Peripatetic might be the word to describe myself with the schedules I am having since September. October didn’t bring any stop to it and what a month it has been. It was an Annapurna region travel month as the assignments included Mustang mountain bike tour and the Annapurna Circuit mountain bike tour to working as a Wilderness First Responder in the Golden Trail Series in Mardi.
Annapurna circuit always holds a place in my heart as the change in terrain with the gain in elevation showcases a whole lot of things to see. From the sub-tropical forests to the alpine forests you can witness a whole lot of natural diversity. Although I have traveled a lot of times to this place before, I still am able to enjoy the flora and fauna I always see and sometimes if luck has it then I get to observe new species. Witnessing Bushchats flying alongside the paddy fields in Khudi, Rock Lizards basking on the big rocky walls of Shange, Blue Sheeps grazing without any disturbance in the other side of Braga and Yak Kharka, to Hawks hovering near a ridge and Lammergeiers gently flying towards their nest in the evening are all the experience to be had. As I traveled to the other side of the valley “Mustang” and followed the Kali Gandaki river downwards to Beni I was able to witness in close proximity a Yellow-bellied Weasel ignoring my presence and busy searching for food. Moments like these for me are rare to have and it was a visual feast.
Mardi Himal area was another location I got to visit for the first time. I was awestruck by the change in landscape, the flora and fauna, the views, and the drama that the clouds would play amongst the mountains. As this was a work trip it was fast-paced but what I was able to see in those short moments has made me determined to go back again and document the various species of flora and fauna in more depth. I was stationed at High Camp so it was a two days journey for me from Pokhara via Dhampus and Pothana. The hike started from Dhampus after a jeep ride from Pokhara following the trail through the jungle passing Pothana and finally stopping at Forest Camp for the night. As we were preparing our room for the night we noticed a small bat had entered and was doing circles without being able to relocate the door it entered from. After waiting for a while to see if it could find the door we decided to catch the bat and release it out. For me, it was more exciting as I would be able to take a closeup photo of a bat for the first time. A couple of tries later we were able to catch it with a bedsheet. Finding that the bat was stressed out by the circles it was making in the room I without hesitation released it out in the open without any photos taken. A missed opportunity but it was the right thing to do. The next day early morning we left for High Camp following the trail through the jungle and for me, this was one of the magical walks as the quite jungle would give out faint sounds of Woodpeckers tapping into the tree, Magpies singing along to the first light touching the jungle, foliage being backlit giving out warm deep yellow hues to the dark areas. As I walked further up and passed Badal Danda the forest gave away to grassy slopes through which narrow single tracks would lead towards High Camp. Far away I was able to observe a Lammergeier slowly catching the thermals and flying towards the place I was. Standing in an elevation of 3400m with the slopy surface of the hill giving way to the majestic Annapurna South, Himchuli and Machapuchere, the view of the Lammergeier in the foreground lined up pretty well and would have been a pretty good photo but work was the number one priority for the next two days so made a mental picture of the moment and with a smile in my face headed towards the final 600m of my journey. While working for the next two days there would be Choughs flying around my vicinity along with Pipits foraging the ground for food.
Day two and the final runners of the 55km and 100km passed the High Camp and the work there was finished. I headed to Forest Camp for the night where the rest of my team would be gathering from other stations. Early next morning we packed up all the remaining stuff and headed down to Dhampus. Now as the work had finished I could enjoy the flora and fauna and also document it on the hike down. While on the walk down I was able to take some pictures of the Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel nibbling away on a fruit.
With all the positive vibes during the visit to Mardi, there were a couple of moments that weren’t pleasant. I, unfortunately, was able to find myself staring at the carcass of a Siberian Weasel while walking towards my destination and the way it was found it didn’t look like a death from natural cause. While talking with some people about this incident, I was able to find out that it was attacked by a dog after cornering it in a room because these animals normally raid the kitchens and eat the supplies. The sad thing about this incident is that this kind of behavior can be seen everywhere as we humans always tend to blame the wildlife on encroaching into our territory and disturbing our sanctity when it's us who encroach their territory and build hotels and houses without proper guidelines. There are always ways of properly storing food and other products so as to not be destroyed by wildlife but we generally ignore that part and the brunt is normally taken by nature.
Another incident that concerned me was that Mardi Himal trek is a destination recently promoted for it short but a beautiful trek. In this short time, the increase in visitors has brought in the problem of rubbish disposal. As I hiked up towards High Camp I could see wrappers of various food items, paper, plastic bottles being thrown indiscriminately by visitors. If we visitors don’t take the initiative of maintaining the beauty of the place we visit then we are definitely not doing justice to nature and the environment, let alone the wildlife that is part of the place for ages.
As I continue my rant, the other thing that really gets me is that some visitors while hiking up tend to play music in their Bluetooth speakers so as to have the whole group enjoy the tune. In a way, it is helping out the group enjoy the beats but when looking at this from another perspective it is definitely disturbing the ambiance. Human-induced noise scares the wildlife away and since this is a main route to the destination almost every other group I passed was either playing some music or talking and shouting out loud.
With the above rant in mind following are the unspoken rules while traveling in the wilderness:
1. Never pluck out a plant/ flower from its natural place for your own pleasure and social media moments. Let it be in the natural state. Remember someone else is also traveling to see the same beauty that nature is showcasing.
2. Don’t play music loudly. Keep it to yourself. Use a headphone or earphone.
3. Speak softly and don’t shout.
4. Enjoy the sounds of nature and let others enjoy it too.
5. Bringing your own food/snacks? Remember to take them wrappers and rubbish back home.
6. If you are a smoker, remember to extinguish the cigarettes properly and take that butt back home.
7. Do not in any way feed the wildlife.
8. Plan and schedule your travel properly.
9. Be responsible and think of yourself as a guest in someone else’s house and act accordingly.
With this being said I would like to apologize for not having a good collection of photos this month as the only camera I have, has been having some issues regarding the physical buttons and has stopped working. The following are the monthly summary of What I was able to see in October 2019.
Birds: Lammergeier, Blue Whistling Thrush, Scarlet Minivet, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Striated Laughingthrush, Yellow-billed Chough, Red-billed Chough, Orange-bellied Leafbird, White-crested Laughingthrush, Pipit, Fantail, etc.
Mammals: Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel, Siberian Weasel, Yellow-bellied weasel.
Insects: Purple Sapphire Butterfly, Funnel Weaver Spider, Large banded Swift, Orb-weaving spider, etc.
Reptiles: Himalayan ground skink, Rock Lizard.
Flora: Birch trees, Rodendran trees, Ferns, Daisy, Orchids, Juniper, Snake corn etc.
What a month it has been. Hoping to tell you all more stories and experience from November with new sightings and species lineup. Thank you all for following this blog. It is always an inspiration and motivation to hear from you guys so do keep those comments coming.
Wishing you all a very productive November.
Ajay Narsingh Rana