In the lap of nature, high on the mountains

In the lap of nature, high on the mountains
With the bus engine roaring, our second trek in the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), Himachal Pradesh began. I sat besides the large window, staring out into the roads which looked unreal – quiet and empty with lights falling on them. After a night long journey, we were dropped off at Autt. From Autt, we went to Sainj by bus and then to Shangarh by a shared vehicle. Here, we stayed at a homestay, which was close to a meadow.

During the night, we kept the door open to get familiar with the chill! Sometime that evening my heart won over my mind; I would stay away from making detailed notes during the week and just be there. We were moving with minimal planning and without cameras, using public transport and trying to soak in the moment.

The walk began the next day from Neuli, Niharni and then up inside GHNP, a recent entrant to the list of World Heritage Sites. The Park has had a long journey, dotted with turmoil and success, one that conservation enthusiasts could learn a lot from. The park’s journey began in 1984 when its first notification was issued and the first management plan put in place in 1987. Our first day was easy and a pair of chestnut-bellied rock thrush greeted us as we began our walk downhill.

Up towards Maror, we crossed the village of Shakti and saw Russet Sparrows frolicking on rooftops. We came across the Forest Department, which had built its offices in the middle of the proverbial ‘nowhere’. GHNP has almost no motorable roads but has an extensive network of trekking routes. Also horses and other animals are not allowed to carry luggage. All this and more is a part of the conservation design put in by the local governing body to encourage and promote sustainable tourism beneficial for the locals.

The next camp-site was in a meadow with fresh signs of the Himalayan brown bear! Here, we saw the snow covering the not very distant mountain tops. Next morning, these salt and pepper tops turned white with the fall of fresh snow.  Over tea, we chatted with the team who were leading us on the trek, on their ‘interesting’ experiences with tourists. The discussion then veered to wildlife. When we asked of snow leopards, we were told though the Forest department had not been able to record its presence in camera traps over the years. The shepherds have their own stories though: tales of a cat with the thickest of tails. Of the mammals in the park, its website says, “The mammalian fauna of GHNP and its buffer zone is typical of the several eco-regions of the Western Himalayas. It is relatively diverse, reflecting the fact that there are several habitats and a variety of climatic zones in the Park and buffer zone. ”

As we had our binoculars with us, we put them to good use. We were able to spot a few birds like the blue-capped rock thrush that had travelled up here to escape the summer heat. The one bird that caught our attention and won our hearts was the brown dipper. A resident bird, it could be one of the more unassuming birds if one goes by looks. I was told that it eats the insects and vegetation stuck to the stones! The park is also recognised as an Important Bird Area and is particularly noted for its pheasant populations.’

As we trekked our way out, we crossed the stunning village, Majhan. We saw the black-and-yellow grosbeak as we entered the village and the grey-winged blackbird as we left the next morning. By now, we were comfortable with our shoes and bag, and happily managed the walk.

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