My journey along the Himalayan Mountains of Uttarakhand was the most memorable moments of my life. Close to the raw nature, undisturbed and unhindered, it was an exclusive opportunity to connect with my inner self. Often, on the weekends, it used to be a fantastic break from the schedule with a stroll into the Himalayan wild. And every wanderlust that I took, was an encounter full of surprises. I bring to you some of the birds and animals I have seen from up close in the Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve. Some of them were dangerous, some just left their signs, and some often kept a distance, but each left a lasting impression. So off we go…….
The Himalayan Eagle
Also known as the Golden Eagle, these species wander the unreachable corners of the mountains and are the largest of the Himalayan birds. Strong, graceful with sharp paws, they are capable of grabbing and fly off with a small lamb. They fly at an altitude of 10000+ feet and can easily bear the brutal temperature variations of those heights. Their sharp eyes can spot even the most minuscule of the prey from far off. The underside of the wings has a golden band with the edge of the wings dark brown in colour.
This little guy keeps it hidden within the dense bushes of the tropical forest cover of the Himalayas. Though might appear shy, it is swift and brisk in its movements and the climate does not seem to deter its speed. These animals try and keep a low profile and sneak through the woods keeping a close eye on its prey.
They are capable of following their prey up to several kilometres at breakneck speed and often keep an eye on it by climbing up swiftly on the neighbouring up slopes, till it finds a vantage point for its hunting. Though apparently small, their size is their deception and is as lethal as any other inhabitant of the wild Himalayas.
The Himalayan Cats
Smooth, slender, gracious and dangerous; my encounter with this Himalayan inhabitant happened in an unusual way. May of 2010 witnessed an unexpected snowfall and the wild species was forced to come down to a less cold areas. I was on my regular morning stroll with my camera when I got face to face with a cat sitting at a road bend. Probably, it was enjoying the morning sunshine which was coming across the other side of the valley. Both of us least expected this encounter and it stood up suddenly. At first, it moved back, but then, I could see that it was prepared for a hunt. Only 20 feet away from me, now it was my turn to step back. And I started doing that, when in the next moment, another cat came out of nowhere from behind. Now, I was sure that it was my last day.
Suddenly, instead of jumping on me, they took a huge leap and jumped into the valley, without any second thoughts, leaving me amazed. The valleys of Uttarakhand are infamous for their vertical climbs and standing at 10000 feet, I was damn sure there was no way they could have found a footing. I ran towards the edge of the valley to find out. And what I could see was another shock of my life. The duo not only was able to find footing for them, but also, they were literally running down the valley. Within seconds, they were at the bottom of the mountain. I was a rare moment for me and an unforgettable one. A rare species such as this are hunted for by wild life photographers and enthusiasts for weeks, and here I was driving straight into it without any invitation. It was a lucky day for me, both for not being hunted and for being a part of that encounter.
Another splendid species, these animals have the tusk of a bull and speed of an antelope. Do not forget the amazing balancing capacity they have got. They can tip-toe themselves on pointed edges of the highest and unimaginable mountain peaks. Not only that, they jump from one such point to the other with such precision as if they have got nothing to miss. They can make the monkeys shameful at one point with their balancing capabilities. Just like the Himalayan cats, they can gallop down the vertical heights with incredible speeds and without an iota of worries.
From far off, they appear as graceful as the deer as they take long strides and leaps while running, and can be an ideal subject for slow motion photography. They can be usually found in the Himalayas often camouflaged with the surroundings and are visible only after much adaptability with the surroundings. Often trying to feed on the grasslands on the peaks, they are a difficult catch for the other wild species. They try to deter the threat by rolling the stones from the top to bottom as they catch the sounds of any movements. So, it is essential to be careful while moving along the mountain edges on the hill side.
The Himalayan Yeti
Some say, it’s a myth; some say they exist. No matter what the different beliefs are, I was absolutely not in the valleys to look out for Yeti. This has been one of the most amazing of all the Himalayan Encounters I had; I was Just like any normal tourist trying to climb my way into these mystical mountains, my brush not happened with a real Yeti, but its footprints. At first, I thought it must be a bear, but bears do not have feet like human beings, rather their paws are round in shape. But, this foot measuring 18” resembled that of a man, and a long trail, followed from top of the mountain slopes and going down. With massive 2.5 meters wide strides, this giant animal must have been not less than 20’, enough for researchers, scientists and wildlife enthusiasts start getting prepared for a trip to the Uttarakhand Mountains.
Some locals, especially the old ones claim to have seen them, but they have nothing to authenticate the fact. Thanks to my camera that day, I was able to capture the evidence. I could only follow and look up where the trail went; deep into the coniferous forests. I had this weird idea of asking the locals to take me inside the woods, despite being replied with a straight forward ‘No’, yet I took the audacity to ask them. Until today, it remains like the big unanswered question in my heart. What if! a few steps within the woods, someone would be looking at us – waiting to connect! But then I thought, its better it didn’t. Some questions best remain unanswered!!
Someday, I will take another trip to these mountains, though not decided for a right time yet. Someday, Yes, I will take a trip again…