Dachigam National Park – Snactuary to the rare Hangul
The scenic splendour of Kashmir has always drawn tourists. naturalists and trekkers from all over the world to the region. Conifers such as Blue Pine. Chinar and junipers, and oaks. willows. poplars and birch create vibrant colours that change with the seasons Autumn (fall) arrives with brilliant russet shades The gold and crimson-red of the Chinar’s foliage. in particular, and the sunlight filtering through the leaves of these forest trees while crystal-clear streams gush down from upper ridges create a magnificent vista.
Srinagar a city in north India and the gateway to many major trekking routes in the Himalaya is the capital of the state of Kashmir and Jammu_ Dal lake, situated in the northeast of Srinagar, is fed by Dachigam’s Daghwan River.
The national park is roughly rectangular in shape. With a length of 23 kilometres (14 miles) and a width of 8 kilometres (5 miles), its total area is 142 square kilometres (55 square miles). Dachigam National Park was proclaimed a sanctuary in 1951, and it was upgraded to national park status in 1981.
The park consists of two sectors: Upper Dachigam, which lies in the higher reaches on the eastern side and makes up two-thirds of the entire area, and Lower Dachigam in the west. The beautiful Daghwan River flows across Lower Dachigam through a shrub-covered rocky ravine. Mulberry trees, willows and oaks are pre-Dachigatn Loat-bra-am Draphama Rest House Pahitpora dominant in Dachigam’s lower reaches, an area of thick undergrowth, while Blue Pine, juniper and birch and thinning undergrowth exist in the upper region. Several fire lines exist, and these are cleared every March, helping increase visibility of wildlife in the park.
Where the Hangul roam
Dachigam harbours the last, rare herds of the Kashmir Stag. known locally as Hangul Related to the Red Deer of Europe, the Hangul’s name is derived from the local chestnut, called iron in Kashmir Hangul are characterized by their branched antlers and the white patch their rump. When autumn is behind them, the Hangul deer leave upper Dachigam (they migrate here every summer to graze). Returning to the Lower Dachigam forest in winter for their rutting season, the calls of the males reverberate through the area.
Their calls serve to reinforce the male hierarchy, and the stags can often be seen confronting one another. It has been established that the larger males gather and mate with the females before moving on to the slightly higher slopes to rest and feed.
Sighting the Hangul herds is best during the onset of winter when they range in the Lower Dachigam in the more protected valleys, sheltering from the cold, snows upper reaches. It is also a time when Leopard move down to the lower zones to prey on the deer. Feral dogs too, pose a great threat to the Hangul.
During spring, male Kashmir Stags can be spotted returning to the upper reaches, after which they are rarely seen. They drop their thinned antlers, and soon the new, velvety growth on their head begins. The female Hangul give birth to their fawns in May and June. Thereafter, they are also nowhere to be seen in Lower Dachigam as they join the males in the upper tracts
for the summer.
No official record exists of the exact number of Hangul; unofficially, nearly 2000 of these animals survived in 1947. However, subsequent years marked a sharp decline in the count, and in 1954 it revealed that there were only 300 deer remaining in the park. Despite the national park theoretically providing protection for the deer, non-implementation of effective conservation methods subsequently brought the count down to 10 within a decade. Effective measures have since been implemented to protect this species, and these have led to a consequent rise in population.
Himalayan goats and bears
Dachigam sustains 20 species of mammal and 150 species of bird. Brown Bear have made the Upper Dachigam their habitat, although sightings of these animals are very rare. They are occasionally reported by graziers who pass through these areas in summer, bringing thousands of sheep and goats to feed on the lush green pastures which border the course of the Daghwan River, flowing down from the Marsar lake. The graziers are presently causing a thinning of the pine forests, as they use these trees to build their shelters.
The Himalayan Black Bear is also resident of the area; when the acorns ripen in autumn during the month of September, these bears can be seen wandering in the park. Along with the wild Himalayan goat spices Markhor and the rare Musk Deer, another visible species is the Himalayan Marmot, a member of the squirrel family which has its burrows in the pristine flower pastures of the higher elevations (4000 to 5000 metres; 13,000 to 18,000 feet). Before their long winter hibernation, the marmots loud screeching sound can clearly be heard echoing across the valleys.
The sole predator in this Himalayan paradise Leopard (Panther). There was a single report by Holloway in the 1970s that its cousin, the pale, elusive Snow Leopard, had been spotted, but since then there have been no further sightings, and the report has been discounted. The Hangul carcasses left by Leopard are devoured by the park’s scavengers – Himalayan Black Bear, Indian Wild Boar, Jackal and foxes – while the park’s herbivores, the grey-coated Common Langur, scamper about in happy groups.
Lower Dachigarn is an ornithologist’s paradise: among its many recorded species are colourful pheasants such as the Crimson Tragopan, the Monal, and the Blood and Koklass Pheasant. Gilding overhead is Golden Eagle and Lammergeier (or Bearded Vulture) while Western Yellovv-billed Blue Magpie, White-cheeked Bulbul, Paradise and Red-breasted Flycatcher, and Kashmir White-browed Rose Finch join Kashmir Black Redstart, Kashmir House Sparrow, starlings, and wrens in the dense treetops.
Location: In Hu valley of Kashmir, Western Himalayas. Palk is relatively close to Srinagar (The nearest airport), 22Km (14 miles) away. Jammu (200km: 125 miles) is the nearest railhead.
Climate: In Upper Dachigam, minimum winter temperatures are 0-10°C (14°F), bringing snowfall; winter maximum is 4°C (39°F). Lower Dachiganl experiences winter lows of 10°C (50°F) and summer highs of 20°C (68°F).
When to go: Best time to visit Upper Dachigam is April to June (summer), Lower Dachigam between September and December (autumn/winter).
Getting there: Bus services very irregular; visitors should hire a car in Srinagar and take the metalled (asphalt) road from Srinagar into Lower Dachigam. Upper Dachigam National Park is best explored on foot, via several good trekking trails.
Facilities: Srinagar has many good houseboats on the Dal and Nagin lakes. Deluxe hotels include Grand Palace Intercontinental, Broadway, Green View, Mount View, New White House and Shah Abbas. No camp-ing huts along Upper Dachigam’s trekking routes; it is advisable to carry a portable tent.
Wildlife: Kashmir Stag (winter), Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Brown Bear, Serow, and Musk Deer. Extremely varied birdlife.
Precautions: Blankets and woollen clothes essential in winter.
Permits and reservations: For permits: contact Chief Wildlife Warden in Srinagar. For accommodation: The Tourist Officer, Tourist Office of Jammu and Kashmir, Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar-190001.
Special precautions: In recent years political militancy has spread through Kashmir and it is advisable to seek local advice before visiting.