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We reached Janakichatti on a clear and crisply cold December evening at 4pm, about and hour and a half before sunset. Janakichatti is the road head for the trek to Yamunotri, the source of the Yamuna river, and one of the four major centers of Hindu pilgrimage in Uttarakhand (The other three being Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath).
We reached Kheechan by first light and made our way to the terrace of a building next to the “Chugga Ghar” (literally feeding house) in the semi darkness. It was a typical cold and silent pre-dawn of a desert village. After ensuring that we had a good vantage point, Ram Narain, our guide went downstairs to organize tea for everyone. Soon we were enjoying a steaming cup of sweet masala chai (Indian milk tea) and biscuits while we waited.
A tributary of the Sutlej, the Baspa river originates at a point near the tri-junction of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Tibet. It flows due west for about 60 kilometers before joining the Sutlej at Kharcham. This is the Baspa valley.
A part of the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, the Baspa valley lies in the lap of the great Himalayas. Sangla is its largest town, and therefore the Baspa valley is sometimes also referred to as the Sangla valley.
The Bandhavgarh National Park boasts of the highest tiger density in the world. It is also tourist friendly, easily accessible, has good visibility and has well made jungle tracks. In short, it is the best place in the world to see tigers in the wild.
During the last couple of years I have had the good fortune of visiting this park many times. I was photographing the Samode Safari Lodge, Bandhavgarh, and my work involved repeated visits.
I must have made at least 25 jeep safaris into the park during this period. Given the number of safaris and the “highest tiger density in the world” one would be forgiven to think that I would have seen a huge number of tigers during this time. Not true. Seeing tigers is not as easy as seeing their more exhibitionist cousins, the lions. In fact the Indian jungle is very different from the staple diet of the “African Savannah experience” tabled by the TV channels every day.
While in Leh, in September 2011, during a chance meeting with an officer from the Forest Department, I asked him whether it was possible to see wild Argali (Marco Polo sheep, Ovis Ammon) in Ladakh. It won’t be easy, he said, but it is possible. He told me that there was a small population of Marco Polo sheep in the Tso Kar Wildlife Sanctuary. Numbering about 150, this flock lived in the northern regions of the sanctuary. But, he added, the Argali were very shy and difficult to locate. He said it might be a good idea to look around for the Marco Polo sheep in the Tso Kar wildlife sanctuary on the way back to Manali.
I started from Leh at about 8 AM. I was alone, as nobody was ready to join me on this wild goose chase. My plan was to head to Gurudwara Pattharsahib and look for Ladakh Urail (Ovis orientalis vignei). During a chance conversation, a forest officer in Leh had informed me that there were a couple of flocks of Urial (a kind of wild sheep) which lived in the hills near the Gurudwara. The drive from Leh to Pattharsahib takes about an hour. I was there at 9 AM after an uneventful drive.
The Himalayas are one the few truly wild spaces left in the world where one can spend weeks without coming in contact with civilization. I try and escape into the Himalayas for a few months every year. Trekking, mountaineering, birding, observing wild animals or just driving through. Some of the most cherished moments of my life have been in the Himalayas, many in the company of wild creatures, especially birds. These images are mementos of such moments. Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed photographing them …..
I made a short trip to the Spiti valley, in April 2011, before the summer tourist rush started. The plan was to survey the valley for Ibex (Capra Ibex) and Bharal (Pseudois nayaur). If lucky we might get to see some before they started moving to higher altitudes. If not we would at least have the snow covered Spiti valley to ourselves and enjoy the stunning scenery.
We based ourselves in Kaza (at the only hotel that was open) and we spent the days driving around, enjoying and photographing the stunning landscape while on the lookout for wild animals.
It began with a chance meeting in Sarahan with the Divisional Forest Officer, Mr. B.L. Negi. When I told him that I was a keen birder he casually asked whether I would be interested in doing some research on the Western Tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus) ? Off course I would be interested in doing research on the Western Tragopan, I almost shouted. (A PDF of this survey can be downloaded from a link at the end of this post.)
For anyone interested in Himalayan birds the Western Tragopan is like the Holy grail. With less than a thousand breeding pairs left, it is the rarest of five types of Tragopan. It has been voted as one of the top 10 “must see” birds in the world.