Jatinga, a small hamlet located in Dima Hasao district in Assam is famous, rather infamous, for the mysterious phenomenon of birds dying by suicide for few months in a year.
Located at a distance of 330 km from Guwahati, and about 9 km south of Haflong, Jatinga’s scenic beauty remains in obscurity for most of the year.
However, this village on a ridge attracts hundreds of curious minds during the months of September to November, as this is the time when the unexplained phenomenon of bird suicides occurs.
Story of Jatinga:
It is said that somewhere around 1905, a small group of Naga tribes lived in the ridge. On one occasion, they went out to look for their lost cattle at night, holding flares. When their search led them to a particular ridge, hundreds of birds swooped down at them.
Terming the bird experience as something unnatural and believing the birds to be evil spirits, this group left the ridge and never returned.
After a few years, the Jaintia tribe settled in the area. While staying in the area, they found out that the so-called ‘bird suicides’ didn’t happen every time. It occurred on specific times of the year, and only over a specific area.
Also, the birds plunged to their deaths during a particular time at night. Though the birds were diurnal, these incidents were recorded only at night.
During the months of September to November, the birds would fly in the direction of city lights and then drop dead or injured. Even the ones that are not injured, refuse to fly after they fall. This phenomenon is only observed on moonless and foggy nights, between 7pm to 10pm.
Why do birds die in Jatinga?
It was later observed by scientists that the deaths occurred due to disorientation of the birds at high altitudes. Mist and fog were some of the causes too. It was also found out that it wasn’t any curse or magic that carried out the mysterious killing, rather it was the simple-minded villagers themselves.
Believing the birds to be evil spirits who came down to haunt or harm the villagers, they erected bamboo poles to capture them. So, when the birds get attracted to the bright city lights, they swoop down towards it and end up being hit by the bamboo poles, which leads to their death or injury.
Another theory suggests that the weather of the region during that period leads to “changes in the magnetic qualities of the underground water” causing the birds’ disorientation.
No matter how practical these theories are, there are still some questions that are unanswered. There’s no explanation as to why the birds are only attracted to that small strip of the valley that is 1.5 kms long and 200 meters wide.
Attempts have been made to put up high voltage lights in other parts of the ridge to attract birds, but none were captured.
This phenomenon is not limited to a certain species, but 44 different species of both native and migratory birds have been recorded. No one knows why these birds fly towards their death every year.
Furthermore, the birds always fly from the North only. Another condition that is termed a criteria for the phenomenon to occur is that the direction of wind should be from South to North, which means that they fly against the wind. There’s no explanation for this avian behaviour.
However, based on the theories establishing the villagers’ role in killing the birds, ornithologists and conservationists are trying hard to educate them and to make them understand that these birds are not evil spirits, but poor souls, who die because of their ignorance.
Places to visit in Jatinga:
Maibang: Stone houses and stone structures are a major attraction at this place. A Heritage Museum provides you a glimpse of the history and culture of Dimasa people
Thuruk: Often called the coldest place in Assam, Thuruk is known for its low temperature. Its location also makes it suitable for trekking and camping activities
Panimur: Also called the Niagara of Assam, this waterfall attracts a lot of nature lovers and photographers into the place
Doiheng: A relatively new destination for the mysterious birds’ phenomenon beside Jatinga. It is located on a hilltop, higher in altitude than Jatinga and about 15 kms from it
How to reach Jatinga:
By air: Nearest airport is LGBI airport, Guwahati. Buses and taxis are available from here
By train: You can travel to Guwahati and then take the Shatabdi Express to Lumding and continue travelling to Lower Haflong Junction. Auto-rickshaws are available from the station.
By road: There are several state-run buses that run from major cities and towns of Assam.
Best time to visit Jatinga:
October to March is a suitable time to visit Jatinga in general. However, if you want to witness the mysterious birds phenomenon, plan your trip between September to November.
With an aim to conserve migratory birds that fly to the valley, Dima Hasao celebrates the Jatinga festival in the month of October. You can plan your trip during this time.
Food and accommodation:
Jatinga offers accommodation at a bird watching centre only on prior notice from the district forestry office in Haflong. However, one can find a number of other options in Haflong town.
With regards to food, Jatinga will not provide a lot of options. But again, Haflong town is not too far.
Do’s and Don’ts:
- Jatinga has limited eating options. Carry food hampers and water while visiting.
- Don’t be disheartened if you do not get to witness the mysterious phenomenon. Jatinga in itself is rewarding!
- Do not disrespect the villagers in any way.
Though this small village is known for the mystery it holds, one cannot deny the fact that the scenic beauty of the place is also mesmerizing. While visiting, one can try and keep the mystery factor behind and enjoy the beauty of the place instead. With its pleasant weather throughout the year, this serene village is worth your visit.