Friday, 26 April 2013

29th - 30th March - New Delhi to the Khali Estate

We arrived safe and sound into New Delhi at midday, and were picked up and taken to our Guest House, Green Meadows.  On arrival we were greeted by a heavy rain shower, accompanied by some quite large hail stones, not a usual occurence apparently at this time of year.  Having just left crazy weather in the UK, it wasn't that reassuring to arive to crazy weather here in India.

The afternoon was organised into a short tour of the city, and we set out into the hustle and madness that is Delhi, car horns blaring at every possible moment, and cars and people just going where ever they wanted to.  The tour did not reveal that much wild life.  At the Gate of India, we drove around the area before stopping, on a lake there was an Indian Darter, and on the grass around the gardens a Cattle Egret and a Little Heron. 

At the Tomb of Humayum, we came across chipmunk like squirrels that called loudly from everywhere around the gardens, and were able to get close to a Hoopoe.  I hadn't taken my camera out yet, as we were in quite a busy tourist area so we had to be content with walking around and watching.

The one bird feature of the city was the amazing density of Black Kites, they were everywhere you looked in the sky.  Above the monuments, and wheeling around above the trees in the gardens.  As we left Humayum's tomb we passed a small rubbish dump, and the Kites coul be seen fighting each other above it.

The next stop was the Lodi Gardens, which were a lovely green retreat away from the noise and traffic of the city.  As we walked through the entrance we could hear parakeets calling, and there were up to 30 plus feeding with feral pigeons in an area that was obviously set aside for them.  These were Green Parakeets or the Ring-necked Parakeets as we know them in the UK.

We followed the path and at an opening came across this Long-tailed Mongoose.  It came out of the bushes and looked at us as we read the notice board telling us what birds we could see in the park.

We walked around the park, spending some time to appreciate this little oasis of calm.  We saw Red-vented Bulbuls, Indian Grey Hornbill, and a variety of small warbler like birds that without the benefit of binoculars I was not able to identify, but they did whet the appetite for the coming days, when I would be prepared for everything India was going to throw at me.  The gardens had plenty of trees and buildings that suited the many birds here.

By now we were quite tired, the jet lag kicking in, so we went back to the guest house to prepare for the rail journey tomorrow.  As the sun set during the early evening I was able to pick out a Purple Sunbird in the guest house garden.

We were up at 04.00 to set off for the station to catch our train to Kathogdam.  The train was leaving at 06.15, but we arrived at 05.00, enough time for us to panic, and tour most of the platform, before finally establishing where our coach exactly was.  Once we were settled on the train we could relax, and look forward to the journey.  The railway station was an experience, with lots of people just lying on the ground, waking up after sleeping there overnight.  We saw children washed in the drinking fountains, and we ourselves were probably the source of interest from the locals too.

The train pulled away on time, and we slowly made our way out of New Delhi station, and into the dawn of a new day. We passed buildings, some of which were slums, some respectable houses, but everywhere there was rubbish.  As the sun came up, the mist came down, and this produced some strange light.  At 06.45 we passed some waste ground, and on it what looked like a fully organised cricket match was taking place with children playing.

The train continued through the suburbs of Delhi, and on the roofs of the building I could see Red-faced macaques, and bizarrely male peacocks, there long tail feathers hanging down, silhouetted against the rising sun.  The train would cross large rivers that were shrouded in mist, the early morning sun standing out like a large ball through the mist.  Finally we came out of the built up area and into fields full of cereal crops.  Every so often there would be pools of water that were dominated with egrets, Great, Little and Intermediate, with River Lapwings and Black-winged Stilts around the edges.   Where there were cows the Cattle Egrets could be seen around their feet.  At one stage I was able to see a Greenshank fly past, and flashes of blue that belonged to kingfishers, probably White-throated by their size.
As we stopped at the stations the Black Kites would return, their presence linked with human settlements and rubbish.  The stations appeared to be a magnet for people, and at one I watched a gang digging coal and filling up a truck.  It was organised labour, to get the coal into the truck as efficiently as possible; I found it fascinating to watch.  The towns gave way to villages, and along side the railway were brown pyramids, these turned out to be mounds of cow dung pats drying.  In some areas they were laid out on the ground, I suppose to dry in the sun.  Cows were seen close to the houses, along with herds of goats.
As we approached the foothills of the mountains the pools in the field became empty, the egrets disappearing for some reason.  They were replaced though by what I think were Green Bee Eaters on the wires alongside the track.  The first sign of the Himalayas was when we came into Haldwaldi, a town just 10 minutes away from our stop at Kathogadam. 

It was now midday, and as we stepped off the train at Kathogdam, we could feel the warmth of the sun, but the light also indicated we were now beginning to rise in altitude.  We were met by our driver, and we were now facing a four and a half hour journey to the Khali Estate.  The car set off, into the streets accompanied by the beeps and honks of the car horns.  Getting out of the town was the first challenge, but after some beeps and swerves to miss motor bikes, people and cows we were finally onto a relatively good road through a mountain valley.  As we left Kathogadam, and large Steppe Eagle was disturbed from a tree by the road, and it drifted across the valley.
Every so often we would see monkeys by the side of the road, either Black-faced or Langur monkey, or Red-faced, or Rhesus Macaque, they would move away when the driver beeped his horn at them in the same slow way the humans did.  As you would expect the roads follow rivers and streams in the valleys, and we were following the River Kosi, and we were able to get some good views of the river when we stopped for lunch at the River View Restaurant.

Looking down at the water you could see huge shoals of fish.  These were Mahaseer, a famous coarse fish here in India famed for its fighting qualities, they can grow to become large fish up to a metre long, while these were big they were not quite that big yet.  From where we sat the water didn’t look to be so deep, but we were assured that it was. 
As we ate our first vegetarian lunch we saw a Red-billed Blue Magpie on the far side of the valley, and a Black-chinned Sunbird visited the flowers on the bushes next to the terrace, again frustratingly no camera.

After another couple of hours driving on winding, and bumpy roads we finally arrived at the Khali Estate.  There was a main house, built in colonial times and used by many of the governors and prime ministers of India, including Ghandi.  It has a collection of pods away from the main buildings amongst the pines which serve as cabins, all with windows that look out to the mountains away to the north.  We were met and given tea on the terrace while we were given our induction into the coming walks.

Villageways was set up in 2006 as a response to the Indian Government establishing the Bisar Wildlife Sanctuary.  Whilst the sanctuary took care of the animals by excluding development in the area, and restricting agriculture, it came like a death toll to the villages, and many started to die out.  No electricity was one of the biggest problems, and many villagers gave up and found work and settlement in towns like Almora and Kathogadam.  Villageways gave the villagers the opportunity of another income.  Guest houses were built rudimentary western facilities were included, and village committees were set up to manage them.  At first the villagers were sceptical, who would want to live like this, but people have come, and have enjoyed it.  The number of participating villages has grown, and the number of guides from the villages has increased.  Binsar is now not the only participating area,  as we were to find out, other valley areas such as Saryu, and Pindar have joined in too.

After tea, we settled in to our cabin, and at last I was able to get the camera out, and wander around the grounds.  Movement in the pine trees above us revealed several Langur Monkeys, some of which were quite large.  One did not seem like me, and launched at me leaping down through the trees and onto the roof of a cabin, it was quite intimidating, and I did back off quickly.

We set off down a trail that led out through the pine trees, the dark burnt barks providing quite a dramatic scenery against the dry pine needle covered floor.

There were butterflies moving through, and when they settled they turned out to be Painted Ladies.

The first bird I saw exploded from the ground in front of us, and I watched with anticipation as it flew up into a nearby tree, what was this going to be?  As it called I was surprised I recognised the call, and when I got on it I was disappointed to find it was a Mistle Thrush.  As we walked back to the cabin I was able to get some more pictures of the Langur Monkeys, this time without upsetting them.

The sun was now beginning to set, and the lower light created patterns in the surrounding hills and valleys.  Looking across for the terrace the views were stunning.

I walked around the estae gardens, and came across some Himalayan and Red-vented Bulbuls, and a woodpecker I couldn't identify as it gave the briefest of views.  The Rufous-naped Tit though performed well at the top of a conifer.

I made my way back to the cabin to get ready for dinner, and we then made our way back to the main building.  As we walked back to the terrace we were greeted with a quite lovely scene as the sun set.  The sky was turning pink above the hills, contrasting with the deep blue of the sky.

Finally the sun set, and we made our way to dinner, and after that bed.  As we turned out the lights we wondered what the next day, our first day in the villages would bring.

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