Wednesday, 1 May 2013

1st April - Kathdhara to Gonap

The night was long, but we managed to get through it without the need to leave the room more than once.  At one stage it looked bright outside, and I thought it was dawn, but when I checked my watch it said 1.15; the light was coming from a very bright moon, and a now clear sky.  I went back to bed.  At about 5.30 I was awake again, and could see a feint light through the shutters.  I decided I had to get up now, and opened the door and slipped outside.  It was at this point I realised why we were doing this, and that we had to endure the long nights to be able to take in the beautiful mornings. 

The sun wasn’t up, but the sky was pink on the horizon, and the distant hills appeared different shades of greys against each other.  The scene gradually changed until the first glimpses of the sun came over the hill tops, and the sky turned to a wonderful orange.

As the sun moved higher into the sky it sent light through the pine forests and across the fields turning the forest and crops to colour, and giving a golden glow to the edges of the buildings and the branches. 
With the sunshine, and the warmth came the bird song, and plenty of activity around the guest house.  Mynahs called from the wires, and could be seen dropping down into the open fields.  Russet Sparrows would call from the trees and overhead wires, their orange heads and backs standing out in the sunshine.  They had nests in the guest house roof.

Yesterday and today was a religious day in the village, and everybody was coming together to celebrate.  Drums were beat out loud, and a big fire was lit on one of the terraces.  After breakfast we set off for the journey to our next village.  On the way were going to walk to Zero Point, a site known to be the highest in the area, and one that commands wonderful views of the Himalayan Mountains.  Yesterday’s afternoon rain had cleared the rain, and the guides told us enthusiastically that we should expect some very good views this morning.
As we left the guest house we came across a Yellow Bellied Greenfinch in the bushes.

As we took the path out of the village back along the route we had come in the day before, the drums were banging out, and the villagers were collecting wood for the fire.

It was a beautiful clear sunny day, and even at 08.00 you could feel the warmth of the sun as we walked. 

Along the path we saw Slaty headed Parakeets, and Long-tailed Minivets.  The first new bird we found was a male Grey-winged Blackbird, much like our own European blackbird, but with a grey patch on the tertiary and secondary wing feathers.

Away from the blackbird we came across a Chestnut-breasted Nuthatch, which gave some lovely views as it manoeuvred along the underside of the tree branch.  The breast is a very deep chestnut colour and follows the whole underside of the body. 

We stopped a little further on to watch a pair of Long-tailed Minivets, the male is a gorgeous looking bird, with orange red body and tail feathers contrasting with the black wings.  The female, whilst not the same as the male is a lovely yellow and blue.  Unfortunately they were a distance off, and they would not keep still, hopefully there will be other chances.  As we pulled ourselves away from the lovely Minivets, Raju pointed out an equally impressive Chestnut Bellied Rock Thrush on the other side of the path.

The path returned us to the opening where yesterday we had looked down on to the guest house at Kathdhara.  This morning a White-tailed Nuthatch was calling from the top of a dead tree, and was being answered by another a short distance away.  We checked this bird quite closely, because the nuthatches can look similar.  If you look you will see the white under tail coverts.

The trail now moved away from the route of yesterday, and we started to head up hill through an open patch of grassland.  As we did so a Himalayan Griffon Vulture drifted into view, and then gradually glided over towards us and then low over our heads.  It was so low I was almost unable to get all the bird in the frame.  The Himalayan Griffons are the largest of the Indian Vultures, and are unmistakable in flight.

As we made our way up the steep slope, Raju indicated for us to be quiet as all around were signs of Wild Boar, and he had seen them in this area before.  We didn’t see any, but we were treated to an aerial display by a pair of swifts.  I thought at first they were needletails, but when I viewed the images I could see that they were in fact Alpine Swifts.

The climb was difficult, and the altitude was having an effect.  The guides of course barely broke stride.  As we took the chance to rest, butterflies, mostly whites flew past us.  The path finally and disappointingly came to a road.  We had believed this was a walk and climb, and felt others were cheating by driving up.  On the other hand it was nice to walk along a relatively level road after the challenge of the previous climb.  The main reason for the road was that there was a hotel up here, and we walked past, and off the road back onto a trail.  We were now able to get our first views of the mountains, and the guides were right, it was wonderfully clear and the views stunning.

We were now walking through a Rhododendron forest, with scarlet flowers around us.  Some of the trees were as high as oaks, and it was difficult to imagine these plants as the decorative bushes we get at home.  Vultures could actually be seen soaring below us

The path went up and down, but finally we came to a small building with steps leading up, this was Zero Point, and it looked out across the valley to the north and the Indian Himalayan mountain range.  The term "Himalaya" means "the Abode of Snow" -- was coined by the Indian pilgrims who travelled in these mountains in ancient times. For centuries, the inhabitants of India have been fascinated by this mountain chain. The feeling is a mixture of admiration, awe and fear; and for the Hindus of India, the Himalayas are also "the Abode of God". There are numerous pilgrim routes that have brought the Hindu pilgrims to these mountains since time immemorial, and is one of the many reasons why there are so many small temples in this area.  From Left to right it went from Tirsuli, Maiktoli, Nanda Devi, the highest at 7,816 metres, Nanda Khatt, Nanda Devi East, Nanda Kot and finally the range of what I like to think of as crocodile teeth, the Panchchuli range.

Zero Point is about 2,500 metres high, and is one of the highest points around the area.  Zero Point is a name given to the highest points reached on many of the mountain trails, and there would be several reached over the course of our time here in India. 
The mountain tops were clear against the deep blue sky, Nanda Devi.

The view stretched out across the many valleys and the guides pointed out where the tented camp was that we would be staying in when we move to the next valley.

By the time we were ready to leave there were quite a few butterflies passing through, still mostly whites, however this Indian Fritillary stood out. 

We headed back along the path we had just climbed, and made our way back to the hotel, where we turned north, and started heading downhill.  The forest was now very quiet, and there was very little activity.  We continued down, having to sue walking sticks for the first time to help.  The path past into Pine Forest, and as we came to a turn, we paused to watch a Bar-tailed Treecreeper and a Himalayan Woodpecker in a tree in front of us. 

As is always the way when you stop for one bird, others come out too, and very quickly a pair of Pipits could be heard calling from the surrounding pine trees.  When we finally managed to find them we identified them as Rosy Pipits, the breast having a pink flush, although it is not clear in this picture.

The path into the village was bordered by bushes with white flowers, that were a big attraction to the butterflies, again mainly whites, but I was able to find this Indian Fritillary, and able to see the under wing, which is as equally impressive as the upper.

A small blue butterfly was also present, this is a Cupid, and was very delicate blue on the under wing.

As we were enjoying our welcome tea, a large swallow tail butterfly flew around us, finally settling on a tree.  It is a Common peacock, although completely different from our peacock.  The blues were iridescent as the wing caught the sunshine, a truly gorgeous, but as it turned out quite common butterfly.

We spent the afternoon after lunch sitting on the terrace enjoying the sunshine, and the view across the valley, while catching up on our notes. 

There was plenty of activity, with women in the fields, and children running between the village houses.  At one point we witnessed a swarm of bees coming out of one of the houses hives.  In order to ensure they did not occupy another hive in the wall, the owner covered up the hole with a basket, and seemed totally oblivious to the danger of stings from the bees.

Late afternoon we went for a walk around the village, to meet the inhabitants.  We were invited into one home, where one of the ladies had a nine day old baby, this tiny little mite just looked around as it was held by its mother.  All the young children had come to visit to meet their new neighbour.  The rooms were very small with low ceilings and very low entrances, but everyone was in good spirits.
In the trees from the houses I saw a pair of Plum-headed Parakeets, they gradually moved closer together before grasping beaks.

In the fields away from the houses a Siberian Stonechat called from a spike of vegetation.

We came across an area of waste ground, and this was a big attraction to a group of Red-billed magpies, Black-headed Jays and several Ashy Drongos.
I am not sure what the attraction was on the ground, possibly insects, but it proved a major attraction to all the birds. 

The Drongos would wait in the trees, then fly down and buzz the jays and Magpies, while the Magpies would alternate between the trees and the ground. 

After a while the magpies were joined by a Spotted Dove, and a pair of Black Bulbuls.

All of a sudden the drongos went crazy, calling out and flying around, just as if there was a predator in the area, but we couldn’t see anything, and after a time things calmed back down.
We gradually made our way back to the guest house, but with one final stop to have a conversation with our closest neighbour.  He was interested in where we were from, our family, and he asked these questions in English.  When we told him where we were going he became interested and told the guides something.  He then called out to his nearest neighbour across the valley, and then turned his head to listen to the answer shouted back.  The telephone system worked well, and it transpired that his neighbour that day had lost two goat kids to a leopard.  Maybe the drongos had been upset about a leopard close by, we will never know.
After sunset, the dark came quickly again, and with it some cool winds, but we had showered in the afternoon, so once dinner was over, and it was very nice, we took our hot water bottle and retired to bed at 20.30!

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