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The Red Panda - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report

Reported by: Cindi LaRaia

The Red Panda - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report


We had to fly to Kathmandu Nepal for 2 nights then fly to the east side of Nepal, a long journey to get to Habre’s Nest Lodge. Prior to Covid was a much easier way to go in from India as it sits right on the border with India. However, they closed the border crossing it has not reopened so we had to go the long way around. That said, Kathmandu was a delightful surprise. We had the most wonderful guide, and we visited three highlights of Kathmandu.

The Bouddha Stupa, it was so beautiful! This stupa is from the 17th century. The tallest stupa in the Kathmandu Valley. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Bagmati river near temple shiva of the ceremony of death and cleansing.

Earth, water, air, sky, and fire are the 5 elements for reincarnation. This area on this river was a real eye-opener. Something we never expected to see was this public funeral ceremony of the Hindu people with a hospice building. Many, many platforms along the river for the funeral Pyres. The same day the person dies, within hours they have the ceremony; cleansing the body in the river water, milk is funneled down and used to clean the body. The body draped in a special beautiful yellow and orange cover. Then the body has to be carried down to where the platforms are; they use hay, wet it from the river, cover it with rice, put wood at the bottom and around the body. They use Ghee from butter to start the fire. The body burns for approximately three hours until its turned to ashes. It is then dumped into the river. Which, of course the river is completely polluted these ceremonies could have up to 20 bodies or more day. Some have to wait their turn until there is a space on one of the many platforms, absolutely the most amazing ceremonies to witness.

Nepal meaning: never ending peace and love!!

The next morning, we leave to fly to the east side of Nepal to start our red panda expedition on Buddha air to a town. Now we are on the craziest rocky road heading up the Mountain to get to Haber‘s Nest. Crazy crazy road, rocks, holes, insane. The road is the boundary for India in the right, Nepal on the left. And the vehicles are not comfortable!

The Buddha Air flight is beautiful with the tallest peaks including Everest all around us, spectacular!

We met a couple who just returned from the red pandas at lunch. It was incredible. They saw them every day. We are really excited now.

Finally made it to Haber’s Nest Lodge. Very rustic Lodge no heat but they do have on demand hot water. Yay!! We are at 10,000 feet in the Himalayas entering winter, evenings quite cold approximately mid 40’s nighttime, daytime temps mid 50s I froze the first night I did not pack warm enough clothes for this part of the trip!

They have a little space heater, but everything is run on solar. Solar does not work that well here because we are in the cloud forest at elevation we can only charge batteries and phones from 5pm till 11pm then everything gets shut off including the little space heater. They put a hot water bottle in our bed with two thick covers, which was not enough for me. I needed to bring fleece Jammie’s and socks.

Group photo with Haber’s Nest Lodge team - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report

I will be wearing the same thing every day because I only brought one smart wool top and fleece leggings, lovely.

They have a team of many trackers all day long, finding red pandas, and then letting the guides know where we can go.

They do not start early. It’s pretty relaxed and super cold in the morning. They wait for the pandas to start to move and feed. We don’t have breakfast until 8:30 in the morning and wait for word on where we can look for pandas. They have a wonderful bird hide here. We spent some time there this morning before breakfast beautiful, beautiful birds, this is a birders paradise.

We started out to find our first pandas, but then they said they moved because local people illegally scared them off.

That was a bit disappointing we came back and then they said trackers found mom and two babies but they were about 3 km away and very very deep into the bamboo forest. Let me tell you this was one of the hardest, most difficult treks. Extremely steep up and down a very narrow trail some of it with a drop off only 12 inches wide at the most slippery hanging onto bamboo we did have people helping us, but it was extremely difficult and hard on my legs. Good thing I’ve been using my rowing machine.

Trek bamboo forest

It was all worth it when we got there, they situated us and separated the very thick bamboo forest. We were eye level, and these two babies were only four months old. They looked big, but it was because of their fur. It was difficult to see the mom behind the main branch. What a treat, we could only have 30 minutes once we found them. Once we settled and became silent, they started to be active and move so we could see them and get pictures. They were just gorgeous, absolutely beautiful amazing creatures.

Highly endangered their habitat is very small and fragmented. They only live in this area through Nepal, bordering India, and little bit in the area where China meets. two different types of bamboo is what they eat up in the cloud forest.

Photography is a bit difficult because you’ve got the bright sky behind them in the forest. They have this amazing red fur with white. The babies have whiter faces which are easily blown out in images but they’re so cute.

After 30 minutes we had to leave dreading the thought of going back the same way we came. Luckily, the guides knew the way down to the road and we simply walked back to the lodge. It was pretty amazing but pretty hard on the bodies and our legs felt like Jell-O by the time we got back.

The intention was to just relax in the afternoon and rest our legs unless we got a call from red pandas again so after about 20 minutes of relaxing, we got the call and off we went!

This is normally how they find the pandas. They said, fairly close off the road, a lot easier to see! There was a gorgeous, single panda, at eye level again and this time now because it was too close to the road. We can only have 15 minutes because vehicles driving by would want to stop and figure out what we were doing and disturb the pandas they are very careful not to stress the pandas.

There’s nobody here to protect them, except for the owner of this lodge, and all the trackers!

It makes me happy to know they do this! They are very special little unique creatures!

We had a very successful wonderful first day with stunning red pandas!! I learned they are their own species there’s only another sub species one is a little smaller. These are a little bit bigger the size of a large house cat however, they look bigger, much bigger because their fur is very thick and bushy and they have a very long tail.

They are not related in any way to pandas we know from China those are actually bears.

Day 2 offered us 2 different sightings! A little tricky at times down narrow paths up and down and there she was, so beautiful!

The clouds came in and I got very cold!

Nepal - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report

Day 3 - Shantanu said today is the better clear day for us to make the trek extremely early to the summit fairly near here to watch the sunrise over Mount Everest, and the other three mountains surrounding it.

We had to get up at 3 AM to be in the vehicle at 4am. We did get stopped by the Indian officials because we had to cross through India as it is on the same road, but we had to do a border crossing and that took 30 minutes because we didn’t have our passport stamped yet for India. It was a little dicey since we had our visas back in the room.

Surya our wonderful guide managed to promise them he would come back with the visas so they could document us. That was the last resort and it worked as they were ready to turn back!

Very frigid cold I had to wear everything I brought, two pairs of pants, I had five tops, including two jackets and a vest, gloves, hats scarves. It’s very windy there who knows with the windchill was, but the temperature was around 20°F.

It was a spectacular site as the sun came up around the valley, and gradually lit up all the mountains, they were glowing! A sight to behold.

They have a little village with homestays. It’s a Buddhist area. These are some of the refugees from Tibet that the Chinese kicked out. The whole of very north India and Nepal have a lot of Buddha refuges.

Prayer flags everywhere just beautiful. It’s my favorite thing to see here. Brings me peace in my heart 🖤 and makes me smile!

Prayer flags - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report

We came back, had breakfast and they called us to see a red panda. Very close by yay!

East Nepal - Himalaya is extremely rich in bird life approximately 450 species of birds are here. It’s very productive and we did some birding around the area where we went to view Mount Everest and the other higher mountains!!

We watched Cherub of the Mist! Cherub of the Mist (also called Return of the Firecat) is a documentary film based on the life of two red pandas, namely, Mini and Sweety, who were released ...

So far we have seen 10 Red Pandas!!!!

Day 4 - they located the mom and 2 cubs again!! Yahoooo! The trek was not as long and difficult as the first day, though still challenging!

A beautiful sighting of the 3 high up in the trees! Not easy to photograph against the bright sky! So very special to spend time with these most beautiful, adorable cute mammals!! Truly the cutest we have ever seen!!

Red panda mom and 2 cubs - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report
Red panda mom and 2 cubs - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report

Excellent morning!

Our time at the Red Panda Lodge in Eastern Nepal has come to an end. We are on the long rocky, bumpy, horrid road back to Katmandu to overnight before we fly to India. These roads are old Yak trails, yes I see why they are so ancient and scary!

We flew to Delhi then on to Kazaringa which is in the far east of India.

Kaziranga National Park is famous for many things, including:

  • One-horned rhinoceros: The park is home to 2,401 one-horned rhinoceroses.
  • The park also features tigers, elephants, Asiatic wild buffalo, and eastern swamp deer.
  • Landscape: The park's landscape includes forests, tall elephant grass, reeds, marshes, and shallow pools. It also has four main types of vegetation, including grasslands, savanna woodlands, deciduous forests, and semi-evergreen forests.

Another long journey to get here. Our first day we saw loads of one horned rhino, water buffalo and beautiful birds.

Rhinoceros - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report
Rhinoceros - and wildlife expedition in Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report

Four different species of deer: Hog deer, Sambar deer, Swamp deer, Barking deer.

Our accommodation is in a beautiful setting!

On the afternoon game drive we are trying to see tigers. Tho not easy even tho they have a lot of tigers, the park has very tall elephant grass and difficult to see them.

It’s the only park left that offers early morning elephant back rides. Which around the world have stopped doing that it is not natural for the elephants. We did not do this.

Our guide Surya and one of our friends are keen birders! They had a lot of fun!

Finally, at dusk, we were madly trying to find a tiger. We got word one had crossed a road through the thick elephant grass. Everybody is madly driving to try to find it as it is getting darker and now its perfect sunlight. Not much time left now, we have to be out of the park by 5pm!

Somebody flashed their lights at one of the lookout towers. We dashed backwards, the driver got us there. Must have been 30 vehicles ending up there all together. We ran up into this tower, we managed to get in the front view where the river was. We stood there patiently with our cameras ready to go!

Out of the green thick bush emerged the most beautiful, huge male tiger! He entered the river to swim to the other side. A stunning sight to behold! The sunlight shining low in the sky against his giant beautiful orange body! STUNNING!

Tiger in India
Tiger in India

Our last day in Kazaringa. We got up at 5 am to leave at 6 am to head further west of the park - a long drive ... we tried to find the gibbons on the side, no luck. boo

Not much to see after 5 hrs in vehicle, just the way it goes sometimes in nature.

Last evening game drive hoping for wild elephants; not domesticated like we have been seeing! We did! Soon after entering the park. Mom and 2 young ones!!!

Hoping for another Tiger, nope. It’s ok we had our beautiful sighting the evening prior!! We enjoyed the wild elephants!

Tried to spot Gibbons in the tall trees the next morning on our way to the airport! We did hear them! That was very exciting however they did not come close for us to see them.

Another 4 hr drive to the airport to Delhi. A very longgg day, did not get to hotel until 9 pm, late dinner, met the Delhi team. Had to get up at 5am for early flight to Udaipur.

Pretty tired as not much sleep, some big travel days. Another 5:30 am drive to airport.

Lunacy on the freeway after we arrived Udaipur, OMG! We are driving along and all of a sudden everyone is stopped on this 4 lane highway,, and WHAT, a sideways Blue van and vehicles trying to turn around on this one way freeway?? They are all turning around going the wrong way to get off the freeway and take the side road…Mama Mia!! This ONLY happens in crazy India! No stress on the driver’s part, soooo what IS HAPPENING here? Apparently, an accident a ways up and the road is blocked so everyone simply turns around and without police help, simply goes the wrong way till they can get off the exit, and motor cycles trying to go over the median to go the other way! 😊 Holy moly!

And now a 2 hr drive to get to Bera for Leopards! Back on the right road and the rain is starting ...

Bera safari lodge for leopards. Not a national park, in the Jawai area. The leopards are many in the hillocks made of granite! Beautiful area. The many rural villages and people have lived peacefully with these leopards for centuries! They claim to have approximately 45 leopards which have overlapping territories.

rural Indian villager

I feel as though I have stepped back in time over 100 years here.

And quite possibly stepped into a movie set. The local men are Shepard’s dressed with colorful turbins wrapped beautifully, the women in colorful saris. Living a simpler modest life! They have not changed over the times of old motion pictures! Incredible!

Our lodge, which is beautiful have 4 new spacious cottages which they call suites are lovely right In the middle of this incredible area.

Unfortunately, they had highly unusual weather with huge amounts of rain days before we arrived! The monsoon season ends in September, we are here end of November!

Sadly, the leopards dispersed with all the rain and for the most part stayed hidden in the many caves.

Our sightings were far away of mother and 3 cubs. Very unusual thick fog and mist in the mornings which hindered any visuals for the trackers to find the leopards. We did a lot of hanging around. Normally 6 am game drives, Lunch and out again at 3 - 4 pm.

We had better luck in the afternoon. Gorgeous family of mom and 3 Cubs on the top of the granite as silhouettes with cubs playing and mom standing as a sentry! Gorgeous!!

Leopards in India
Leopard in front of the cave - IndiaLeopard in front of the cave - India

Earlier in the day our tracker spotted an Indian Rock python which we hiked through the brush to find! What a beautiful snake, big and thick as it slithered in front of us, it went under dead vines which we could photograph easily! That was fun!!!

Lots of birds, stunning eagle owls, and an owlet.

Went to see Jawai dam, and a cave where 5 leopards live! Mom, older cub and 3 young ones. We sat there a long time and only 1 young cub came out to see what was happening! No luck with the rest of the family.

The guides tried so hard for us as normally guests can see many leopards up close. Not in the cards for us.

On the way back at night, we briefly saw the jungle cat, a very interesting animal. Then Zia, mama Leopard and her 3 cubs on the side of the road in front of us! They went up the embankment we were very near to our lodge. They had been frolicking at the camp before we got there! Sure, wish we were there. :)

Tomorrow we will have a last early morning game drive to see sloth bears or leopards or whatever the universe will treat us with!

We started our ‘night’ game drive before 6 am to see the sloth bears. We saw them! Mama and 2 cubs, not close as they live in a den on another granite hillock. Just as it was getting light outside, they spotted them mid-way up the beautiful granite hillock! What a beautiful sight to behold! Yay! They disappeared into the greenery while eating berries. We did not see them again.

We moved a bit scanning the granite, Jay the owner of our lodge spotted a beautiful big male leopard sitting on a lovely ledge with the early morning light shining magically on his face and body!

And so it appears our usual good karma was still with us!!

Our wildlife photographic journey throughout Nepal for the Beautiful Red Pandas; Kaziranga national park in Assam for One horned Rhino, Tigers scenery and birds; ending in Bera for Leopards and sloth bears was an extraordinary experience!

We will visit South India someday with our wonderful naturalist guide and friend Surya!

Many thanks for my team on the ground for all the crazy logistics to make this happen for us!

Namaste 🙏


Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip Report
Nepal & India, November 14-Dec 1 2023 Trip ReportCindi