BIRDING DIARIES | TIRTHAN VALLEY | QUEST FOR THE CRESTED KINGFISHER

CRESTED KINGFISHER - On the lookout for Trout

Place: Mungla, Tirthan Valley (dist: Kullu), Himachal Pradesh

Time: 20th to 23rd May 2018

I had no specific plans for the four days I had gifted myself this summer, in between trek leading assignments in Himachal Pradesh. I had thought that I would just land up in Tirthan Valley and be as instinctive and impulsive as possible. Of course, after five years of observing, admiring and often obsessing about birds, there was no doubt in my mind that birding would be a focal point of my vacation.

So, on the morning of 20th May 2018 (I had reached Mungla the previous night), I was out with my camera and all the bodily enthusiasm I could dig up after exhausting myself while trekking in the Parvati Valley region during the previous week. I had arrived at Mungla the previous evening at dusk. Trying to figure out which of the ten or so homes in a cluster was the homestay I was searching for, I encountered an Asian barred owlet. We both had more serious stuff to attend to; I was searching for the place I had booked to hide my head for the night while it was coming out of its hideout to roam the night.

Walking towards Gushaini for not more than 200 meters of Himalayan Bulbuls and Black Bulbuls in their early morning squabbles, I came across the fidgety Streaked Laughingthrush, perched on a rock and preening away hastily, never moving from the spot beside a narrow stream that crosses underneath the road and goes on to meet the Tirthan river a few meters away.

The magnetic property of a rolling Himalayan stream led me towards Tirthan. I had not reached the river bed when the unmistakable Crested Kingfisher came flying downstream and perched itself on a wire just above the left bank of the river (the bank where I was standing). It had a target in mind. With its head pointing downwards and tail cocked up in anticipation, it swooped down and then flew away to the other bank. By the time I could zoom in on the boulder it sat on, the poor fish in its beak was half dead. A few more blows against the perch, a swift disposal down the throat, few gulps of air and a shake of the body to arrange its big prey in the biggest kingfisher belly of the subcontinent and it had devoured Himachal’s favourite fish, a trout. I assume it had followed the fish downstream.

My hazy plans for the next few days suddenly started becoming clearer. I knew at that moment what I had wanted to do at the valley when I had planned my trip; to spend some time with the river and somehow that converged with the idea of spending some time with this rare bird making its living off Himalayan streams. I had only ever seen a Crested Kingfisher once before. That day, I trailed the river in the upstream direction (the direction from which the Kingfisher arrived) for about a kilometer or so and on multiple occasions in the long summer day, to no avail.

The next day, I hiked up towards the gate of Great Himalayan National Park at Rolla finding myself close to and quite far away from the river as the trail would take me, although always with an eye towards the rushing waters in hope of catching a glimpse of another king chasing trouts down the river. Slaty headed Parakeets, Yellow-billed Blue Magpies, Grey Treepies, Ashy Drongos were aplenty. Great Barbet calls ruled the air as it got towards midday. For the first time I could find a Green-backed Tit not being hasty as it within a tree with dense foliage and preened its feathers before stretching its wings and tail and flying off to its more fidgety routine. Seven or eight kilometers later, the pull of the river led me down to the bed where in quiet anticipation I fell asleep for a few minutes. The Kingfisher had eluded me.

A tune came to me that night as I practiced on my Ukulele. The next morning (22nd May), I was torn in two in deciding whether I should spend more time with the Uke or go searching for the crowned king. So I packed the instrument, the camera and some essentials to help me spend a few hours under the scorching summer sun and went straight to the spot where I had seen the Kingfisher first. Himalayan and Black Bulbuls crossed over the river in either direction. A pair of Kestrels called that part of the valley home much to the dislike of the Drongos, who would gang up and harry them at first sight. Plumbeous water redstarts were busy hunting water-borne insects and blue whistling thrushes sang their tunes as I tried strumming the instrument with the rhythm of the river.

At dusk that evening, I crossed over to the other side of the river over a foot bridge. Along the right bank, the trail led me through plantations of apples and oranges. This was further downstream than the spot where the kingfisher was sighted first and I had a hunch that my previous trails, upstream from that point was not where the Kingfisher lived. A juvenile brown dipper got comfortable with my presence and I could observe  it in its preening and stretching routine much like the Tit’s, the day before. As the sun went down and I hiked back towards my den, the redstarts were still active and in all probability they had hungry mouths to feed, hidden along the river banks in the cavities between boulders.

The foot bridge to crossover to the other side of the river was about a hundred steps down from where I was staying. Parallel to the bridge ran a wire across the river that seemed to be an ideal perch for the Crested kingfisher as it ran directly over the trout filled waters of Tirthan. It was also about a hundred meters downstream from that hallowed spot where I had seen the kingfisher, and very much in range of its broad wings. I knew where I needed to focus on the last meaningful day of my stay to be able to get over this compulsion for one last glimpse of this bird before I had to part courses with the river the morning after.

The morning went by swiftly on right bank of the river. Breeding Grey wagtails had found solace on this less inhabited side. A glimpse of a Paradise flycatcher got my spirits soaring like a Himalayan griffon. The Drongos were relentless in their check-post duties from their vantage points. There were Rock agamas basking in the sunshine everywhere the careful vision went, with the males displaying their partially faded post breeding colours. A Shikra, probably on the lookout for nourishing lizards, fell victim to the drongos’ vigilance and decided to move on.

As the morning rolled on towards midday, the unmistakable Crested Kingfisher came flying upstream this time and vanished in the thick shrubs hanging on the river side off a small cliff. The hundred or so steps are meant to negotiate that cliff to the houses of Mungla. I made ground to get to its perch but the shy bird had chosen it carefully to hide itself from onlookers. The bird must have gotten a mouthful again as it did not come out for minutes at a stretch and I gave up. I had got the glimpse I craved for and often conjured with my mind during dry birding hours for the last 3 days.

I was back at the bridge an hour later. Leaning on the iron railing and facing upstream I heard a familiar call and turned back to see that a Common kingfisher had perched on the opposite railing. Its brilliant plumage shone in the midday sun. That evening I hiked up to Chhamni gaon (village) which was on the right bank nad could be reached in 15-20 minutes after crossing over. On the way down, I found a Grey Treepies perched in the open, largely inactive. It is a common resident of the Himalayas, however an inactive Grey Treepie is a rare sight indeed, much like its cousin from the plain, the Rufous treepie. The sun was setting on my vacation as I hiked down to the bridge.

The sun had already hidden itself behind a silhouette of a mountain when the Crested Kingfisher, aptly so, decided to pay a final visit. More so, it sat on the wire that ran parallel to the bridge to confirm my hunch to be a good one. It sat there for a great minute and flew away to the same overhanging shrubs it had vanished inside in the morning. I waited there as the dusk died a slow death only to be reincarnated again, the next day. The river interlaced by bronze crests and dark troughs rolled on. The bird surely had called it a day too. I decided to follow suit, contented to the core and left the busy redstarts alone on the river.

I had a bus to catch early, the next morning. Hiking up the hundred steps, I had passed the Kingfisher in its roost midway. Just above the steps, and about ten more to the first floor of the homestay, I slept that night with the knowledge that a Crested Kingfisher rested next door, with the sky being the ceiling of its Himalayan home.

Wildlife Diaries – Kaziranga National Park – Mammals, Men, Mahout and Mishing

Running with the wild:

We have one life; one life of exploration, one life for understanding the world around us, its morals, its values and the intricacies tying up the wind, water, soil and the air with the life that moves around us in frames of time, quite different from our own individual perceptions.

I am a wildlife enthusiast in the pursuit of a deeper understanding of Nature; a pursuit through continuous exploration of the natural world and the intricate and often beautiful principles that govern it. It takes me from chasing common kingfishers who have lost their brilliant shine from frequent fishing dips in the canals transporting sewage in Kolkata to places well preserved through history, places like Kaziranga National Park.

In all my three visits to Assam in the first three months of 2018, I have been to Kaziranga National Park. This is a short account of the mammals of the park and it surroundings, including possibly the greatest of great apes to have spread across the blue-green-white planet we share with blue whales, rhinos and polar bears, human beings.

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A Rhesus macaque feeding on the nectar of Indian Silk Cotton tree (Bombax ceiba)

The River:

Taking the NH 27 from Guwahati towards Kaziranga, one can find signs of the wild nature of the Brahmaputra flood plains of Assam. No statistic could truly measure the river’s importance for the wilderness and the civilizations of Assam. While crossing the river from Majuli to Nemati Ghat during my first visit in Assam, I could only imagine the extent to which the Brahmaputra must grow during the months of monsoon.

During my 2nd visit, standing by the river in the eastern range of Kaziranga National Park, a college professor leading a batch of students of biology mentioned that there are many bridges across this river and the longest of them is about 7.5 kilometres across. Well, that’s a statistic right there, for testing our power of comprehension. The river is the lifeline of one significant moist patch on the map of the world. However, the dual nature of the universe means that its life-giving characteristic comes with the bane of massive floods during the monsoons, displacing wildlife and people, even taking many lives with it on its westward journey.

Eastern range Kaziranga NP

 

The Park perimeter:

Kaziranga National Park is divided administratively into 4 parts, the Western, Central, Eastern and Southern ranges. The three distinct habitats found in the park are swamps/marshlands, grasslands and woodlands. Taking Jeep Safaris through the first three ranges, it is evident that the western range is marshier, the central range is dominated by tall elephant grass while the eastern range takes one deep inside tropical woods of Ajaar (Crepe-myrtle), Shimul (Indian Silk Cotton), Chalta (Elephant Apple) and Amloki (Indian Gooseberry) among others. However, all ranges display mixed habitats. These three ranges are bounded to the south by the NH27 and to the north by the Brahmaputra.

To the south of the highway lies the southern range, where exploration happens on foot. I have not been to this part of the park but it lies in the hills which run along the road with the region in between being excellent tea country. In the regions where there are no tea estates by the road, the forests are excellent habitat for Capped langurs as I got to learn from our guide during my 3rd visit to the park. Coming from a tea fanatic, this hot beverage that wakes us up every morning has put a lot of forests of the Himalayan Terai to sleep ever since its introduction by the British in the 1820’s.

Life of Mammals:

Kaziranga is often termed as the ‘Savannah of the east’. This is because these habitats are excellent country for the so called ‘Big 5’ to call it their home. They include the African relatives of Elephants, Rhinos, Water Buffalos, Leopards with only the African Lion being replaced by the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Kaziranga is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of the One-horned rhinoceros. Rhinos all around the world have been poached to near extinction mostly because the keratin (same tissues found in our fingernails and hair) in their horns wrongly find their place in Chinese traditional medicine as an ‘aphrodisiac’ for men, just another example of our patriarchal existence and a society entangled in the web of illusion that has locked up every one of us to various extents.

From a few conversations I could get the idea that about 900 guards are employed in the park mainly to protect the rhinos from invading poachers from Nagaland. The guards are armed with old rifles that found their use in World war II whereas the poachers carry weapons which are technically sounder. Still, the numbers of rhinos have risen in the 2015 census to 2401. I hope that the park authorities derive great pleasure from the fact and I am sure there will be motivated efforts in the future to keep the poachers and this merciless business at bay.

Two other magnificent creatures who are targeted by poachers are the Asiatic elephant and the Royal Bengal Tiger. The last survey recorded the number of tigers in the park to be 106, which incidentally is the highest density of tigers anywhere in the world. During the months of February and March, controlled burning of grasses are done in the park by the authorities to encourage the growth of fresh grass for grazing within the park’s boundaries. The boundaries are mostly defined by the river and the lands of human interest. The emptied-out grasslands give good opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to spot the otherwise shy tigers whose cover is blown. In my three visits, I have failed to see any tigers though. The closest that I came to seeing one was in my most recent visit in March 2018. We were crossing a huge waterbody in the central range where there had been recent sightings. The Safari crew of a Gypsy who were lying in wait at the spot informed us that two tigers had just swam across the pond and headed in a southward direction, before vanishing on the other side. I stood and stared and played the visual in my mind. The only reassurance was that the life I have chosen would surely provide me with opportunities of witnessing this royal creature in its diminishing home.

The number of elephants cannot be specified as these giants keep moving in their herds, the patterns of which must be keeping passionate behavioural biologists many a sleepless night in their dens.

Alongside these giants, Kaziranga is also home to the largest population of Asiatic Water Buffalos, the only living population of the eastern subspecies of Swamp Deer (1148 individuals), with the males showcasing their massive antlers within herds comprised mostly of females. I was lucky enough to have witnessed a substantially large herd of these magnificent, calm and curious animals on either side of our Safari trail. We had cut across their mini migration in search of fresh grazing and aquatic plants to chew on.

Reports say that there are only 58 individuals of the vulnerable Sambar deer within the park. I was lucky to have witnessed a male within the woods of the central range. To be honest though, we were focussed on searching for the big cat that day, and this less probable sighting was only a mere consolation back then.

 

The Hog Deer are numerous throughout the park. I think there was not even a measure to survey for their numbers as there are other monumental tasks at hand for the park officials. The Hog Deer can be found in the woods, within the tall elephant grass as well the wide open expand of Mashes and around the waterbodies. They seem to have successfully adapted to the conditions of these mixed wilderness. The other substantially large mammal is the Wild Boar who can be quite bold and land up right beside the trail, with their children grazing alongside. All these animals are quite habituated with the green Gypsies with people and the sound of their engines that constitute a sizeable portion of the soundscape within the park.

Another part of the sound scape must be occasional gunfire. In February 2018, during my 2nd visit, a gunshot had rung out in the Eastern range followed by the wing beats of a flock of bar-headed geese, scared and fleeing in the opposite direction. The optimist in me is sure that it was from one of those World war II rifles of a guard doing his rounds on foot, trying to scare-off a lone Tusker on its morning trudge.

One magical sound that is a part of the sound scape of the region, is that of a trumpeting elephant. In contrast to the quick and burning hot shot of a gun that shoots its way across in every direction, the trumpet is long, warm and bellows through the forests and aims not for the sky but more towards the land; to inform its family of its location and possibly to warm its enemies. I had the luxury to witness such an event when a sub-adult elephant had crossed the trail in front of our Safari, crossed over a narrow stretch of water to the right to reunite with its family on the other side. It kept blowing its trumpet, as if asking for its herd to not leave it behind as it hurriedly swam across towards them.

Compared to the elephant, the rhinos are calmer, gentler and can be seen from close range, largely inactive and getting high on some good grass. The floods must change the course of life within the park. Some large mammals head towards the south, crossing the highway in the process and taking resort in the hills that lay out of harm’s way. There are natural high grounds in the lower regions called chapories. The authorities have built some chapories as well for animals to take resort during the high floods. All other challenges take the back seat of the open-hooded Gypsy of life. Life must hang on the edge of rising water levels for a few days before the mighty river recedes, leaving behind rich silt for the wilderness to sustain till the next turn of the wheel of fate.

Man, Mahout and Mishing:

No big mammal is of more significance to Kaziranga National Park than human beings. It is us, who have defined its boundaries in the first place; be it through constriction of the wilderness by settling down in these rich lands suitable for husbandry or administrative measures of conservation.

It was announced as a Reserve forest back in 1905 during the British rule in the sub-continent. Up a few further steps of amendment, Kaziranga became a National Park in 1974, almost three decades after the British had left.

The administration at the park also employ a few elephants and their ‘man’ gods, the mahouts. There are many more elephants owned privately. People invest millions of rupees in these animals who in turn return the amount by carrying around Safarists on their back in the western range, every morning.

The mahouts spend most of their waking hours caring for their huge vahanas; from feeding them to elaborate sessions of bathing, like they were their own children. However, the relationship between an elephant and its mahout is mostly bittersweet to the eye. The upsetting sight of the god beating its vahana around the head with a metal rod to maintain command, is very common. It’s almost difficult to fathom the idea of a such a massive and intelligent being to give in to the aggression of their man gods. I assume that in this age of financial competition and economic growth, the love between an elephant and its mahout is getting damaged further in the eagerness and the pressure to earn the extra buck.

On the southern boundaries of the western and central ranges of the park, live the Mishing tribe who had migrated hundreds of years ago from the north of the river. They carried with them the knowledge of fishing and survival by the mighty river. The Mishing huts are made of bamboo. They have thatched roofs and the floors are elevated roughly six feet above the ground as a measure against the floods. There are separate huts as granaries, smaller than the living huts.

The duties in the farmlands and ponds are shared by both men and women. I had walked up to Mishing man, who had just finished with his days fishing. He was throwing away the snails that he had caught on his net and the residue were small fishes. I was eager to understand his way of life and we talked for some time. I came to know that he knew six languages – Mishing, Assamese, Hindi, Bengali, Nepali and English. I was awed by this revelation and went around asking more people the same question. I came to know that most of them were quite adept in the first five languages in the list.

 

It is a must for every Mishing woman to learn the art of weaving from a very early age. Some girls weave the clothes for their wedding day which lie years into the future. All the mandalas and patterns woven on cloth are woven with the thread of imagination first, the language of art. One girl mentioned that all the patterns that she makes are unique and never repeated again. I am conflicted by the idea as to whether their complex weaving machine (made of bamboo) is more impressive than the handloom themselves. If there has to be a conclusion, I would suggest that it is the handloom. It is the product of un-weaving the mysteries of the complex machine first to weave the fine pieces of mosaic.

I wonder, if on a rainy day during monsoon, the civilized and the wild come together, displaced by rising flood waters to their elevated islands of hope, in the form of bamboo huts and mud embankments. With the water, life must rise above the scripted languages of mankind to the whims of the unspoken and unheard words of Nature. The language of the wild.

The knife edged southern border of Kaziranga National Park that lies between the majorly civilized world and one of its wildest patches is home to the Mishing tribe. They, on one hand have learnt to communicate with the outside world of modern men. On the other side, the music of the river plays in the background as stories are written in the language of the wild every day, some tragic ones ending with the fire of a gun.

Wild Tosa

RISING GIANTS
The dense moist forest of bamboo, a stretch of four to six hour’s gruelling hike, is left behind and our team trudged up the patch of meadows  which had started to appear by now. As we climbed high ,mount Kanchenjonga (8595 m.) and the mountain chain of greater Himalaya appeared to rise higher, behind our back. The panoramic view was unearthly, afternoon sun gleaming off the high and white mountain ranges too brightly for the naked eye to fully appreciate. Each turn , every pause for breath seemed like an excuse to look back and admire at the marvellous view. Our route touched a yak stable at the head of the first substantially large meadow, then continued for the next meadows up the mountain slope.

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Kanchenzonga zonga South, Central and Main (L-R) standing head high over a sea of cloud, as we hike up


It was 2 pm, by now the sea of clouds from the bottom of Teesta valley has risen high, riding the sun baked air. As a fine, discontinued veil of cloud gathered among the scrubby meadows, we managed to reach the intended stable for night stay, which was a worn out hut near a tiny trickling stream, at the foot of a steep bugiyal (meadow).

THE MOUNTAINS AT DAWN
The cold windy December night was long and sleep was hard to come by, I checked my watch for the last time at 5:45 am and it was dawn by then. Out I went , to the end of the hut to face the frozen mountains. In front of me were, starting from left of the distant horizon, the Kabru sisters, Talung , K’zonga sisters (Main, Central, South) , Zemu, Zemugap , Simvu twins, Seniolchu to mount Lamo Ongden at extreme right. I could not see the Narsingh, Zopuno, Tinchenkhang and Pandim to the extreme east as the high bugiyal had blocked the view, so I started to hike up the northern side of the steep bugiyal. It was freezing cold , the dried grasses of winter were mixed with hard crunchy frost that cracked underfoot. Walking up a hundred yards I reached a slope I liked. The mountain range was as if waking up from it’s deep slumber. The ice wall looked formidable, at the same time lifeless and grey, under the blue of sky which was in contrast lit with vibrant reddish golden light. It was near 6:00 am and the first sun beams of the day were barely striking the tip of K’zongha main. Now ,almost inconceivably , the golden reddish orange light lit up the top of whole K’zonga massif. Gradually the glinting curtain descended , flooding the summits of Talung , Kabru , Pandim , Seniolchu , Simvu. Finally the lowest summits of Tinchenkhang, Jupuno , Lamo Ongden and the saddle of Zemu gap are illuminated by the first rays.  The long mountain chain , having completely lit up by the soft golden light at dawn, sparkled and pleasantly glittered, presenting a spectacular sight , which I would safely avoid describing, for I fear description would not do justice to the sight.

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North western horizon at dawn


A TIRESOME APPROACH TO THE VALLEY
We started from the stable hut at 8. As we hiked up the steep bugiyal we could see to the north west the whole mountain chain brightly shining in white light of late morning.  Continuing on our easterly course , through dense scrubs of birch mixed with groves of rhododendrons interspersed with patches of grass where stood the old spruces and blue pines, we soon reached north eastern edge of the meadow area. Here , the high wall of the ridge running north-east towers above meadows , the ridge acts as the watershade between Teesta to my west and the rivers of Bhutan to further east i.e Raidak-Kaljani etc. The trail follows this ridge and traverses through its lower western slopes which gets little sun throughout day. Dwarf rhododendrons abound, thin sticks of what appears to be dwarf bamboo sticks out of thin layer of brittle snow. Layer of hard snow thickens at the darkest corners of the slopes, steep frozen streams through up challenges. At 11 we were taking a break in the next clearing which is a smallish, flat, sparkling meadow. Trail again traverses the frozen western slopes and moves north-east. At 12:30 we were atop a tiny patch of grassland commanding outstanding view of the western horizon.

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Tired from the exhausting trail we melted some snow in our Kettle, cooked tea and took a 15 minute’s break. From here we followed the slope in same direction (NE) through shadows for over another hour , then following the ridge gradually, the trail turned east through a series of snow covered ups and downs. We were about to enter the high valley of lower Tosa (11500 ft). A long ascend later a great valley came into view. To my left (W) Teesta’s gorge plunges down, to my right(E) stood the high wall of the ridge I followed all day, in front of me the flat green pasture of lower Tosa valley spreading left from right(E) and abruptly plunging down into the thickly forested slopes of upper Teesta. The right ridge as earlier mentioned turning right (E) too, thereby acting as the guardian ridge of true left flank of Tosa valley. The ridge then joins the peaks Spirit of Tosa and others at the highest reaches of upper Tosa valley, where lies, at feet of the peaks, great sacred lake of Tosa.

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The broad, flat, grassy meadow flanked by pristine woods of giant spruce, pine and deodars had only been visited by the few Yak herders and occasionally by pilgrims to the lake of Tosa. A couple of seasonal herders’ wooden hut at the lowest end of the valley, a deserted Indian army igloo tent amidst the woods and a few prayer flags, all of which barely come to notice against the dwarfing effect of the wild nature that prevails the valley. We took shelter in one of the huts, cooked , ate and slept.

TREK ALONG THE VALLEY FLOOR

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It was bitter cold at 6 morning. The water in bucket froze. We prepared for the day’s hike that was to take us through the woods , up the steep gully below the first step, crossing high banks of the lake , into the large basin of the glacial meltwater. Post heavy breakfast , at 8 we started. The weather was sparkling, blue sky dazzled, the trail ran through dark deep woods , numerous streams meandering across the slopes of forest joining the Tosa watercourse.
THE SIGNS OF BIG CAT
Richness of birdlife was plainly aparent. Treekreepers climbing about the logs, Redstarts hopped about the murmuring streams , a Winter Wren froze at our approach and flew in a flash from a nearby dead log. Yellow Tit foraged the higher slopes of thinner forest. A loud call of some ground bird , probably a pheasant/francolin echoed the woods.
Richness of mammalian life was most striking. A pug mark, week old, of a Bengal tiger was found on the trail around a flat marshy plot where water divides into multiple streams, flows gently. The whole stretch of lower valley is well watered , with tall grasses , numerous caves and tributory ravines with apparently untamed wild life (especially prey animals like Tahrs/Gorals/Serow/Barking deer/Musk deer, we had seen drpppings of these animals throughtout the high trails above the valley) , it is not surprising that a tigress would come to call the valley home. In bhutan and sikkim Tigers previously have been recorded to be breeding at higher altitude’s coniferous forests and meadows. Still it came as a surprise to us when we first encountered the mark. It was not a mark left by a fully grown male Leopard , but by a Tigress , this understanding was based upon the fact that the mark was deep, longish as opposed to square/round shape of that of a Leopard and bigger fingers with less space between each, typical to that of a Tiger.

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Looking down at the bustling , virgin lower Tosa valley , from frozen rock gully

By 11 the jungle ceased to exist, the trail climbed towards rocky cliffs to the east. From here down in the scrubby gorge Tosa watercourse could be seen and heard , for it was no longer the gentle stream but a raging white water speeding downhill. We climbed the steep rock gully which received less sun was partly covered with ice. At the head of the gully, where sun peeping through shrubs of dwarf rhododendrons had melted the snow , I discovered the foot prints of a Snow Leopard. The high mountains and barren high lands around Tosa lake are potentially prime territory of these elusive big cats.


LOST AT THE LAKE
The flat step beyond the gully is climbed as the high banks of the lake comes into view. After a 15 minutes trudge , it was quarter past 12 when we stepped atop the bank and witnessed the lake from a distance. It was a verditer blue lake , looked farely large, settled in a backdrop of high mountainscape. As we neared the water, across the lush grassy bed , the immensity of the lake grew. Climbing a small hillock we managed to take a few snaps which vaguely did justice to the surreal setting and vastness of the great lake of Tosa.
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The long shoreline of the lake is of fine sand, tiny ripples of clear sweet fresh water nurtures the white sand while the deep stretch of verditer blue lake reflects a glaciated rock-icy peak’s daunting east face. Close to the shadows of Spirit of Tosa, the thick ice sheet cracked in midday heat, producing eerie high pitched cracking noises. We sat and stood dumbstruck on the shore in awe , humbled yet the state of mind was that of supreme peace.

IMG_1260Nature’s hidden bounty that is the lake Tosa, is not only for its sheer beauty and magnitude , but also for its hidden nature and wildlife it nurtures. It is a bit of a long stretch to imagine from the lower valley the existence of such a large glacial lake above, given the considerably moderate quantity of water flowing out the valley especially in winter. The entry to the lower valley is not straightforward either, requiring a moderately challenging to difficult trek to undertake depending upon the snow condition and season. Due to the apparent isolation , nature around the lake valley has found a stretch of land to herself , to continue her life cycle undisturbed.

A NOTE OF IMPORTANCE

Before we explore the valley, we need to understand how so few of these little known and unprotected natural hot spots remaining today. The number is shrinking by season. We should surely trek, observe and record the fascinating gifts of the high lakes, valley and mountains , however while doing so we must actively work towards keeping the effect to a minimum. That said, maintaining “no trace” is not an easy task , especially with large groups at higher altitudes. Plastic packets , bottles litter the trails by the end of the season.  Sadly, many treks lost souls this way as we all know all too well.

We, at Rockyfeet , work differently. Our three pillars of work are Explore, Educate and Conserve. We explore through trek , climb or other fieldworks, while educating ourselves as a group, through active sharing of knowledge. We encourage documentation. We do active birding, study flora, observe mammalian life, explore the glaciers, climb and/or study the mountain peaks and passes of the land. The sharing of knowledge and amazing, true tales of nature will ultimately create awareness to promote and establish conservation as a way of life.

We ensure safety, service and impeccable waste management by working with small group of trekkers.

Green meadows of Chandrashila – A detour hike through astounding natural life

A herd of male Himalayan Tahr, grazing the distant slopes behind Chandrashila
It was a cool night. Dew drops pattered the tin roof , a dull candle at the corner kept company till I fell asleep, to wake up at the first light in sky.
Behind temple, me and Haru ignored the clear trail going the top, kept walking the path which circles the hill and veers towards Bageshwar.
Sky was flooding with blissful rays of sun. Still it was dark enough down in hillside that I couldn’t conclusively identify the ungulates(was it a mountain goat or mountain sheep?) playing peek-a-boo at every turn of the loopy meandering trail.
Reaching other side of the hill, where the trail starts to go downhill , we turned left , headed towards the top. It was no longer the typical Chandrashilla trek any more, we were walking the steep bugiyal which otherwise stays hidden behind the summit.
Much coveted warm sunshine was now on my side; the green grass , blue poppy , yellow-white daisy were all happy and smiling. In fact that in all probability was a reflection of my mind. I was happy , contented , full yet asking for more.
I couldn’t ask for more. A male Impeyan pheasant was foraging the meadows. Its metallic green crest , golden purple back and rufous tail dazzled.
Female Himalayan Tahrs(species of mountain goat) with calves were grazing the rocky corners of the hills, climbing up and down with uncanny ease. A good 500 yards away towards east, a huge group of male Himalayan Tahrs were lazing on a sunny slope.
But there was more. Haru fell behind. So I pushed harder , found a cliff at the head of the bugiyal (meadow) , brown with dried grass with black patches of bare mud. It was not a rock climb, it was a climb where the ‘holds’ were thorny tiny berries or loose dead grass. It was near vertical for 30 feet , 80 degrees slope for 100 feet and so on. The meadow walk was more than one and half km with 60 degree steady slope.
The last bit negotiated, I landed on the top of Chandrashila out of nowhere. Couple of foreign nationals were practising Yoga and breathing. Them and a local guide asked me about my route. I took the local man to the southern edge of the summit, pointed at Haru who was still hiking the bugiyal , a good 200 yard below. The man protested at this scene and told it was not possible to climb through that route.
Any way, exploration was done for the day , and I ran down the hillside , took the very route that we took in the morning and shouted at Haru. He dejectedly climbed down the meadow and we climbed Chandrashila through the normal route again.

It was 2016, the year with devastating forest fire in the middle Himalayas , especially in Garhwal and Kumaon. Smoke blanket were omnipresent , everywhere. It was a disappointment that we could not see the Nandadevi, the Dunagiri or Panchachulli from Chandrashila because of smoke. But it was way more than that. It was a shame that so many trees had to die. It was a shame that so thick layer of carbon from the smoke had gathered atop the glaciers , melting them profusely. We left Chandrashila with a mixed return and sustained need to fight for the environment became particularly apparent.

Birding around Mudigere – Western Ghats

Documenting common bird species of Western ghats, with a focus on behaviour and habitat, has been the main intention; photography/videography are just one of the easiest (not necessarily most efficient!) ways to accomplish that. These winged, feathered, warm blooded animals of mesmerizing locomotion, plumage, vocalization and behaviour are not merely a spectacle, but a reliable indication itself, of the health of any ecosystem. It should be noted however, not only photo/video – dedicated observations, detailed field notes , meaningful audio recordings etc are equally important and encouraged.

oh minivet

 

wc barbet

 

m barbet

 

yellow browed bulbul

 

gh bulbul

 

lesser hill myna2

 

vernal hanging parrot

 

gfb woodpecker

 

vf nuthatch

 

v.flycatcher

 

p.flycatcher

 

tb flycatcher

 

pale billed flowerpecker

 

l sunbird

 

ibl tit

 

b. starling

 

c iora

 

owe

 

bay backed shrike

 

g oriole

 

 

Ice Stupa, winter Ladakh

Ice Stupa winter Ladakh Ice Stupa Ladakh Sonam Wangchuk

Ice Stupa winter Ladakh Ice Stupa Ladakh Sonam Wangchuk

Ice Stupa winter Ladakh Ice Stupa Ladakh Sonam Wangchuk

Ice Stupa winter Ladakh Ice Stupa Ladakh Sonam Wangchuk

Ice Stupa winter Ladakh Ice Stupa Ladakh Sonam Wangchuk

I have witnessed the Ice Stupa, in the winter of Ladakh.

“High in the Himalaya, a desert is turning green.”  – This was the beginning of the article, A WATERY SHRINE, by Nina Strochlic drew my attention again in the month of March 2017. I was just back home in down south after leading a few group of the Chadar trek. I recollect 2 words again from the far away land of Ladakh, the cold desert of the Himalayas, The Ice Stupa and the engineer man Mr.Sonam Wangchuk; which I heard for the 1st time early 2016. I was biting my nails for missing to be an eyewitness of such a milestone in the history of human civilization. On that very moment, I decided to visit it next year of winter of Ladakh. My friends, I kept my promise to myself in the winter of 2018, and writing back to you with the eagerness of the cheerful emotion of a social animal, the human, – the happiness should be shared.

I witnessed the history. I was very much there when an Indian national flag was hosted to celebrate the 69th Republic day of the nation on top of an ice stupa, a creation truly – of the people, by the people, for the people. I am proud to be an Indian.

In the winter of Ladakh, near the Phyang Village, these 2 ice shrines become an amusement park for locals. With no offense, people are celebrating a true achievement of human and national history with their family. They may not even know the simplest details of the engineering of the Ice Stupa, but their future is secure.

Ice stupa in front of    69th Republic day of Indian on top of ice stupa

 

What is an Ice Stupa?

  1. Using a high mountain stream, or a higher altitude lake/ reservoir connect a pipe to release water at a lower altitude.
  2. Now, this piped away water due to altitude difference develop a great pressure to leave the vertical pipe as a water fountain. Something similar you may observe in your garden water pipe.
  3. Now at a winter night of -20C to -30C degree in Ladakh, exposed water drops freeze to ice and create this conical shrine of fantasy, the Ice Stupa. Collected twigs firms the base of the stupa and help it grow bigger.
ice Stupa Phyang

ice Stupa near Phyang

 

Why is Ice stupa so important?

Now finally the key to the magnificent invention of Wangchuk. He is a savior for the future when climate change is very much present in the land of Himalayas. Glacial meltwater is reducing in the high mountain. The window of agriculture for a mountain farmer is becoming smaller with unpredictable water supply. Many plants of apple, barley, apricot died in the desert. Now an Ice Shrine beyond winter, with the rising temperature of spring, releases slow melting water for their farmland. Wangchuk brings the glacier to them. Protected their children to be a climate refugee.

Even in winter, it generates income as a tourist attraction for a farmer.

inside of an ice stupa 2

inside of an ice stupa

inside of an ice stupa

 

This winter for 1st time an Ice stupa village has been planned beyond Ladakh at Morteratsch Valley of the Swiss Alps.

While rivers are disappearing, Glacial lakes are growing in size. Many of them are on the brink of causing floods that will wash away many cities downstream. One solution is not enough. We need more Wangchuk to step in. In 2015, its all started with a 125000 USD crowdfunding fund. Support conservation action.

You can read more about his effort or get involve at Ladakh SECMOL campus.

2 ice stupa ladakh phyang village Leh

Mountain views in Pangarchulla trek

Pangarchulla is a 4575 m high rocky hump enclosed from north-west,north and north-east by river gorges of Alakananda , Dhouli ganga and Rishi ganga, respectively. Although the trekking peak is merely one of thousands of Himalayan small peaks, it demands special mention and attention. Why ? Cause, not only the summit of Pangarchulla , but the whole Pangarchulla trail offers views of an astonishing array of mountain peaks. All these peaks are massive in scale, enigmatic in reputation , most of them are mountaineer’s subject of pursuit.

Before I take you to a visual tour of the Pangarchulla horizon, let us know exactly how the trek commands such views which 90 per cent of other treks can not. Due to its topographic position. As I already mentioned , north-west, north and north-east of Pangarchulla are deep wide river gorges. Beyond the distant river gorges rise the highest mountains from all three sides. With nothing standing in-between , mountains behind Mandakini valley (to extreme west), around Gangotri glacier (to north west), beyond Gangotri (north west), beyond Badri nath (north) , from circle of Nandadevi Sanctuary (to the east) , all can be seen.

Let us start from the extreme east , which is reasonable , as the trek generally starts from Auli , goes through Gorson bugiyal which offers east view. To the east-south-east we can see the Ronti spires, Bethartoli himal, Trishul (partially). Gorson offers grand west face of Nandadevi to witness behind the treacherous Rishi ganga gorge. Towards the north-east, from Gorson we can see mighty Dunagiri , flanked by faraway giants like Trishuli, Hardeol , Chang bang (partial view) and Kalanka (partial view). All these peaks mentioned , that are seen from Gorson, are part of Nandadevi inner sanctuary’s ring of mountains.

After Gorson, your next camp could be at Khulara. From here , peaks behind valley of flowers (Ghori, Hati) , peaks to the north-east of Badrinath (Kamet, Mukut, Mana, Deoban, Nilgiri etc) are visible.

The northern horizon dotted with sparkling gigantic peaks

The northern horizon dotted with sparkling gigantic peaks

From Khulara , it generally takes two more days to reach the top of Pangarchulla. The summit push is exhilarating and moderately challenging, but we are talking the view today, we’ll stick to it. As you get to the top of Pangarchulla, You can see peaks like Kedarnath, Kharchakund, Chaukhamba , Parvati parbat to the west; Nilkantha, Arwa tower , Avalanch peak to north; Sawaswati , Kamet , Mana, Mandir , Deoban, Rataban , Nilgiri , Ghori , Hati to the north-north-east. Dunagiri to north-east can also be seen.

 

"The horizon" , view from the summit

“The horizon” , view from the summit

Some of the other epic and priceless views from the trail –

The north-east horizon from Pangarchulla summit

The north-east horizon from Pangarchulla summit

Dzongri la | The best winter trek

Dzongri la

On the fringes of the vast plateau of Dzongri, away from the busy trail of Goecha la, isolated and neatly tucked within the shadows of Black Kabru, is the pass named Dzongri la (14500 ft).  An winter trek (Feb-March) to the pass involving substantial snow march, ought to be one of the most exhilarating experiences eastern Himalaya has to offer. The trek goes deep into the ecological hotspot and UNESCO world heritage site Kanchenzonga National park (KNP), offering a walk through varied terrain and diversified natural life. Lower mixed broadleaf forests, dry and brown in winter, give way to lively moist broadleaf (Oak , Rhododendron), at higher altitudes. With couple of feet of snow cloaking the ground and snow crystals of uncanny symmetry hanging down tree branches , the forest seems almost magical. Subsequently , thick and long stretch of sub-alpine conifers (Pine,Fir,Spruce) give way to alpine shrubs and grasses (albeit under a thick snow cover). Finally, the bleak, white meadows are left , and the narrow trail climbs the flanks of Black Kabru, where lies the pass. During the whole journey, you are continuously awed by glimpses of giant Himalayas peaks . From the lower jungles near Tsoka, Pandim(21952 ft) , Tinchenkhang(19700 ft), Jopuno(18475 ft) are visible. From the alpine pastures of Deorali , trekkers are struck by the scintillating view of Kanchenzonga South(27800 ft), Kabru north(24000 ft) , Dome , Frey(19500 ft) , Rathong(21900 ft), Pandim etc. Doreng meadows offer Pandim’s view up close. The final hike to Dzongri la offers detailed viewing of the black Kabru’s craggy rock fortress. To cap it all off, as the pass is crossed , clustered peaks of Frey , Kokthang (20160 ft), Rathong and Kabru sisters appear at the backdrop of the pristine Rathong valley. Evidently, there is no winter trek quite like this.

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Ichamati, a trans-boundary river

Ichamati river at Taki

I reached Taki on 31st December 2017.  There was no decisive purpose to travel or a destination to reach. But a few words to connect. Bangladesh, Ichamati and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, these 3 words were enough to get lost within me on a year-end afternoon. Today’s world near the river is truly far from the painting, has been drawn by one of the finest craftsmen of Bengali literature Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay in his novel ‘Ichamati’. But it is not so hard for one who read him once. In my childhood, he taught me the power of imagination. A tool to travel the unknown world and the time with your untamed mind. So, in my 1st blog of 2018, a year-end, time, river, the novel, the partition, Bibhutibhusan and much more is creating an anarchy. I let them flow as imagination or a river goes on. And I wish all of you a green, calm and untamed new year on this beautiful planet. let’s welcome 2018.

taki rajbari

There is no end, my friend.  Nor a beginning. Moment after moment, year after year, time flows. Time unites people. Time divides too. Science says time is just a dimension. The way our river Ichamati has length, breadth and depth; It has time. Again, as you walk along the river bank from the origin to the ocean, you can travel the time too. Science is making progress alike light. That time is not so far when on an upcoming new year eve, you will experience the time travel with your family just like a 3D movie. On a button click, just after few ads, you will start experiencing the magic of a time machine. The spreading roots of a living banyan tree are disappearing from the ruins of old zamindari house Thakurdalan (a pavilion or arena of worship). Those destroyed walls and pillars, which has never seen before any of the new generation, is reconstructing with all it’s intricate art and artefacts in front of your senses. It will be in such a minute detail that you are not even going to miss the quintessence of an old essence stick burning in the Tulsi Mancha at the centre of the courtyard. I get goosebumps in wonder. I am scared too, mechanization to the imagination.  The thoughts of the experience of a time machine took me far from the noises of multiple loudspeakers playing music cheerfully at the year-end parties in front of the river Ichamati.

taki rajbari banyan tree

Taki rajbari banyan tree

Today at this junction, time is blending into the river. Ichamati is coalescing into the time. Still, the invisible division remains. Ichamati is the division between the very same people on both sides of the river. The history, the deeply rooted culture within them is waiting. Maybe for a new mechanism or an old idealism to arise.

River unites people. The river divides too. River teaches you, there is neither an end nor a beginning, but an ongoing process with all her wisdom and experiences, instilled in us.

Ichamati River is a trans-boundary river which flows through India and Bangladesh and also forms the boundary between the two countries. The river is facing the problem of siltation leading to the thin flow of water in the dry season and floods in the rainy season. Experts are handling the situation and remedial matters are being discussed between the governments of India and Bangladesh. The political border of 2 countries is just a 10 mins boat ride away from here, in Taki.

Ichamati Bangladesh border

Ichamati Bangladesh border

From Taki Rajbari Ghat, You can avail a boat ride in Ichamati river and view the Bangladesh Border as close as you can’t imagine. I found the destination as a perfect day out from Kolkata. But one wants to stay for a night, may venture out the following links; Amrapali Gust House OR a few other Staying options at Taki.

Magical Wetlands of Gajoldoba

Magical Wetlands of “Gajoldoba” is a major hotspot for bird lovers all over Bengal wherein thousands of ducks and waders congregate during winter months.

I had already contacted Thakur Da at Gajoldoba through Subhankar De –another birder from North Bengal who has vast knowledge about this North Bengal area and an avid birder.
After spending a day birding at a new destination “Rongtong” we descended down towards Teesta Barrage area the following day.
It was a long weekend of 26th Jan,2017 and you can imagine the crowd in any of the tourist attractions in Bengal and moreover if it is a river bed.
With speaker blaring in all corners there were picnics going on in full swing as we waded in our small boat through the waters and marshes.
Gajoldoba during winter is home to a lot of winter migrants’ waders and ducks and the habitat is quite rich.
However human infringement, ecotourism development, and its chaotic ecstasy is destroying the habitat big time and Government and authorities should take steps to curb this. Else, in near future we will lose this dreamland called Gajoldoba rather the immigrants would lose their winter home.

Day 1:

The entire area is a congregation of Ruddy Shelduck,Eurasian Wigeons,Lesser Whistling duck ,Northern Shoveler, Ferrugenious Pochard ,Red Crested Pochar,Gadwal etc and other waders as we move through the meandering course of the shallow waters of Teesta – a mesmerizing scene.

As Thakurda (our boatman) was steering the boat through the shallow waters of Teesta these two beauties emerged from nowhere to mesmerize us.

Ruddy Shellduck

Ruddy Shellduck

One of my favourite duck with a striking round orangish-brown head and red beak- as it is aptly called “Rangajhuti” . They are very frequent visitors at Purbasthali ox bow lake in Burdwan district . These diving ducks where moving gracefully in a flock and were busy posing for the camera, boasting of its beauty and elegance.

Red Crested Pochard

Red Crested Pochard

As we crossed the flocks of different ducks , Thakur Da with utmost care and precision took the boat close to a mud flat for the first lifer of this trip.

The “Three Musketeers” of Gajoldoba. As we were moving away from the loud cacaphony of Shelduck,Pochards etc these nocturnal creatures were busy foraging in broad daylight in a gravelled mud flat with very minimal movement,moving slowly and deliberately,with occassional short runs.We stood rooted to the spot admiring their beauty .

DSC_7350_00002_01

Great Thicknee

Great Thicknee

As we were busy spotting other waders on the mud flats, this migrant was busy foraging on the ground in search of food.

Citrine Wagtail

“Mirror Image”- Citrine Wagtail

The next few hours was spent moving from one area to another and wherever you place your eyes you can see ducks gracefully coursing on water surface or waders constantly probing the muddy or sandy areas.

We spotted a pair of Bar Headed Goose,Dunlin,Common Sandpiper,Sand Lark,Northern Shoveler.

Sand Lark

Sand Lark

Dunlin

Dunlin

As light was fading away we could spot a Peregrine Falcon lurking in the sky and looking for an opportune moment to pounce on its prey – the ducks which were lazily wading

Day 2 :

Started the day early to venture downstream in search of Red Breasted Merganser -the first report from Bengal.

The journey started with the awakening of the ducks and waders as the morning chill was getting penetrated by the yellow glow.

Kingfishers always fascinates me with its agility and radiant colours .As we were frantically searching for the common merganser this “Black & White” beauty was hovering in front of us in search of breakfast. Unaware of our presence it lazily perched itself on the protruding branch above the water surface,a clear indication of its contentment with the morning meal.

Pied Kingfisher

This was followed by constant hide and seek of the Great Crested Grebe.

However frantic search for this migrant for a couple of hours did not bring desire result – that is the beauty of birding with lots of uncertainty, patience, and luck.

On our return, we got to see the most photographed bird this year far away from from the Arctic Tundra region.A rarety in this part of the hemisphere who found a home away from home in the company of a pair of Ruddy Shelduck- strange indeed !!!! The mystery will still remain whether it will find its way back home and whether this friendship will bring it to its second home again…

Tundra Bean Goose

“Lonely Vagrant” – Tundra Bean Goose

DSC_8083

We were walking barefooted on the slippery mud flat in search of an unknown raptor spotted by Sourav and Avishek with constant chirping of these birds in the background. There were numerous of them camouflaged on the ground with roving eyes on us.

Small Pratincole

Small Pratincole

A couple of Black Stork flew away on the horizon as we were busy observing the pratincoles.

The most dominant inhabitant of the marshland , whose loud cacophony in unison can be heard throughout the day far across the distance.

Rudy Shellduck

Rudy Shellduck

It was the fag end of the day and as our boat was slowly moving past a water-soaked muddy stretch, this shorebird was foraging by looking, then stopping, then running and pecking to catch its prey.It was constantly probing the soil in search of insects or other invertebrates.

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover

Another small plover characterized by the distinct yellow eye rings was present in abundance on the gravel river bed constantly probing the sand/mud flat for insects and worms.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Gradually our board entered the Lapwing territory and what a pleasing sight.

Its exuberance of colors and gracefulness mesmerizes me everytime I see this beauty from the lapwing family.Every year hundreds and hundreds of these near threatened lapwing species migrate to these grasslands to spend the winter at the foothills of the Himalayas.

 

Northern Lapwing

Northern Lapwing

It was August 2015 while birding in Sunderbans bio-reserve I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of this majestic beauty, and this time around the amazing marshland of Gajoldoba had revealed its biggest surprise – “Madan Tak” as it is aptly called bcoz of its bald head.As we were ruing the missed opportunity of a very close shot of a female Pied Harrier, the stork emerged from nowhere and started posing popping its head out from the marshes.Our beloved boatman “Thakur Da” took utmost care not to disturb the denizen and took the boat to a position where we get a close view of this vulnerable bird of the stork family.

Lesser Adjutant Stork

Lesser Adjutant Stork

The sheer presence of waders and ducks is a perfect foil for a raptor of the size of Marsh Harrier which constantly keeps a strict vigil over the area for any opportune moment to pounce on its prey.We very lucky enough to witness many such moments and capture it’s hovering over the marshy grassland in search of its prey.

DSC_8443

The silent predator was hiding in the bushes constantly scanning the area in search of its prey with its protruding beak waiting for the final assault-the tall grasses of the marshland created a perfect ambush.

Purple Heron

Purple Heron

Hatt-ti-ti” as it is aptly called in native language bcoz of it’s loud and high pitched call.I have been fascinated by this bird numerous occasions during my birding trips all over Bengal but couldn’t get a decent picture of this colourful wader.As light was fading and our tired weary bodies wanted respite,this wader started fiddling in the soil and muddy waters in search of food and stock it up for dinner, unaware of our lurking existence.

With a tired body and contented soul we bid adieu to this amazing water land at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Red Wattled Lapwing

Red Wattled Lapwing

 

Little Grebe

Little Grebe

Pied Harrier

Pied Harrier

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank

DSC_7272_00001_00002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds List :

Common Teal,Eurasian Wigeon,Ruddy Shellduck,Northern Shoveler,Red Crested Pochard,Gadwall,Great Crested Grebe,Indian Cormorant,Great Cormorant,Asian Openbill Stork,Norther Lapwing,Spotted Redshank,Great Thicknee,Red Watlled Lapwing,Eurasian Marsh Harrier,Little Ringed Plover,Citrine Wagtail,Grey Wagtail,White Wagtail,Kentish Plover,Dunlin,Common Sandpiper,Tundra Bean Goose,Peregrine Falcon,Indian Cormorant,Little Egret,Intermediate Egret,Large Egret,Bar Headed Goose,Barn swallow,Asian Palm Swift,Siberian Stonechat,White Breasted Kingfisher,Pied Kingfisher,Purple Heron,Lesser Adjutant Stork,Spotted Dove,White Capped Water Redstart,White Browed Wagtail,Pond Heron,Bronze Winged Jacana,Common Coot,Moorhen,Pied Harrier,Steppe Eagle,Black Kite,Small Pratincole,Black Stork,Tufted Duck,Common Greenshank,Grey Heron,Pied Starling,Long tailed Shrike,Little Grebe,Sand Lark,Wire Tailed Swallow,Ferrogeneous Pochard

Birding Time :

6:30 AM – 5 PM

Ladakh Festivals Calendar

chaam mask dance at ladakh festivals

Ladakh Festival Calendar is important to one who wants to capture and feel the culture of Ladakh. This hamlet of trans-Himalayas is well known for their rich, vibrant and colorful culture.  The daily life of Ladakhi people in a town may look more western dressed up to fit the today’s world, but a festival will surely be ethnic as it was 100 years ago. During the festival, the locals get dressed up in traditional clothes, where men wear cummerbunds and women wear vibrant headgears and loads of jewelry.  Read more

Best Himalayan trek for beginners

I have worked as exploration leader and managed multiple groups in Himalaya with beginners or 1st-time trekkers. Many of them successfully completed the trek and made me realized a fact – That any trek can be your 1st trek irrespective of the grade of the trek. And if you are one looking for an answer to the similar question like – What can be the best Himalayan trek for beginners? OR  Can chadar be my 1st trek? Or Can I go to Goecha La as a beginner?

 I will suggest a rational though steps to get an answer by ownself.

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Sunderban Biosphere- Trip to BIG CAT’s Den

It was monsoon time ,and a visit to the Sunderbans was long time due .When the proposal came in from my friend Sutonu that a group of bird enthusiasts and wildlife lovers are venturing into the largest estuarine delta in the world to explore and unravel the beauty of Sunderban’s rich marine diversity of flora and fauna, I could not say no to such a mouth-watering prospect. Read more

LATPANCHAR – A BIRD WATCHER’S PARADISE

Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary (MWLS)” is not an uncommon name for the birders around Bengal and in India as well. The very elusive and endangered Rufous Necked Hornbill has made this place more famous.-the Sanctuary falls under Darjeeling Wildlife Division, West Bengal.
Latpanchar is a small hamlet on the outskirts of the MWLS. The treasure of trove of Latpanchar always fascinates me and it has become kind of a second home.

We embarked on our journey on 27th April from Kolkata with a return on 1st May.

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475 Kms Hike From Manali to Leh, the Journey of a Lifetime

In 2014, while on a backpacking trip to Bhutan, I  happened to meet a group of trekkers. After this encounter, the idea of trekking struck me and since then there was no looking back. I went on various high altitude treks , completed my BMC couse from HMI and also did a wilderness course from NOLS. In 2016, while I was working as an freelancer for an adventure company, the idea of hiking from Manali to Leh struck me. Read more

Birding Diaries (Bird Rescue) | Back from the web of death | Purbasthali

Alok Da checking the bird for injuries it might have sustained during the ordeal..

About Purbasthali Ox-bow Lake:

It was late December, 2014. I was dawning my 2nd winter plumage as a birder (after being introduced to birding and the world of birds in October, the previous year) and it would my first time at Purbasthali. I had heard about the place from my brother-in-law who had been there the previous year. ‘Lifer fever’ had struck with the thought that migrants had once again flocked in large numbers to the marshlands/wetlands in the lower course of the meandering Bhagirathi, a major distributory of the Ganges in South Bengal. Read more

Rupin Pass Waterfall crossing – in pre season

Rupin valley is nestled in between two approximately parallel runs of giant lateral ribs a.k.a spur, stretching south from the high snowfields just below the main ridge of Dhaula Dhar range. Rupin pass is situated on this ridge beyond the snowfield, where the ridge-altitude is as low as 4680 meters (15350 feet) thus allowing a crossing of the ridge without much risk. However, during the preseason, snow is found from an altitude of 2900-3000 meters (9500 feet) even when snowfall of previous year was less than average. In any case, during preseason you will have to climb at least 1700 meters (5600 feet) of snow slopes of varying gradient before reaching the pass, which offers a superb experience and learning for relatively less experienced trekkers.

Among all these sections of snow climbings, personally, I loved crossing the frozen Rupin waterfall the most. Let us look at it in greater detail.

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Trek Planning, beginning a trek

Why trek planning is important?

In a theoretical sense – Trekking is a necessary routine within a sport called Mountaineering. Any mountaineering expedition must involve trekking unless the full expedition team is being flown(by helicopter/small aeroplane) all the way to the climbing base camp of the target mountain. The more remote a mountain is , the more time and resources(i.e fuel,food,porter,pony/yak) are invested in trek just to reach a base camp.

In a more practical sense – Trekking is just hiking through any terrain , given you have the following major things in place –

  1. RESOURCES :Managing resources comes under administration. This is one thing which plays the most crucial role in a trek. Even without adequate planning ,information, or first aid, a trek can be done just because you have resources in place; but of course it will bevery risky and very childish. Or we can put it this way – if resources are not present , trek does not even start.In life threatening or simply challenging situations in a trek, quality ,quantity and management of resources decide the outcome. Read more

Bara Bhangal,A Secret Kingdom at the Headwater of Ravi ( Iravati )

A trudge on the time-worn routes of Bara and Chota Bhangal taxes one physically; although, at the same time it rewards the journeying soul with jaw dropping landscapes, bleak unique outposts and sense of timelessness. River Ravi, originating at the foot of Bara Bhangal village kept nurturing the valley’s life from time immemorial. For thousands of years, the dodgy, perilous routes from here to central Asia crossed over the massive Dhaula dhar and Pirpanjal mountain ranges, enabling the region’s trade and cultural exchange. Bara Bhangal with its population of over 750 is an important centre for the Gaddi shepherds. Till today, ponies are used to carry ration for the villagers from across the passes that connect the valley to rest of the world. A satellite phone for emergency purpose, installed by government is the sold mode of communication for the villagers. The obscurity and difficult approach has cast a veil of mystery and fancy in the minds of romanticists, about Bara Bhangal. It is about time that we explore the region in some meaningful detail.

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DZONGU – North Sikkim

Dzongu

The electoral district of Dzongu in remote North Sikkim is inhabited by the indigenous Lepcha people. It’s geographic boundary to the west is marked by Talung(7350 m) and Pandim(6691 m) peaks. To the north by mt. Kangchenzonga South(8476 m), mt. Zemu peak(7780 m), Zemu Gap(5870 m) , mt. Simvu(6811 m) , mt. Sinioulchu(6888 m) , Kishong la pass(4785 m) and mt. Lamo Angdong(5900 m). To the east by Teesta river and to the south by Narsingh(5800 m) group of peaks. The valley constitutes the remotest reaches of the rich and varied Kanchenjonga Biosphere Reserve, an UNESCO world heritage site.

Lepcha villages are thinly populated, always quiet ,and often wrapped up in a lively green cloak of vegetation. They worship nature whose care and protection are integral part of their philosophy. Many Lepcha has worked in fields of Butterflying, Birding etc ; Experts on Rhododendrons, master of bush craft can be found in these villages.

In this article I shall narrate only the nature and geographic setting of Dzongu valley, and touch upon the prospect of trekking.

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Arunachal, Gorichen basecamp

Arunachal is a state that yields curiosity and expectation. Many of us know that it has largely unspoilt eco-regions, unparalleled biodiversity and untouched mountainous terrain ; all of which is true. The thing is , we are very fortunate that a region like Arunachal “still” exists in a country of a billion , and we need to protect the region. Let us not spoil it , let us explore.

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We Love Our Rhododendron ~ Lets Know Them Too ~ Focus Indian Himalaya

Found in Uttarakhand@Copyright Rockfeet.com

 

Walking through a Himalayan Nature Park we often come across with Rhododendron species. Many we know – Many we don’t. But No matter what , when they Bloom they set the forest on fire.

For city dwellers the view of a Rhododendron Burst can be enchanting but it may leave a huge impression on you. Personally when I traveled Kanchenjunga Wildlife Sanctuary in Spring time , The Forest made me insane. It was an unforgettable place which I could not Forget and it haunts my soul  till date. Read more

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