Saturday, 11 May 2013

6th April – Jhuni to Jaikuni Camp

Throughout the night, dogs kept barking, and did a good job of keeping us awake.  They seemed to be barking from every direction, and at one stage one was right outside the room.  When we mentioned it to the guides they were surprised as they had not heard anything.  We were never to know what they were barking at or for.
The valley here has steep sides, and as a result it takes a time for the sun to get through, what with that and the fact that we were tired, we were not up before dawn this morning.  When we finally did get out of bed the sun was through and lighting up the surrounding fields.  Away in the distance two Cuckoos called, they were Eurasian as the call was so distinctive.

Finally the sun reached the terrace of the guest house, and warmed things up, tea arrived an we sat and watched the day unfold. 

The guest house appeared to be the main throughway of the village, and school children paraded past giggling, and ladies carrying sticks and bedding would struggle through.

The fields were being prepared for the next potato crop, and the soil looked very neat, but all around were little piles of weeds and sticks; with the morning sunshine this produced another compelling landscape.

As with the last few mornings Long-tailed Shrikes appeared in the bushes around the house.  They seem to only turn up in the morning; I have yet to see them in the afternoon.  As yesterday though they looked spectacular in the morning sunshine, and it seemed a pair had a nest in one of the bushes.

A way off in the distance we could hear the now very familiar call of the Great Barbet, I finally located it high in the top of a tree far off, it is amazing how far their calls can travel.  The shrikes had a little run in with a pair of Yellow-billed Blue Magpies, these are almost the same as the red-billed, but with a yellow bill.  A Long-tailed Minivet came close to the house, but again it wasn’t the best of photographs.

Where the sun did get through the high valley sides it would send shards of light that would pick out the trees and rhododendrons on the valley side, producing another lovely scene.

Soon after breakfast we set off for the climb up to the camp.  Tonight we would be staying under canvas at about 3,100 metres above sea level.  Both Yash Pal and Maresh assured us the climb was not as difficult as yesterday’s steps, however the sun was by now quite strong, and with the altitude we took the necessary precautions.
We walked past the school yard, and made our way down slightly towards a stream.  We paused to watch a flock of Striated Laughingthrushes, which are large brown birds with a streaked body, and a crest that they would raise as they called. 

At the stream there was the usual Water Redstarts, both White-capped and Plumbeous, the ere was also a Blue Whistling Thrush that called from the long grass above us up stream. 

The stream fell away down the hill quite steeply, and was an indication of our climb to come.  We were told that Jhuni was at 2,400 metres, and the camp was up at 3,100 metres so we would have to climb 700 metres, and apparently it was going to be easier than yesterday!

We walked on through what seemed like pasture land, and this was confirmed as we came across a mixed flock of goats and sheep.  The path we were taking was of stone, but it wasn’t comfortable walking, so we took a few breaks.  At one of these breaks I found a woodpecker feeding on the grass at the base of a tree.  It was clearly feeding on ants, and was not easy to see, but finally it flew up onto the trunk of a tree, and gave us a nice view.  It was a female Scaly-breasted Woodpecker

When it flew off, it headed towards a small clump of trees, and here we found a male.  Like our green woodpecker, the male has a red head, as do most of the “green” woodpeckers.  But the striking feature of this woodpecker is the black “V” markings on the breast.  This one posed very nicely.

Not only were we treated to the Scaly-breasted Woodpeckers, but another called in the same trees, but this one was black and white, and turned out to be a Himalayan Woodpecker.

As we set off once again there were plenty of small birds in the grass, every so often they we pop up, and you could see they were Rock Buntings, but I couldn’t once again get a clear view to photograph one.
We came through a pair of roughly fashioned gates, and walked through a small village.  The path took us around some fields of wheat, and then back once again into pasture. 

We decided to have a proper rest, and we sat down for a drink, and the opportunity to take in the wonderful views.

Once again away in the distance we could see the red rhododendrons in front of the snow fields on the distant mountains.

Himalayan Griffon Vultures drifted past below where we were sitting, it seemed strange to be looking down on them.  We also watched them behind us in the more normal view of above us.  A Crested Serpent Eagle also called and drifted past.  In the tree under which we were sitting was a small bird, I moved to get a better view, and found an Ultramarine Flycatcher.  It is a lovely blue with a white supercilium.

The time then came to head on, and up the winding path towards the rhododendron woods.  The colours we now varying from the scarlet we had been used to seeing, to warm pinks and even very light pinks.

Another pause for breathe allowed me to get very close to a Verditor Flycatcher, the blurred pink behind it contrasting with the blue of the flycatcher.

It was a very difficult walk, constantly up hill, on a very difficult surface, we would take the chance to walk on the grass when we could.  We both admitted later to having moments when we felt we couldn’t go any further, the altitude, the sun, and the climb took a very heavy toll on us, but we had to keep going, because there was no alternative.
Eventually we reached the top of the path, and there was a small shrine, with bells hanging off it.  The views to the mountains were again spectacular, especially with the rhododendrons in front of them. 

But such a place with beautiful views surely should be treated better.  Where incense has been burned the paper bags in which they came were just thrown about, littering the area.
The path now turned to the west, and we made our way along the ridge.  The trees provided cover from the sun, and it was much cooler, but it was still very hard going.  The guides followed smaller paths, and we wound our way through the trees.  The vultures would continue to appear as we came across opening, perhaps they were aware of how we were feeling.

Breaks in the trees would also allow us some wonderful scenes and views across to the snow covered peaks

A bird calling from the tree turned out to be a nuthatch, and a new one at that, a Kashmir Nuthatch, the white throat confirming the identification.

From the scrub I could hear what I thought to be Common Blackbirds, but they turned out to be White-collared Blackbirds, these had white collars, but sounded so much like the blackbirds we were used to.  They never showed well enough for a photograph, but we did see them around the camp as well later in the afternoon, they are typically a high altitude bird.
There were now small pockets of snow around us as we made our way in and out of the trees.  Finally we came to a clearing, and the decision was taken to have lunch, so we stopped, sat down and got out our Tiffin tins, and once again looked at the wonderful view.

As we set off after lunch we came across a party of three women cutting and collecting firewood, and with them was a dog.  We assumed the dog was with them, but she (the dog) started to walk with us.  She stayed with us for quite a distance sometimes running ahead of us and circling back.  We were walking up towards some scrub, when the dog suddenly stopped and stared into the scrub, and started to behave concerned, and maybe a little frightened.  She would stare into the bush, then turn back and turn around and stare again, finally dropping back and not wanting to walk on. 
We carried on, and when we came across some snow Yash Pal found the footprint, of what he considered to belonged to a Leopard, and it was quite fresh.  Maybe the dog had sensed, or even seen the Leopard, it was not happy about things, and we never saw the dog again.
After making our way through some more patches of snow, we finally came to an opening, and there in front of us were the tents, we had made it!  We sunk into the chairs that had been put our for us, and drank first some orange juice, and then of course tea.  As we did so we took in the amazing view in front of us.  We were so lucky the sky was relatively clear, there was some cloud over the tops of the mountains, but the sun shone brightly.

As we sat watching the scene, streams of butterflies would move past us from east to west, there were whites and clouded yellows, and every so often tortoiseshells.  It was as if they were looking for a place where they could turn north, and make their way through the mountains.  The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in the sun, enjoying the views from all angles.

Watching the distant vultures soar under the peaks and ridges.

And finding a new bird in an Orange-flanked Bush Robin.

It stayed warm in the sunshine, and with the altitude the sun was very strong.  As the sun began to drop in the sky, you could feel it getting cooler, and when the sun was almost down, the clouds would begin to clear above the mountains revealing some of the peaks. 

Gradually the sky to the west turned orange signalling the end of the day, and with it came the cold. 

We prepared ourselves for evening, putting on warmer clothes and hats.  We had made the beds ensuring that there were plenty of blankets.  Dinner was wonderful, keeping up the series of meals we have had on this adventure.  We sat in a small hut with a stove warming us until the hot water bottles arrived and we retired to our tent.  The scene could have been better if there had been a moon to light up the mountains, but in the darkness we could see many, many stars above us.  As your eyes became accustomed to the dark the mountains became visible, the snow peaks standing out.  In the end it became too cold to stand outside, so we zipped up the tent, negotiated the cold water wash, and got into bed, looking forward to the scene that would greet us in the morning.

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