Friday, June 19, 2009

Visiting Chakrata

Summers in Delhi are enough to drive anyone crazy, or to the hills. After trying the former, we decided to do the latter for a weekend. Teaming up with our friend Payal Narain, we spent Jun 12-14 (2009) at Hotel Himalayan Paradise 6 km off the town of Chakrata in the lower Himalayas (6500 ft amsl). This blog recounts some of our memories, along the usual photos of the natural denizens we were able to take.

Hotel H.P. is a quaint, small hotel quite perfect for weekend getaways – far from the madding crowd, peaceful, with very small groups of other tourists, and with trees all around! It is located quite literally on the hillside framed by impressive cliffs and plum trees. (Yes! This is our pitch for the place.)

Hotel Himalayan Paradise

Gorgeous Orange Oakleaf butterflies sunned themselves beside the plum trees, doing their disappearance act by just closing up their wings and resembling a leaf.

The Orange oakleaf - with its wings closed and open

The trees around the hotel bustle with warblers, woodpeckers, scimitar-babblers, green pigeons, flycatchers and bulbuls each morning and evening.

Grey hooded warbler

Wedge-tailed pigeons

Looking from over the terrace, we added nearly 25 species to our list. This included lovely views of the usually skulking Streaked Laughing Thrush!

Streaked laughing thrush

Walking above the down the road from the hotel is an exceedingly rewarding experience for the bird and butterfly watcher. The roadside thistle bristled with flowers bedecked with butterflies of various sizes and colours. Blackveins dominated, though the Arguses and pansies tried their best to fit in.

Great blackvein

Ringed Argus

Chocolate pansy

A resplendent Common Peacock flitted around for a long while distracting us from all else for a while.

Common peacock

Small butterflies that rapidly flitted around – called Skippers – also briefly stayed on these flowers.

Marbled flat

Blooming asters bordered the roads, many with butterflies and bees busily feeding and pollinating. These included smallies collectively called “the blues” despite several having lots of orange on them. How something so small can have so much colour is quite incredible!

Common copper

Sorrel sapphire

Puddles on the road housed territorial blues and skipper butterflies. Pretty flowers bloomed in anticipation of being pollinated.

White-bordered argus

The shrubbery and trees beside the road came alive occasionally with mixed hunting parties of tits, canary-flycatchers, woodpeckers and other birdies.

Black-throated tit

The cliffs across the road had several young Himalayan Griffon vultures, while their parents soared over us seeking carcasses to feed on. It was quite lovely to see three young in a small ledge – Diclofenac had clearly not reached these heights yet.

An adult griffon vulture (light colour) with its
juvenile (dark colour) near their nest on a cliff

An adult griffon vulture looking out for food

One morning, we succumbed to the adventurers in us and decided to take the trek through the forest to the famed Tiger Falls. This required a fairly early start to avoid being baked in the afternoon sun. The forest was mixed with bamboo, oak, rhododendron (that had completed their flowering for the season), pines and other evergreen species. We trekked along a stream on a path that was steep in parts, but was rather pleasant and quite beautiful to walk on. It helped greatly that much of the route was downhill. Small but picturesque waterfalls broke the monotony at frequent intervals.

We passed Jaunsari villages with their characteristic two-storied houses, and women busily planted young rice saplings in anticipation of the rains.

A Jaunsari house

A partial view of a Jaunsari village

Jaunsari women in rice fields

Bird calls broke the morning silence as treepie young called out to parents, quails and the Black Partridge sounded their presence, with a distant Indian Cuckoo providing a perfect bass background. Blackvein butterflies fluttered about almost everywhere. Woodpeckers called noisily from the trees.

lesser yellow-nape woodpecker

Brown-fronted woodpecker

In some parts, black tadpoles stood out on the pale rocks as the water shimmered over them. A Great Crested Kingfisher flashed by offering us a brief but good look. Wonder why kingfishers never eat tadpoles – they appear to be easy pickings just sitting in the water as they were!

Tadpoles in a clear stream

Black Bulbuls called raucously as they veered about in the trees picking up insects and probably some berries.

Black bulbul

The “browns” also made their presence felt – with names like three-ring, five-ring, and wall!

The large three-ring

Himalayan five-ring

Common wall

Several patches of sun-shine streaming through the trees were “taken over” by the Common Punch (photo below). It rose suddenly from its perch if another punch came into its sun-patch, both swirled around for a while until there was a winner that came back to claim the perch.

Common punch

When we reached Tiger Falls, an amazing amount of water still remained despite it being the peak of summer. Damselflies of incredible colour and form perched on vantage points waiting for prey, and to chase away competitors.

A pair of Plumbeous Redstarts - the male brighter than the female - visited their nest on the side of the cliff feeding hungry chicks. We escaped before a large crowd of tourists arrived.

Plumbeous redstart (male)

Plumbeous redstart (female)

We spent much of the left-over time walking the road to and from the hotel. Afternoon rains ensured that the day was never too hot, and that we got our afternoon siesta! More butterflies and many more birds later, it was time to go. All in all, a most refreshing and relaxing vacation!

White-bordered copper

Himalayan bulbul


Holly said...

Very lovely vacation for me, too-Holly from Fresno, CA

lata kittur said...

beautiful -- 'took' me along with you!! Really enjoyed yourselves, didn't you two? Lata.

pasty said...

thanks for posting,
your support makes us better.


Chetan Singh.

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Pradeep Joshi said...

Just saw these pictures.. and got stunned.. thanks for introducing me to these wonderful creatures.. wow!! this world has so much beauty.. wish to see more through your lens-eye. Thanks to both of you.