The Himalayan range is one of the most fascinating and spectacular natural wonders on earth as the highest, youngest & largest chain of mountains in the world. It is one of the richest stores of animal life. For instance, it is remarkable that almost one third of the world's mammalian species that may be called true mountain animals are native to these mountains.
Jammu and Kashmir with its variety of geographical regions, climates and vegetation has many delights to offer the wildlife enthusiast. Perhaps no animal better epitomises the character and concerns of the mountain environment than the snow leopard, a beautiful and elusive survivor from the frigid Pleistocene era. Though its range is immense, extending over the entire Himalayan range, it is most advantageously sought in Jammu and Kashmir especially in the high ranges. Another rare animal is the Hangul or Kashmir stag, one of the most endangered species of red deer in the world.
The most scenic park in Jammu and Kashmir, Dachigam is popular for the endangered Hangul or the Kashmir stag- the only species of red deer to be found in India. The actual beauty of the park lies in the deep valleys, rocky outcrops, steep wooded slopes and rolling alpine pastures. Dachigam is a well known habitat for the Hangul (Kashmir Stag). They can be easily spotted in winters, when they hang out in the lower valleys. Other inhabitants at Dachigam are Musk deer, Brown Bear, Leopards, Jungle Cats, Himalayan black bear, and a few species of wild goat like the markhor and ibex.
As per the information shared by Altaf Hussain, Wildlife Warden central division the Hangul population in Dachigam is increased now as compared to previous years and population is very much stable due to which 8-9 % increased has been seen in 2022 but the real census will be held in February, 2023.
Also a wild care hospital with operation, Doppler machine, USG and genetic research will soon be inaugurated as all the procured machinery has been established in Dachigam and it will be a gateway for all the major research work with regard to wild flora and fauna.
One can also spot numerous rare birds like Black Bulbuls, Cinnamon sparrows, Himalayan Monals, Kashmir Flycatcher, and Colourful pheasants including the crimson tragopan, the iridescent monal pheasant, the blood pheasant and the koklass pheasant. Apart from this, the golden eagle and the bearded vulture or lammergeier can be seen flying higher in the sky.
Coming to the flora category, Dachigam national Park is extremely rich in Wild Cherry, Pear, Plum, Peach, Apple, Apricot, Walnut, Chestnut, Oak, Willow, Poplar, Chinar, Birch, Pine and Elm.
Initially, the park was created to supply clean drinking water to Srinagar. Later it was converted to a protected area in 1910. 'Dachigam' literally means “Ten Villages”, which stands for the number of villages that were relocated to facilitate its creation. Dachigam was declared a National Park in 1981 and since then it has been home to many rare species of animals within its premises.
The place is well connected by road from Srinagar. A 10 km long road runs through the lower area but the only way to visit most of the park is on foot. A few accommodation facilities are available inside the park as well. The ideal time to visit the upper Dachigam is May to August, while for lower Dachigam it is September to December.
The entire appearance of park changes with every season. The park adorns a white cloak of snow in the winters. Spring highlights the greenery of the park in contrast with the snow clad peaks. Blossoming flowers and fruit trees form the major attraction of the park in spring. Summer melts the snow to unveil waterfalls and streams. As autumn approaches, leaves of trees turn to bright shades of red, gold, yellow and orange. Dachigam National Park stays unpolluted and colourful throughout the year.
The park boasts of over 500 species of herbs, 50 species of trees and about 20 species of shrubs. Besides Hangul, Dachigam is also famous for its populations of musk deer, leopard, Himalayan Grey Langur, leopard cat, Himalayan Black Bear, yellow-throated marten among others. It’s a paradise for bird watchers. Himalayan monal, golden oriole, pygmy owlet, koklass pheasant, Kashmir flycatcher, Tytler’s leaf warbler, streaked laughingthrush, Himalayan rubythroat and many other species can be found at Dachigam.
Wildlife enthusiasts believe that one visit to Dachigam is not enough to enjoy the natural beauty of the forest since the park changes its appearance with the onset of each season. The autumn rutting of Hangul should not be missed. Fierce male competition for mating characterizes the rutting season and the forest echoes with the mating calls of the deer.
In winter high-altitude bird species move to the lower valleys and into the tourist's purview. Cinnamon sparrows, the black and yellow grosbeak, black bulbuls and Monal Pheasants (the male splendidly coloured) may be seen now. At this time, too large troops of the impressive Himalayan gray Langur visit for the duration.
But nothing strikes the eye and imagination so much as in spring and summer, when the long foothills and deep valleys awake to life. Now also awakes the imposing Himalayan black bear and as the winter avifauna return to higher quarters the birds of the summer return. Among these is the lovely golden oriole. The Langurs and Hangful, too make their way to higher valleys that are not however inaccessible.
Though wildlife conservation in Ladakh began fairly recently, Ladakh's ecosystem, lying at the confluence of three zoogeographic zones, is fascinating and uniquely varied. A dozen important mammals and over 100 species of birds make their home in the rugged terrain most of them, though endangered or rare.
(The author is a regular columnist and can be mailed at email@example.com)