Andamans Diary - Mount Harriet National Park

Antibiotic-addled Jennifer Nandi is awestruck by the avian diversity at Mount Harriet National Park

Excitement keeps us on high alert as we leave the hotel at 5.30 am to take a ferry across the bay to visit Mount Harriet National Park. Our car snakes its way toward the seemingly lush hill that beckons with promise; I warn myself against another spasm of disappointment. In low gear, we drive uphill and the world falls away. Rainforest resilience presses on both sides of the road compelling us to get out and walk. This is what I’ve been waiting for -- a rainforest of my dreams where the vegetation vibrates for attention; where butterflies are the different colours of sunlight; where one must search for birds amidst an anarchy of rampant growth. Unlike in the Himalaya where ferns and woody shrubs are invitingly recumbent, here the erect vegetation bars your every step. 

I hesitate to reach out and grasp a large tree, my eyes searching simultaneously for snakes and scorpions along its bole. Then, embracing the liana-covered trunk, I work myself around it. A stream of sunlight falling through an open window in the ceiling of the jungle alters the temperature of my cap-covered head. I look up instinctively to behold a halo of Pompadour Green Pigeons. Courting male Fairy Bluebirds call and chase their females distracting the more docile Black-naped Orioles. We pursue the Andaman Woodpecker, a striking black bird with a flaming red crown. We play cat and mouse with the Brown Coucal and dismiss the Drongo as a mainland species until we notice that the shallow fork of its tail twists inwards at the tip! The beautiful blue Black-naped Monarch Flycatcher is everywhere. 

The Andaman Tree Nymph (Idea agamarschana cadelli), one of the many butterflies at the Mount Harriet National Park
Walking towards the peak of Mount Harriet is truly pleasurable. We don’t encounter anyone else so we seem to have the park to ourselves! But the exertions of the previous days catch up with me so I sit in the middle of the road to recoup. Ken and the guide forge ahead. They get to see the Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Shrike, an endemic which I miss. But I’m weakened by the antibiotics I’ve been taken over the past 10 days. I’m only 12 days into the trip and am already complaining of tiredness. I can’t afford to have the feeling of being drained. I push away any debilitating thoughts and scrape myself off the road to look at the Andaman Cuckoo-Dove. When we reach the summit, a beautiful sight awaits us. The verdant green falls away into the sea. We sit in silence and watch, as is our habit. But a green bomb with red on its tail whizzes past us tracking the same trail over and over again. More watching, and we identify the Lorikeet (now called the Vernal Hanging Parrot). Above, flying close by and low are swifts – Brown-backed Needletails. We sit under a fruit-laden Ficus tree for an uninspiring packed lunch. But it’ll do. We’ve had an enjoyable day.

On the way back, I let my eyes rest on the ferry, scrutinising the World-War II vintage contraption. There seems to be no decisive effort on the part of the government to improve conditions on this Island. Its immense potential as a tourist resort is crippled by stagnant bureaucracy. Mediocrity is the rule here. The next day we decide to do what is distinctly not on the itinerary.

Previously in Jennifer Nandi's Andamans Diary: 
Leaving for Chiriya Tapu (Birds Island)

Text and photos by Jennifer Nandi