Friday, 26 April 2013

31st March - Khali Estate to Kathdhara

We were woken early in the morning by bangs and thumps from the room above us, it turned out that the English family we had seen racing around the terrace were in the room above us, and the children were up and resuming their antics of the previous evening.  It forced me to go outside, and I got the first taste of the beauty of dawn here in the mountains.  Looking out of the window I could see the mountain range away to the north.  As I left the cabin the air was clear, and it was cool, but the sun was warm as it filtered through the trees.  I walked along the trail, and when I found a gap in the trees I was able to see wonderful views of the Himalayas away to the north.  The peaks were still very much covered in snow.  It was breath-taking to look at and I just stood and drank it all in.

Looking to the south, the low light of the sun was once again highlighting the valleys, producing once again the torn paper appearance on the horizon.  The trees on the top of the hills appearing like fancy embellishments to the picture

I couldn’t help but be drawn back to the mountains, and as the sun got higher the picture and colours changed.

I even managed to get a full panoramic shot together which captures the magnitude of what I could see, and as a result I couldn't wait to set off walking


I finally moved away from the view, and returned to the cabin to finish packing the bags, and to get ready for breakfast.  After completing these tasks we made our way over to the terrace, where we had coffee, and gazed out over the view.  The birds were now quite active.  Large-billed Crows called as they flew back and forth in front of us, and there was activity around the tennis court, with Mistle Thrushes calling, and a brilliant blue Verditor Flycatcher perched on the fence.  Closer to the terrace a pair of Himalayan Bulbuls entertained us as they perched in the top of the conifers carrying nesting material that they took into a climber close to the breakfast room door.  They look extremely comical birds with their flamboyant crest and up right stance.


Breakfast was as good as last night’s dinner, the porridge being very welcome, and once we had finished we met our guide, and organised the storage of the spare bag, and climbed into the taxi that would take us the short distance to the start of our walk.  We were to have two guides with us, we set off with Raju, and would meet up with the second, Hari along the route.  The taxi took us to a clearing which had a temple, Binsar temple to be exact.  Cattle were being led across the meadow as we got out of the taxi, while above us a Rufous-backed Sibia called.

Along the path we flushed a dove and it flew up into the tree close by.  It was an Oriental Turtle Dove, and it sat nicely in the tree for us.  We were to see many more over the course of the holiday, but this one provided the best photo opportunity. 
A little further on we stopped again to watch some birds in the canopy, easily viewed from the path as we were level with the tops of the trees.  A bird showing flycatcher behaviour was showing quite well, and I managed to get a good view.  It was a male Ultramarine Flycatcher.  It was al ittle dark, and the photograph doesn’t really do the plumage its full justice but you could see the lovely blue on the head and back.
The track came out on to a road, and as we reached a bend we met our second guide, Hari, who was waiting for us.  Hari had the binoculars that were quickly taken from him by Raju, I suspect there was an element of seniority here.  We left the road and followed a trail down through more woodland.  A Rufous –naped Tit performed very well in front of us the behaviour being so like the tits we see in the UK.

We walked on, and came to a clearing, that had wonderful views down into the valley, and across to the village we would be staying in this evening, Kathdhara.


The guest house being the building to the right.


We carried on down the side of the mountain, into the valley.  On rocks in the sun Himalayan Agmas sunned themselves on the rocks.  These are the commonest lizard of the area, we did see many small skinks but they were so quick they were impossible to photograph.  The Agma were very smart lizards with lovely blue spotted fore legs.

All the time as we walked we had seen butterflies everywhere.  The majority of these were whites, and predominantly Indian Cabbage Whites, but every so often we would come across a different species, one of which was the Common Punch, and lovely orange and black spotted individual.


The pine forests were lovely with the light brown of the floor due to the fallen pine needles, and the and as we looked up the sun caught the beautiful pine needles and made them shimmer amongst the lovely lime greens and the vivid blue of the sky. 

We came to a clearing and disturbed some more Mistle Thrushes, and we had our first glimpse of the superb Long-tailed Minivet, a black and orange red bird that just wouldn’t stay still or come close.  The female is almost as striking as the male, with its yellow and blue plumage.  We waited to see if they would oblige, and as we did Raju pointed out the calls of a Crested Serpent Eagle above us, but search as we did we were not able to locate it.


Leaving the clearing we walked though more grassland, and was able to pick out a Grass Yellow butterfly on a small twig.  They were seen everywhere along with the whites, and could be picked out bythe fact that they lacked the black spot of the Clouded Yellows


The path wound its way down into the village, and as we descended we had good views of the village and of the birds and butterflies that surrounded it.  A Grey-streaked laughing Thrush showed very well in the bushes, along with an Oriental White Eye that appeared on a fence wire, and the evaded all efforts to photograph it. 


As we came down to the cultivated fields, we found a lovely Sorrel Sapphire butterfly amongst the sorrel planted alongside the coriander,


and an Indian Copper on the side of the track.


The trail into the village and all the way to the guest house took us past patches of lentils, peas, coriander and other luxurious crops.  When we came onto the terrace of the guest house we were welcomed with a mark on our forehead, and a grain of rice that stuck with us for sometime.

The guest house room was on the lower floor, with the dining room up some very steep stairs.  The shower and toilet facilities were around the corner, and whilst they were “western” they were basic, and you wondered if there was hot water.  Throughout the guest house there was no electricity, and the solar lanterns were charging on the terrace.

We drank tea on the terrace, and at the same time drank in the landscape around us, it was beautiful, the pine trees to the west were lit up by the sun, and behind us the terraces were appearing lime green against the exposed soil.  Away to the east were the hills of surrounding valleys, it was just magical.



As we sat on the terrace both birds and butterflies were all around us, this Red-vented Bulbul was very tame.


and the Large Tortoiseshell butterflies were everywhere.


I decided to move one of the tree stump stools and was amazed to find this scorpion underneath it.


I quickly replaced the stool hoping it would go away, but when I later mentioned it to Raju he looked and it was still there.  He then proceeded to remove it with Helen’s flip flop, but not as I suspected by flattening it, but by moving it away from the terrace.  The scorpion was not impressed though as it was stabbing the flip flop as it was carried away.

After lunch we spent time on the terrace watching the birds and insects, a male Grey Bush Chat


Verditor Flycatcher,

Common Stonechat, possibly Siberian sub species



Finally Oriental White Eye in the rhododendrums


A large Guava Blue Butterfly


Indian Red Admiral


The clouds were now gathering, and in the distance the temple on the top of the hill looked in threat of an act of the gods.


The birds continued to entertain in the trees and bushes surrounding the terrace.
A Common Kestrel

A Brown-fronted Woodpecker


A female Grey Bush Chat looking every bit as special as the male


A Grey Hooded Warbler


An Ashy Drongo



Soon the clouds gave way to rain, some of which turned to hail.  Fortunately this didn’t last too long, and the rain eased and we returned to some sunny spells.  The rain though was responsible for providing us with some wonderful smells.  The surrounding patches were full of coriander, and where the rain drops had hit the leaves it had released the most wonderful scent.  Whenever we smell coriander from now on we will always remember that afternoon after the rain had eased.

When the clouds did allow the sun through it lit up the far valley sides, and at one point picked out the small temple on the top of the ridge.


Our guides had promised us a walk around the village in the afternoon, and when it was clear the chance of rain had gone we set off along the small footpath back into the village.  We passed old houses that were used by the villagers.  The livestock all lived downstairs, while the people used the small rooms at the top of the stairs.  The house doors were all very small in comparison to what we were used to, and the steps extremely large. 

The village houses were scattered around the edge of the valley, and looked down onto the terraces.  Looking back we could see our guest house, with the terraces lit by the evening sun.


There were birds everywhere as we walked between the houses.  A pair of Grey Bush Chats were busy carrying food to a nest probably below us in the scrub.

A Green-backed Tit, looking very much like our own Great Tit showed well on an old tree branch for a while before again disappearing into the scrub. 

As we passed each house were greeted by the owners, and some of the smaller inhabitants were obviously fascinated by us.
We retraced our steps back to the guest house, as we did I had an argument with a local dog and just lived to tell the tale.  The coriander scent was now at its strongest, and a way off to the north through the clouds we could just see the mountains lit up by the setting sun.  Raju suggested walking through the pine forest to a place where we could get a better view so we turned around and set off.  Unfortunately the clouds began to roll back in, and when we got there the view wasn’t as it had been, and it was starting to rain again.  We could still see the mountains though, and it was still very impressive, so I took a few pictures then we turned around and went back to the house.

It was now quite dark, and we spent the time until dinner reading with our torches.  We had been told it would be best to have a shower after dinner which turned out to be a big mistake.  Dinner was very nice though, the food extremely tasty, and there was plenty of it, in fact we had to insist on no more.  Once we had our hot water bottles though we were on our own at 20.00, so we attempted a shower in the dark.  There was no hot water, it was cold only, so we filled a bucket with cold water, and proceeded to have a wash with the torch stuck to the shower room metal door.  After that we got into bed, and went off to sleep at about 21.00.  It was going to be a long, dark night!



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