Saturday, June 2, 2007
Dachigam National Park,Kashmir
Trip to Dachigam National Park, Srinagar August 2006
- Susan Sharma
Just like Maharashtra has a national park right next to its capital Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir has a national park within Srinagar, just a couple of km from the heart of Srinagar. Dachigam is famous for protecting the last few numbers of Hangul deer in the wild. Seeing a wild hangul was on top of my list when I visited Srinagar in August 2006.
August 15, Independence Day, was just a day away. The Indian Army was out patrolling, with an armed gunman at almost every 100 meters or so. Going to Dachigam meant organizing passes and special permissions, which the owner of the houseboat we stayed in gracefully organized. So we set off to see hangul and black bear both of which are famous residents of the Park. Just as we entered the park we saw a group of grey langurs, again endemic to this forest jumping about in the trees. On closer look these langurs did look different from the langurs we see in Delhi; much bigger and indeed, grey. I was happy that no one including the forest guard and the army person who accompanied us objected to my using the video camera.
Next stop was an enclosure where the forest officials had rescued a baby black bear whose mother had been killed (probably by angry villagers whose crops the bear raid often). This small fellow was trying eat rotis and drink milk provided in a pan. I could have taken a photo but did not. Somehow the idea of photographing a deprived baby black bear in a cage right inside a national park did not appeal to me. (My camera bag refused to open for the leopards caged inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai too).
Suddenly we were told to keep away all cameras as we were entering a high security zone- permission to enter this area was difficult to obtain-Mr. Chapri our host informed us. Our group consisted of my husband, son and a French couple. ALL OF US WERE CURIOUS-MAY BE WE ARE GOING TO SEE THE PROTECTED HANGUL FINALLY!
Our ‘Qualis’ entered a huge gate to reveal a beautifully maintained villa and park-the winter residence of the erstwhile Prime Ministers of India. We were told this was the private house to which Indira Gandhi retreated when she wanted privacy. The outside of the building was paneled with oak tree logs. The garden had huge trees. A very peaceful place –right inside the Dachigam National Park!
What about the hanguls we asked. The forest guard replied that one has to climb up to much higher altitudes to see them and all those areas are now out of bounds thanks to militancy. He assured us that in higher altitudes there were black bears and Himalayan Monals in plenty- but the area is infested with militants and none is allowed to go trekking.
I had seen a documentary on the demilitarized zone of South and North Korea. The film showed how the DMZ protected highly endangered deer and antelope population of those areas thanks to heavy patrolling and some awareness among the army personnel who helped feeding these animals in periods of extreme weather conditions. May be a similar miracle is happening in Dachigam too- or is that being too optimistic?
Our forest guard companion was very happy to talk about his experiences. He was a dedicated man –dedicated to saving the black bear in particular. He passionately believed that the Dachigam forest will survive only if the bear population is healthy and thriving. The forest belonged to them and then only to man he told us. We did see glimpses of gurgling streams inside. The air and water inside is pure and one will never get ill if you stay inside the forest, another Kashmiri who was working with the rainbow trout project explained.
Our next stop was the rainbow trout center. Here the trout are bred scientifically and the produce sold outside at reasonable prices-one person is allowed to buy only 2 kilos in a day. The scheme is so popular, that all the produce is sold out in a couple of hours. The trout center was well maintained. I had never seen such large trouts before. Gulmarg has a trout centre where tourists can buy coupons for fishing - again in a rationed manner- one coupon entitles you to four catches. But the rainbow trouts there were not so big.
Suddenly we were told our time inside the Park was up. We had seen all that was allowed to be seen by tourists.
I asked for some pamphlets on the Park. Our forest guard friend gave a moth eaten book produced by Sanctuary magazine for the Department of Wildlife Protection, J&K Government. It had obviously been written at a time when the Park had seen better days. I thanked him and as was happening all too often during our trip to Kashmir, my eyes filled up, this time for the beautiful animals in a beautiful park.
I could not but admire the pride and faith of the forest guard who reaffirmed my own faith that you can never subdue nature. In that sense our visit to Dachigam had a silver lining.
Photographs in sequence
Lidder River which runs through Kashmir
Hangul stag by Joanna van Gruisen taken from the Sanctuary publication
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