Beautiful Rosefinches (Carpodacus pulcherrimus)
Acrylic on canvas 18″ x 24″
Beautiful Rosefinches (Carpodacus pulcherrimus)
Acrylic on canvas 18″ x 24″
Almost a decade ago, in 2006, I, along with a Danish friend, made a series of exploratory treks into the remote Himalayan jungles of the Daranghati Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh. We were conducting a preliminary survey for the presence of the elusive and rare Western Tragopan. The locals call the Western Tragopan the Jujurana or the king of birds (Juju = bird and rana = king), in my opinion a much more appropriate name for such a regal bird.
In all we must have spent about a month in the mountains. It was tough but it was also one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. You can read a more detailed write-up about those treks here http://somendras.com/?p=283 .
We were birding around Kaza, in the Spiti valley, on a clear and sunny afternoon late in September. Despite the sun, there was a chill in the air. It was late in the “season”, and the bird activity had slowed down substantially. Most migrants had already left for their winter abode. There were patches of ice on the stream, the night temperatures were already dipping below the freezing point.
During the initial days of the Raj, Britishers were not allowed to buy land in Kumaon. In 1827, a Dr. Royale petitioned the British Government to allot a vast area of non-farming land in Kumaon to Europeans for tea gardening. In 1837 the British Parliament passed a bill allowing Europeans to keep private property in India and Lord Baton, the then commissioner of Kumaon ordered that hilltops with suitable climatic and soil conditions be given free of cost to Britishers for tea gardening as some people had found tea plants growing naturally in these areas. Thus started the tea gardens of Kumaon.
Chitkul, the last village in the Baspa valley, is a birdwatchers’ paradise. It is one of the few places in the western Himalayas that are higher than 3000m and are still accessible by road. To top it all, it is located in the Raksham-Chitkul wildlife sanctuary.
I have spent a lot of time birding in the areas around Chitkul. The Pink-browed Rosefinch (Carpodacus rodochrous) is a common but very beautiful bird of this region. I have spent hours observing this bird in and around Chitkul. This painting is inspired by a sighting of a male on a dry bush. In this painting I have tried to capture the experience of seeing such a beautiful bird while alone in the wilderness of the Himalayas. Hope you enjoy it.
It was early in the season. We were climbing a steep trail near Chitkul in the Baspa valley on a clear day. A cool crisp breeze was flowing. The landscape was waking up from its winter slumber, and getting ready for the summer. Snow was still lying in the spots protected from the sun but in the sunny patches flowers were blooming.
My fascination with rushing torrents shows no signs of abating! What better place to photograph fast moving streams of water than the mighty Himalayas. During my trips to the Himalayas I always stop and try to capture the essence of the innumerable streams rushing down from the heights. This is the second collection of images of Rushing Torrents. The images were captured on my visits to the Himalayas in the last couple of years. I find them quite moving!
I saw this male White-bellied Redstart (Hodgsonius phaenicuroides) near Chitkul in the Baspa valley, Himachal Pradesh. It was skulking in the undergrowth, rummaging about in the dampness for insects. It would give fleeting glimpses and then disappear back into the shrubbery. I decided to sit very still and wait patiently.
It was a crispy cold December day. I was on an assignment, to photograph the Forest Rest Houses of Uttarakhand. After photographing the Janaki Chatti Forest Rest House I had decided to trek up to Yamunotri. Although the pilgrimage season was over and the shrine would be closed, I was curious to visit the source of the mighty Yamuna.
After a long and steady walk I was at the highest point of the trail. The track passes through a very old oak forest, crosses a ridge and then descends to the Yamunotri shrine. The forest was silent and the birding had been quite slow.
It was the beginning of the monsoon season. We were birding along the Taluka – Naitwar road, a few kilometers from the Naitwar village, in the Govind National Park (Uttarakhand). Birding was slow, possibly due to the intermittent showers we had been having throughout the day. We were walking along a stretch of the road that travels through a nice broadleaved forest. The shade of the great trees made the forest floor quite dark.
Our car was nearing Khab, a small village at the point where the Spiti river meets the mighty Sutlej river, while on our way back from a long visit to the Spiti valley. We were driving through some of most treacherous roads in India in my Alto (a small 800cc car). I was on the driving seat, concentrating on the road, which wound along a narrow gorge far above the Spiti river.
Suddenly a Chukar (Alectoris chukar) ran down the hillside, crossed the road and paused at the edge. The car was slow and I managed to stop it without startling the bird. Although we were quite close, the Chukar stood very still and looked back at us enquiringly. I bought my camera up very carefully and managed to take a photograph before it jumped off the edge of the road and glided down to some rocks far below us.
In May 2004, on a sudden whim, I signed up for the Basic Mountaineering Course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling (HMI). In retrospect, it was a great decision. Although I was well past my prime, I was older than most of my batch, I was also physically quite fit and very keen. I enjoyed the course and I have very fond memories of the time I spent at HMI.
While reorganising the images stored in my backup disks I stumbled upon these pictures from a long and leisurely road trip across the Kumaon Himalayas.
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).
While traveling in the Himalayas one is never very far from flowing water; every valley has a river, even the smallest have their own personal streams. The sound of flowing water, be it the soft murmur of a brook, the conversational babble of a stream or the full-throated roar of a waterfall, is a constant companion.
This trek was the result of another off beat assignment. I was asked by a relative, who is also a publisher, whether I would be interested in working on a coffee table book covering the Forest Rest Houses of Uttarakhand. I jumped at the opportunity and volunteered to shoot the remote and less accessible Forest Rest Houses (FRHs). The first trip was to the Northwestern regions of Garhwal and the trek to Har-ki-dun was a part it.
A chance conversation with a friend resulted in a short visit to Darjeeling, the “Queen of the Hills”. The idea was to commemorate a course I had attended at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling many years ago. Because of the incessant monsoon rains early September is not a good time to visit Darjeeling. But as we this was the only time slot available I decided to chance it.
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.
It was late in September 2011. I was in Leh on a dream assignment. The assignment was open ended. I was to make my own itinerary and travel to places of my choice at my own pace. The idea was to make a nice portfolio of images from Ladakh. I was alone in my trusty Bolero 4×4 jeeep and I had already covered the main Indus valley and the Nubra valley.
I was planning to leave for Zanskar when, I came to know that my friend Tribhuvan was in Leh. We met at his favourite restaurant for dinner. When he told me that he and his friend, Charles, were also planning to go to Zanskar, I proposed a joint “expedition” to Zansakar.
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.
During the Everest base camp – Kalapathar top trek we were treated to two spectacular sunsets. This gallery contains images captured on these two evenings. According to our guide, spectacular sunsets on Everest are quite rare. The best time for a good sunset is late November or early March.
We witnessed the first sunset while at Lobuche. We had reached Lobuche well in time and after checking into our hotel, we had gone for a short walk towards the Khumbu glacier. After the walk we had almost reached Lobuche again when the sky suddenly cleared up and as the sun went down it gave us a fine display of alpenglow on Nuptse and Pumori. The second grand sunset happened when we were at the Kalapathar top.
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.
In November 2010 I went on a trek to the Kalapathar top near the Everest base camp. The path winds up through some amazing high altitude scenery to one of the best view points in the Himalayas, the Kalapathar top. The trek was not very difficult. If you love mountains and are reasonably fit this is a “must do” trek.
I am posting a brief travelogue of this trek in this post. You can also download a Google Earth kmz file containing the treking routes and locations mentioned in this post from a link at the end of the post.