Sunday, November 8, 2015

J&K logs - Srinagar-Sonamarg-Dras

J&K complete logs here.

With a lot of excitement and energy, me and Kannan landed at Srinagar airport after a long via flight from Bengaluru; and were not happy with the Go Air flight. We waited at the airport lounge itself for PK to arrive from Pune about an hour later as Amith was yet to reach.

Nothing much to say about Srinagar airport and the departure terminal hardly has anything for the visitors and being hungry we were gobbling up all the fast foods we had and PK had got some excellent chikki’s from Pune (in fact, varieties of them). After more than a couple of hours and the airport now almost closed, Amith finally came in tired crawling through the massive jams on the Jammu highway.

In terms of birding or wildlife, this would be a bumper trip for me as I would be sighting many of the species for the first time and that surely kept me excited and as it turned out by the end of the trip, I had almost 60+ new additions to my list.

Sparrows were all around the airport and so were the crows and we also managed sights of the Jackdaw and the Common Starling while on a tea break on the highway to Sonamarg. From Srinagar, we traveled to Sonamarg (about 100kms) where our stay at the army camp was arranged and the temperature dipping as the hour passed by. Reached the camp to a warm welcome and hot dinner exactly opposite to the chilling weather outside. Preparations were on at the camp for the Amarnath yatra that was scheduled to start off in a few weeks’ time.

Sonamarg camp is located away from the town, a tourist hot spot and relatively calm and peaceful. Early morning views were excellent and we ventured out for our first birding session along the highway. We went scouting in the nearby fields, streams and wherever possible and were rewarded with bounty sightings of Brown Dipper, Ibisbill (one of our prized catches), Rock Bunting, Russet Sparrow and a variety of Wagtails.

One thing to keep in mind is not to wander close to any army camp or their area, clad in birding attire (camouflage) holding the camera’s and stuff, you are bound to be questioned and chased off and if you resent, you may see a bullet or two whizz past you! That was just a warning and we did not face any such situations and to be honest the army folks were very helpful wherever we got a chance to interact with them.

After spending couple of good hours birding at Sonamarg and getting the vehicle checked, we proceeded towards Dras (about 70kms), and the journey was a very slow affair as we had to cross the dreaded ‘Zoji La’ (Zoji pass – ‘La’ means pass in many Himalayan languages) and also frequently stopping for sighting birds all along the way. The weather gods were good to us as we crossed the Zoji pass in our SX4 slowly and with caution enjoying the vistas the valleys had on offer but nevertheless to state, it’s a tricky pass to ride or drive on. Blue-whistling Thrush, Wagtail, European Goldfinch, Redstarts among others kept us occupied as we reached the Dras army camp by late-afternoon where our stay for the night was arranged and soon after we wandered off again towards Mushko valley in pursuit of some possible marked sightings.

The ride to Mushko valley was very scenic but on a narrow uphill path, enough for a vehicle to pass through and we were rewarded for our efforts with sightings of White-throated Dipper, Fire-fronted Serins and plenty of European Goldfinches along with the Common Rosefinches. On our way back, we also observed memorials (like water tanks, bus stops or just pillars) erected in memory of civilians killed during the Kargil war that brought back memories of the turbulent times the valley faced. Standing in front of the memorials and imagining an enemy shell or a rocket landing right next to us sent shivers through us as we progressed downhill to the highway and further on to the Kargil memorial site that I’ve written about here.

Back to the camp, we met up with some army officers who were inspiring to listen to and with the temperature dipping every second, it was a challenge standing out in the cold. Remember, Dras is the 2nd coldest inhabited place on earth. Our thoughts go out to those brave soldiers who have to survive in these tough conditions for the welfare of the rest of us. Hats off to them! The Dras army camp canteen has stark memories of the Kargil war in the form of holes in the walls, courtesy shells fired at the camp during the war. We retreated to our cozy beds (courtesy the thick multiple rasoi’s) with a jinxed mindset and thoughts running about the war, our trip and the valley people.

Next day, we would be traveling towards Leh…

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tiger, Tiger burning bright - It's time to save them right!

Home to more than 70% of global tiger population, we sure have a far larger responsibility in ensuring their protection and survival. Tigers are apex predators and sit at the top of the food chain that implies saving one tiger saves an entire ecosystem!

To illustrate in simple words, a tiger needs a territory (roughly about 100sq km forest area) and a good prey base (ungulates and other prey) to survive; and for the prey base to be abundant, the vegetation needs to be good and for that there should be no habitat destruction or human interference (like forest degradation, cattle grazing, habitat destruction, poaching). So, in short you end up saving a large piece of fertile forest, a lot of wild ungulates and countless other species that survive in that protected land…; all in all to save a tiger.

Also to state we are currently in a situation that can be aptly described as – ‘Now or Never’ and the threat of our future generations seeing tigers only in zoo’s is a genuine possibility unless we act.

So, how can a common man contribute in saving the apex predator…? (Is it just limited to posting rants or anger on social media... does that really help!)

Let’s see a few ways on how every individual can contribute to tiger conservation:

1. Education & Awareness – Before anything get yourself educated about the tiger, its behavior, feeding patterns, its habitat and all about it. That way, you would realize the importance of saving the tiger in particular and the habitat in large.

2. Social media influence – Spreading the word helps, but we need to careful and sensitive of what we are posting.

a. A Facebook post about a traffic violator inside a tiger reserve may reach large audiences and finally end up with the department intensifying their patrol.

b. Another Facebook post about a tiger death (without knowing its cause and reasons) may induce a lot of hatred and negativity on the social media (about the forest department or people involved) with no much significance and from people who would not even know what is that all about. (A ‘tiger death’ can be made out to be a very sensational news by opportunists).

c. Do not get carried away by some social media posts. Do your research, collect facts and then post your views. A social media post in anger can cause more harm than good.

d. Write articles or blogs about tiger conservation and submit them to newspaper, magazines and other media sources (but again, know the facts before it ends up in print).

3. Responsible tourist behavior – Be responsible and act judiciously.

a. While on a jungle safari, everyone wants to see a tiger…, but you need to be aware that wilderness has much more to offer and appreciate than only tigers.

b. As a visitor, respect the laws of jungle and not create havoc on not seeing anything.

c. Avoiding bright colored clothes and using plastic (please remember you are not on a picnic drive).

d. Discarding waste or plastic items in the jungle (again please note this may get consumed by many animals out there and may end up killing them).

e. Respect wildlife, do not tease or feed them.

f. Educate others – you might see people shouting or doing something wrong… speak to them and educate them, do not pick up a fight.

4. Watchful eyes and ears (to help curb poaching, illegal cutting and hunting).

a. Report any illegal activities to the forest office. We, as normal people can play an important role here.

b. Be alert while on treks or when inside the jungle, look out for snares or traps set up for poaching animals. Hear out for any distress calls of birds/animals, specifically in reserves where there is human presence.

5. Educate Kids in particular – they can be ambassadors for conservation work.

a. Kids can play an important role, sensitize them about the wildlife and its importance.

b. If possible, visit the fringe areas of a national park and interact with the local students and educate them. This can help a lot in managing human-animal conflicts in fringe areas.

c. Educate kids in your locality, school, apartments about wildlife and its importance. Take them out for a nature walk or a safari.

6. Educate locals – The locals who live around the national parks or sanctuaries are the most distressed lot due to human-animal conflicts.

a. Involve them in workshops and educate them about wildlife and its behavior -- Why would an elephant cross over from a forest to the field to graze? (food availability, degraded forest areas due to domestic cattle grazing, wood logging leading to loss of green cover, etc…)

b. Support them in times of need or crisis.

7. Volunteer – If possible, approach your local forest office and offer to volunteer for them in patrolling forest areas, picking up trash, conducting medical camps for the department staff, conducting camps for the children of the staff, contributing basic things for them, etc…

8. Financial support (to NGO’s as well as staff) – This probably is the easiest way, donate to someone who is doing the work and sit and relax!

a. Be wary of unknown setups as they may be portraying themselves but not doing anything worthwhile at ground level.

b. Research about the org/NGO you are about to donate, make a note of what are they doing and how are they contributing.

c. Follow up with them on the activities and action plan and results that come out of it.

9. Do not buy tiger or wildlife related products (tiger skins, tiger nails, Ivory etc…)

As an individual, we have many ways to contribute towards tiger/wildlife conservation – we just need to make up our mind and spare some time and we can contribute significantly in conservation of a prime species like the tiger that in turn saves a whole lot of other wildlife and a large piece of habitat for them and others to survive.

Aircel, has been championing the cause of tiger conservation since 2008 through its ‘Save our Tiger’ campaign and its commendable to laud a big telecom giant take the lead in such a wonderful cause for the benefit of wildlife, for the benefit of us.

They have been associated with WWF India, Wildlife Trust of India, NDTV & WCT and Sanctuary Asia in championing many projects for the conservation of tigers like support in providing basic infrastructures across the tiger reserves, conflict management plans across many reserves, the Save out Tigers telethon campaign, developing and deploying Rapid Response Units, and involving kids with a unique campaign called ‘Kids of Tigers’ in association with Sanctuary Asia.

You can read more about their projects here.

I am writing for “You Are The Power Of We”, campaign by Aircel as part of their continuing #AircelSaveOurTigers campaign and blogging contest. Each one of us can make a difference. So, go out and help save the roar!

About the author:
Traveling, wildlife photography, bird-watching, trekking, blogging are some of Santosh’s hobbies. He involves himself in conservation related activities. Participating in the Naturalist Training Program and the Volunteer Training Program have helped him appreciate a lot of small things in Nature and the need for conserving them.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

J&K logs - some more landscapes

It's been a year (June-July 2014) since I had been to J&K - Ladakh and my memory is still afresh with all the tripping we did and all the sightings we had throughout our two week sojourn from Srinagar to Ladakh and back to Srinagar.

In this post, I will just brief on the places we covered, more details will be shared in a later post.

Srinagar-Sonamarg-Drass-Mushko valley-Jozila pass-Leh-Khardungla-Panamik-Leh-Changla-Pangong lake-Karu-Chumathang-Tsumdo-Tsokar-Taglangla-Rumtse-Leh-Drass-Manasbahl-Srinagar-Dachigam-Srinagar

We (myself and Kannan) traveled by GoAir from Bengaluru-Srinagar via Mumbai (and return via Delhi) and were joined by PK (Prashanth) from Mumbai and Amit picked us up from Srinagar (he had flown in two days earlier to pick the car - SX4 that was to be our vehicle for the entire duration).

To start off, I would just share a few landscape shots (nothing excellent by any measure) that I was able to take throughout the journey. J&K is so beautiful that you just can't stop clicking, be the green valleys beyond srinagar that changes over to brown once you are in Ladakh region and the himalayas in the distant background and those stunning vistas you get to see at the high altitude lakes... everything is just so beautiful!

Also, to note J&K is the place where unrest is real and happening and Srinagar town has army presence everywhere...and sometimes you do get that eerie feeling seeing so many army people. Another thing I would mention is the presence of army camps all through the way from Srinagar and covers entire Ladakh region, you pass one and you get another... and the huge convoy of army trucks in those narrow hilly stretches.

Let me stop boring you and take you to the pictures... enjoy!

(many such fields and sights makes on wonder - why go elsewhere)

(the huge mountain ranges and home to some of the inhospitable army posts)

(glaciers, streams and mountains...)

(valleys, hills and mountains...)

(landslides...not a day without them!)

(Himalayan ranges as far as you can see!)

( sheets of them everywhere!)

Follow the entire J&K logs here...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...