Wednesday, 15 May 2013

10th April – Kharmi to Khali Estate, and on to Nainital

It was another difficult night with dogs barking through most of the night, and the wind picking up towards dawn.  When I finally got up the cloud was cloudy, and in places threatening rain.  Some blue sky to the east provided some hope that it wouldn't ruin the day.

I walked a little way from the kitchen, and sat on the rock I had used the day before to watch the cricket.  In the tree in front of me were Grey-cheeked Warblers, and a Lemon–rumped Warbler.  But one small bird caught my eye, it had a red head, and from my book I identified it as a Chestnut-headed Warbler.
The rain finally came and it fell heavier as we had breakfast, conveniently though the rain eased as we finished eating, and with it came some sunshine so we took our coffee outside to drink.
As we sat there I was surprised to see a larger raptor up above the ridge so early in the day.  The vultures didn’t seem to wake up until about 9.00, this plus the fact there had been no sun to speak off, and therefore no lift to support them.  This was though a large bird cruising the ridge and it demanded some attention.  When I got on to it I was thrilled to see the long diamond tail, it was another Lammergeier, and this time I knew I would have time to get some record shots at least

It continued to fly along the ridge, as Helen called to the others to come and see.

It left the ridge, and drifted across the valley.  The pictures aren’t wonderful but the tail is clear along with the buff under side, and if you look closely the whiskers under the beak.

From the valley it glided back to the ridge, trying to get what lift it could from the sides of the valley and the trees

The flight style reminded me of a Red Kite, bringing the wings into control the height, and using the magnificent diamond tail to control direction.
It was totally unexpected, and great to at least get a record of this charismatic Himalayan bird.  Elated we left the guest house for our final walk of this holiday.  The path took us downhill towards the village centre.  The village was the largest we had visited with up to 500 inhabitants, as we reached the centre we could see shops and businesses which was completely different from the experience of village life we had enjoyed.  The path wound down alongside the river, and through a market place.  As to be expected there were Plumbeous Water Redstarts on the rocks in the river.
We walked through the village and out along a ridge, below us we could see the porters carrying our bags, who was going to reach the taxis first?  The path out of the village went up hill on the side of the valley and we could se Himalayan Griffon Vultures soaring along the ridge.  There was also a good flock of swifts, probably looking to feed on the insects brought down by the early morning rain.  These were Himalayan Swiftlets, but were to fast and distant to be captured through the camera.  In a garden alongside our trail a Yellow-billed Blue Magpie posed nicely for me, at last I had managed to capture the other species.

We met the taxi close to the local school.  The children were all outside, and I signalled to see if it was alright to take a picture, I got the OK and took some, but just as the children all stood up to wave, I was disturbed by a man, who was later described as lets say the local interesting character, and I didn’t get the picture.  This still shows then enjoying school, all in their immaculate uniforms
Both us and the guides left the village and made our way along a very bumpy and winding road.  Finally the rive we were following met the Sarju River and the road improved.  Along the way we would have glimpses of birds, but the only ones I could identify were the Barn and Red-rumped Swallows.  Very soon we were on the road we had driven on to get to Supi, and when we came upon the town of Kapot we left the guides, who were off back to Supi to do the walks all over again.
We continued on to Bageshwar, where we stopped so that I could visit an ATM.  It was no different from the last time we had driven through the town, trucks, cars and bikes seemed to have their own agendas, and worked independent of any road laws or basic safety. 

That said it was exhilarating and fun, as we negotiated our way through the town streets.

It was also amazing to see some of the building projects, this first floor being held up by many tree branches

We followed the Gomti River out of Bageshwar, and as we drove alongside the river Helen pointed out Crested Kingfisher, and several Indian Cormorants on the rocks in the middle of the water.  We reached the Khali Estate at 13.00 and were shown to a room where we could “freshen up”.  We chose to return to the terrace where we had tea while enjoying the sunshine.  We also were given the opportunity to feedback to the Villageways team our experiences and thoughts over the course of our time with the guides and villages.
After a very nice lunch we sorted out our bags , including those we had left at Khali, and we then met our next taxi for the drive to Nainital.  We left Khali at 15.00, and disspointingly we were probably not going to reach our hotel until around 18.00.
The journey took us along much of the route we had travel eleven days before on the way to Khali, going past the River View restaurant, and following much of the River Kosi.  One bird that stood out just before we reached Nainital was the unmistakable long white tail feathers of an Asian Paradise Flycatcher.
We approached Nainital through the slum area, old shacks with tin roofs and lots and lots of rubbish attracted Black Kite, but as we crested a hill we came along a road that bordered the lake.  Nainital is set in a valley containing a pear-shaped lake, approximately two miles in circumference, and surrounded by mountains.  Nainital is popular in the summer when the population increases more than fivefold with an annual influx of tourists predominantly from the plains of northern India, mainly Delhi escaping the heat for the temperate conditions.  Tourism is the most significant segment of the Nainital's economy, the eye-shaped lake is a tourist hotspot and acts as a magnet for all those visiting the hill resort. Here, a person can either take a leisurely stroll or indulge in boating and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
As we drove along the road by the side of the lake we passed bicycles and on the lake huge white swan paddle boats and the side of the road was the usual chaos of noise and people.  To us it seemed a bit like Blackpool or Southend

The taxi driver had a little difficulty in finding the hotel, but eventually we arrived, and were immediately transported back into the twenty first century.  The room was lovely, and we spent the time sorting our bags out, then we had a hot (yes hot!) shower, and finally we made our way to the bar, where we enjoyed a cold beer and wine before dinner.  It was nice to be back around the way of life we were used to, but at the same time we felt so honoured to have experienced what we had over the last ten days.  The people who had looked after us, fed us and helped us had nothing like this or what we were used to, but they were happy, so happy.  It had been such a humbling experience, and one that I know both of us have been privileged to experience.
That evening there was no hot water bottle, just a lovely soft bed….but if you asked us if we would do it all again?  Most certainly!

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