don’t have to wait interminably to spot a bird you have no interest in. Many, if not most, birders have very specific interests. The guy who has come to catch a glimpse of pheasants will only yawn if he hears the sweet chirrup of a rufous bellied niltawa, just as lovers of owls are left cold by raptors. You can afford to be eccentric in your preferences. Some birders have been known to like only blue birds, or only red or pink ones; others are greedy to complete lists – all the flycatchers, for example, or chats. That means that their copy of Grimmet & Inskipp has individual pages that are heavily annotated, and others that are completely blank. Still others have been known to weep tears of joy at the sight of a bird they never hoped to see, and reward the naturalist handsomely.
Fact file: Pangot is just one of the many destinations that is a short drive away from Delhi. It is 50 kilometres away from Naini Tal, and is as quiet and restful as Naini Tal is noisy and happening. It’s perfect for a long weekend – you can either drive up all the way from Delhi, or take the Ranikhet Express to Kathgodam, that leaves at night, and reaches Kathgodam, the railhead, early next morning. Grab a cab from the station itself, and you’ll reach Pangot in little over an hour.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Pangot. First of all, it’s just a tiny village, with no STD booth and no cellphone coverage (except at a certain point in the village). Jungle Lore, one of the two lodges in Pangot, has no TV either, yet its popularity threatens to go through the roof.
Rooms at Jungle Lore can be booked through its office in Noida: 0120-2551963 or email@example.com.