“Well the buzz from the bees is that the leopards are in a bit of a spot. And the baboons are going ape over this. Of course, the giraffes are acting like they’re above it all… The tick birds are pecking on the elephants. I told the elephants to forget it, but they can’t. The cheetahs are hard up, but I always say, cheetahs never prosper…“
That little colourful bird kept an eye on the affairs of Pride Lands. He was also the advisor to the Lion King, Mufasa. He was Zazu.
Zazu was a Hornbill.
Would you like to meet a Zazu in real-life? Then, I invite you to spend your time in this little town, Latpanchar, 45 kms. away from Darjeeling, West Bengal.
The small village of Latpanchar:
Situated along with the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary of Bengal, Latpanchar is a small village that’s recently appeared on a traveller’s itinerary. Tall Mountains, calmer surroundings, simple people & a wildlife worth chasing, the place has something for everyone.
Did you know that India is home to nine varieties of Hornbill? Out of those 9, you can spot Rufous Necked Hornbill & Great Hornbill in Latpanchar. That’s more than enough to pin this village in the bucket list of all Birders.
Rufous-necked Hornbill is an exotic-looking bird that reminds you of Zazu, looks as if it has read many books and acquired age-old wisdom & remains elusive to many seasoned bird-watchers. It takes more than one day, a bird guide and a group of ardent birders to spot one Zazu…I mean Rufous-necked Hornbill.
By the way, did you know that hornbills are known for their food habits and social behaviours? During incubation, the hornbill pair makes a nest in the tree trunk cavity. After the female enters the nest, they seal off the nest with mud & tree bark. It then becomes the sole responsibility of the male hornbill to fetch food for the whole family. To bring food (and gossip probably :D), the hornbill flies great distances. In the end, it comes back to its family with food, comfort & warmth.
A home outside our home:
In our 10 day-long trip to Sikkim, we had kept the last three days for Darjeeling. But then a fortunate internet search, a few articles and the pictures of Hornbill made us rethink our travel plans.
Thus, the popular Darjeeling got replaced with the off-beat, quaint Latpanchar. We stayed in Ashray Homestay, run by two petite women. Being a petite person myself, I was super psyched to see both women carry heavy luggage upstairs, manage the homestay, do the odd jobs like fixing the lights & adjusting the tables. In addition, they cooked, served the food, smiled all along & proved to be a pair of super amazing hosts (better than my Punjabi friends back home). Yes, no kidding!
Like Assam & Sikkim, Latpachar also likes their tea to be strong. I am a mild masala tea person who wants to smell Ginger & Cardamom in every sip. These women patiently listened to my instructions on tea making and got the concoction right by the fifth try. The last two days were blissful because of ‘meri waali Chai’, abundant views of mountains outside my balcony & home-cooked food.
All of this happens only in Latpanchar.
Mornings, Mountains & Conversations:
We reached Latpanchar in the evening and was welcomed by a local dance & song performance. By 7:30 pm, it had become dark, slightly cold & enough comfortable for me to hide myself under my blanket.
The next morning, the Sun was shining bright against a sky that was bursting into rainbow colours. The tall mountains worked like magic. I kept looking at those views for long until they served me my tea with Marie Biscuits.
In moments like these, which are rare, I really thank the gods for blessing us humans with mountains, seas, birds, wildlife, trees and sunrises & sunsets. If you could calm yourself down, find yourself some peace, nothing beats the splendidness of these things. Nothing!
In response, I moved my head left and right and explained to them how my body is working on low energy to heal itself completely. I promised them that I would take to birding, once I heal completely & get my energy back. They probably believed me, looked into my eyes to double confirm & flew away. Probably to another place, another person in need of some non-human company.
Latpanchar hasn’t always been this bird-friendly. Go back a few years and you will see people hunting for birds, frying/ roasting the meat & having a delicious meal. General Awareness, Tourism Industry, and groups of birders influenced them & their food habits. Today, every household in the village is aware of the impact these birds have in running their expenses. Herds of tourists come every season to spot Hornbills and many other birds & pump money into their businesses. Now, when localities spot tourists, they invariably ask, “did you manage to watch the Dhanesh pakhi (hornbill)?”.
The next day, I met another family of three who were staying in the same homestay. They had seen me on the balcony the previous day, noticed me writing something in my notebooks, and probably got intrigued with my round face and reasonably large eyes. 😀 With much enthusiasm, they asked me in Bangla whether I am a writer?! The best compliment, if you ask me. We got to talking & spoke about everything – from Delhi to food to Shantiniketan to my knowledge about Benagli culture.
Fun Fact: People in West Bengal love Delhi, for some reason. They love the fashion, the showbiz, the pompous life style and the food.
Do I love Delhi? Of course, I do.
But I also love Munnar, Ladakh, Karnataka, Khajuraho, Rajasthan, Mumbai & every other place in the country that has mountains, beaches or good chai (tea).